Audio-visual primary sources offer students an engaging entry point into the sights and sounds of the past. Here are six quick tips to help your students make the most out of these dynamic resources.
1. Select compelling resources
If you're studying an era when recording capabilities existed, look for audio and video resources that connect with the themes under study. ABC-CLIO's search filters make it easy to select the content type and time period to bring up relevant primary sources. Consider the goals you have for using an audio-visual resource to help you hone in on the best options for your class. For example, having students watch advertisements can help them gain insight into the prevailing mores of an era, and comparing presidential inaugural addresses can help students understand shifts in rhetorical strategies and also in America's public opinion.
2. Decide how students will view them
Will you view the sources together as a class, watch them in small groups, or have students tackle them individually? If as a class, how will you project the materials so that everyone can clearly hear and see them? If individually or in groups, is any additional equipment needed? Individual viewing allows students to focus their attention on certain aspects and replay them more easily, but it makes collaborative analysis more difficult. Watching the clips together facilitates that collaborative environment but will likely require playing the whole piece multiple times. The circumstances of your particular course will help you determine which route to take.
3. Activate prior knowledge and provide key context
Before you press play, get students ready to view or listen to the source by providing an opportunity for reflection: what do they already know about the time period or event? What can they predict about what they'll see or hear? Activating prior knowledge can be as simple as a turn-and-talk or quick write to get the gears moving. If students have more limited background knowledge on the subject, provide some context—but be careful to offer context specific to the topic, rather than the source itself; enable them to conduct their own analysis of the source (Bober 2018). Taking the time for this initial stage will help students engage more deeply with the new material.
4. Emphasize their powers of observation
Students often want to be told the answers, but they can build their understanding and critical thinking skills more effectively by making their own direct observations. Ask students to note and share what they notice when viewing the resource. Questions as simple as, "What stands out?" and "What is surprising to you?" can help direct them to rely on their own thinking and set the stage for deeper analysis.
5. Provide guides for analysis
Analysis guides can scaffold students' learning as they encounter primary sources. The Audio and Video Source Analysis Guides from ABC-CLIO, available in the "Working with Primary Sources" section of the Academic Success Corner on your database homepage, provide detailed questions to lead students through the key steps of analyzing a primary source, from placing it in context to assessing its perspective and evaluating it. The more frequently students use these guides, the more the process will become ingrained in their thinking, strengthening their ability to mine primary sources for meaning.
6. Reflect and discuss
Whether you're conducting the analysis as a class or individually, be sure to offer students the opportunity to reflect on the process and summarize their key takeaways. Through reflection, they are taking an active role in their learning, which improves their performance (Hattie, Fisher, and Frey 2017).
Sharing audio-visual primary sources with your students may require some extra preparation as well as additional time in the classroom, but engaging with these unique resources can help students build their critical thinking skills and deepen their content knowledge.
Bober, Tom. "Audio-Visual Primary Sources. Analyzing Film [5:15]." School Library Connection video. January 2018. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Content/Course/2123892?learningModuleId=2123886&topicCenterId=2158571.
Hattie, J., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2017). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge.
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