Observations of an Honors History Course Post-Pandemic

Observations of an Honors History Course Post-Pandemic

Melanie Gallo

The author is a rising senior at Rider University who has participated in both remote and in-person field placements during her time as an undergraduate. This article is derived from those experiences.

Throughout my experience in an honors high school United States history level two class I have learned that students are behind specifically in their research techniques. It is presented very clearly as I had the opportunity to move around the classroom while students were researching their civil rights unit. At the same time of these observations I had been developing my capstone project which is heavy research and found myself using my prior research knowledge to work with each student to ensure that their research skills grow.

 Research skills are key to becoming informed about many aspects of history. Students need the skills to become a well-rounded citizen. In order for students to become strong advocates for themselves when it comes to their education as well as their rights to become strong civic advocates, they need to be provided with the proper skills to research. Many of the students I had worked with lacked the vocabulary that would typically be expected for an honors eleventh grade student. Their research and vocabulary deficits were similar to those of a ninth grader.

When observing this group of eleventh grade honors students there were notable deficiencies in regards to what was expected of students of this year and level of education.  This group lacked vocabulary expected of an honors class and seemed to be more on par with that of a 9th to 10th grade level in my opinion.  I also noted, during multiple sessions and assignments, that their ability to research, utilize and format information in a scholarly way less than what would be expected of an honors class of this level.  During multiple assignments the students had trouble finding viable information to support admittedly simple topics and apply said information in a way that makes sense. Their ability to validate their points during the course of their assignments also lacked the strength that would be typical of an honors level.

 Students were observed using social media, sources that are purely opinionated, and other sources generally regarded as being unscholarly.  These students simply struggled to find relevant sources and the ability to put it together into a competent, cohesive piece of work. 

When I had the opportunity, I would work with students one on one to teach them how to use sites like historical archives and focus on sites that were not commercial based or opinionated. I had been developing my own research project during this timeframe which prompted me to locate some amazing resources therefore my ability to research grew which further helped me to guide these students to grow as their own sources to further their knowledge.

            My goal in drawing attention to this particular topic is that as educators we need to ensure no matter the circumstances that our students are aware of how to properly research. It is difficult for students to move on in higher levels of education without the basis of how to successfully research in order to providing credible evidence to support a claim. It is a disservice to our students when we as educators assume students are able to complete a task like this in full capacity. The state of these students suggests that there are many others throughout the country in the same situation. These students I worked with were very engaged in the classroom and only wished to succeed but when they are not provided with all the tools they need to complete their tasks they are left struggling. It can be hard to backtrack in what students need when they should have already been assessed for competency in research skills regarding the reliability of sources r. In some cases (like pandemic students are experiencing) they truly need that extra support especially now that these past two years have been virtual. Students had been left to figure out many of their assignments on their own due to virtual learning. This is something that is seen in a college setting. Therefore these students were left struggling in their formative years that would have needed hands-on guidance from an instructor. It is unfortunate that these students have been placed in such a situation.

            Another reason this issue is so detrimental to these students is that they are closer to being a college student than a high school student which is where the requirements are higher and the pressure becomes heavier to be able to properly research and not plagiarize. Since these students are at a disadvantage not knowing how to successfully use sources to back up their views they are more likely to inadvertently plagiarize. This becomes a heavier issue when college is involved as many colleges will take strong measures to remove a student from their scholarships, credit, or dismissal if they discover they have plagiarized. Which all stems back to educating students as to how to cite, how to find credible sources and present an argument that is sound. These students are hurting without even realizing it since they have been done a disservice as a result of their pandemic learning experience.            

My hope for this piece is to establish a call to action for educators to hone in on these skills even if we start younger than we would traditionally with research-based skills. Let’s band together and guide our students through their process of developing strong points with strong sources for evidence. They need to be able to locate sources that are credible on their own which is something that needs to be taught first and then expected later on in their education. Let’s ensure our students are confident in their research skills so that they do not face consequences later in life.

Developing a FAIR School Homework Policy

Michael Pezone is a retired social studies teacher who taught at the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety in Jamaica, Queens. He organized his classes around research and writing projects for teams and individuals, oral presentations, class discussion, and civic action. This project was developed for Participation in Government classes. Many of his students had difficulty presenting their ideas in writing and supporting them with evidence. This project was designed to support students who will be taking the New York State English/Language Arts Regents Exam. Many of the students in his classes took the exam more than once so they can earn a diploma.


While changes in the larger society are needed to address problems like poverty and homelessness, there are things schools can do to help students affected by these issues. Your group is tasked to write a practical and reasonable proposal to the principal to suggest a school wide homework policy that might better serve all students, including our most needy students. (“No more homework, ever!” is NOT a practical proposal). Use information from the documents below as well as outside information to complete the project.


A. A written recommendation addressed to the principal (see suggested outline below). Your group’s proposal must:

  1. Be 150 words that are extremely well written. Your proposal must be typed in friendly letter format (the format will be projected on the smart board during class).
  2. Explain how poverty and homelessness in NYC affect the ability of many children to do homework. Use statistics and other evidence to support your explanation. Use information from the documents and from your own research. Cite your source(s). (See how to cite the documents below)
  3. Propose a practical and reasonable school wide homework policy to address these issues

B. A poster that will be presented in class along with the proposal and may be selected to present to the principal. The poster should contain: A title and student names on the front of the poster; Chart(s), graph(s), and photo(s) that support your proposal, along with captions that explain what each chart, graph, photo shows. The poster should be EXTREMELY attractive with accurate information.

C. Presentations. Each group will present their proposals and posters to the class. All proposals will then be combined into one final proposal. Students will choose a team (two or three students from each class) to present the proposal to the principal. One poster will be chosen for use in the presentation to the principal.

How to Cite the Documents

(Singer, “Children Need Homes, Not Charter Schools Or Standardized Tests, And Definitely Not Tax Cuts For The Wealthy,” Huffington post, 12/14/2017)

(“Homelessness in New York State,” NYSTeachs, nysteachs.org/info-topic/statistics, 2017)

(“Figure 1: Time high school students spend on homework by race and parent’s income,” Brookings Institute, brookings.edu, 2017)

Suggested Paper Outline

I. First paragraph: Explain the problem of poverty and homelessness and how it affects NYC students, using statistics and evidence to support your explanation

II. Second paragraph: Present your proposal for a school wide homework policy

III. Brief concluding paragraph: Thank her for her consideration of the issue and ask her to meet with a team of students to discuss your proposal

Directions: Read the key term and documents and then complete the group assignment below.

Key Term: “Gentrification” – process of renovation of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the eviction of poor residents to make way for an influx of more affluent residents.

Document 1 – Article: “Children Need Homes, Not Charter Schools or Standardized Tests, and Definitely Not Tax Cuts for the Wealthy,” by Alan Singer, Huffington Post, 12/14/2017
(1) Over 1.1 million children and teens attend more than 1,800 New York City public schools. About one-third of these children live in poverty. In addition, 111,562 students were homeless at some point during the 2016-2017 school year. They are assigned homework, but they have no homes. It is as if these children are trapped in a 19th-century Charles Dickens novel about London’s poor.     

(2) New York City is not a Third World country, but 10 percent of its registered students live on the street, in cars, in shelters, in abandoned buildings, in public housing double-ups, and in over-crowded deteriorating tenements with people they do not know. They often don’t have basic food, clothing, and health care, or heat in the freezing winter and air-conditioning in the sweltering summer. They don’t do homework and they don’t do well on standardized tests. Over 60 percent are chronically absent from school.  

(3) Homeless children are the collateral damage of gentrification in New York City. Between 2000 and 2015 the Hispanic population of Washington Heights in Manhattan declined by over 10,000 people. There were double-digit percentage declines in Hispanic population in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bushwick. The African American population sharply declined in Harlem and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. No one is asking what happened to the children who used to live in these communities.

(4) During his reelection campaign, Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed great advances in addressing homelessness and school performance. These children don’t see it. The governor and his appointees on New York State school accrediting agencies push for more charter schools and lowering teacher qualifications. It is not clear how this will make a difference in the lives of these children. The City Council is discussing a bill that will ensure families applying for places in homeless shelters receive school information. They must be kidding, but the kids don’t get the joke.

(5) Mayor De Blasio, Governor Cuomo and President Trump need to know this: Schools and teachers can do just so much to help homeless children. Children need homes. Their parents need jobs. Authorizing additional charter schools and standardized testing and AP classes are pretend solutions to very real and pressing social problems.

(6) Expect the situation to grow worse. The Trump tax scam will force cuts in a range of federal programs including medical care. Such cuts in social services will be done so that tax breaks for the rich will not increase the national debt too much. Under Trump’s plan, loss of tax breaks for state and local governments will squeeze middle-class taxpayers and force state and local governments to lower taxes and cut spending on vital social services. Already two New Jersey towns have rejected school spending increases that were expected to pass. Children from the poorest families will be amongst the hardest hit.

Document 2: Data on Homelessness in New York State

(NYSTeaches – Chart shows growing homelessness from the 2009-2010 school year to the 2016-2017 school year)

Document 3: “Time high school students spend on homework by race and parent’s income.”

(Brookings Institute, www.brookings.edu, 2017)

Document 4: “Households with School-Age Children That Do Not Have Broadband Access

National Education Association, www.neatoday.org/2016/04/20/the-homework-gap/, 2016


  1. What percentage of all households with incomes under $50,000 lack a high-speed internet connection?
  2. What percentage of all households with a $50,000 income or higher lack a high-speed internet connection?  
  3. Which racial group has the most broadband access?
  4. Which racial group has the least broadband access?
  5. In a full sentence, state the relationship between income level and broadband access.
  6. In a full sentence, answer the question: How does lack of broadband access affect homework completion rates?
Homework Policy Project Grading Rubric (Total 15 pts)

Content of Proposal (0-3)
Is your explanation of the problem of poverty and homelessness and
their effects on homework completion well organized and logical?
Is your explanation supported by statistics and other evidence?
Is your proposal for a school wide homework policy reasonable and

Quality of Writing (0-4)
Is your writing of high quality, typed, with no errors?
Do you follow a simple paragraph format?
Do you properly cite your sources?

Quality of Poster (0-4)
Is the information presented accurate?
Is the poster extremely attractive?
Does the poster present graph(s), chart(s), and photo(s) with titles and
captions for each that explain what they are showing?
Does the poster contain a title and student names on front?

Presentation and Teamwork (0-4)
Do all group members contribute to the proposal and poster?
Do all group members come on time and follow school rules?
Do all group members behave in a mature manner?
Do all group members take turns presenting their proposal and poster to the class?