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Monday, November 10, 2014

Tying Primary Sources to Literature

In a quick note thanking me for the links to post on the 1964 Civil Rights Act anniversary, Browning teacher Brenda Johnston mentioned that her students were going to start To Kill a Mockingbird soon, and that she liked to include Civil Rights material to provide context.

Especially with the Common Core's emphasis on including informational texts and helping students learn to interpret primary sources, using literature as a jump off point to investigate the historical events makes good sense. (Actually--I always thought this made good sense and am glad to be able to reference the Common Core to back the practice.)

We've worked with literature teachers at Helena High School to gather resources for Fools Crow and The Grapes of Wrath--and I'd be delighted to work to develop resource sets relating to other commonly taught novels. I've talked about both of these projects before--but here's a quick recap:

Fools Crow/Marias Massacre project

We created this project with 10th grade honors English teacher Jill Van Alstyne. After her students read Fools Crow, she has them look at the Marias Massacre, an event that occurs at the end of James Welch’s novel.

After completing the MHS lesson plan: “Blood on the Marias: Understanding Different Points of View Related to the Baker Massacre of 1870,”  and reviewing the difference (and different uses for) primary and secondary sources, she assigns a research paper focused on the Marias Massacre. Students are asked to answer one of the following questions: “Why did Baker attack Heavy Runner's band?” “How did attitudes to the event change over time?” or “How did geography and/or ethnicity influence perspective?”

They also came into the historical society to find a photograph that  illustrated one way non-Indian immigration to Montana changed the world that Montana Indians knew. That part of the project is discussed in Using Historic Photographs to Complement the Study of Literature


Grapes of Wrath project

Helena High School Junior Honors American Literature teacher Jean O’Connor worked with us to develop this project, which will have students conducting research in the Governors Records to gain a deeper understanding of what life was like in Montana during the Great Depression. Although “Governors Records” sounds deadly, the collection actually contains heartrending letters from farmers and others detailing their struggles on drought stricken farms. (You can view some of those letters here. Jean also asks her students to read the first chapter of Mary Murphy's book on FSA photographers in Montana during the Great Depression: Hope in Hard Times, which we digitized for teachers to use with their students. And, she has students analyze photographs in the Library of Congress's Farm Security Administration photo collection. Details of her project are here.

Do you have a historical novel you'd like to tie to Montana history resources? Let us know and we'll see what we can find.

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