Historical Literacy - September 2020 Professional Development

Thursday September 03, 2020

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What is historical literacy? Historical literacy enables students to more deeply understand what primary sources provide beyond dates, names and locations; they provide a view into people's lives, concerns, ambitions and motivations during a specific moment in time. This not only develops students' content knowledge, it widens the perspective through which they analyze the past. "By sharing the historical tapestry of the human experience, we stretch students beyond a worksheet's understanding of decoding text.  We empower our students with the story of what it means to be human."[1] Historical literacy empowers students to act on their curiosity through investigation and builds their sense of connectedness to the past.   Historically literate students ask questions, discover connections and make their own interpretations about the significance of past events and their lasting effects. 

Why is it important to develop historical literacy? Developing students' confidence in historical literacy allows them to be the drivers of their own learning and to recognize their values. Through an analysis of multiple sources, critical thinking and reflection, students begin to recognize repetitious patterns of the past in the present and are activated to recognize their role in society as informed and insightful citizens. They are then better equipped to take a position and a stand for their beliefs.  

How do testimony and IWitness develop historical literacy? IWitness allows students to engage in inquiry-based learning through the resources and research tools available to them. Audiovisual testimony in IWitness allows students the opportunity to interrogate primary sources and to view the past through the human story as well as through secondary sources. Students engage with reference material, photographs, articles, letters, and testimonies collected from survivors of genocide and mass violence. This multiple-faceted perspective of an event deepens their contextual understanding and highlights the impact of choices and biases. By developing these competencies in historical literacy, students reach interpretations that are informed by research, corroborated by various sources and humanized.  

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Teaching with Testimony Webinar:
Historical Literacy and the Human Story
September 17, 2020 | 4pm PT

Historical literacy drives students' ability to ask critical questions, draw connections and make interpretations about the significance of historical events and their lasting effects. When engaging with audiovisual testimony, students sharpen these skills by examining the past through the human story, recognizing multiple perspectives and interrogating primary sources.  Students deepen their critical literacy by becoming aware of repetitious patterns and reflecting on the impact of human choices and biases.  This webinar will present effective strategies to integrate IWitness resources in the classroom to build historical literacy while developing empathy and activating student agency.   


Register Now

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IWitness Activities to Develop Historical Literacy:

·  Faces of Intolerance (8-9)

·  Forced Labor: Human Story (9-10)

·  I Am an Eyewitness  (9-10)

·  Walter Loebenberg - Refugee Experiences during the Holocaust (9-10)

·  Information Quest: The Armenian Genocide (9-10)

·  Politics & Place (10-12)

·  The Letter to Hitler: Communicating for Change (10-12)

·  A Thing of the Past? Antisemitism Past and Present (10-12)

·  An Uncomfortable History: The Nanjing Massacre (10-University)



[1] Klieman, Ken. "Use These 10 Elements to Teach Historical Literacy." Social Studies School Services | Blog, 1 Nov. 2017. Web.

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