Paula McGrew ’78, director of library services at West Virginia Wesleyan College, was selected to participate in the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute. Selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants, McGrew and educators from around the country spent the last week in June working with library education specialists and subject-matter experts to learn effective practices for using primary sources in the classroom while exploring some of the millions of digitized historical artifacts and documents available on the Library’s website.
Primary sources are the raw materials of history, including original documents and objects that were created at the time period under study. They are different from secondary sources, which are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience. Students working with primary sources become engaged learners while building critical-thinking skills and constructing new knowledge. Instructors at the Institute explored the largest online collection of historical artifacts with access to millions of unique primary sources for use in instruction.
Educators attending the teacher institutes participate in and develop primary-source-based teaching strategies that they can take back to their school districts, apply in the classroom, and share with colleagues. Teaching with primary sources is a powerful way to help students ask engaged, probing questions, develop critical-thinking skills and construct knowledge.
Participants in a teacher institute session typically include school library media specialists and school administrators, in addition to classroom teachers. Those selected come from many different states, representing large metropolitan school districts and smaller, rural school districts. The expertise provided by the Library of Congress during the institutes can benefit every level of K-12 education.
Applicants to the Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institutes reflect the diversity of the world of K-12 education. Although McGrew does not fit the typical parameters for the program, she will be working with local schools to share her knowledge.
“I applied because the website stated that they occasionally accept a college-level educator,” stated McGrew. “This was such a highlight for me. We completed a lot of hands-on work and group presentations and projects. We even had a private tour of the Library of Congress Reading Room. It was like standing in the middle of Mecca for me.”
McGrew is retiring from administrative duties at Wesleyan at the end of the summer but will continue to teach a freshman seminar course on the history of the College. In fact, McGrew was just named College Historian, a position in which she plans to use some of what she learned during her time at the Library of Congress.
“Our College Archivist has done a wonderful job gathering all the information of the College’s history; I want to tell the story now,” she stated. “Using the techniques and resources I learned during the Teacher Institute, I will be able to do that in a good way.”
McGrew also plans to create an online encyclopedia of the College in her new role.
“In other words,” she said, “I still get to do the fun things!”
McGrew specified that even though she will be teaching college-aged students, she does plan to work with some local schools to share the resources and techniques she learned.
“Researching information is not an age-specific thing;” McGrew stated, “it is just a new way of looking at information for resources that are often overlooked.”
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to creative record of the United States and extensive materials from around the world both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative words of authorship at copyright.gov.