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Associate Professor Meghan Manfra Will Use Library of Congress Grant to Develop Skills Ladders to Help Teachers Use Primary Sources in Classrooms

NC State College of Education Associate Professor Meghan Manfra

Access to digital libraries like the Library of Congress have made primary sources more readily available to use in social studies classes. Despite this, there is little agreement about the most appropriate strategies to use when supporting students as they move through the stages of thinking required for engaging in historical inquiry with these resources. 

NC State College of Education Associate Professor Meghan Manfra is addressing this gap through her new “Developing a Skills Ladder with Library of Congress Primary Sources” project, funded by a $67,786 grant from the Library of Congress. 

The project will use a learning trajectory framework to develop a skills ladder for students in grades 6 through 12, focused on American history and resources found in the Library’s collection. Teachers can use the skill ladders to sequence instructional activities while engaging in integrated action research methods to evaluate planning, implementation and assessment.

“There has been considerable research focused on the value of inquiry-based learning for students. In order to successfully conduct historical inquiry, students must be able to analyze and synthesize primary and secondary source information and develop a logical historical argument or interpretation,” Manfra said. “When educators can be explicit about the proper developmental progression of ideas and skills through skills ladders, they can sequence instructional activities accordingly to provide supportive learning environments for all students.” 

Manfra is a selected member of the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Consortium grant program, which includes 160 partner organizations across the United States. 

Her previous work with the Library of Congress has helped to develop resources and materials as well as provide professional development for teachers. A 2019 project funded by the Library of Congress allowed teachers to act as action researchers as they used those materials in their classrooms and study what effect the approach has on student success.

Her latest project, Manfra said, will build on this previous work through classroom-based research with the goal of improving student learning by providing them with systematic and intentional opportunities to work with primary sources in the classroom. 

“We hope students will develop skills related to critical analysis and argumentation, as well as historical thinking skills including an understanding of causation, change, evidence, time and empathy,” she said.