Increasing Class Discussions

A great body of research (Chapin et al, 2009; Daniels, 2002; Duff, 2002; Flynn, 2009; Mason, 1996; and Spiegel, 2005) has focused on classroom discussions. I began experimenting with this technique in January. I spent two weeks mapping and analyzing data from student-led discussions in five 9th and 10th grade World History classes (N=197). A sample of the students was divided into two categories “frequent participants” and “non-frequent participants.” Over the course of a semester, they would be given a series of assessments. This data would be analyzed to see if increasing classroom discussions has an effect on increasing student achievement.


After two weeks, I asked students to conduct a self-assessment and give themselves a grade on their participation in the classroom discussions. I provided direct instruction and a handout (based on Teaching the Core) that helped identify seven ways to participate in classroom discussions. Students were asked to reflect on their participation and give themselves a grade between 1-10 on the quality of their work. The following 48 comments offer insight into what motivates students to participate, or not participate in class discussions.

  1. I did not participate in class discussion because I had not watched the lecture yesterday therefore I could not talk about it.
  2. I didn’t participate because I raised my hand, but I never got picked.
  3. During the class discussion, I was listening to what they said and I was taking notes. I was going to say something but I guess someone beat me by saying what I wanted to say first.
  4. I wasn’t able to participate in class because I went to the restroom and by the time I came back they were talking to the inner circle. But I had a lot to talk about. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance.
  5. I was not able to participate because I was having trouble understanding the discussion.
  6. I didn’t participate until I became the one to ask questions. I had notes but my notes weren’t very detailed and I couldn’t answer the questions.
  7. I did not participate because I am uncomfortable with public speaking.
  8. I didn’t participate in the class discussion because I always participate and I want others to participate too.
  9. I did not participate because I had no information and I did not watch the lecture notes.
  10. I didn’t participate in the discussion because I cannot talk I’ve been sick and I have a bad cold. Although I wasn’t talking I was listening.
  11. I did not participate in this discussion because I did not have anything to say as I was not prepared with information.
  12. I am able to detect bad reasoning and distorted evidence. Some people might read something that you know is not true and you look for the true statement to see if they are correct or wrong.
  13. I didn’t participate in the class discussion because first of all I did have information for some topics but the host would pick someone else with that information that I had.
  14. I did not participate because I have not watched the video last night. I went to go watch it and it wouldn’t load. It would open then shut down. I was not able to watch it or get the notes from someone else.
  15. I did qualify my own views. I got my peers closer to the answer even though I got some wrong.
  16. I participated, but I kind of winged it. I saw/put myself in the other countries shoes to see what I would do, so when I did that, it made more sense.
  17. I did justify my own ideas and make connections to the topic because I talked about Japan’s invasion.
  18. During our class discussion I wasn’t called on but I helped explain what Staffon was trying to say about the treaty of Versailles and Germany.
  19. In response to Ruben’s question, I answered about one of Hitler’s points in the book he wrote.
  20. I had some notes to use during the discussion. I asked questions to clarify or restated the questions. I didn’t really get others into it, but I let others have a chance to answer.
  21. I read the questions for the inner circle.
  22. I need to speak a little more loudly and explain more what I’m trying to say. I also add more when people state their question or opinion.
  23. I participated in the Socratic seminar by announcing the questions to the outer circle. I also helped the inner circle on a question. I gave my opinion as well.
  24. I didn’t really answer anything but it was a learning experience for the things I did not know.
  25. I always ask questions to shorten down the answer.
  26. I participated by talking about it and answering the questions. Daniela asked and I finished answering.
  27. I wouldn’t get any points because I didn’t participate or answer any questions.
  28. I didn’t participate at all, well I mentioned something about the big four but it wasn’t noticed.
  29. I didn’t participate in the class discussion I should try to participate. I didn’t refer to evidence. I didn’t make a conversation.
  30. I used my knowledge for other discussions to answer the questions. I just answered the questions I knew and went from there. I should get a 7 or 8 out of 10.
  31. According to the lecture, I got evidence from the video lecture. In other words, I listened to the video and what the teacher says. In response to arguments question, I took notes from what people say. I think you should pass one by one and ask us questions to the students. I think you should grade us as helping each other by answering your complete question
  32. I won’t be able to participate in this class discussion since I had computer problems though now I will be able to look at lectures 1 and 2 and take notes.
  33. In this class discussion, I distributed a lot in the topic of the Treaty of Versailles. I told the class the four major problems of the Versailles treaty. I incorporated Jamilet into the conversation. I feel like I was well-prepared. I feel like I deserve a B due to my cooperation.
  34. This class discussion I did okay. I feel like I could have participated more than I did. I think I deserve a C for this class discussion because I participated and answered questions. I know I can do better for our next class discussion.
  35. I refer to evidence from the text under discussion and/or the research pertaining to the subject by using the notes. I’ve written down from the lecture and the knowledge I had. I move conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate to the broader themes or larger ideas by adding on to someone else’s comment.
  36. According to the Lecture 01 video, stated in my notes the causes of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was the greater downfall to the treaty; their ships were at the bottom of the ocean after not agreeing to give it away. Their air force and submarines were delayed.
  37. According to the video lecture, I referred to the Versailles Treaty and how the DMZ (de-militarized zone) at the west of Rhineland is one of the things that would be a reason to start WW11.
  38. I didn’t participate, but I did pay attention to what others were saying.
  39. I didn’t participate in this class discussion because I didn’t have enough time to watch the whole video.
  40. I participated two times to the discussion, but I think I could have participated more. In the next discussion I will have written better notes and try and answer most of the questions or at least some.
  41. In this class discussion, I honestly didn’t contribute as much as I should have. But it is only because I did not watch the lecture last night so I didn’t really understand. I did listen and kind of understand now. I will go home tonight and watch 1st and 2nd lecture and will come tomorrow ready.
  42. According to the discussion I used my notes to help respond. And take notes of discussion. I asked some questions and responded to some. I do not actively import.
  43. I participated enough times in the conversation. I rephrased Jazmin’s quote and I should be graded with a B+. I didn’t talk during the conversation and I didn’t distract anyone.
  44. I responded to the question about the Treaty of Versailles. I said that the German army was forbidden to have tanks, an air force, and submarines.
  45. I hardly contributed in today’s discussion because all of the questions I knew were for the outer circle.
  46. I think I did a poor job. I could have contributed more and stated more points. I will use the common starters tomorrow during the discussion. I will take better notes and make sure everything is good and correct.
  47. I didn’t contribute in the class discussion but I will take notes on Lecture 2. I got you Dr. Petri. I promise. And I won’t be on my phone tomorrow.
  48. I was not participating today. But I did listen to how others talked and brought their knowledge and clarified others information into the Socratic circle. Now, I have more of an idea how to incorporate my ideas into the discussion.

Students Discussing

More analysis to follow.

Improving Teacher-Student Relationships

Many schools and districts are examining MOOCs as a method for “flipping” professional development for their teachers. Improving Teacher and Student Relationships is one of more than 30 Canvas Network courses that start this month. Canvas has hosted over 300 MOOCs from 125 organizations. The breadth of these offerings provide districts with methods to meet the intrinsic motivation needs of technology-dependent staff members, differentiate instruction for their non-tech using staff, and allow teachers a greater amount of choice in their professional learning overall.

Sylvain Labeste_2009

Reichert & Hawley (2014) found that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out. Research indicates that the factors described in successful teacher student relationships can be developed. Teachers who effectively establish positive relationships with their students are characterized by: reaching out, often beyond standard classroom protocols, to locate and meet particular student needs; locating and responding to students’ individual interests and talents; sharing common interests and talents; sharing common characteristics, such as ethnicity, faith, and learning approaches; being willing, when appropriate, to disclose personal experiences; being willing to accommodate a measure of opposition; and being willing to reveal some degree of personal vulnerability.

Canvas Badge

Researchers are still defining what barriers teachers perceive in improving relationships with their students and how online and traditional teachers differ in building teacher student relationships. The goal of this course is to help teachers develop growth mindsets about improving their relationships with students. Playlists of video lectures, readings, and discussion board activities will allow teachers to thinkaloud and practice with relationship-building tools within a caring instructional community. This course will review contemporary research and pedagogical programs that you can implement in your classroom to enhance teaching and learning. Enroll here.

Live from EdmodoCon

What does Edmodo do? Simply put, it brings teachers and students together. Using social media to connect with students, or using tech to improve relationships between teachers and students were major themes in this year’s EdmodoCon14. To follow the backchannel go to #EdmodoCon on Twitter.

For me the highlights of EdmodoCon were:

Middle School ELA teacher Nathan Garvin took the crowd through methods to use Edmodo to improve student writing practices. He suggested awarding student badges for thesis statements, intro paragraphs, and other steps in the writing process. A big fan of mashups, Nathan made me realize that teachers are professional mashup artists, we stealing from the best and truly believe there is no pride in authorship, or as our students say “sharing is caring.”

Floridian Robert Miller has created Edmodo profiles of historical figures and had them join student history groups on Edmodo. He also took the conventioneers through a series of very creative formative assessments.

Sheryl Place spoke about using technology to connect with students. She opened her heart about the miracles of improved relationships between teacher and student and how online conversations have transformed her teaching. One great tip was using Edmodo to automate birthday messages for students. What a great way to personalize and let students know you care. Another recurring theme was that rules without relationships equal rebellion. While, Edmodo builds relationships and trust. Many other educators chimed in noting they love the relationships they have developed with students via Edmodo. Now the quiet ones in class are not so quiet online.

Valerie Knauer talked about her experiences asking students to write about personal topics.  Several of her examples brought tears to my eyes. Valerie reminded me that great teachers are haunted by the students that they tried to reach, but didn’t. I still remember a 10th grader whose mom was in prison for life, a top-notch debate student who had to quit the team because her father would be too drunk to pick her up after 6:00 pm, and a student who had transferred into my school after a humiliating YouTube bullying act of cruelty. It is important to remember the ones whose lives you do touch and change. One of my 7th grade student’s father was killed in a fight during the school year, which put that young man into a tailspin of depression. Thanks to social media, I kept in touch with that young man over the years and I am happy to report that he just finished his BA at a Cal State U. Valerie’s presentation demonstrated how teachers save lives one kid at a time.

EdModo Viewing

The dog wouldn’t join our viewing party and really only Daddy had a great time. This session reaffirmed that my 3 desert island apps would be Edmodo, Quizlet, Kahoot. I used TweetChat throughout the conference and was dismayed when I went back to write this post, many of my Tweets were never sent.  I wonder if other Twitterers have had that same experience? Thanks EdmodoCon14. Now, I need to go check out Storylines, Curriculet, and HaikuDeck.


Low Income Student College Readiness

Low Income Student

Credit recovery is the fastest growing area of online learning (McCabe & St. Andrie, 2012). These programs are highly unregulated and there is minimal information on their enrollments or effectiveness. It would be fair to say that most credit recovery programs have not been examined empirically. For virtual learning providers, this segment has proven to be a gold mine. Apex Learning, estimates that 50% of its enrollments are for credit recovery. Aventa Learning reported a 500% increase in its credit recovery business. The Sloan Consortium stated that credit recovery is the most popular type of its fully online courses. Molnar (2013) predicted that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry would grow by 43% between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion. As an educational researcher, this begs a question: Are virtual school/credit recovery operators preying on low-income students?

I assume that a disproportionate number of credit recovery students may be low-income. This may be due to my personal experience of working in a district where 80% of students are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch. Miron & Urschel (2012) found 39.9% of K12, Inc’s online students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 47.2% for the same-state comparison group. In my district’s virtual academy, only 61% of students are classified as low-income, which is 19% lower than the district as a whole. Therefore, you might expect stronger academic performance from the virtual program, however, with a 630 API, the virtual program ranks 116 points below the District’s API of 746.

Decades of educational research have made it clear that low-income students are at the greatest risk for school failure. The ACT corroborates this in a recently released report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students From Low-Income Families. The authors used data from 1.8 million ACT-tested high school graduates from the US class of 2013. Of those, 428,549 (24%) were identified as being from low-income families. Nearly all (95%) of low-income students indicated they want to go to college, but only 69% took the recommended college prep curriculum in high school. Worse, only 20% of students met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Nearly half (49%) of students from low-income families did not meet any benchmarks.

CR Benchmarks

It is difficult to understand why educational leaders keep pushing low-income students who are the least likely to be successful into virtual/online programs where ten years of data from California Community Colleges (the very places where most of the low-income students wind up) has demonstrated that 4 out of every 10 of them will fail. Perhaps it is time to end the credit recovery experiment in low-income schools. Reichert & Hawley (2014) argued that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out.

If policymakers were data-driven like teachers, they would understand that it is time to intervene and push virtual/online programs into affluent schools and ration our high-cost, high-touch, empathetic teaching talent for the struggle in low-income public schools. Instead, I suspect we will allow the free market to propagate the current policies that result in half of low-income students going 0 for 4 on ACT college benchmarks.

2012 ACT Results by Income



ACT (July 2014). The condition of college & career readiness 2013: Students from low-income families. Iowa City, IA. Accessed at

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014). School profile:

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014).

API reports:

Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at


McCabe, J. and St. Andrie, R. (2012) Credit recovery programs. The Center for Public Education. Alexandria, VA. Posted January 26, 2012 at

Miron, G & Urschel, J. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at

Molnar, A. (2013). Virtual schools in the US: Politics, performance, and research evidence. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at


Phoning Parents Part 2

Hello Everyone. I am, Dr. Scott Petri, your instructor for Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. Welcome to the second lecture on improving teacher and parent communication. Thank you to the great people at Match Education for this great book Phoning Parents by Michael Goldstein. It’s cheaper than a Venti at Starbucks. Go get it.

This video will explain the six types of phone calls the book advocates making. If you read the study by Matt Kraft on the website, you know making proactive calls to parents created stronger teacher-student relationships, improved parental involvement, and increased student motivation.

The book recommends making this systemic behavior, investing 30 minutes a day in making parent phone calls. These calls should be no longer than 5 minutes each, which means you can make 6 calls per day, 36 calls a week. If you have 180 students, it will take 5 weeks to call every parent.

The six reasons for making these phone calls are: Shows courtesy and respect to both student and parent; You know parent got the message because you hear them saying uh-huh and what? Phone call communication is 1 to 1; Provide parents with more detailed information about their child’s progress and behavior than progress reports or dailies; Teacher can provide specific advice to the parent; and Increases student interest and investment in learning.

The Praise Call
Teacher describes a positive choice or goal met by the child
Breaks the negative cycle for struggling students
Praise must be specific and detailed
Focus on effort, choices, and accomplishments

The Correction Call
Describes something the student needs to improve
Helps student and parent understand what improvement looks like
Discuss and decide next steps for beginning the process of improvement

The Check In Call
See how student is doing with classwork and homework
Speak to student before parent
You didn’t finish your work in class today, what was the problem?
Recap purpose of call with parent

Text Messaging
Can be praise or reminders
Don’t use texting for corrections or concerns – call instead
Be careful not to automate, or you risk losing the personal bond in the relationship
Services like, or Remind 101 can help personalize batch messages.

Texting is the most popular form of communicating for teenagers. 87% of high school seniors text every day, whereas only 61% of them use Facebook daily. This may not be the medium of choice for parents, so ask what they prefer.

The Summit
An emergency in-person meeting with student and parent present
Create a plan to help student
Be warm, but unapologetic about your high expectations
Make parent your partner

I hope you will consider investing some time in making proactive phone calls to increase your students’ engagement this year. Be sure to check out the additional resources and supplementary videos I’ve put on the blog under the tag phoning parents.

Teacher-Parent Phone Calls

Simply put, the effects of good teacher-parent communication are HUGE!   At the end of the school year, I finished a MOOC about Coaching Teachers and the instructors of that class mentioned an inexpensive book ($5.36 on Amazon) called Phoning Parents: High Leverage Moves to Transform Your Classroom and Restore Your Sanity by Michael Goldstein. The book is only 78 pages. It is a quick read with a lot of great advice.

I love the following quote: “Charlie was a successful educator for many reasons. But none was greater in his mind than his ability and willingness to build relationships with the parents of his students” (p. 11). Then there is some great data:

  • Teacher-parent communication increased homework completion rates by 42%.
  • Teacher-parent communication reduced the time spent redirecting students by 25%.
  • Teacher-parent communication increased students raising their hands by 49%.

This really aligns nicely with The Search Institute’s new Developmental Relationship Framework — not to mention The Fish Philosophy and Tribes community building curricula. I am always interested in hearing from teachers about tools and techniques that help build positive relationships in classrooms.

The book is augmented by a study conducted by Harvard economists who attempted to measure the effects of increased teacher-parent communication. The study found that frequent teacher-parent communication immediately increased student engagement as measured by homework completion rates, on-task behavior, and class participation.

On average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%. Further, the authors report that the 30 minute per day systemic behavior of teachers calling parents created stronger teacher-student relationships, improved parental involvement, and increased student motivation.

What if your students were asked: What teacher (current or past) pushes you to do your very best?” Would they name you? If you invest out of class time advancing a message of high expectations, by praising hard work and good choices, and by confronting them on the little things when they happen, you’ll be one of those positive teachers that kids credit for pushing them. Match recommends spending three hours per week making proactive phone calls will pay large dividends in better student effort and behavior and a better connection between you and the student. I plan to spend 15 minutes from each conference period and 15 minutes in the evening making these phone calls. The extra half hour can be made up over the weekend. Sunday nights are always a good time to reach parents at home.


The Developmental Relationships Framework

My wonderful Principal, Suzanne Blake, was emphatic that I include the 40 Developmental Assets when I told her I would be teaching Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. She had many stories about opening up a brand new middle school that embraced this work. She raved about how easy it was to establish a school culture when all of the teachers were on the same page about the importance of increasing the assets of their students.  Since, then I have read much of the literature from the Search Institute and wholeheartedly agree that this framework deserves inclusion in this course.

The teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out (Reichert & Hawley, 2014).  More importantly, we believe that the characteristics described in successful teacher student relationships can be developed. Teachers who effectively establish positive relationships with their students are characterized by: reaching out, often beyond standard classroom protocols, to locate and meet particular student needs; locating and responding to students’ individual interests and talents; sharing common interests and talents; sharing common characteristics, such as ethnicity, faith, and learning approaches; being willing, when appropriate, to disclose personal experiences; being willing to accommodate a measure of opposition; and being willing to reveal some degree of personal vulnerability.

The goal of the course is to give teachers a caring and collaborative environment to practice new skills that they wish to incorporate in their class.  Toward that goal, how do we help teachers develop growth mindsets about improving their relationships with students? For more information and resources go to:


MOOC Assignment

Canvas Badge

For the past few weeks I have been gathering materials and brainstorming assignments for the MOOC I will be co-teaching with Mr. Thomas on Improving Teacher-Student Relationships.  I recently completed another MOOC on Coaching Teachers that used a coaching feedback session and required students to debrief the video in a peer reviewed writing assignment.  Sort of along those lines, we could use an excerpt Solving Problems Together from pp. 129-149 of How to Talk So Kids Can Learn. As an extension activity, course participants will script problem scenarios, or conflicts they have had with students in their classrooms (and wish they could do over) by grade level and topic on the discussion board.

Once published and viewable, these scenarios will provide asynchronous opportunities for participants to practice summarizing the child’s point of view and brainstorming solutions collaboratively.  Finally, we would offer participants a chance to participate in role playing sessions in real time via Skype or Google Hangouts (video chat).  With the right social media tools (Twitter & Facebook) participants may be able to link up and practice some of these techniques together, even if they are continents apart. For participants who cannot participate in the real time chats, we can provide links to the videos so they can view the sessions.  I am open to any feedback and advice on making this a more practical and worthwhile exercise for teachers.


Use of Student Surveys for Teacher Evaluations

As support seems to be slipping for value added models and biased classroom observations, educational leaders may be well advised to consider incorporating student surveys into teacher evaluations.  Eduwonk has an interesting post and paper available on this topic.

I am posting a short promo video that explains how to analyze student survey data. As a small school principal, I analyzed over 3,000 teacher evaluations.  The video is to promote an upcoming MOOC on improving teacher-student relationships that will start on on September 22, 2014.