Sunday, March 1, 2009

Primary and Secondary Source Evaluation

Last month I outlined a few different assignments I am using in the Western Civilization class that I am teaching for CCCOnline. In March I will continue to share some assessment and assignment designs, and I encourage you to share your assignments ideas here.

History students should analyze sources that are both Primary and Secondary and compare these documents' roles in history. First, develop a list of primary sources related to a Unit or Course. I started by looking at what was available with the digital text. For US history, has a great selection of primary sources associated directly with the content.
Students choose one of these primary sources from the list to study. I request that my students spend a certain amount of time reading the document if it is more than a chapter. Since my courses are lower level college courses, I do try to recognize that some documents in my list are very lengthy and more appropriate for a full read by a master or doctoral level student. To encourage students to still consider these and not be daunted by their length, I suggest putting a page or time limit will encourage them to explore these.

After reading the primary document, students find a secondary source (book, article, essay, etc) which discusses, explains, or comments on the issue or event in the primary source they chose. For example, if the primary source was Darwin’s writing on the origin of the species, students would look for a secondary source which comments on Darwin’s ideas (either positively or negatively). Again the secondary source could be quite lengthy, so for the purposes of this course I request they read a certain number or pages or amount of time.

The students summarize what they learned about the event from both the primary and secondary sources chosen. Then students compare the secondary source’s interpretation of the historical event or topic to the way that event or topic was presented in the primary source. The students must include in their evaluation of the documents the answers to these questions:

Who was the author and who was the audience of each document?
What was the purpose of the document or motive for writing it?
Does the writer have an obvious bias?
When was this document written, and what was the effect of the document on history?
What affect did the document have on the student’s view of this topic or event?

Finally, I encourage students to post their assignment for others to read in an optional study hall discussion. I hope to develop a sense of collaboration there by students sharing their research and having the opportunity to comment and make suggestion on each other's work before submitting it to me.

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