Category Archives: Historical Writing

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?


It is always a pleasure to come and present to risk-taking and proactive educators at LACOE that want to increase the amount of speaking and listening in their classrooms. Most of the work I am presenting comes from the books of Erik Palmer and the course I taught with him and Corbin Moore on Canvas Network.

Feel free to save the presentation to your Google Drive and use whatever parts you find useful.

Teaching Study Skills

Teachers at my school have identified several growth areas in student study skills and we are working collectively to address these deficits. At the beginning of this school year, I gave my students a study skills questionnaire from the University of Central Florida’s student resource center.  This thirty-item survey asks students to report whether they rarely, sometimes, or often use specific strategies in their academic practices. The domains assess student practices when reading textbooks, taking notes, studying, memorizing, preparing for tests, and managing their time.


A sample (N=191) of 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12 graders took the survey. The scores ranged from a low of 20 to a high of 270 with a median of 170. The test’s authors suggest that a score of 31-50 in each domain indicates that the study skill area is adequate, whereas a score of 0-30 indicates that this study skills area needs improvement. My students’ average scores are displayed in the table below.

Reading Notes Studying Memorizing Test Prep Time Mgmnt Total
25.64 23.43 30.97 27.40 31.55 25.72 164.70

The items in the survey offer good starting points for student reflections when using exam wrappers or project debriefings.  Each student was given their results and discussed their largest growth area with me in a private conference. After each major academic milestone this year (project, test, paper, speech and etc.) my students will reflect on how the activity helped improve their growth. At the end of the year, they will take the survey again to see how they have improved.

I am interested in learning more about how K-12 educators teach study skills, please join me for a Twitter chat on this topic this Thursday, September 21 at 9pm ET/6pm PT. The questions are below:

Teachers are notorious finger pointers. “You should have memorized your multiplication tables in third grade. You should be taking notes and reviewing for tests by 6th grade. You should know how to read a textbook by 8th grade.” The list goes on. This evening of #sstlap is dedicated to teaching study skills. Regardless of where you students are when you get them, where do you want them to be when they leave you? What study skills should students have improved after a year under your tutelage? Get ready to share the glory and the pain as we try to teach our students study skills that they can take with them on their academic journey.

:07 Q1 What is the most significant skill deficit students have when they arrive in your class? How do you learn about and remediate this skills gap?

:14 Q2 How can we be enthusiastic about teaching study skills to our students when we have so much content to deliver?

:21 Q3 What are the best ways to immerse students into a note-taking lesson?

:28 Q4 How does focusing on reading skills instead of delivering content build rapport with students?

:35 Q5 How can you tie student passions to practicing skills like test prep and time management?

:42 Q6 How can you reframe a memorization lesson to make content aquisition fun?

:48 Q7 What apps/technology tools can help teachers transform skills instruction into fun activities?

:54 Q8 #FLIPGRIDFEVER BONUS QUESTION Click on the link and explain your favorite skill-building tool or lesson in 90 seconds instead of 140 characters.


Archive of 9/21/2017 #sstlap chat

Six degrees of separation history lesson

Quizlet Live gamifies study sessions

Daniel Pink – To Rhyme is Sublime

Timed note-taking drills

Teach Listening First

Teach Listening First: How to Link
Listening Instruction into your Career Pathway
EdTalk given at Cal State Poly Pomona by Scott M. Petri


I should start by saying if my wife was here listening to me talking about the importance of teaching listening skills, the laughter would be deafening. She often complains that I don’t listen to her, refuse to write anything down and don’t remember anything she tells me. It’s like she hit the lottery of clueless husbands. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a listening expert to teach listening skills. I started down this path by attending my daughter’s 2nd grade publishing party. Each child read their poem from the author’s chair and then each audience member gave them a compliment by focusing on one of the poetry terms. I really liked how you used personification. Awesome alliteration Alex. I loved your onomatopoeia. . .

I went back to my school wondering how I could implement this in my classroom without my 9th graders shouting BORING at each other. After talking with colleagues who reminded me that teachers set the culture in their classroom, we wrote an ASCD Teacher Impact Grant and were given funding to conduct a video lesson study on teaching listening and speaking skills. This experience inspired us to teach listening first.

As a history teacher working in a medical careers pathway, I have shifted my traditional instruction to skills-based instruction. It’s a simple concept. I demonstrate a skill for students. They practice it. I measure it, and we repeat. Students pursuing medical careers understand the need for strong listening skills. If doctors and nurses can’t listen during patient intakes, misdiagnoses happen and patients suffer.

So I teach skills now. Listening skills, writing skills, speaking skills, collaboration skills. Basically anything that can’t be measured with a standardized test. Practice skill. Measure. Repeat. Over the last 7 years, I have obsessively measured every academic variable in my classroom with the unwavering determination of a lunatic. This has made me popular with my students because I can show them where they are in relation to their peers. It’s only taken me 30 years, but I have finally become popular in high school.

If you have happy students, you are on your way to becoming Teacher of the Year. One way to create this atmosphere is to measure performance tasks that show student growth throughout the year. This is simple data collection. What I learned from looking at all this data is that what we don’t know is bigger than what we do know. This is especially true of our students, who are so intimidated by what they don’t know, that they often fail to engage in even the most basic of academic tasks. This is what exasperates teachers and leads to burnout.

How do we teach speaking to students who would rather take a zero than embarrass themselves in front of their peers? And how do we teach listening when as soon as you hit play, half the class reaches for their cell phones? The kids we don’t engage haunt us. How do we keep inspiring? How do teachers keep pushing that rock up the hill? Like the journey of a thousand miles. We begin with a single step. Goal-setting. This involves showing students where they are and showing them where they need to be.

We know students must leave high school with a working understanding of about 50,000 words in order to be academically successful in college. Good vocabulary teaching involves a lot of talk and practice using language. Listening to academic vocabulary being used correctly is an important first step in helping students gain confidence before they start speaking with new words.

Although most social studies teachers probably do not feel the need to teach listening, research shows that students learn 55% of their academic vocabulary in social studies classes. Listening is a key component of strong instruction and is often taught in elementary school, but fades away in middle and high school.

Speaking and listening standards have become the forgotten part of the Common Core. Few schools or districts formally assess them. A 2015 UCLA study found a majority of social studies teachers struggled to explain how they helped students develop speaking and listening skills. These teachers reported using small and whole-class discussions regularly, but rarely (if ever) assessed their students during these activities. Only 15% of these teachers spoke confidently about their speaking & listening instruction.

All of this convinced me that we need to teach listening first. Listening while reading helps people have successful interactions with text, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy. Research shows that students can listen two to three grade levels above what they can read.  Most importantly for CTE Pathway teachers like me who teach career readiness skills, listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek. Although most of us spend the majority of our day listening, how much time do we spend trying to become a better at it?

Very few educators provide instruction in listening. We assume that every student can listen, if they’ll just stop talking. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. Without specific instruction, students do not understand that listening is an active process under their control. If you have ever sat through a series of student presentations, than you know many students don’t listen to each other at all. We need to teach them how.

Sound expert Julian Treasure begged his TED audience to teach listening in schools. You know his wife is lucky. He’s a real listening expert. He developed a mnemonic RASA so educators can teach every student to Receive (pay attention), Appreciate (nod at the speaker, smile, make eye contact), Summarize (so?), and Ask questions (about what was said)–RASA. This is an easy poster to hang in your room and point to throughout the year.

Before I move on to specific techniques and resources that can help you teach listening, I want to remind you that just as students struggle to identify inferences and bias in text, they need practice and extensive coaching before they can learn to listen between the lines and hear the big picture. Students report greater comprehension when they ask questions, manage their interest levels, and discuss what they just heard. Mix these tasks into your listening activities for best results.

Now, let me give you three resources to help you embed listening into your classroom practices. The first is Listenwise, a service that aligns National Public Radio stories with content standards in ELA, Social Studies and Science. Listening to these stories regularly in class helps my students take this skill seriously. My high school students listened to 11 stories last semester. These were paired with assessments that tested their comprehension and tracked the results over time. This tool can help you teach listening in as little as three minutes a day. Practice skill. Measure. Repeat.

Second, I use longer podcasts to create note-taking drills that build listening stamina and focus. First, review the transcript and create questions that test how well students listen for main ideas, point of view, inferences, and academic vocabulary. Then, divide the class into four groups:

Group A: Is not allowed to take notes.

Group B: Takes notes but can’t use them on the test.

Group C: Takes notes and uses them on the test.

Group D: Takes notes, uses them and gets the transcript.

After listening, all of the students take the same quiz. Typically there is a 30% gap between Group A and Group D. This teaches students the value of taking notes and listening intently. I do not grade these activities on a traditional percentage basis. Instead, I divide them into listening proficiency bands and show students their growth over time.

I do this during the first week of school to demonstrate that the act of taking notes can move a student up three letter grades. Practice skill. Measure. Repeat. These longer listening drills have ended my least favorite question — should we be taking notes on this?  If I could only end — Can I go to the bathroom? and — How many points is this worth? I would be the happiest teacher in the world!

Students need practice listening to each other and many enjoy engaging in whole-class discussions, but this is a difficult format for one teacher to master. Monitoring who participates, how often they participate and keeping the flow of conversation collegial can be challenging. Many teachers worry classroom conversations can veer off course. The Constitutional Rights Foundation offers a civil conversation model that helps guide students discussing controversial issues like the Syrian Refugee Crisis and ICE Deportation Raids.

Regular use of these three tools: Listenwise stories, longer listening drills, and civil conversations helps students focus on the goal of listening comprehension. Understanding is the goal of listening. As teachers we need to prepare students to actively listen, avoid distractions and engage in conversations around what they just heard. Author Erik Palmer suggests before students engage in purposeful listening, their teachers should tell them what to respond to, how to respond and when to respond.

Today has been all about teacher leadership and affirming that teachers are better together. I have seen teachers across subjects and grade levels sharing lessons and ideas, but it is still too hard for us to connect and collaborate. Next year, I will be working with The Constitutional Rights Foundation in expanding Teacher Practice Networks for teachers integrating speaking and listening instruction into their classes. I invite you to join us and share what happens when you teach listening first. Together, we can work toward improving listening in all schools.

At the end of our Teacher Impact Grant, we realized that our explicit focus on listening instruction had also helped our students strengthen their attention spans and improve their collaborative skills. After reflecting, we realized that listening had a powerful effect on learning in each of our classes. I only wish my wife would tell me that I’ve gotten a little better at listening too, but I think I was supposed to pick up our kids 15 minutes ago.

Thank you for listening.

Indy Book Projects

As I start to reflect on the end of another school year, I want to focus on a couple of pieces of student work that have made me feel like an accomplished teacher. I always try to integrate an independent reading project into my history class. I am purposefully vague with students and only tell them that they need to complete a project that convinces me they have read the book. This year, I had two Gaby’s that exceeded my expectations.

The first student read Dead Wake by Erik Larson, which is a fantastic book to help students understand an important turning point in WWI history. This student was part of our school’s Teaching Academy and she decided early on that she wanted to transform this book into a children’s book. I was very impressed by the details she recorded and how she made the author’s text accessible to lower level readers.

Lusitania Children’s Book by scottmpetri on Scribd

The next student wrote a review of the book Forty Autumns by Nina Willner but responded to my feedback with at least five new versions of her review. I especially enjoyed how she included some questions for the author. I was able to contact the author on Twitter @ninawillner and she agreed to respond to the student’s questions. I love how technology has helped bridge a previously insurmountable gap between authors and readers.

Garden of BeastsInfographic Template

The-Great-InfluenzaGreat Influenza Foldable

I love doing projects like this where students have voice and choice as to the type of book they are reading and the project they are creating. The only instruction I give them is that their project should convince me that they read the entire book. The fun part of teaching is seeing how different and creative students can be.