The CRL Primary Source Award for Teaching recognizes teachers and educational planners who incorporate primary source materials in the classroom and curriculum in new and innovative ways. This year’s award recognizes the America in Class (AIC) Lessons project, developed by Richard Schramm and colleagues at the National Humanities Center, an innovative program that embodies an impressive combination of timeliness, collaboration, convenience, and educational excellence.
The America in Class initiative was launched in 2012 as an ongoing, online project conceived by the NHC Education Program. The initiative is designed to encourage teachers K–12 to use primary source documents to fulfill the Common Core State Standards for English language and literacy in history and social sciences. The AIC consists of the Lessons project and three other components: Toolkits, TeacherServe, and Online Seminars. The AIC program was designed and executed by NHC staff.
AIC is designed to promote the analytical skills called for in the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history and social studies, which include identifying and evaluating textual evidence, determining central ideas, understanding the meanings of words, and interpreting content presented in diverse media, including visual images. The AIC Lessons are openly accessible on the web.
To date, 45 states have voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take accredited introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or have the educational background needed to enter the workforce. The 2012 launch of the AIC positioned the program “ahead of the curve” for schools focused on gearing up for local implementation of the standards, while providing teachers with “close-reading” guidelines, classroom-ready activities, and exceptional literary and sociocultural content.
In addition to the collaborative development of the AIC program itself, each Lessons unit has an advisor who is a specialist on that particular event, person, or time period. For example, Dr. James Engell, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, serves as the advisor on the Frederick Douglass unit. He collaborated with Schramm, Assistant Director of Education Programs and Online Resources Marianne Wason, and the Education Program staff in exploring the rhetoric and debate points used in Douglass’s speech on “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”. He was also instrumental in the development of instructions for classroom presentation of the primary source documents, content selection for each lesson, and recommendations on close-reading, a skill emphasized in the Common Core Standards.
Students’ use of technology is recognized in the AIC as an important contributor to the learning process, and is stressed in the Lessons units. To encourage repeat access by students, the units are designed to load quickly on a desktop, iPad, phone, or other small-screen device. The newer Lesson units include brief online learning activities, presented in Adobe Captivate, to hold the attention of students who might struggle to remain focused in a classroom setting. The units now receive more than a thousand clicks a month, demonstrating the value of integrating primary sources in the classroom.