Analyzing Historical Documents and the Common Core

This year there is great emphasis on the Common Core.  Students and teachers are emphasizing citing textual arguments to support your points. The Common Core State Standards Initiative states on its website that

“The Common Core emphasizes using evidence from texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge and experience, the standards call for students to answer questions that depend on their having read the texts with care.”

While browsing the nonfiction collection in a school library I was working in this summer, I found: NonFiction for the Classroom on Writing, History and Social Responsibility by Milton Meltzer, introduction by E. Wendy Saul.  Although the book was written in 1994 the points he makes are as relevant today as they were then.  When studying documents, artifacts, video archives or other sources, whether from today or from ancient times the questions the researcher asks remains the same:

Meltzer gives the reader these questions to ponder:

What is worth knowing?

Who is a reliable source?

What facts in a given document are emphasized or ignored?

Whose sense of normal is evident in the description or recreation of events-whose values?

Whose perception of time?

Whose perception of pleasure or pain? (Meltzer 7)

I recommend asking the same questions today when teaching information literacy.  In the age of information, we must teach our students as much about misinformation as information.  It is up to us to help our learners distinguish between the two.

I often direct students and teachers to iWitness History when looking for personal testimonials about World War II. These witness testimonies are a great starting point for students to hear what happened during the war.  They can then create questions based on what they read and compare different sources of history to get a balanced view of the war. I highly recommend teachers watch the 20 minute video entitled Ethical Editing before using the site.


“IWitness. One Voice at a Time.” Home/IWitness:Video Testimonies from Holocaust Survivors and Witnesses. University of Southern California, 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

“Key Shifts in English Language Arts.” Common Core: State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards Organization, 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Meltzer, Milton, and Wendy Saul. Nonfiction for the Classroom: Milton Meltzer on Writing, History, and Social Responsibility. New York: Teachers College, 1994. Print.