Friday, September 7, 2012

course syllabus

If you are enrolled in the on-the-ground course, please read the following, print/sign/ask a parent to sign where indicated, and return the signed document to class on Monday, 9.10.  Mahalo.

English 3 2012-2013


TO: Righetti H.S. Students in Dr. Preston’s Classes

FROM: Dr. Preston


Every culture throughout history has a mythology. As different as world cultures and heritages are, they all share one story in common. The story involves a call to adventure. A young protagonist is captivated by a question or a challenge and leaves safety behind to explore a new land or idea. Along the way he or she is confronted with evil, helped by a mentor, and confused by issues of learning and faith. Ultimately he or she becomes knowledgeable, and returns home from the journey transformed, as a hero.

Today is the day you begin to become a hero.

This document serves the following three purposes: 1) To introduce myself to you, 2) To welcome you to my class, and 3) To ensure you understand what it will take to be successful.

Education has been a big part of my life. After graduating from high school in Los Angeles I attended UCLA, where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies, a Master’s Degree in Teacher Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Educational Policy and Management. I first taught at the Venice Alternative Education & Work Center, and at many LAUSD schools since. For the last ten years I taught at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and in the Business & Management Extension programs at UCLA. In 1996 I started a management consulting practice and I advised companies about how to train and lead their employees to achieve challenging goals. Several years ago I decided to return to teaching full-time. I taught at the fourth largest high school in the country for two years in Los Angeles, and came to Righetti in the fall of 2006.

My class and my approach to teaching are designed for one goal: your success. I believe that as students we learn best when we are challenged, when we are encouraged, and when we are given an opportunity to think about complex ideas in a place where we can concentrate and expand our minds.

The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.
-Vince Lombardi

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

In teaching thousands of students over the years I have learned that there are four practices that make everyone’s learning easier and more effective. To support the goal of your success, I ask for your commitment to the following four practices in addition to Righetti’s general standards of conduct. You can remember these as Preston’s Four P’s:

• Students will be PROMPT
• Students will come to class PREPARED
• Students will be POLITE
• Students will be PRODUCTIVE

Each day you come to class you make a choice. I strongly believe that individuals have the right to choose their own paths in life, and that high school students are old enough to begin making informed choices. Each choice we make has a consequence. If you are a driver who runs a red light, you risk getting a ticket or getting hit by another car. I strongly encourage students in my classes to understand and follow the path to success. Those who do will become more knowledgeable and experience the pride and satisfaction of a job well done. Those who choose not to will suffer the usual “horribles”—warnings, poorer grades, less interesting work, and if necessary conferences with parents/guardians and/or administrators. In my class you will choose your own path. In fact, I will never “give” you a grade—your scores and evaluations will be mere reflections of the understanding and skill you demonstrate.

I expect a very successful experience for us and I am excited about being your teacher. The Righetti students I’ve met so far have been intelligent, friendly people who seem enthusiastic about learning. I will go over classroom procedures with you verbally so that you can take your own notes about how to organize yourself for success. In the meantime, please sign one copy of this document—and ask your parent/guardian to sign it as well—and return it to me tomorrow. This will be your first graded assignment. Please keep a copy in your notebook for easy reference. I will share a copy and a list of my students with campus administrators so that everyone has the same information and understands each other’s choices.

Understanding language and literature has never been more exciting or important. Not only can a story unlock your imagination and take you to different times and places, it can help you comprehend the world around us right now. Everywhere you turn there are messages that use language and tools from literature, from television commercials to politicians to shopping center signs. As you begin to perceive the strategies that people use in their communication, you will become more skilled and you will look at the world in a brand new way. This is your opportunity to become the hero in your own education, and your own life story. Let the journey begin!

I have read Dr. Preston’s “YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO BE A HERO” memo and I hereby understand and commit to the four practices. I will be Prompt, Prepared, Polite and Productive, and I will be Successful in Dr. Preston’s class.

Date Student Name Student Signature

Date Parent/Guardian Name Parent/Guardian Signature

❏ I have discussed this class with someone important to me and shown that person the course blog online.

❏ I have not discussed this class with someone important to me or shown that person the course blog online.


Instructor: Dr. Preston

Phone: 805.937.2051 x608

Email: or

Blog URL:

* The American Experience (Prentice Hall textbook)
* 1-inch binder with dividers
* Spiral notebook or composition book (to be used exclusively for journal entries)
* White, college-rule notebook paper
* Black or blue pens
*Access to the Internet (this does not require owning a computer or a smart phone; if you have questions please see a colleague or the instructor)
* NOTE: Occasionally you will be required to participate in a presentation, for which you may need additional materials.

Course Description
This course emphasizes some of the most creative thinking in our country's history, as articulated by authors such as Twain, Poe, Henry, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Vonnegut and many, many others. By reading speeches, short stories, essays, poems and novels, students will learn to see American history and written expression in a new way. Specifically students will learn about society's influence on authors and the techniques authors use to achieve their goals. Further, students will expand their vocabularies and abilities to express themselves in writing. Students will demonstrate their knowledge through Socratic Seminars (more on that soon!) and a variety of writing assignments, group projects and assessments.

Students are evaluated both formally (through tasks such as writing projects and tests) and informally (through ongoing exercises such as discussion and reading). Each student will have a grading conference with Dr. Preston prior to the close of each reporting period. [UPDATE: Students also evaluate and credit each other through Project Infinity.]

Two years ago, I found myself reading a student's paper-- except that, instead of reading the student's thoughts, I was reading my own. The student found an article I'd written online and plagiarized it! Last year I read the same paper twice from two different students, because the student who copied it didn't think to make any changes before turning it in.

Regrettably, societal pressures and easy access to others' ideas has made cheating more attractive than ever. The only way to deter this practice is to provide a powerful disincentive. Therefore, please be aware that this course has a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism and cheating. If I have reason to suspect that a student has plagiarized or cheated, that student will receive a grade of F for the semester in which the action occurred. In this course, students are far better off being wrong in their own words than being correct in someone else's.

Reading the World
The best way to understand the world around us is to actively process the information we receive. When you read your brain must make meaning from this bunch of marks on a page. Even though television, movies and the internet are visually compelling, they tell us how to see the world instead of inviting us to use our imaginations or interpret multiple meanings. Without reading we lose the capacity to use entire sections of our brain. Therefore, we will look at reading in a new way, and—for some of our assignments—you will be able to choose what you read.

Part of learning in the 21st century is using the best tools for the job. In this class you will develop and apply your knowledge of social media and 2.0/3.0 tools to find, analyze, evaluate, and use resources that will help you along your path of inquiry.

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