As you would not chug a hot cup of tea, you also should not speed through a primary document! You risk a burnt tongue and not fully understanding what you just read. Try reading Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal quickly! You may walk away with a very disturbed understanding of what you have just read.
As many of my students initially often read for speed rather than for understanding, primary documents tend to trip them up – particularly when there are a number of difficult words in them. In my inclusion grad class, we have been discussing the need for procedures for some students that enables them to tackle tasks with a clear path forward.
With that in mind, I’ve been working on one to address reading primary or dense secondary documents – a procedure to get a general understanding of a letter, piece of legislature…really anything that is written. Note: This is not intended to be the only thing we do with primary documents, but it will simply be our first step.
This is my procedure so far:
- Read to get initial reactions or ideas from passage.
- Replace troublesome words with definitions or synonyms.
- Reread with the replaced words. Does this make more sense now?
- Reflect on the importance of the document, the author, and the time period. Is this a new or contrary idea? What argument does it address/set up?
- Rewrite the passage in a smaller chunk to demonstrate your understanding.
If at this point the student is off-base, I can easily see where they are and how I can offer additional support!
Thoughts? What are some ways you teach reading primary documents?