Exploring the American Revolutionary War Through Primary Source Documents

Ryan Johnson Portfolio Project


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General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in December 1776.

Introduction

Welcome! There are so many ways to learn about historical events, people, and places, and one of the most interesting and accurate ways to do this is through the use of primary source documents. Primary source documents are pictures, diary entries, letters, maps, or first-hand accounts presented by the people who actually saw or did something. When learning about the American Revolutionary War, we can look at battle maps, read letters from soldiers and their families, look at pictures and read first-hand accounts from the people who actually lived through this event in history.


Needs Assessment

Instructional Problems

Students, especially younger students, are typically not accustomed to identifying, accessing and summarizing information from primary source documents. Students need to learn about primary source documents, the important role they play in history, and how invaluable they can be to our learning. Using primary source documents to explore the several perspectives, events and people who observed or played key roles in the American Revolutionary War is a unique and relatable way to learn this material. Additionally, students will need the skills learned in this unit as they progress through high school, as New York State Regents exams require the ability to identify and access information from primary source documents.

Nature Of What Is To Be Learned

The American Revolutionary War was one of the first major events to happen in our nation’s history, and it is the people who lived during that time that are able to describe the events that took place most effectively. Primary source documents are letters, journal entries, drawings, letters to the editor, photographs that are written or produced by people who saw or experienced something first-hand. Students will learn about primary source documents, and will then explore aspects of the American Revolutionary War by reading or looking at them. This method of learning is underutilized and provides a unique perspective and learning opportunity for students.

About The Learners

Students from many different disciplines and all grade levels can and should learn the importance of primary source documents, and how they can be used to gather and understand information and experiences in history. Learning how to obtain information from primary source documents is a typically underutilized method of learning, and will help with student's gaining deeper and more connected understanding of material. These lessons are designed to teach about the American Revolutionary War, however, it would be easy to carry the same principles forward in many different topics or even courses. In order to adapt these lessons to meet your students needs, I would recommend identifying your learners and the information you'd like to teach. Then, question whether or not the event or experience produced any first-hand accounts, photos, letters, etc. Identify these items--and with them in mind, develop lessons similar to these that highlight those primary source documents while teaching the required material. When considering differentiated learning (classrooms with low- high- and mid-level learners), you as a teacher will need to identify whether or not your students are cognitively prepared to learn in this more abstract fashion. Learning through primary source documents requires students to extrapolate their knowledge and ideas across topics and courses in a way that may be challenging for low-level learners. Please keep this in mind when considering these ideas for your individual classroom.

Objectives

At the conclusion of this course students will:

  • Be able to identify and classify a primary source document from the American Revolutionary War period
  • Be able to acknowledge and be able to show an understanding of the importance of primary source documents, and how they uniquely and accurately capture one's personal experiences as it relates to the American Revolutionary War
  • Learn about the precipitating events that led to the American Revolutionary War, about the key people involved, the major battles and other events, all through the use of primary source documents.
  • Be able to demonstrate a deep understanding of the American Revolutionary War by generating a reflective essay using primary source documents from people who participated in or observed aspects of the American Revolutionary War to show deep understanding of the material.


Unit 1: Identifying and understanding the importance of primary source documents

Unit 2: Precipitating Events, Key People, Battles--all through the use of primary source documents

Unit 3: Combining what we've learned--Writing a reflective essay