A Better Plan: HerodotusHive

shutterstock_160526231One of the cool things about teaching is that each year is a new season. After all the reflecting and conversations about what worked and what didn’t, we get to design new plans and start fresh in September.

Of course, sometimes what seemed a brilliant idea in August proves to be a clunker by January. But as long as more new plans stick than not, we’re improving, right?

A Problem

Last year I felt there was something missing from my writing program and began thinking about an overhaul.

I teach a lot of writing—confirmed recently in an overheard student conversation—but I don’t teach English. At least I don’t anymore. I just started my 21st year at Novi High School and my 16th year teaching AP U.S. History. Sixty percent of our exam is writing, plus writing is a good thing, so we write.

AP U.S. History is now almost exclusively a 10th grade course here. This means it’s the students’ first AP course, one that is designed to approximate a college freshman experience. Here, students find that they must learn 500 years of connected content, and make sense of it all through analytical writing.

Most adapt and grow. But last year, more than a couple stalled out somewhere along the way. The transition was too much.

Revisiting Assessments

Around the same time I started thinking about what an overhaul would look like, a former AP student, Corey, came to me offering to help current students. This was the spark I needed. I started to wonder if there was a way I could use seasoned veterans to help my current kids. 

As I thought about the kids who stalled out last year, I started asking myself some questions. I also bugged some of my awesome colleagues.

Is our summative assessment too late for problems to surface—especially if it’s a specific skill students will need later? And if students learn something from the summative results: what do they do then? They have the standing offer to “come in for help,” but what if there were a program in place they could come to?

In the second semester I started piloting a new approach.

A Better Plan: HerodotusHive

herodotos_met_91-8That spark from Corey’s offer helped me come up with a new plan. I’m calling it HerodotusHive.

Herodotus is Greek—or I should say he was Greek. He was Greek a long time ago. We nerdy historians bow to Herodotus because he was the first to write analysis: trying to explain why things happened. Since my course’s writing is all about analysis, it’s a match.

The other half (hive) represents what I hope the program becomes: a busy hive where students come together to create. HerodotusHive is a place where Student Historians (current students) come during our Academic Advisory period to get better at their craft. There we start by reviewing a specific writing skill together, and then Mentor Historians (veteran students) help Student Historians as they work through new history problems.

At an AP U.S. History Summer Institute this year, a teacher referred to the AP’s five-point score scale, when he made the point that the truest measure of our talents as teachers is whether we can move the ones and twos up to threes and fours. I agree.

I think I can do a better job at this, and am hoping that I can help all of my students raise their games. So HerodotusHive is the biggest of my new plans this year. A month into the new school year, I’ve laid the groundwork. Here on this blog, I will chronicle the story of HerodotusHive and see if the writing in May goes from good to something better than good. I’ll even let you know if this idea turns out to be a clunker by January. However it turns out, I expect to learn a lot along the way. In my next post I’ll get into the details of how HerodotusHive works.

unnamedRod Franchi (@thehistorychase) is in his 21st year teaching Social Studies at Novi High School. He did his undergraduate work at Albion College and the University of Michigan, and earned an M.A. in English at Wayne State University and an M.A. in History Education at the University of Michigan. Having served as an education leader at the school, district, county, and state levels, Rod now works as AP US History Consultant and AP US History Mentor for the College Board. He is also Co-Director of the Novi AP Summer Institute and is an Attending Teacher in the University of Michigan’s Rounds Program.

Notes from the Classroom

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