Scott Petri has taught social studies for five years at the middle school level and six years at the high school level. He has also served as a coordinator and small school principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and a Masters in Educational Administration from California State University Northridge, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of San Diego.
This is the fifth year I have had my students participate in The Great Thanksgiving Listen on StoryCorps. Last year, we were not allowed to assign any homework over the break due to COVID. This year students had two days in class to complete a timeline of their interview subject’s life and generate twenty interview questions. They only had to record a ten minute interview and do four pages of transcription over the Thanksgiving Break. When they came back to class, I gave them another two days to complete a corroboration (fact-checking) activity and a reflection.
Forty-nine out of sixty-nine students or 71% completed all six parts of this project. Another six students turned in their work late. Ten students did not complete any part of the project. Over 650,000 Americans have participated in this project which records oral histories for the Library of Congress. This is the second interview that my students have conducted this year and in their reflections I asked them to describe their favorite moments. Their comments are insightful, appreciative, and emotional. I am publishing six of their highlights. If you would like to read your child’s reflection, send me a message and I will send it to you.
With masks on in every classroom, I feel like I don’t really know my students this year. Seeing their smiling faces with their interview subjects was a gift that made my teacher heart smile. I hope families will return to these oral histories again and again. Thank you for sharing the gift of your family with Kennedy High School .
For the past few weeks, my tenth grade World History students have been learning about the Mexican Revolution. They read The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela in their ELA class, and in my class they viewed the PBS documentary The Storm That Swept Mexico, learned about La Soldaderas, and researched and wrote children’s books on important events and leaders from the Revolution.
Almost every student completed this project on time and they were given multiple chances to revise and resubmit a perfectly formatted annotated bibliography of five sources for their book. I taught them how to use The Hemingway App and Rewordify to help paraphrase their text. Students could work in groups or independently, the only rule was each student had to produce six pages of content.
The top three entries were chosen by BookCreator to be displayed in their instructional libraries. I am so proud of these students.
To take a look at ALL OF the books, click through this spreadsheet.
At the end of the 15 week grading period, my students have earned 35 (As), 15 (Bs); 9 (Cs); 4 (Ds); and 7 (Fs). Please ask your child to share their book project with you and celebrate their creative accomplishments.
My 10th grade World History students recently completed a speaking project where they were asked to narrate sketchnotes on the French Revolution or complete an Ignite Talk using 20 slides. The goal of this project was to get them to speak on an aspect of the French Revolution and make it entertaining to an audience of teenagers.
I used excerpts of Well Spoken (pp. 17-54) by Erik Palmer and this worksheet from teacher Erin Rigot to help students understand the importance of a grabber opening, an organizational strategy, signposts, and a powerful closing.
Almost 80% of my students completed a Narrated Sketch Note or Ignite Talk (55/70) within five days. Here are what I assessed as the top four, using the following rubric.
This student designed her speech for a teenaged audience perfectly. She used high-interest terms like True Crime, Netflix, using Googling as a verb, and living like Jeff Bezos. The key points about the Guillotine and French Revolution were understandable and entertaining. She made several clear connections to this audience when she made references to #vegetarian, and fangirling.
The next student clearly designed her speech for a teenage audience by asking students what it would be like to be treated fairly. She explains the plight of the Third Estate and connects with the audience with via her cartoons, which were perfectly timed and entertaining.
The third student gets the audience on his side by making fun of not only me, but also our school principal, Dr. Chavez. He uses us to illustrate the problems France had with inequality. Who says I don’t have a thick skin?
The fourth student uses a surprising statistic to open her speech and helps students understand the mountain of debt France had before the Revolution. She does a wonderful job explaining the concept of absolutism and the divine right of kings. She had minimal text on her slides. Je l’aime! Keep up the good work, World History students. Next year, my students will be learning from you.
Monica Brady-Myerov has created a wonderful educational platform that teaches students to improve their listening using audio stories that cover content standards in Science, ELA, and Social Studies. She and her team have refined Listenwise over the years to precisely measure students and their progress at mastering eight key listening skills. With the recent inclusion of the Lexile Framework for Listening, I expect this area to increase in educational importance. California is one of 22 states that assesses listening on their annual tests. Listening is especially important to English Learners who will make up one out of every four public school students by 2025. The combination of reading and listening builds their second language proficiency faster. Students gain confidence with their pronunciation when they hear the words spoken correctly.
Monica describes what she has learned along the way. She covers topics like storytelling, listening skills, how to teach listening, the connections between listening and reading, the benefits of listening for English Learners, assessing listening, and creating podcasts. In short, good listeners become great communicators. Peppered with personal stories, lessons, activities, reflection prompts, and planning tools; this book is a must for all interested in improving their communication skills. The author shines when she elaborates on her life-long love affair with the intimacy of audio and when advising teachers not to underestimate the impact of using their voices to read to students at any age. What does a future driven by voice-activated artificial intelligence sound like? Alexa, Siri, and Google have all read this book and so should you.
When I first started using Listenwise in my classroom, I noticed that almost every high school student would reach for their phone as soon as I hit play on the audio. However, when I prompted them on how important it was to listen intently and with 100% focus, their test scores started soaring. Typically, I read between 30-40 books per year. During the last year, with the pandemic, I learned how easy it was to get distracted and only read 6 books. This shameful fact reveals how dependent I have become on listening to books in the car. This book is already helping me sit down, tune out distractions, and put my focus back on reading every day. Still, I wish there was an audio version.
Chapman University had a wonderful prompt for their annual art and writing contest this year. “As you listen to the survivor’s or rescuer’s testimony, and as you reflect on the stories they tell, write down a specific word, phrase, or sentence that speaks to the inner strength of this individual and the role of connectedness in sustaining strength. As the person now entrusted with this individual’s memory, through your creativity in art, poetry, or prose, explore this word, phrase, or sentence as central to the survivor’s or rescuer’s story, your understanding of the Holocaust, and your own search for inner and shared strength during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Because of pacing issues, my students weren’t able to participate in this year’s contest, but I did use the prompt for my 10th-grade Holocaust unit and we participated in a joint LAUSD-Glendale Unified zoom session with survivor Joseph Alexander. Here are some of the entries from my 10th-grade World History students along with my comments on how they connected the Holocaust testimony to their lives and survival of COVID.
Another poem with the required connection and explanation to the student’s life follows below:
Fences A fence separating sides, never looked so diminishing as now. Fences everywhere left and right in my life. Everything closed off at one point. Hungary fenced off to Czech Republic. Soon being fenced off of my own home. Closed off from real life trapped in a world where no one seems to relate on the outside. The ghetto stripping us of our rights, fenced from the light, closed to the conditions set for us. Treated lower than others making us feel diminished. No hope, no sight, fenced to my real life. One point I believed it would end, let out of the ghetto only to be trapped in carts for days. No food, no space, no necessities, we are going to waste. Our lives mean no more than a dime to them. I wonder why. What have I done to deserve this? I am Jewish, what a crime. A child, suffering a punishment cruel to man. Ripped away from my parents, what if I never see them again I thought? Off to the crematorium my mother went, reuniting with her only in dreams. Fenced from my family now alone with my sister. Stripped from my beauty, my clothes and hair stripped from me fenced from what was mine. Yellow stripes from my head and back. I was called over before, for my looks. Perfect Aryan they said. Blonde with blue eyes. Baffled when they figured I was Jewish. A waste they said, frustrated I was let go. Only to eventually be fenced from my sister once more. Meeting her from a fence everyday. Restricted from where I once was. Off to a side where I was going to live when my sister wasn’t. Seeing her making sure she was okay was the only thing keeping me going. One day she did not come. Worried I waited for days. Concluding she was selected. Fenced off from every part of what my life once was, I have no will. Death looked me in the eyes wishing it would take me but I survived. With the help of others I made it through. Auschwitz to factories in kettle carts once more. No space, no room, no life. Working until we were set free. Fenced from all free life no knowing what it would be like. Not knowing when it was over. Confused but curious freedom in such a similar state. Soon enough the fenced dropped. Not being able to differentiate what was allowed and what wasn’t. The fence disappeared. I reunited with my brother. A long road ahead but eventually the sun will shine again.
Explanation: Renee Firestone is a Holocaust survivor who came from a well off happy family where she knew enough to associate herself as a Jew but not educated enough to be a master in the religion until later on in life where she learned more. She was taken to Auschwitz where she was separated from her family and fenced off from the only person she had left, her sister who was then selected and she really had no one left in the camp. She was fenced off everything in her life and in some aspects through covid we were fenced off our ordinary life as well. Not that our lives could ever be compared to theirs through covid because we have been fortunate to make it our health and make it this far without losing someone. The situations are not compatible at all but there are similar feelings throughout. In my quarantine experience, although I was safe, my family and I still got covid a few months back. Through my whole covid positive experience, I was separated from my parents and I had to stay with my sister who also got covid and we all quarantined separately. My father was the only one who did not get covid despite being near my mom to help her while simultaneously helping my siblings and I. My siblings and I were fortunate to make it out well and have little to no symptoms but it was different for my mom. My mom was very ill and could not move for anything. She was so sick that she almost had to go to the hospital because she would not breathe. I was very worried for my mom because it made me sad that she was that sick but fortunately, she got better but as she was getting better, her mother passed away from natural causes which was also very rough for her. Throughout his whole time i felt isolated from those that i loved and i was isolated from the world. There were fences all around even though there was nothing there. Restrictions and quarantine life was still rough but nothing extreme. It is nothing compared to what Renee Firestone endured. A little taste of what she had but 20x worse is what I think covid was for me. I relate to Renee though the feeling of being fenced off of your life and those who you love.
This student made strong connections with her survivor’s testimony and being separated from her father during COVID. They elaborate on the theme of separation with their family history. I appreciated their citing the image and identifying their original art. The composite of the image, quote, and original artwork add up to a powerful experience.
This well done example makes a connection to labor as a benefit. This student elaborates with the work they have done with their father and cites how meaningful work kept them sane and happy. This learning experience demonstrates that tenth grade students can study the past and improve their self-awareness. CASEL defines self-awareness as the abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.
After participating in the #AdvanceSELinCA activities this summer, I decided to start the year with a focus on trauma and recovery.
The first step was asking my students two questions. Here is a sample of their responses.
What is one thing that you are most afraid of this school year?
I’m not that good at online anything so I am afraid that I will mess up on some assignments because I don’t know how to do them properly.
I suck with online school.
I’m sorta afraid of waking up super super late and completely missing almost all of my zooms for that day.
Not knowing how to do the work because of online classes.
I am scared of not being able to understand/learn much with online learning.
One thing I am afraid of this school year is messing up or not knowing how to do my assignments.
One thing I am afraid of for this school year is that I won’t be able to figure out how to submit certain things because I am new to using schoology.
This school year I am afraid I will fall behind in school work and become overwhelmed.
One thing I’m afraid of is not knowing how to do things in online school because I’m not very good with technology.
I am afraid of not learning the same online as I did in person.
I’m afraid my internet won’t work and I won’t be able to join a class.
I’m afraid of not being able to understand the material as much because online learning is very different than in person.
I’m afraid that I’ll be behind my school work and not know what’s going on during my classes.
One thing I am scared of this school year is missing zoom meetings.
I’m afraid that I’m going to fall behind on schoolwork.
I am scared that I’ll miss a class and just miss an important lesson.
I’m afraid of not being able to retain information from online work and classes.
I am afraid I will procrastinate too much and fall behind in all my work.
I’m afraid of being late to class due to the fact that my sleeping schedule is messed up.
I am afraid of missing assignments and zooms because I couldn’t find or access the materials.
a few things i’m afraid of for this school year are procrastinating and not actually learning.
I’m scared of accidentally missing assignments or zoom meetings, like if I forget to check one subject or platform.
I’m scared that I’m gonna keep getting distracted and have a hard time learning.
Some things that I am afraid of are getting distracted and falling behind. I like to wait until the last minute to do things and I get distracted easily. working from home isn’t going to make that any easier.
I’m afraid of not understanding a topic and messing up the homework.
One thing I’m afraid for this school year is that we won’t go back.
I am afraid that I will get distracted and will fall behind.
I am afraid that I won’t be able to attend the zoom meeting due to internet issues.
One thing that I am afraid of this school year is having online school next year because I don’t learn as well when on remote learning. I am also afraid of procrastinating.
I am afraid that I will miss a class or be really late and miss everything and not understand the lesson well then doing bad on the test.
The main thing I am afraid of this school year is falling behind and missing assignments.
My biggest fear for this school year is failing or procrastinating a lot more than usual
I’m scared that I can’t handle all the classes I signed up for and can’t keep up like I thought I would.
My biggest fear for this school year is getting overwhelmed with the work given to me.
One thing I’m afraid of is that I’ll get piled with so much work that i won’t know how to get back on track or what to complete first.
My biggest fear is failing my classes and AP tests.
The one thing I’m most afraid for the school year is failing the classes because online is different that in person
One thing that I’m afraid of this school year is falling behind or feeling too overwhelmed with class work getting pushed all into one hour.
My biggest fear for this school year is falling behind classes and not going back to school until next year.
Failing my classes
What should your teachers do to manage your concerns about online learning?
Teachers should offer more practice to learn instead of giving busy work for a letter grade.
Provide extra support for homework, and have patience as all of us are new to online learning.
Teachers should communicate with other teachers to not overlap work dates and just overall spread out due dates.
To manage concerns about online schools our teachers should have all assignments and due dates placed somewhere clear to see so that there is no confusion.
I feel like teachers should be understanding and try not to give so much work as to stress the students out too much considering we are all going through a stressful time right now. Also extra credit since people will be missing out on alot.
I feel like teachers should help and understand when there are technical issues with zoom when it’s needed. I feel like students get these feelings because they are exploring a new way of school and are so unaccustomed to being there in the classroom.
Be available during school hours to help student who may have extra questions
Teachers should motivate us and understand that this a whole unique way of learning.
Teachers should be more patient and offer substitute assignments to help understand harder concepts
Teachers can help manage concerns by answering questions and communicating with us.
Teachers should address the concerns that the students have and provide simple solutions for said problems. This will help guide students through these concerns with less anxiety; another thing that the teacher may do to help students is being open to discussion about these problems and working with students to overcome them.
Send reminders for students to remember what’s coming up, if it’s either assignments or important dates.
Teachers should try to use similar websites so that us students will have an easier time finding things and feel more organized without being swarmed with tabs.
Teachers should offer more ways on how to help on hw
I feel that we should be given more creative ways to learn instead of just straight out of the book.
Teachers should find alternatives to schoology, for instance if schoology crashes, having a backup plan would be helpful.
I think teachers should try to be more understanding and have patience because online learning is all new to us. We’re all kinda stressed out so I think we’d appreciate it if teachers don’t pile a ton of work on us just because we’re learning from home.
Teachers should be patient with us one of my teachers already has stuff for us to print out and my printers at target
Teachers should make sure all students are aware of deadlines. It would be helpful to have some sort of schedule posted as well as organized materials in either Schoology or Google Classroom. 🙂
Teachers should just take their time with their lessons and take time with learning this new process.
I was most scared of showing my face on camera. I feel like if it wasn’t forced then it wouldn’t be so bad I guess. But it’s not that bad.
I think that teachers should concentrate more on posting lessons and lectures rather than giving out busywork. I also think it would be helpful to keep the zoom meetings for more of a discussion rather than teaching lessons on zoom because something student’s internet cuts out.
Teachers should record lessons and post them in case we need them, like they do in colleges. Also to be patient and understanding.
I think that teachers should answer as soon as possible, as well as understand that this is a whole new learning environment for us.
I think patience is key, since we’re all new to online learning. I also think we shouldn’t just rely on Zoom meetings, and find other ways to learn and practice, such as being recommended online articles, or having worksheets.
Teachers should offer after school help and should take this time to go more in depth with assignments instead of just giving us extra work.
Always a pleasure to work with Dr. Michelle Herczog at the Los Angeles County Office of Education to provide 6 Tips for Distance Learning. Here is a link to the webinar. I have pasted the agenda with additional links below.
Objective: Teachers will learn to simplify distance learning lessons and create engaging digital learning experiences. Presentation link: https://bit.ly/DL6Tips
Collaborate to Create Cross-Curricular Experiences
A few years ago I was “voluntold” by my principal that I was going to be the chair of my school’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) committee. This task has introduced me to a new network of scholars and colleagues interested in infusing SEL into core content instruction. Occasionally I review books on this blog and in my workshops I often include a Book Pass activity to help educators understand the wide variety of activities, constructs, methods, and strategies that are available to help them with SEL instruction. This post will review Empower Your Students (2018) and Two-For-One Teaching (2020) by Lauren Porosoff and Jonathan Weinstein.
These books remind educators and students of the importance of teaching values within a crowded curricula. While I personally worry that “values” can sometimes be used as code for religious indoctrination, the truth is all institutions have values and they subject their employees, customers, and vendors to them. In the world of K12 schooling, we define our values via our mission and vision statements, often without consulting students. Schools then expect students to blindly follow those values without really teaching them what they mean, or how to follow them. Our principal dutifully reads a code of conduct to our students each day. It concludes with the phrase “and always keep your honor.” I have never heard him provide any examples of what that means or how to follow it in practice. On a daily basis, I see students copying homework, giving each other answers to tests, using their phones to look up answers instead of reading, not to mention outright plagiarism. These books aim to curtail this behavior by teaching students that their values are freely-chosen “qualities of action” that make life meaningful. The strategies demonstrated give teachers a menu of options when teaching students to explore the values that resonate with them and then act accordingly.
The first half of Empower Your Students is made up of activities that help students develop values- consistent behavior. These activities cover curiosity, motivation, purpose, participation, sharing, empathy, and resilience. I have found that most of these values can easily be aligned with the “CASEL Five” SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The second half of the book elaborates on strategies that empower students with dialogue, partnerships, collaboration, course content, inquiry, and addressing teacher values as well.
Two-For-One Teaching suggests methods for conducting values work in the classroom using tools from psychology that help students take action aligned to their personal values. It follows that students will be more engaged during activities that mean something to them and that more engagement will equate to more achievement. The rest of the book offers thirty protocols that help students prepare for learning, explore new material, review material, create work, refine work, and reflect on learning. This book fits nicely into the work of SEL educators or any teacher who wants to make their instruction more relevant to students.
These books clearly instruct educators on how to use and adapt their protocols to suit their own classroom culture. There are ample reproducibles in each book and on the publisher’s website. What I personally found most valuable were the “scripts” that demonstrate teacher conversations with students around issues that are important in my classroom like grading group projects. Being able to ask questions that help students notice their values-inconsistent behavior is hard work and requires a lot of practice. I like having lists of questions and sub-questions such as: What have you tried? How has it worked? And What has it cost? These help me practice this skill and solve problems with groups of students with differing work ethics — a big problem in gifted education. Many of my students struggle with social awareness and relationship skills.
While these books are excellent starting points, time is what is truly needed so that teachers reading them can work together to implement, assess, and debrief the use of this framework and protocols. Until schools and districts make time to connect instruction to student values and increase SEL training in all subjects, I worry that implementation will be inconsistent and results will be mixed. Eventually these worthy programs will be replaced by the next new edu-fad
I am often asked “With all of the content we are asked to teach, how do you have time to do all of this SEL work?” I take my answer from Jonathan Raymond‘s book Wildflowers where he states: “Reshaping public education is the opposite of impossible. It’s consistent with our history and character as Americans and a realistic and achievable goal.” Empower your Students and Two-For-One Teaching are books that help teachers do right by their students.
As a teacher who emphasizes reading and historical literacy to my high school students, I have mixed feelings on using study guides. Do they help our students read the texts we assign them? Are they used only by students who haven’t done the reading, but want to project the illusion of work? History teachers can solve this problem by asking students to create their own study guides focused on what happens to the historical figures, which vocabulary words a reader might have trouble with, and illustrating timelines that help the reader get a better understanding of the story.
These students had five days of class time to read a graphic novel called The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and illustrated by Caanan White. I have used this text several times in my World War One unit and have noticed that students have trouble tracking who is who and who does what throughout the story.
This post is to showcase some exemplars from this assignment. I have also included the reflections from each student describing how they managed their time in italics. There was a 70% completion rate on this assignment. Grades were distributed as: 42 As, 48 Bs, 22 C/Ds, and 40 students didn’t turn in anything. Students receiving an A generally had 10 or more character descriptions, suggested WWI vocabulary words, or events on their timelines.
The first day in class, I spent the day trying to figure out what the prompt was and I was planning out how I was going to organize my information. The following days I read the book and wrote my information as I was reading. I also found a pdf of the book online which allowed me to work on the project at home. One of the major issues I have is that I get distracted easily when people are talking while I’m reading, so that’s why I also had to work on it at home. I think if I didn’t get so distracted, I would’ve finished sooner. In total, I would say I spent about 1.5-2 hours doing the assignment.
I think I earned an A because I worked hard on my slides and looked for characters and searched for different WW1 timelines. I probably would have made my vocab and WW1 facts more detailed.
This next student created a seven page book. I was impressed how historical context and vocabulary were front-loaded. There was also a very consistent citation method employed, no doubt due to this students concurrent enrollment in AP Research.
I believe that if I spent more time on identifying the characters and explaining the timeline it could have performed better. I worked all days, however, I definitely forgot to work on the Commonlit after being too focused on the study guide.
Another project that got an A was this unique creation on Canva. This student had turned in some work on paper and I did not check her electronic work. When you see her comment below, you will understand why she came to me after school very quickly so I would change her grade. She was proud of her project and I love students who advocate for themselves.
I GOT AN A! I really think i got an A because I really put the effort on the presentation of the time line. The only thing I would say is the amount of information I used could’ve been more but other than that I cited, used pictures, used more information than ____. This is very honest btw.
Overall, I was very pleased with how creative my students were in response to this assignment. There were a few instances of shared images and text, which necessitated some classroom discussion on plagiarism. I can see repeating this assignment next month when we read …
My next post will delve into the reasons that 40 students did not turn in anything at all. This semester we will be doing a lot more work reflecting on our classwork and documenting how students manage their time. #FailureIsNotanOption
Since the Saddleridge Fire caused my school to cancel Parent Conferences in October, I offered students 100 points to record a conversation with a parent about their grade on Flipgrid. I gave them this prompt: Lead a conversation with your parent(s) about your 15 week grades. How many graded assignments did you complete? How many were missing? How many were late? Which assignments did you struggle with? Which did you learn the most from? Describe your work/study habits and explain how you are going to balance assignments in the future with all of your other responsibilities. Share an assignment from this class that you are proud of & describe how you created it.
Overall, 49 students (33%) completed a video and 23 of them (15%) improved by a full letter grade in time for the 15 week marking period. Since I have a total student load of 154 students, this means that five students (3%) went from a B to an A, nine students (6%) went from a C to a B, eight students (5%) went from a D to a C, and one student (.6%) went from an F to a D. All of the videos demonstrated students improving their self-awareness and taking responsibility for their learning with the added bonus of parents figuring out how to better support them. These videos warmed my heart. I will definitely do this again in the Spring before the parents come in for Back to School night. Now I just need to start recording my responses. I’m going to try and do five per day so that I get to them all. Please be patient life outside of work is very hectic right now.
In short, this assignment improved grades for one-third of my students. Fifteen percent of students moved up by a whole letter grade. Further, this assignment reduced my D/F percentages from to 24% to 18%. I need to give more thought as to how I can motivate this group of struggling students to engage and learn how to ask for help. More importantly these videos showed me that even in secondary school where engaging families is difficult, most parents are working hard to help their children succeed academically. Thanks Flipgrid for bridging this communication gap and giving me valuable insight into the families I serve.
One of my favorite videos came from a 10th grade softball player Jazmin and her mother Ana. I loved it because this mother asked her daughter questions about her life in school, i.e., What do you like about this class? & What’s your favorite type of assignment? Plus, at about the 3 minute mark, the Mom actually DABS because she is so proud of her daughter. Jazmin’s reaction made me laugh out loud. The two of them seem more like friends than mother & daughter. I doubt I would have seen this sweet side to their relationship had this been a traditional parent meeting in my classroom. Educators new to Flipgrid can read their blog and check out their Discovery Library for ideas to get them started.