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After you read the following information and advice, please feel free to go to my Dropbox, and specifically the folder “Most Useful Files.” Here is a summary of the available materials that could be of further help to you:
Please see “Green Sheet 11th Grade US History,” our class policies and my best advice for success in class. “11th Grade US History Year Plan” is our course outline for the school year, giving an overview of each thematic unit and the time periods covered in each. “11th Grade US History Year Plan Exam Questions” details the one, over-arching learning objective for each thematic unit—which, not coincidentally, is the essay exam question for each unit. Exam questions should never be a surprise! These questions are in fact the exact essay exam questions for all of our essay tests for the entire year. Please feel free to read them and ponder them. Together, they constitute the major questions students must answer to know their places in the American past and present, for this year and the rest of their lives.
The files in the folder “11th Grade US History Unit Outlines” are our Unit Outlines that we use daily. They are the students’ best friends in staying organized, preparing for exams and essays, and succeeding in class overall. They also contain a complete list of our daily learning objectives and content lists, facts for which to listen during class and to prioritize during homework. Please refer to the information farther down on this page for advice on how to use these Unit Outlines.
These Unit Outlines are available in the Dropbox in printable pdf format and also in editable Word format: I highly encourage students to take notes on laptops, iPads, or other technology, both during and outside of class. Not only will you save a lot of paper, but you’ll also make working with your notes, including preparing for essay exams, far more efficient and effective.
Additionally, the complete structure of our thematic US History curriculum at Pioneer is available in my Dropbox: please see the folder “US History Learning Objectives and Sources.” These files enable the reader to see how, whether a particular teacher uses a chronological or thematic course structure, every US History teacher at Pioneer uses the same learning objectives; every history teacher at Pioneer also is fully aligned to Common Core Standards. Additionally, the files in the folder “11th Grade US History Standards” detail the three sets of California and SJUSD standards that form the basis for all of our US History classes at Pioneer.
If you are interested in my teaching philosophies, particularly why I have chosen to teach a thematic course structure for over a decade and why I use extensive documents as opposed to a textbook, please see “Course Philosophies 11th Grade US History.”
***Advice on Homework Success***
Each Monday, students are provided a syllabus detailing all homework assignments for at least the coming week, and frequently, more notice about major assignments and exams. With the exception of periodic binder quizzes (testing students’ note-taking and binder organization), there will never be a pop quiz or test. Students, I recommend using the syllabus to plan your week. Preview all of the assignments on Monday evening. Assess which are longer and shorter; assess which seem more difficult or less so. Estimate how much time is needed for each, and fit that time into your weekly schedule with your other commitments. Try to anticipate on which assignments you may need help, and then come in for help. A weekly schedule of lunchtime and after-school help times is posted each Monday morning in the classroom. I am available every day, either at lunch or after school or both. Please don’t hesitate to see me! Parents, in helping your student stay organized and current with homework assignments, my best advice is to review the weekly syllabus with him/her each Monday evening. You can talk over which assignments seem to be longer (and will therefore take more time and planning), more difficult (therefore enabling your student to get an early start or to come in for a help session with me), or more potentially frustrating (definitely not an assignment to save until the last night before it is due).
Students are responsible for keeping all weekly syllabi in a special section of their binders called “Syllabi.” At the end of the semester, students will have a running list of every assignment due for the entire semester. There are several purposes for keeping this running list; the most important two are to help the students prepare for exams and to allow students to make up missing homework assignments. Please note that if a student wants to make up missing homework, I can not give assignment information again. Students are held responsible for knowing the specific instructions for each assignment. Work that does not meet assignment criteria will not earn credit. Virtually all homework assignments can be made up until the end-of-the-semester deadline for 75% late credit. Please see the “Grade Viewer All Classes” tab on this website for more information and advice about make-up policies.
I also highly recommend that students and parents not wait until grade updates have been posted on line before addressing missing homework. Students’ syllabi list all assignments given in class; students, you can use the syllabus to plan proactively instead of reacting to grade reports that show zeros.
Please use this link to access all weekly syllabi (instructions for all homework assignments for the week that are given to students each Monday in class):
Please be aware that I occasionally make changes to homework assignments that will not be reflected on these syllabi. Students are notified of all changes during class and are responsible for making these changes on their copies of their syllabus.
My best advice of all is to refer to our class’s Green Sheet. In it is an entire section on the criteria for strong homework assignments. Homework assignments are graded holistically according to the reading, thinking and writing skills that we practice together to develop our college readiness. Here are some excerpts from that section of the Green Sheet. Please refer to the Green Sheet for the full text:
Strong grades are earned on homework by meeting the following criteria:
- Answering the required questions directly and thoughtfully, including critical analysis and creative thinking
- Supporting conclusions with evidence (quoted and paraphrased) from the readings; make it clear that you read the assignment and use the text as proof for your ideas
- Putting answers in your own words: simply copying large chunks of text is unproductive; rather, please use small passages from the readings as evidence and make the rest of the writing your own original words and thoughts
- Being reasonable in the length of your answers: please don’t be a minimalist—be sure to sufficiently develop many possible ideas—but be reasonable and don’t write two pages for a question that can be answered in one paragraph
Important notes about homework grading include the following:
- If you do not meet the requirements of a homework assignment, you will earn an “NC,” which stands for “not complete” and “no credit.” All NCs appear as zeros in the grade book until the assignments are completed. If you get an NC, you should finish the assignment and hand it back in to get credit. Make-up NCs can earn only late credit, not full credit. Please be aware that I am strict in my definition of “complete.”
- Please note that having the right answers is not part of your homework grade. It is important for you to understand your reading, and we will discuss the accurate answers in class, but please feel free to guess and take risks in your thinking in your homework. General Douglas MacArthur once said, “if everyone in the room is thinking the same thing, then someone isn’t thinking.” Please get out of the habit of feeling compelled to be “right” and into the habit of being curious and willing to experiment with ideas.
***Advice on Major Assessments: Tests, Essays and Projects***
The following is my best advice on how to succeed on tests and essays, as well as being able to enjoy as much success as possible in class in general. The Unit Outlines to which I refer below are available in my Dropbox.
Unit assessments (projects and essay exams) are not meant to surprise or fool you! In fact, at the beginning of each unit, students will receive a Unit Outline that includes, among other useful information, the key learning objective for that unit. In other words, students will learn on the very first day that we begin a unit the exam essay question that ends that unit, as well as other projects or expectations of them over the course of the entire unit. All unit assessments are completely open binder: my goal is not for students to use their time to memorize information but rather to analyze the information and use it to excel in all three levels of critical thinking.
I therefore recommend organizing your assessment preparation—preparing for an essay, doing a project, etc.—by levels of critical thinking:
Low-Level Critical Thinking
Low-level critical thinking means understanding information, knowing who people are and what happened in certain events, etc. It also involves being able to read documents accurately and critically. In your unit outline, you will see two helpful resources to aid you in your low-level critical thinking.
- Content Lists—These lists of people, places and things constitute the most important facts that we have studied in class; these lists will help you understand what is the most important information. Some items come from homework readings, others from lectures and class discussions. Your first step in your unit assessment preparation is to know what/who these things/people are. Items on these content lists will eventually make great pieces of evidence to prove your opinions in essays and projects. These content lists will also help you very much in your note-taking during class. Try to listen for things on the lists. If you hear something in class that is on a Content List, prioritize it in your note-taking.
- Lists of Sources—These lists tell you all of the readings (and other visual and auditory sources) we use for homework and during class throughout the unit. Using these lists will refresh your memory about all of the places you can look for facts and quotes to use as evidence for your projects and essays. These lists will also help you remember which time period the source comes from.
Mid-Level Critical Thinking
Mid-level critical thinking means finding patterns in the history we study—similarities and differences, themes and main ideas. Mid-level critical thinking allows you to tie together everything we learn, to create categories of information. Being able to understand patterns in the history is a vital step in your overall mastery and for essays and projects in particular. (For example, as we will discuss in class, a solid theme is what makes a great topic sentence in an essay.) Your best tool for mid-level critical thinking is the learning objectives in your Unit Outlines. In preparing for unit assessments, practice answering each learning objective by using
1. people/events from your content lists
2. quotes and main ideas from sources
3. notes from class
My biggest piece of advice is to appeal to your learning style in this mid-level critical thinking. If you are an auditory learner, form a study group and talk through your answers to these learning objectives with friends. If you are visual and/or haptic, create second drafts of your notes. Go over your notes from class and old homework assignments. Create subject headings for each learning objective and/or themes that you define as being important to them. Think of your themes as hashtags–main ideas into which all of your individual quotes and facts fit. Write items from the content lists, main ideas and quotes from homework readings, and information from your class notes together according to the learning objective to which it pertains. Use graphic organizers, charts, and other visual formats. Understand the way your brain works and take advantage of your strengths!
Upper-Level Critical Thinking
Upper-level critical thinking means making judgments and creating original conclusions. All unit assessments are centered around upper-level critical thinking questions. Once you have done your low- and mid-level thinking, you are well on your way to making responsible, reliable, creative and well-proved judgments!
Being able to accomplish these three levels of critical thinking takes dedication to daily homework assignments and a commitment to keeping an organized binder (see “Green Sheet 11th Grade US History” for binder instructions). Having all of your sources from throughout the unit organized in your binder is a must, as your binder also functions as your textbook. I cannot stress enough that without these two commitments to success, any success at all in class will be extremely difficult if not impossible.
Above all else, students must do their homework daily and keep an organized binder.