HM - June 2018 - Goodman

Teacher Resources

Promoting Student Learning Through Primary Source Inquires:
An Opportunities to Learn Checlist

by Noah Goodman and Bill Tally
Education Development Center
History teachers are often not just concerned with teaching students about historical events, but also with
helping them to learn the skills and practices of authentic historical investigation. By interrogating
primary-source documents, students can learn to see history as an ever-evolving interpretive process, rather
than an agreed upon and already-constructed narrative. As teachers develop inquiry-learning tasks that utilize
primary sources, it is useful to consider not just skill and content goals, but also the constituents of effective
inquiry learning experiences for students.

The following checklist offers a set of research-based criteria for assessing the quality of an inquiry task in
which students are exploring a question or theme using primary sources. It focuses attention on the quality of
students’ experience — in particular whether they have opportunities to learn by doing nine things that empirical
research and literature on effective practice suggest are important for learning. It has been created to support
teachers and curriculum developers in evaluating and improving the primary source learning activities they are
designing for classroom use. It is important to stress that no single learning task is likely to include all nine of
the elements listed; however the checklist can be a useful reference point in developing stronger overall lessons
and inquiry learning tasks featuring primary sources.

In addition to definitions of each element, and positive and negative examples, we’ve included relevant literature
and resources. Where possible, we have included links to information that is freely accessible, but we also point
to academic articles, some of which are behind paywalls, where we felt they were useful.

This checklist was created as part of Education Development Center’s (EDC) ongoing work with the Library of
Congress’s Teaching With Primary Sources Consortium Group. EDC has been working as a research and
development partner with the Library over the past 20 years, helping it to make its historical documents
available to classroom teachers in useful ways. Questions or comments about this checklist, or EDC’s other work, may be directed to Noah Goodman at .

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About NCHE

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.