Primary Source Analysis: Photographs

9 Apr

The first primary resource we dug into was photographs.  They’re the most accessible of the resources, and students can learn a lot through close observation.

In 2012 I went to the Teacher’s College Nonfiction Institute in February, and I learned that one way they approach content area literacy is through historical thinking centers.  Students move around to different stations that have a variety of resources to analyze.  One station might be photos, one might be statistics, one is video, etc.  Each station comes with a task card that has questions for students to discuss and write about.

I wanted to adopt this kind of approach with the class, but I knew that having stations (something new) and primary resources on a brand new topic would be too much.  Instead of having everyone working at a different center each day, I chose to make each day about a type of resource.  The first day would be photos.

I went with the traditional: I do, we do, you do approach.  I put a picture up on the SMARTboard, and then modeled how I would analyze it.  First, I just described what I saw.

“Hmmm…I see a woman standing in front of a house.  She’s pointing at a sign that says, “No Japs allowed here.  Go back home.”  There’s another sign on the other side of the house.  The house has a wrap-around porch.  She’s wearing a dress, it would be considered old-fasioned today.  There are trees all around.”

images-1

Then I modeled thinking about, “What does this make me think about this time period?  Does it remind me of anything else in history I’ve learned about?  How is it similar or different from my life today?”

I talked about how it reminded me of America before the civil rights movement, when “No Coloreds Allowed” would be posted up all over the South.  It made me think that the woman thought it was totally ok for that sign to be on her house–she didn’t look ashamed or embarrassed.  Even though her house and neighborhood are similar to how I live today, I can’t imagine anyone being willing to put up a sign like that in my neighborhood.  It would be considered racist and highly offensive.

 

images

Then I put another photo on the board.  This time I asked students to describe what they say (pure observation, no analysis yet) to their partners.  After sharing as a class, I asked them to respond to the three questions:

  1. What does this make me think about this time period?  
  2. Does it remind me of anything else in history I’ve learned about?  
  3. How is it similar or different from my life today?

Finally, each partnership received a different photo.  At their desks, they first observed everything in the photo, and then analyzed it.  Initially, some children said they didn’t know what to do.  But when I reminded them that the first thing to do was simply to state what they saw, they were able to jump right in.  After observing out loud for a while, they naturally transitioned into the other questions.

Some of their analyses were quite strong!  Some students compared the housing in the internment camps to the shanty towns we studied during the dust bowl.  Others noted that the baseball team looked similar to our teams today, but they were only made up of one race, and placed in the middle of nowhere (as the camps often were.)  One group saw a family of Japanese waving a flag on a train, and holding up the peace sign, and decided that it was their way of showing the world they were American in a peaceful and positive way.

After discussing the photos, we taped the pictures to a piece of paper and students wrote a two paragraph quick write with their observations and analyses.  I pressed them to use appropriate spelling, periods, and capitals.  I also provided a frame for them to write quickly.  One of my goals in content area literacy is to have students work on their grammar and punctuation (as opposed to only in writing workshop, where my partner is also working on generating ideas, writing craft, themes, and overall organization of a piece.)

2013-04-03 10.10.46Their work came out very well.  And they have a solid picture in their minds now of what the Internment camp period looked like–from the moment people were asked to climb on a bus, to life in the camps, to the communities they left behind.

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