Provoking Inquiry: The Use of Primary Sources in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 3 of 12

While the Reading like a Historian approach is an extremely well-designed and comprehensive approach that systematically guides students through the historical inquiry process, it is unsuitable for replication in its entirety for the primary social studies classroom. The complex and rigorous stages and transitions inherent in the approach will most likely be far too difficult for the normal, average primary school student encountering primary documents for the first time. It may be better to use a less complex approach such as the See, Think, Wonder approach to teach students how to engage in primary source analysis.

The See, Think, Wonder approach is a more age appropriate approach commonly used across different subject disciplines. It originated from Harvard’s Project Zero as one of its Visible Thinking approaches. This three-step approach developed by Ritchhart, Church and Morrison (2011) begins by asking students to list down their observations in as much detail as possible by stating what they see in a primary source, following which, students are encouraged to think about, make connections or develop layers of tentative interpretations from examining the primary document. Finally, students are asked to wonder about what they have seen or thought about by asking broader questions that consider the significance of big ideas raised by the primary source.

Research Study

Despite the suitability of the See, Think, Wonder approach for primary students, our Professional Learning Communities (PLC) group after careful deliberation eventually decided to infuse elements from the Reading like a Historian approach into the See, Think, Wonder approach to create inquiry-based, student-centred learning lessons to engage Primary Five students learning about ancient civilisations. Based on our observations, the See, Think, Wonder approach tends to focus on a single source to teach students to think about what their observation might be. The Reading Like a Historian approach, on the other hand, goes a step further by teaching students the importance of supporting an inference using evidence from more than a single source.

As a team, we agreed that corroboration was an important skill that students should acquire. We, therefore, modified the See, Think, Wonder approach such that students were exposed to multiple carefully curated primary sources that not only ‘spoke’ to the overarching inquiry question, but also ‘spoke’ to each other. In doing so, we taught students to think about corroborating information from multiple primary sources to formulate well-reasoned inferences.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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