Provoking Inquiry: The Use of Primary Sources in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 4 of 12

In broad brushstrokes, the study comprised two lessons designed around the use of primary sources. The first lesson was built around a set of receipts gathered from a teacher, where students had to take on the role of junior historians by constructing evidence-based interpretations corroborated by information from the different receipts in order to uncover the identity of the owner. In the second lesson, students had to draw upon the historical thinking skills that they picked up in the previous lesson to analyse ancient Sumerian artefacts using the modified See, Think, Wonder approach. Both lessons were also differentiated to cater to the different readiness levels of students in each class.

The following two questions framed our research study: 

  1. What were the learning experiences of students who have been exposed to learning with primary documents?
  2. What were teachers’ experiences in using the modified See, Think, Wonder approach to teach primary sources?

To answer our first research question, we involved 76 Primary Five mainstream students from two classes. The first class comprised 40 HP (High Performing) students, while the second class was made up of 36 LP (Low Performing) students, thereby allowing our PLC group to verify if primary sources of information could be suitably applied to students on both ends of the learning spectrum. At the end of both lessons, students had to complete a short survey to help our PLC group get a quick sense of their learning experiences.

To paint a more nuanced portrait of students’ learning experiences, a focus group discussion was held. It consisted of fifteen students who shared with us their thoughts and feelings about learning with primary sources, and the benefits of using the modified See, Think, Wonder approach in their study of ancient Sumer. These fifteen students were made up of eight HP and seven LP students of both genders, and they were selected based on their responses in the open-ended questions in the survey.

To answer the second research question, we interviewed the two teachers who taught both classes to find out more about the potentials and limitations of using the modified See, Think, Wonder approach to introduce primary source analysis in the primary social studies classroom. These two teachers were chosen because of their many years of experience teaching the upper primary social studies curriculum.

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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