Reading & Writing in the Disciplines
Reading and Analyzing Texts
The previous unit focused on creating class investigations as a way of teaching history and social studies based on disciplinary literacy. This unit looks at the practices for reading and analyzing texts within class investigations. Here, the key stance toward sources is to interrogate them, ask questions, and consider what’s to be learned from them. Since people create sources in another time and place, students need to interrogate such sources in order to more fully understand them. This kind of reading moves beyond basic comprehension of what the text actually says and considers what the author is trying to accomplish with the text.
Video and Reflection: Revisit Reading and Responding Like a Historian as an example of interrogating sources in the classroom. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: How do you and your students use texts in your classroom? To what extent do you and your students interrogate texts, and to what extent do you use them for information?
- Watch the video: As you watch, consider how Mr. Votto is using historical texts in his classroom.
- Reflect: How might the ideas about interrogating texts from this video be incorporated into your own teaching? What changes might you need to make in your classroom to shift toward interrogating texts?
USING TEXTS AS EVIDENCE
Begin by considering the purposes of using texts within investigations. While there are numerous purposes for the use of text in history and social studies classrooms, they are described here specifically as potential evidence in the process of addressing essential questions and developing and evaluating historical claims.
Not all texts are written the same way. Some texts pose arguments (e.g., a political campaign speech); others do not (e.g., a tax record). Some describe a cause and effect while others compare and contrast concepts. One task of teachers who incorporate disciplinary literacy practices into their classroom is to assist students in thinking about how the text is structured and how this structure is and is not helpful in exploring the essential question. Teachers will need to support students to think about the original meaning of texts and how they provide evidence for the investigation at hand.
Video and Reflection: Watch Identifying Evidence from Multiple Sources as an example of using texts as evidence in the classroom. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: Think about to what extent you and your colleagues use texts as evidence in making arguments. What questions or concerns do you have about working with texts as evidence in arguments?
- Watch the video: As you watch, notice how Ms. Gore uses texts as evidence in her classroom. What does she do to help students use texts as evidence?
- Reflect: How might the ideas about using texts as evidence from this video be incorporated into your own teaching?
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES
In selecting sources for students to use, it is important to consider how well these sources provide evidence for claims that answer the essential question of the investigation. But some sources might be more useful than others when it comes to answering the essential question. Consider the types of sources common to the discipline of history: primary sources and secondary sources.
Primary sources are the “raw materials” for constructing interpretations about events in the past. These sources were created by people who experienced the events during a certain time period under study and who have direct knowledge of what was occurring at the time. Primary sources can be artifacts, documents, or recordings and can take the form of newspaper articles, diaries, speeches, and housing records. While this course focuses on literacy with written texts, other documents such as images, photos, and prints can also be used as primary sources since they too were created by people who lived at the time under study or participated in the events that they comment on. There are numerous ways to find primary sources that can be used within classroom historical investigations. (Unit 8 has support for this.)
Secondary sources are interpretations by individuals about past events. Examples of these include historians’ monographs or a newspaper article written about an event years after the event occurred. Unlike primary sources that are the “raw materials” for constructing interpretations, secondary sources are themselves interpretations of what happened in the past. In a way, secondary sources reveal that historians have conversations about what happened in the past. Different authors can come to different conclusions or interpretations based on their reading of evidence or their personal discovery of new evidence. Similar to primary sources, secondary sources can be used as evidence to create and substantiate others’ historical claims. They can be critiqued based on who the author is and the context in which the text was written.
Explore: Read Secondary Sources: What Are They? [PDF] for a detailed exploration of secondary sources and Rosa Parks: Interpretations [PDF] to see examples of secondary sources used in the investigation of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–1956.
Reflect: What type of information do secondary sources provide? How does this information differ from that provided by the primary sources? How might these secondary sources inform students’ claims in response to the essential question?
Textbooks are a particular kind of secondary source that are often written with an omniscient stance. Such a stance makes the narrative seem complete, factual, and without controversy. This type of writing often hides the interpretation of the author(s). This makes it difficult to understand the voice of the author and what biases she or he may be holding. Typically, textbooks do not include a record of the evidence that supports the claims made—there are no footnotes or citations of evidence that led to the interpretations expressed.
As a final note about primary and secondary sources, it is important to consider the delineation of a source as either primary or secondary depending on what is being investigated. This means that depending on the focus of an investigation, a source could be either secondary or primary. For example, in an investigation focused a question pertaining to child labor during the 1910s, an employment record of how many children were working in a certain factory at that time would be a primary source. A magazine article written decades afterward that cited the employment record would be a secondary source. But if the investigation is focused on the way that the topic of child labor was written about and discussed over time, then the same magazine article could be a primary source since it would meet the criteria of being written by someone who experienced the events during the time period under study (i.e., the information by the author of the magazine article is demonstrative of the portrayal of child labor at a time under study).
Reflect: How do you integrate primary and secondary sources in your teaching? Do you use one type to support the other? Which sources do you find are most engaging for your students?
Video and Reflection: Revisit Blended Learning: Evaluating Source Material as an example of different methods for using texts as sources within an investigation. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: Think about the use of primary and secondary sources in the classroom. Have you selected primary or secondary sources for use in your classroom? If so, how? What benefits have you found? What challenges have you encountered? If not, what concerns might you have about selecting and incorporating sources into your lessons?
- Watch the video: As you watch, how Ms. Gambino Rhodes uses an essential question to frame inquiry. What sources does she use to investigate answers to the essential question?
- Reflect: How did students use the text in the sources? How did Ms. Gambino Rhodes support students in their learning?
The reading and writing practices that follow (sourcing, contextualization, close reading, and corroboration) promote student analysis of sources. Even though these practices are delineated here in a discrete fashion, it is important to consider that such strategies are not usually separated in the minds of historians. Rather, historians employ and integrate these ways of thinking. In order to effectively teach students how to think like experts who work to solve complex cognitive tasks, however, the processes are addressed in a slightly decomposed manner. When teachers identify the processes of cognitive tasks, they help make those invisible processes visible to students. In order for students to understand the cognitive practices a teacher uses, the teacher must be able to explain and illustrate such processes.
In order to foster students’ skills, it’s important to enact methods that support students in learning the nature of expert practice. The basic notion of apprenticeship is to show the apprentice how to do a task and help the apprentice do it. In order to make their thinking visible, teachers need to both model their thinking through tangible processes and explain their thinking aloud to students.
There are three important aspects of traditional apprenticeship: modeling, coaching, and fading (or promoting independence). When teaching reading, teachers can model strategies for students while thinking aloud about their mental processes. For example, this could take the form of talking aloud while annotating a document that is projected for students to see. Afterward, teachers can coach students while students perform the same task on their own. By prompting and constructively critiquing student performance, teachers can provide scaffolding for the students. As students become more proficient, the teacher can reduce their support by only giving tips and specific feedback. Taken together, these methods for illuminating and applying thinking processes can support students as they develop skills that may at first be foreign to them.
Video and Reflection: Watch Close Reading of a Primary Source as an example of a cognitive apprenticeship approach to instruction. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: What are your experiences with modeling strategies for students or coaching students in the use of those strategies? What is difficult and easy about modeling or coaching?
- Watch the video: As you watch, notice how Ms. Pember models close reading. What do her students do while she models close reading?
- Reflect: What reading strategy do you want your students to work on next in your classroom? What can you take away from this video about how to model the reading strategy for your students?
Annotating text, or marking pages with notes, is an excellent way for students to interact with a text, to become active readers, and to track their thinking. By annotating text, students can ask and answer questions of the source, make connections to ideas or other texts, and summarize critical points. However, not all annotations are equal: to be effective, they have to help the learner elaborate or organize the information. Linking certain annotations to specific reading strategies (e.g., circling the author and date) can make these strategies concrete since it provides students with “to-do” items. Finally, annotating texts is a form of pre-writing that supports the writing process.
Explore: Read Writing to Learn History: Annotations and Mini-Writes [PDF] for information on pre-writing strategies. The following handouts provide guidelines and samples for annotating documents and doing a mini-write.
- Document A: New York Journal [PDF]
- Document B: March of the Flag [PDF]
- Document C: President McKinley’s State of the Union Address [PDF]
Reflect: How might such handouts be useful for students? How might they be used to support students who are learning to annotate documents?
For each of the following four historical reading strategies (sourcing, contextualizing, close reading, and corroboration), consider using your own or an adopted system of annotations for students to use. Different symbols can be used to denote key ideas, authorship, context, or corroboration with other evidence. Remember that the highlighting or underlining of text by itself is not annotating. Rather, annotations are markings on a text that have specific meanings. Regardless of what form annotations take, the key is to keep them consistent and make them meaningful for the purposes of the class investigation. The annotations that students create during the reading portion of an investigation will be used as ideas and evidence during the writing portion of the investigation. This means that the annotations that students make are part of a larger process and are not end products of the investigation.
Video and Reflection: Watch Close Reading of a Primary Source again as an example of annotating texts. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: Consider any experiences you’ve had with annotating texts for your own use. To what extent do you think your students annotate texts? If they do, how do they annotate texts?
- Watch the video: As you watch, notice how Ms. Pember annotates texts. What does she do to help her students annotate texts?
- Reflect: What kinds of annotations do you want your students to work on next in your classroom? What can you take away from this video about how to help students annotate texts?
Each of the four reading strategies in history focuses on a certain way of thinking about the text as a way of interpreting what is read and judging the evidence provided for making claims. The first of these reading strategies is Sourcing. Sourcing refers to the attribution of the text—who wrote it, when it was written, why it was written, where it was written. The first thing to do when sourcing a text is to look for who wrote the document and when, as this information is crucial to understanding the author’s meaning. Because texts are human creations, it is important to look at the source of each document in order to gain insight into the author’s perspective or stance and to consider the relevance of the text to the investigation.
When using this strategy, teachers model looking for the author and date as well as interpreting the text based on knowledge of the author, the type of text, word choices and phrases, and bias. This typically looks like (1) either stopping after reading a few sentences to interpret what was just read or (2) reading a large section and then going back through it to read smaller section carefully in order to make interpretations. Using this strategy, readers can question the usefulness of the source given the focus on the investigation and consider the author’s reliability.
Video and Reflection: Watch Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments to learn more about sourcing. You may want to take notes on the questions below.
- Before you watch: Why might it be important to source a text in your everyday life? Why might it be important to source a text when studying history?
- Watch the video: As you watch, notice where you see Mr. Votto or his students pay attention to the author, author’s purpose, kind of source, or date when it was created. What kinds of questions does Mr. Votto ask, or what kind of statements/explanations does he give to help the students source? How does attention to sourcing (attention to author, author’s purpose, kind of source, date) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
- Reflect: How might the ideas about sourcing texts from this video be incorporated into your own teaching?
The second strategy for reading and analyzing historical text is Contextualization. Contextualization refers to understanding the time and place in which a text was written in order to more fully comprehend its meaning. Since each source was written during a certain time and place, certain climates of opinion or social mores that were prevalent may have influenced the writing of the text. The Contextualization reading strategy can heavily rely upon the development of background knowledge.
When using this strategy, teachers model and support students’ reading through a text while interpreting the text based on knowledge of when and where the document was written, what else was occurring during this time, and what occasion(s) or audience(s) may have influenced the author. Using a timeline, video clips, and headnotes with information about the text and its context helps students develop background knowledge that support contextualization.
The Rosa Parks Inquiry you saw at Historical Thinking Matters includes good examples of these ideas. First, the front page of the investigation includes a video and timeline to provide students with necessary background knowledge to support their work with sources. Second, each source includes a headnote with contextual information to support reading.
Video and Reflection: Watch both Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments and Reading Like a Historian again to learn more about contextualizing. You may want to take notes on the following questions.
- Before you watch: Why is it important to contextualize a text in your everyday life? Why is it important to contextualize a text in when studying history?
- Watch the video Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments: As you watch, notice where you see Mr. Votto or his students pay attention to the date when a text was created, the place where a text was created, what else was going on at that time and place, how life was different then, or how people thought back then. What kinds of questions does Mr. Votto ask, or what kind of statements/explanations does he give to help the students contextualize? How does attention to contextualizing (attention to date, place, life back then, what else was going on) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
- Watch the video Reading Like a Historian: As you watch, notice where you see Ms. Velo or her students pay attention to the date when a text was created, the place where a text was created, what else was going on at that time and place, how life was different then, or how people thought back then. What kinds of questions does Ms. Velo ask, or what kind of statements/explanations does she give to help the students contextualize? How does attention to contextualizing (attention to date, place, life back then, what else was going on) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
- Reflect: How might you incorporate any new ideas about contextualizing texts into your own teaching?
The third strategy for reading and analyzing historical text is Close Reading. Close Reading refers to the evaluation of portions of text by paying attention to what the author says and the way it is said. Here, students pay close attention to the claims of the author, what evidence is used to back up these claims, the language the author uses, and the perspective of the author.
While comprehension of texts is a necessary component of historical inquiry, the ultimate aim of a class history investigation should be to help students read texts for evidence that can then be used to create and substantiate historical claims. Disciplinary literacy practices within historical inquiry privilege analysis and reasoning over summary. While basic comprehension of text is important, the emphasis here should be placed on comprehension for the purpose of analyzing the author’s claims, evidence, and rhetoric.
Identifying Reading Strategies Activity
When historians analyze sources and artifacts from the past, they do so by considering, among other things, who produced it and when it was produced. By paying attention to these aspects of the source’s origination, historians consider how reliable the source is and how it relates to other pieces of evidence. To teach students to do this, teachers can cognitively “apprentice” students by explicitly stating their thoughts while they read the document and create annotations. This interactive gives you the opportunity to annotate a primary source using three historical reading strategies: sourcing, contextualizing, and close reading.
The primary source for this interactive is excerpts from the majority opinion in Browder v. Gayle (1956), in which a federal district court’s ruling on June 5, 1956, held that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. You can read the entire record of this court case here.
When sourcing, contextualizing, and closely reading a document, historians use their prior knowledge of actors and events to interpret the text. Teachers and students may need to develop such prior knowledge. For this document, here is some background information to assist you:
- As the National Archives website notes, “The case is renowned for its relation to the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery…. Although not a party to the case, Rosa Parks’ arrest record and fingerprints are exhibits to the case. The plaintiffs in this case were Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, and Mary Louise Smith, all of whom had been either arrested for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers or harmed by being forced to comply with segregation codes. In this case, the three-judge panel ruled Montgomery segregation codes unconstitutional due to their violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed the District Court’s judgment.”
- Review a digital copy of the complaint [PDF] that was filed by the plaintiffs, as well as the supporting document regarding the arrest of Rosa Parks.
- Review a digital copy of the judgment (page 1, page 2, page 3 [JPG]) that was delivered to the plaintiffs after the case was heard.
- The author of the majority opinion was judge Richard T. Rives, one of three judges who were specially appointed to decide Browder v. Gayle (1956). At the time, he was a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans and had been appointed by President Truman in 1951. Browder v. Gayle (1956) was the first of many cases in which Rives joined a majority opinion that expanded upon and applied the civil rights protected in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
- Before you watch: Consider what you have noticed about your students’ reading comprehension. What is difficult for students when reading texts, and what kinds of support do they need?
- Watch the video Analyzing Complex Text: As you watch, notice what Ms. Brenner does to help her students comprehend texts. What aspects of the texts does she focus on while practicing close reading? How does attention to contextualizing (attention to date, place, life back then, what else was going on) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
- Watch the video Expanding Academic Language: As you watch, notice what Ms. Velo does to help her students comprehend texts. What aspects of the texts does she focus on while practicing close reading? How does attention to contextualizing (attention to date, place, life back then, what else was going on) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
- Reflect: How do you think the support that these teachers provide for close reading might help their students? How might the ideas about teaching close reading from this video be incorporated into your own teaching?
The fourth historical reading strategy is Corroboration. Corroboration refers to the comparison of details and points of view across multiple sources. The act of comparing different accounts in order to piece together an accurate picture of what happened is a core practice of historical reasoning.
When using this strategy, teachers model and support students’ comparison of different sources for points of overlap and departure. Teachers and students note where sources agree and disagree, what they have in common, what could explain discrepancies, how accounts might be reconciled, and which sources are most reliable. This process helps with determining where the weight of the evidence lies and what interpretation is supported by the evidence.
18.5 Identifying Reading Strategies
In this activity, annotate a primary source using three historical reading strategies: sourcing, contextualizing, and close reading.