Category Archives: Historical Writing

Veterans Day Reading

Patriots from the Barrio

Author Dave Gutierrez has produced a well-researched work of non-fiction that examines Mexican-American contributions in WWII. Patriots From The Barrio describes the heroics of Company E, the 141st Infantry from the 36th Texas division of the US Army. This unit was initially composed entirely of Mexican American enlisted men. While engaged in campaigns in Italy and North Africa, Company E sustains appalling casualties against Nazi Germany’s best troops.

Thanks to Azusa Pacific University and their wonderful donors, Richard Webster of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation and Lee Walcott of the Ahmanson Foundation, I was awarded a 2018-19 Keeping History Alive grant to use for an on-campus presentation and classroom resources.

This means after reading Patriots of the Barrio during their study of WWII, my students will be getting a personal visit from the author. They will learn about genealogy research techniques from Dave and engage in student-centered inquiry projects that help them examine untold Hispanic contributions on American battlefields. This project will give them a chance to write those stories, preserve those stories and contribute to the history of their people.

Students will produce oral histories or interviews of family members that can be recorded and shared with the Library of Congress. Further, transcripts of exemplary Hispanic Histories will be displayed in the Library at John F. Kennedy High School. Selected family histories will be recorded on video and shared with parents and families at school events.

Listening & Speaking PD

Integrating Listening & Speaking into Social Studies Instruction
Glendale Unified School District
October 9 & 10, 2018

12:00 – Listening Instruction

  • Teach Listening First
  • Julian Treasure – RASA
  • Listenwise
  • 15 Minute History
  • Find content for your class

12:30  – StoryCorps

  • One Small Step
  • Vietnam Veteran Interviews
  • 9/11 Oral History Project

1:00 – Socratic Smackdown

  • Emoluments Clause
  • Scoring Coach Cards
  • Grading standards-based reflections

1:30 – Civil Conversation

  • Curriculum Library
  • Reflection/Debriefing

2:00 – Creating Speaking Assignments

  • Discussion Models (whole class, small group, individual)
  • Speaking Scaffolds (Confidence Monitor/Teleprompter)

2:30 – Assessing Speaking Assignments

  • Flipgrid

The presentation can be accessed and copied here.

Gender Bias in High School History

I tried an experiment in my high school World and US History classes that was inspired by Dr. Bob Bain, the highly esteemed professor from the University of Michigan. I have seen Dr. Bain speak several times and was intrigued with an experiment which roughly prompts students with: an alien from another galaxy sits next to you at Starbucks, he/she turns to you and says tell me about the history of your planet.

Since I teach high school sophomores (World History) and juniors (United States History), I couched this approached a little differently because I thought an hour-long writing assignment would be alienating (pun intended). On the first day of school, I asked my students to draw a map of the World or United States from their memory. On the second day of school, I asked my students to list the Top 10 most important events in World or US History. Interestingly, this resulted in 66 events in WH and 65 events in USH. There were no significant differences between classes.

On the third day of school, I tell students that because they exceeded my expectations with the previous assignment I am doubling what I expect from them. I ask students to write down the Top 20 most important people in World or US History. This causes frenzied discussion, as many students struggle to come up with 20 names. I give my students 10 minutes for this task (2 minutes per name). After they are done with their list, I ask them to count up how many men are on the list and compare it to how many women are on the list.

Image result for gender bias

On average, students in each class period listed 13 men and three women. This generated a nice discussion on the role of gender bias in History. I let my students know that they have a lot of freedom to do inquiry projects and independent investigations in this class, they need to pick the stories they tell carefully. They are responsible for writing history for the next generation. Do they want to continue to under-represent women in high school textbooks?

A 1984 study by M.K Tetrealt of US history textbooks revealed that the text allotted to references to women added up to less than one page. A closer look at another book showed that in more than 1,000 pages, there were four illustrations of men for every one of a woman and that less than three percent of the text was about women (Gospe, 2015). As California adopts new textbooks in 2018, I wonder how much these stats have changed?

Best Practice: Corroboration

Common Core standards require Social Studies teachers to demonstrate how students corroborate historical details with multiple sources of information to develop a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. I use this presentation when teaching this skill in my high school Social Studies classes. This is a rigorous task that requires close reading and organization skills. My students frequently realize that they need to improve at including page numbers into their notes, otherwise this assignment requires a second or third read in order to find that information. In the examples below, I have italicized student writing and kept my comments in plain text. 

The definition I use for corroboration is the ability to compare information provided by two separate sources and find similarities between them.


In the film, The Exception, Captain Brandt is tasked with protecting Kaiser Wilhelm II because of the fear that spies might be watching them. These are reported to the Gestapo.  In Paullina Simons’ novel, The Bronze Horseman, there is also a fear of spies in the Soviet Union, which is why citizens are told to report to the NKVD (1149).

The student below does not use parenthetical citations but instead spells out the page numbers at the beginning of each sentence. This is not consistent in academic writing as it pulls the reader out of the text

Page 19 of With the Old Breed mentions what was considered the first modern head-on amphibious assault of the Battle of Tarawa. Page 603 of The American Vision makes mention of island-hopping in the Pacific and how Tarawa was the Navy’s first target in the Pacific.

This student does not include page numbers, which is a red flag that perhaps they did not read the novel, but instead are relying on internet searches to find connections with other historical events. When I can’t find the French film available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I really wonder if the student viewed it.

The French film, La Ralfe, was about the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of July 1942, in which roughly 13,000 Jews living in Paris (4,501 of them children) were removed from their homes by French police and sent to detention camps in the countryside, before being deported to Auschwitz. In the novel, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah and her family were part of the Vel’ d’Hiv just like the people in the movie La Ralfe.

In the book Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, the book states how Hitler signed the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union. “During the preparations for war against Poland, and the signing of the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union which Hitler pursued to that end, Hitler…” (“Heinrich Hoffmann’s Studio.” Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, by Heike B. Görtemaker, Verlag C. H. Beck OHG, 2010, p 20.)In the textbook, it says “In August 1939, Hitler stunned the world by announcing a nonaggression pact with his great enemy-Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator.” (“World History The Modern World.” World History The Modern World, by Ellis Esler, Pearson Education, 2007, p. 465.)

This student has gone overboard and used a full works cited reference instead of an in-text parenthetical citation featuring author last name, page number. See below for a student who has done this succinctly.

Ellis states that, “Within a few days, they were herded into ‘shower rooms’ and gassed”(472) which is supported when Keneally says that, “At last the victims were driven down a barbed-wire passage to bunkers which had copper Stars of David on their roofs and were labeled ‘BATHS AND INHALATION ROOMS’ ’’(136).

Explicitly teaching corroboration and citing page numbers in sources helps students reduce the amount of plagiarism in their work. It also teaches them the importance of reading carefully and organizing their notes. This type of work can be down with short readings and the textbook, or with longer book level or article readings that students will encounter in college.

Please note that assignments like this help prevent, but do not totally remove the risk of student cheating. I have found that spot-checking a sample of 5-6 assignments per period often reveals a student’s googling and copying someone else’s work.

For instance, this corroboration “The Japanese invaders treated the Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and other conquered people with great brutality, killing and torturing civilians throughout East and Southeast Asia.” (Ellis,  2005, 473). Iris proved this by writing about the killing contest, live burials, mutilation, death by fire,death by ice, death by dogs and rapes (83-89). There is way more terrible things to explain what happened to these Chinese people, but that was enough to explain how badly they were tortured.” was done by two different students in different class periods, coincidentally reading the same book and using the same source from the internet. What are the odds?

In order to prevent copying like this, simply give students shorter readings and make the corroborations due in one class period. This way all of the readings can be done in class and students don’t have time to share their work on classroom backchannels.

CCSS Standards

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Summarization Strategy w/Peer Review

It has been a few years since I wrote this primer and I have moved from using SurveyMonkey, PollEverywhere, and Google Forms to Turnitin and PeerGrade. When I speak at conferences and talk to other high school history teachers about using peer review and conferencing with students about their writing, they look at me like I have three heads. On Tuesday night, May 15th at 6 PT, I am hosting a #TeachWriting chat on using peer review. I’m hoping to learn how comfortable secondary teachers are using peer review so their students learn from evaluation.

This post will describe a timed summarization strategy that adapts what John Collins calls the 10% summary.  In this activity, I give students a reading on a historical topic. They have 20-25 minutes to summarize it. Then they swap papers with an elbow partner and have ten minutes to read the partner’s summary and grade it according to a criteria chart. I have found it helpful to include exemplar summaries, or mentor texts that demonstrate superior work.

During the first pass, my 10th-grade students wrote an average of 173 words. Their feedback was perfunctory and not helpful. See Figure 1.

Summarization Strategies

After some direct instruction and modeling, this student was able to improve their feedback using specific language from the criteria chart.  See Figure 2.

Summarization Strategies (1)

These students need guided support when evaluating each others’ summaries. Focusing on simple to evaluate factors help students become more successful. Since I know the word count of the original text I asked them to summarize, after they count the number of words they wrote, they can tell me whether or not they met the 10% rule.  Next, I ask students to evaluate how well the author used their own words instead of copying directly from the text.


Lastly, we discuss the main ideas from the passage to determine whether or not the author was successful in listing and explaining them. This process can help students engage in content reading, build background knowledge, and learn from each other. It is an easy way for secondary Social Studies teachers to incorporate peer review into their everyday classroom instruction.

Writing in Social Studies

Integrating Listening, Speaking & Writing in the Social Studies Classroom
Los Angeles County of Education
Day Two: Friday, February 23, 2018

Workshop Slides

8:30 – Reading in Social Studies

  • Loop Writing
  • Bob Bain video
  • Increasing Student Reading in class
  • text sets
  • historical fiction & non-fiction

9:00 – Daily Writing Tasks

  • Calendar Conversations
  • SEL Quickwrites & Student Reflections
  • Summarizing & Paraphrasing
  • Corroborating
  • Annotated Bibliographies (mini-research projs)
  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD)

9:45 – 10:00 Break

10:00 – Narrative Writing

  • The Power of Narrative
  • First Person Research Papers
  • Vietnam Veteran Interviews

11:00 – Informative/Explanatory Writing

  • Timeline Transitions
  • Twitter as a pre-writing summarization tool
  • RAFT writing

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – Argumentative Writing

  • LOOP Writing
  • Believing & Doubting Game
  • MEAL paragraphs

1:45 – 2:00 Break

2:00 – Giving Feedback on Student Writing

  • Self-Review
  • Peer Review
  • Rubric Calibration
  • Road test the Robo-readers

Other Resources

Workshop materials posted on Collaborative Notes:  

So Cal Social Science Association events

CCSS Spring Conference

Analyzing Annotated Bibliographies

Recently, my high school students were assigned an inquiry project that required independent research. The first step in this project was teaching students to write an annotated bibliography. Fortunately, I was well supported by my English department colleagues. Each of whom supported our shared students with instruction on writing annotated bibliographies.


A common definition was adapted from Purdue OWL’s website. An annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of sources for a research project. Annotations may do one or more of the following: Summarize: What is the point of this book or article? What topics does it cover? Assess: Evaluate the source. How will it be useful? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? Reflect: Ask how this source fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Grading the annotated bibliographies was simple: First, I examined the quality of the annotation. How well did the student summarize, assess and reflect on the content of the source? Then I looked at the overall format of their document. Two minor mistakes knocked them down to a B; 3 mistakes = C; 4 mistakes =  D; and more than 4 mistakes = do not pass go, do not collect $200.


I used this presentation to debrief with my students. I’m happy to report that over 75% of my students were able to complete an annotated bibliography in two class periods. Unfortunately, only 32% of the work that was turned in met my definition of proficiency as having fewer than 2 or more minor mistakes. The fifteen students who got A’s averaged five correct citations containing informative annotations.

Moving forward, I could see this activity becoming an end of unit exam or even a department final that accurately measures student research skills. How do you assign and evaluate annotated bibliographies? How can we break the research process down so that students are able to practice these skills in our daily classroom practices?