Newsela adds “tampered” primary sources
Last week, I had the chance to lead a quick conversation centered on this simple question:
“Is it ever okay to tamper with history?”
As in . . . is it okay to modify and edit the primary and secondary sources that our students use as part of the historical thinking process?
It’s always an interesting conversation. Because without fail, you get both ends of the continuum. On one end, you’ll have teachers who will argue for “absolutely not. You never mess with the raw data of history.” Or the other side that sees no problem with massive changes in vocabulary, wording, and voice.
I’m gonna fall somewhere in the middle. There are steps that you need to follow but without some editing and modification, most primary sources are not accessible to most of your students. Providing evidence that is usable to your kids is one of the first steps in creating historically literate students and modifying difficult to understand evidence is often necessary.
An article written in 2009 by historical thinking gurus Sam Wineburg and Daisy Martin for the National Council for the Social Studies journal, Social Education, provides some helpful tips for what this can look like.
In Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers, the two write:
We are unabashedly urging history teachers to tamper with history.
And in addition to offering a variety of arguments supporting that statement, the two also provide a three step process for how you can do the tampering. It’s an article you need to spend time walking through – perfect for the year’s first department meeting.
But once convinced, most of us run into the next set of problems. Finding the time to doing the tampering or finding already pre-tampered documents. The curriculum at the Stanford History Education Group Reading Like a Historian is a great place to start but other modified documents are practically non-existent.
The good folks at Newsela recently added a new section focused just on primary sources. And if you’re not already using Newsela, well . . . you need to be. Basically Newsela provides a huge database of articles on contemporary issues and current events.
But wait. There’s more. Each article can be automatically modified to different reading levels so that every kid can access the information in the article. You can create classes and assign readings while measuring the reading comprehension of your students. Pretty sweet.
But I’m guessing you can see where this is going.
contains a slew of primary source material, historical and biographical content adapted to different reading levels in both English and Spanish.
You caught that bit about primary sources, right? Yup. Primary sources – modified and tampered with that are available at different reading levels. Say you want students to use Andrew Jackson’s 1835 letter to the Cherokee. Depending on your kids, you can have them work with the original or at a variety of different levels and versions.
Wineburg suggests both – give kids an accessible version but be sure to mess with the original as well. Newsela lets you do that.
The cool thing is that the Library also provides a series of biographies, speeches, and basic history articles as well as primary sources. And it’s not a huge database of stuff yet but you’ll get many of the basic US and World history documents that you’re probably already using.
You need to create a free account to access the full documents. If you want the full meal deal with Newsela Pro, there’s going to be some money involved. Try the free version for a while – with full access to articles but without access to the teacher admin panel. If all you’re looking for is access to modified evidence and resources, free is probably just right.
And your kids will walk away smarter because they’ll have access to evidence that they can begin to use to solve your historical problems.