NaBloPoMo 10 -- More teaching stuff
Well, I just read one of the worst papers ever -- a primary source interpretation exercise. This is one of the things I have trouble dealing with. The paper was not simply bad because it lacked a thesis, or because the lack of thesis was not supported well, with, like, actual evidence. It was a bad paper because there was no evidence that the student had got past the lower stages of Bloom's taxonomy. By that I mean that the student had barely got past "identify". There was some attempt at paraphrasing the texts themselves, but no attempt (despite the instructions and the fact that, when we discuss texts in class, the first questions I ask are always the ones that establish a bit of context) to do anything more, and no attempt to establish context. Moreover, it's not clear that the student actually understood the context -- or the texts.
Now, apart from the fact that I really shouldn't have to deal with students who cannot do college-level work, it's clear that this is part of a bigger issue. It's not a new issue -- it's one that Sam Wineberg has written about many times -- reading like a historian is natural for some of us, but for most people, it's a learned skill. More to the point, I think it's a skill that requires a person to unlearn a lot before she learns it. It would help if I knew how students learned to read anything!
I've looked around for help on this, and honestly, although there are tons of books and aids to help students learn to write in the field, all of them expect a particular level of reading skills. Some of those skills are really not as clear as we might like them to be. So how do we teach our students to read primary sources? Do you have any ideas?