Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Favorite Thanksgiving Primary Sources

This week really starts the Thanksgiving season for me. The five class days before the Thanksgiving break, the students and I do different kinds of Thanksgiving activities. Really, we analyze and investigate all kinds of Thanksgiving primary sources, kindergarten through fifth grade.

I know this might not sound like fun, not compared to crafty activities or reading a great Thanksgiving picture book. I would argue that it is better though. I see it as a discovering of knowledge about Thanksgivings past. In each grade, we focus on a different primary source or set of primary sources, and we don't just analyze them. We try to go further. This is something that I try to emphasize with my students. What do you do with that knowledge about the primary source you just analyzed? What can you connect it to? How can it help you look at something else in a different way?  How can you use it to compare life now to life at another time? For this set of activities, we typically talk through this. In other activities, we may write or illustrate. With the excitement that leads up to Thanksgiving break, the students often want to talk, so I take advantage of that.

I thought I would share my favorite Thanksgiving primary sources.
Kindergarten students will be analyzing a wonderful photo from 1911 of students in a schoolyard titled
School Children's Thanksgiving Games. In the photo, some students sit on a bench watching other students who are in different Thanksgiving costumes. My favorite find in the photo, a child wearing a turkey mask, hasn't been seen by a student yet. See if you can find it.
After analyzing this photo, students compare these students celebrating Thanksgiving to their school celebrations at RM Captain.

In first and second grade we move the celebration from school to home and analyze photos from the Crouch family's Thanksgiving taken in 1940. These twenty photos are a wonderful snapshot of a Thanksgiving day in a large family's home. While the photos don't individually contain the detail that
the 1911 school photo does, as a group, they are rich with information about culture and tradition.
In first grade we will focus in on a photo of Mrs. Crouch pouring water on the turkey, the photo of the pies with the family visible in the mirror's reflection, and the photo of the whole family eating with the children at a separate table. Students will fully analyze one of the photos with the Observe, Reflect, Analyze model (using I see, I think, and I wonder) and do a lighter, quicker analysis of the others where we focus in on only what we see. Similar to kindergarten's comparison to school, first grade students compare their home celebrations to the Thanksgiving celebration in the photos.
In second grade, students will analyze several photos in groups, focusing their analysis on where events are taking place in the photos. In groups, they will attempt to create a map of the Couch's kitchen where the meal was cooked and eaten, highlighting furniture and other points of interest from the photos in their map.

Third grade students are going to be building on the first grade idea of the Thanksgiving meal
traditions and be planning their own Thanksgiving meal with a primary source twist. The class will collaborate on items for the meal and then shop in two places. Two groups will use a current local grocery store advertisement. Two other groups will use newspaper advertisements from about 90 years ago. The two advertisements, the first from 1919 and the second from 1922, list many items that students may use today. I'm eager to see if it does the job. While we won't be doing a traditional analysis on these pieces, I'm looking forward to the math and problem solving connections.
Fourth grade students will work with my favorite Thanksgiving primary sources. Earlier this year, our fifth grade classes did a primary source analysis to learn about a lost Halloween tradition. Our fourth graders will learn about a lost Thanksgiving tradition. They will first analyze a hundred year old photo of Thanksgiving Maskers, a group of boys dressed in costume who look like they are more fit for Halloween night. Following their analysis, which may leave more questions than answers, they will read a newspaper editorial from the same time period where the writer shares her distain for the maskers tradition of walking down the sidewalk banging pots and blowing horns, and asking passersby for pennies or candy while families are trying to enjoy their Thanksgiving. Learning about this lost tradition gives students a chance to be historians and investigate the a tradition completely foreign to them.
Finally, in fifth grade, students will be looking at Thanksgiving officially being named a national
holiday with Lincoln's 1863 proclamation while analyzing an 1861 drawing of Civil War soldiers celebrating Thanksgiving in camp. Hoping that students see that Thanksgiving was being celebrated before being named an official holiday, they will then use a secondary source to give them an overview of other presidents making Thanksgiving proclamations going back to George Washington.

I'm looking forward to this week with students before Thanksgiving, not just because of the great primary sources that they will be interacting with. I'm also looking forward to the K-5 experience throughout the entire building all connecting back to different learning around Thanksgiving as well as the potential experiences that students have year after year with these primary sources.

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