Reviewed OER Library

<< Return to resource list

1900 America: Primary Sources and Epic Poetry

Library of Congress

View Resource

Note that this resource was reviewed during the Spring 2013 review period. The resource may or may not have been updated since the review. Check with the content creator to see if there is a more recent version available.


This resource was reviewed by OSPI in Spring 2013. Learn more about the review process and the data analysis approach.

Background from OER Project Review Team
The Library of Congress offers classroom materials and professional development to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library's digital collections in their teaching. This unit integrates analyzing historical primary resources with literary analysis. The Library of Congress has extensive print and online professional development facilitation materials.

Publishers' Criteria (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 3 (Strongly Agree). Quality of Text: 1.67, Quality of Questions and Tasks: 1.63, Writing: 2.0.

EQuIP (Learn more)

Needs Revision (1.3)
Chart with scale of 'meets criteria' from 0 (None) to 3 (All). Alignment: 2.0, Key Shifts in the CCSS: 1.5, Instructional Supports: 1.75, Assessment: 1.25.

Achieve OER (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Weak) to 3 (Superior). Explanation: 2.0, Interactivity: 2.25, Exercises: 1.25, Deeper Learning: 2.0.

See standard error chart for the review scoring

Reviewer Comments (Learn more)

Extreme (1.0)

I thought this was a wonderful unit, integrating historical primary sources and literary analysis with a multi-media product as part of the assessment. I liked that the students had a chance to work in groups with a great potential for cross-pollination which is so helpful to students like my special education students. I also felt the Teacher’s guide and analysis tools were good—not too much information in any one to weigh down the use of the tool for analysis.

I loved the way the project began with very grounded discussion on themes, images, past, data and future and then also had possible topics to choose from so that the students didn’t have to do the analysis to figure those out themselves. I can almost feel the excitement of students choosing groups and rushing to sign up for topics together, a nice range of choices as well.

I thought the primary sources were all together and easily assessable, although the key word finder in the unit didn’t work for me. Perhaps it was just a sample. But using this tool makes it easy to search the site when it is working.

I loved the midpoint check in because it included peer review as well as using student work for benchmarks.

I also loved that this unit truly incorporated listening, speaking, reading and writing components to learning.

I thought the multi-media product was an extraordinary opportunity to appeal to and reach all students including those in ELL and Special Education. It was more stimulating to create a product that includes video, sound, and still pictures as a backdrop to the presentation.

While this also includes an essay, I would almost be inclined to leave this out and have some other exit assignment that involves student reflection and leave that essay for another unit.

I thought this was excellent. I want to use it!

I would use these materials in my classroom: Strongly Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

This unit gives a nod to the CCSS in that it attempts to achieve a balance of literary and non-fiction texts; however, the primary task of writing an epic poem and creating a corresponding multimedia presentation does not attend to the particular emphasis the Standards put on “students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues”. In this unit, students read the epic poetry of Walt Whitman and Hart Crane, research primary and secondary documents, and create multimedia presentations that combine students’ own epic poetry with historical images, film, and sounds. The unit as presented gives a broad outline of five activities, with general evaluation criteria. Teachers are left on their own to fill in the specifics of classroom activities, instructional supports, academic language, text-dependent question sequences, assignment sheets, and rubrics. For instance, the research project calls for students to “identify relevant texts and analyze their meaning”, but little information is given about how teachers might teach students these skills and support them in the process. Likewise, the unit suggests that students create outlines for their presentations and conduct a peer review, but does not detail support materials or procedures. A teacher would need to go to a great deal of effort to design instruction and create materials to support the loosely defined activities. Does this unit deliver a significant amount of learning relative to the time allotted? Six to eight weeks seems like a lot of time to spend for students to read two epic poems; research historical sounds, film, and images; write an epic poem; outline a presentation; and deliver a 15 minute group presentation. Also, the focus for the evaluation of the presentation—on deadlines, historical accuracy, creativity, and coherence—seems out of step with the CCSS. Students are not held accountable for the kinds of analysis, evaluation, and writing central to the Standards. While the project of the unit sounds engaging, as written it does not align well to the CCSS.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

The initial focus of the unit is on two historical time periods and poems which capture the spirit of the times. Students read, Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman and The Bridge, by Hart Crane. After choosing a focus of their own from a list (e.g., immigration, the West, industry), students gather research, and write their own epic poems. The Library of Congress has vast stores of primary documents, including songs, film clips, poems, newspapers, political cartoons, and more. There are generic guides to use for each genre or text type, which are fill-in-the-chart layout and can be used as a reading guide or as preparation for discussion or writing. The questions within those guides ask solid, probing questions. There is limited guidance for exploring one text in terms of another; the guide asks the students to think about other texts that might “support or contradict” this document. The rigor and complexity span a wind range, depending on what the student finds while exploring; the order in which a student would analyze or engage with the texts is necessarily random. In this unit there is a wonderful balance of amazing texts, limited only by the time and patience of the reader. A person could get lost for days wandering the bifurcating paths of the Library of Congress website, following the crumb trails to other sites, and other sites. That is the blessing and the curse of this unit. The instructional support is skeletal. The plan asks the student to look at the resources, read the poems, go off on an intellectual scavenger hunt with limited guidance, return and create a multi-media culminating project. There could be a hundred specific steps to that process. If the reader is an intellectual wanderer who loves poking through labyrinths of artifacts and bits of history, this is a wonderful unit. Some students would find the independent exploration daunting. And why draw it all together with an epic poem? It is curious choice, even given the initial reading of the poem models. If the student needs specific scaffolding and guided strategies to move from the beginning to the end, there is much to be created and thought through before teaching this unit. Teachers might choose a limited number of resources and limited topics to make the project more manageable. Also, the evaluation provided by the unit merely offers areas to look at, qualities to be assessed, but no specific rubric for scoring or evaluating and no differentiation for formative and summative assessment. Though the unit seems sprawling in scope and sparse on specific instruction, the overall quality is high in terms of concept and materials; the Library of Congress website is a veritable candy store for the intellectually curious.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Strongly Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

The only questions purposed in this unit are from lesson #2 when the two sample poems are being dissected; however, these, while not specifically stated, demand text evidence in their answers. However, the basis of the lesson is for students to evaluate and analyze primary sources on the web in order to determine historical context of the time period to then write an epic poem of their own with a presentation of images and sounds from the same time period. While the students have to read the primary sources in order to get a clear picture of the time period, there are not a lot of text-dependent/specific questions posed of them.

While students have to draw on the text evidence and support inferences about the time period using the primary sources, they are asked to do so in order to create their own period-specific epic poem with images and sounds that correlate, there is no extension to their writing that fits within the argumentative or explanatory confines.

Outside of the informational websites that students will visit to pull their images and sounds from for their presentation, only two pieces of literature are required in this lesson unit. Both are poems and used once in lesson two of four of a suggested 6-8 week lesson plan. While it is suggested to bring in other epic poetry examples to "offer numerous stylistic examples for student experimentation," it is not required of the lesson and no list of such examples exists.

On a positive note, the research resources that are suggested for students to pull images from to apply to their epic poetry are strong and relevant. Unit contains teacher materials to help students learn how to evaluate and analyze primary resources.

Other than an extension activity on how to bring the lesson into a World History Class, no extension exists for the high level LA student or modification for the lower level LA student (thus no staircase). On a positive note, this unit includes numerous teacher materials to help aid all students through evaluating and analyzing primary source documents. Additionally, no noticeable scaffolding for lower level students other than the teaching materials to help guide students through analyzing primary sources which could be used to help all students as well as lower level students.

While there is an evaluation section stating the areas students will be evaluated on, there are no clear expectations of how they are to show mastery for each area. Additionally, there is not a grammar/convention requirement seen on neither the rubric nor are there any grammar/convention lessons mentioned in the reviewed unit.

Overall, while it might not include a wide wage of assessments, the intent was there, and while the resources and teacher materials are solid (which I would use in my own classroom), without some moderate additions to the classroom expectations, instructions and assessment, I would not use the unit as a whole.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

Creative Commons License
This work by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.