Teaching with primary sources: The overlap between historical thinking and critical literacy

Susan Pellecchia, Fordham University


This case study examined two secondary-level social studies teachers' use of primary sources in their classrooms, analyzed whether the teachers' planning and lessons revealed historical thinking, and determined to what extent critical literacy was present in those moments. The researcher conducted interviews, performed classroom observations, and collected documentary data. The constant comparative method, codes developed from a preexisting critical literacy framework, and the co-occurrence feature on a qualitative analysis web application were used to analyze the data. Both teachers showed historical thinking and there was evidence of critical literacy. Moreover, there was an overlap between historical thinking and critical literacy. While some of the overlaps were obvious, such as analyzing the purpose of a text when sourcing and identifying the agenda of a text, others were more nuanced, such as the intersection between contextualizing and doing textual analysis. There were two implications of the nuanced overlaps between historical thinking and critical literacy. First, the historical thinking act of contextualizing is an important foundation for critical literacy. Second, when teaching students to attend to perspective, an activity can be made critical by including the perspectives of those who are marginalized or absent. The analysis revealed differences between the teachers. While both teachers discussed historical thinking and critical literacy in the interviews, classroom observations revealed that one teacher engaged students in these practices more than the other. This study revealed that when teachers introduce students to the ways of thinking of the discipline of history, they also encourage critical literacy.

Subject Area

Instructional Design|Secondary education|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

Pellecchia, Susan, "Teaching with primary sources: The overlap between historical thinking and critical literacy" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3683457.