Kids find using sources really difficult. And after a lot of thought this isn’t that surprising. This is the most difficult thing we teach.
Just think of the process you go through to analyse a source. Let’s do one together. Below is the classic David Low cartoon ‘They salute with both hands now.’ I want you to think about what the message of the source is and as you do it think about the process you go through.I bet it’s something like this. First off you might look at the individual little details. The smoking gun, the Valkyrie, the unkept promises. Once you’ve processed these you might then think about the overall message – the SA are scared. Then you might begin making some inferences about what Low is suggesting about the individual characters in the piece. Goebbels is clearly the lap dog. Goerring the ridiculous drama queen. Now, all the way through in addition to some really tricksy analysis skills you’ve also been consciously or subconsciously using your contextual knowledge of the period to work out these details. The fancy of you have linked this to the Night of the Long Knives but even those who may not have made this leap have worked out this is Hitler, Goebbels and Goerring. Is your brain hurting yet? Analysing sources, whether they be visual or text is hard.
Our department had one of our fortnightly teaching and learning meetings at lunch today. We did a show and tell of things that have gone well and then had a discussion about what works and why kids find it difficult. One of my colleagues suggested that doing source work requires three things:
- Contextual knowledge – the details of the period / event / person required to unpack the details
- Source reading skills. The ability to spot the tiny details and the bigger picture.
- Analysis skills. The ‘making leaps’ bit where you make inferences.
This is obviously a generalisation but I think he’s pretty much spot on. At our school I think the kids are grand at the reading and analysing bit but not so good at the contextual knowledge. Other colleagues suggested they’d worked in places where kids were great at knowledge and reading but rubbish at making the leaps.
I suppose moving forward the point I am trying to make is how do we bring these three points together. I am not sure I have an answer. Sorry! I am trying and intend on using the blog to write about a few ideas but in the meantime if you have ideas let me know!