It’s advisory period for this group of about 16 sophomores led by history teacher Allen Frecker, and today, Hughes students A’shyra and Eryka are teaching the lesson.
“Today we’re talking about, ‘what do we have in common’,” Eryka says, as A’shyra (pictured with Frecker) passes out worksheets to the rest of the class.
Advisory is a new approach for students in Cincinnati Public Schools’ high schools — part of the My Tomorrow initiative launched in 2014-15. One or two days a week, depending on testing schedules, Frecker sits down with students to review their progress toward graduation, helping them figure out how many credit hours they’ve earned and what classes they need to take, as well as how they’re doing academically.
In an unusual twist, during each of Frecker’s advisory periods, the students teach a brief lesson, such as the one A’shyra and Eryka are presenting.
Advisory is in place across all seventh- and eighth-grade classes in CPS starting this school year, and it’s being phased into grades 9-12, and eventually, down into 6th grade.
“When we started this year, the whole first quarter, I did the lesson,” Frecker says. “I did them, and then by the time we hit second semester, I stopped leading the lesson and the students took over.”
Students pick their topics from study guides provided by Frecker, and then they draw up their lesson plans, do their research and compile the materials that are handed out to classmates. Then, after the lesson is presented, they get feedback from their peers on their performance.
The point of today’s lesson, Eryka says, is finding out that she and her classmates have more in common than they thought: Lots of people like music; many have jobs after school and most wish they had more money.
She and A’shyra learned something else: Teaching is harder than it looks.
“It took a long time, writing and thinking about how are we going to do this, how are we going to present it and how to talk to the students,” A’shyra says.
“The hardest part was coming up with the lesson plan,” Eryka says. “I used to think the teacher just stood up there and started talking. Now I see they have to put a lot of time into what they teach.”
Teaching is a good way to learn a lot of practical skills, Frecker says. It helps students learn how to put together a presentation. It helps hone research and writing skills. And it helps them learn how to explain and share new ideas. These are all skills they’ll need when they graduate from high school and head into the work force, or go on to college or technical and trade schools.
The approach also strengthens bonds between students and helps them learn how to network.
Jordan Davis hasn’t taken his turn yet leading the class, but he’s looking forward to it. His topic will be a “metaphor toy bag.”
“We’re planning out how to have the students make a metaphor to explain themselves to others,” Jordan says. “It helps us understand better what they bring to advisory every day and how we can be more successful throughout the year.”
He hasn’t figured out his own metaphor yet. “I’m not sure. I guess I’m going to say I’m like a rainbow. I’m colorful.”
After the presentation, Frecker works one on one with students on the other half of the advisory model – helping them track their progress academically to make sure they’re on the right paths to graduate on time.
The approach helps students take ownership of their progress, Frecker says, and it helps them make better choices.