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Associate Professor Meghan Manfra Aims to Improve Teaching with Primary Resources, Student Outcomes Through Library of Congress Grant

Meghan Manfra

Using primary sources to engage students in historical content can often be challenging for social studies teachers, which is why NC State College of Education Associate Professor Meghan Manfra, Ph.D., is working to address the issue through her latest grant-funded project.

Manfra was recently awarded $8,153 from the Library of Congress for her six-month project, “Teaching with Primary Resources Through Action Research.”

The work aims to challenge a traditional teaching approach in the social studies – that social studies educators must first deliver background information before introducing primary sources — by using an inquiry framework.

“I think a big challenge for teachers is finding the balance between content coverage and engaging students in the doing of history, where students would be analyzing primary sources and then creating historical arguments,” Manfra said. “The common notion is that first you have to layer background knowledge, then do inquiry. But, we’re saying inquiry will teach background knowledge.”

Manfra’s previous work with the Library of Congress has helped to develop resources and materials as well as provide professional development for teachers. This latest project will have teachers act as action researchers as they use those materials in their classrooms and study what effect the approach has on student success.

Findings from Manfra’s previous research suggest that pedagogical content knowledge improves when teachers engage in action research. This project hopes to measure the learning outcomes of students taught by educators utilizing action research by analyzing survey data and student work samples gathered by participating teachers.

Manfra said a rubric will be developed for tracking student outcomes and the aggregate data will be analyzed to find patterns that could potentially provide empirical evidence to support the use of action research when teaching social studies content involving primary sources.

“We expect these teachers will become more efficient and effective at using primary sources and inquiry in the classroom, but we also hope that we’ll begin to understand their students’ experiences,” Manfra said. “We hope that we see students demonstrate historical thinking skills and content knowledge understanding, because without those two results, you can’t suggest that teachers engage in inquiry-based teaching.”

In order to help teachers become more effective at teaching with primary sources, Manfra’s project will also help teachers navigate the vast archive of materials within the Library of Congress to find good examples of documents to use during lessons.

“For a teacher trying to teach a topic or a concept, finding, for example, an excerpt from one Federalist Paper that really captures the notion of nationalism is difficult,” she said. “What we can help teachers do is find those good excerpts of good materials that are applicable to their classroom.”