Fail: Old Yearbooks as Primary Sources

Old Yearbooks as Primary Sources

In my ever-present efforts of incorporating Alaska Standards into my instruction, I start my World History classes by introducing primary and secondary sources.  I'd been struggling to come up with an authentic example of a primary source that the students could connect with.  So, when inspiration struck as I was drifting off to sleep, I was ready: use the old Brevig Mission School yearbooks tucked away in a locked drawer of my classroom.

It seemed like the perfect idea.  I would use the Written Document Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives, and students could practice analyzing sources while enjoying pictures of their parents' dated hairstyles and clothing.

I got one thing right.  The engagement factor was high.  In fact, it was so high that most of the students completely neglected filling out the analysis sheet.  They were too busy searching for familiar faces and laughing.

Part of the problem was that the students got tripped up with the language on the analysis sheet.  It was unfamiliar, and rather than expend the effort to decode it, the students chose the more enjoyable task of browsing the yearbooks.

On the plus side, everyone had a great time and nobody burst into tears.  On the minus side, there was little evidence of learning...

Things I would do differently:

  • practice with the analysis sheet before turning students loose to use it independently (maybe use my document camera with one yearbook as an example)
  • simplify the analysis sheet for my lower-level classes

Primary sources can be fun!  Now let's make them educational too...