In each issue, we introduce a teacher who has participated in Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) professional development and successfully used primary sources from the Library of Congress to support effective instructional practices.
This issue’s Teacher Spotlight features high school Spanish teacher Linda Egnatz. The TPS program at Governor’s State University (Illinois) nominated Linda for her effective classroom use of primary sources to promote critical thinking among students. Linda has taught all levels of high school Spanish, including Advanced Placement, for the past seven years at Lincoln Way Community High School in Frankfort, Illinois. In this interview, Linda discusses some of her teaching strategies and her favorite Library of Congress online resources.
How did you first learn about the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program?
The TPS program was promoted by my department head at the high school where I teach, and I knew that several colleagues who participated in the program the year before had enjoyed their experiences. So I was encouraged to go for it as a professional development opportunity.
What motivated you to participate in the TPS workshops in your local area?
I was primarily motivated by a long-time desire to visit the Library of Congress. And through the TPS program my wish came true—digitally! When you visit the Library’s Web site, you’re not restricted by your physical location and can bring its resources to your students. I’m the kind of person who likes to learn about new things and share what I’ve learned with my students and other teachers.
Tell us about the first time you tried using primary sources in the classroom.
As a Spanish teacher, I wanted my students to learn about the early exploration of the Americas from a different perspective. Students always think American history starts with Jamestown because that is the historical perspective they are taught. I had my students examine 500-year-old Spanish-language documents and maps available via the Library of Congress Web site’s Global Gateway, which features multilingual resources on world culture. My students thought these documents and maps were “really cool.” Seeing maps of North America from the Spanish perspective surprised them because they had not realized that the Spanish had mapped much of our continent 100 years before the English colonists arrived. Students also liked that the bilingual Global Gateway site allowed them to check their Spanish comprehension in English.
Based on your experiences, how do primary sources promote critical thinking among students in the classroom?
Primary sources provide a new learning experience for students. The realization that they are seeing the actual source seems to have more credibility and weight with students than just a photograph or illustration in their textbooks. Searching the Library of Congress online is more like doing real research because it requires students to find data and supporting evidence that they can interpret. Teaching with primary sources encourages more questions and promotes critical thinking among students because the conclusions are yet to be made. Primary sources make learning interactive at the high school level and give students more ownership because it's self-directed learning.
What is your favorite resource available on the Library of Congress Web site?
I have enjoyed the Global Gateway most. As a Spanish teacher, I use this area of the Library’s Web site because it promotes two of the National Foreign Language Standards: Connections and Community. For example, there are early video clips of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Global Gateway also promotes another National Foreign Language Standard, Comparisons, because it allows for compare and contrast activities that encourage higher-order thinking. For example, students can look at historical maps and overlay them with contemporary maps for comparison. Global Gateway also includes links to worldwide libraries and resources.
What advice do you have for teachers who have never tried teaching with primary sources?
The Library of Congress Web site is big but very searchable. A good place to start your search is the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. This collection has everything from photos of the American historian who discovered Machu Picchu to those of child soldiers in the Spanish-American War, which are really provocative teaching materials. Many students are visual learners and using historical images encourages their curiosity and their questions.
Is there anything else you want other teachers to know?
Take advantage of the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources program, whether through online resources or workshops in your community. I’d like to express my profound thanks to both Luci Sweder and Sandi Estep of Governor State University’s TPS program who have been very generous with their knowledge and time in helping me to complete my Library of Congress projects.