Seminar Cycle

The Achievement First Seminar Cycle integrates the three humanities courses required of all Achievement First scholars -- literature, history and composition -- into a series of 12 coordinated cycles throughout the school year. Each cycle requires major collaboration between teachers and moves scholars through the following stages: directed reading and annotation, interpretive seminar discussion, summative writing, and evaluative discussion. Every three weeks, the process culminates in a formal, evidence-based essay required from every scholar at the close of each cycle.

Instructional Model

To better prepare scholars for the structure of post-secondary learning, Achievement First humanities courses feature seminar-style teaching. By shifting from the typical questions asked of high school students (e.g., "What do you think about this reading?") to those generally posed to college students (e.g., "What are the author's core arguments?" or "How could this be interpreted differently?"), the framework ensures that scholars are able to:

  • Use evidence to support their opinions
  • Listen carefully to the ideas of their peers
  • Synthesize multiple points of view into a more complex personal understanding of the text
  • Comprehend and engage with increasingly sophisticated text using skills of focused annotation and habits of critical thinking
  • Construct college-preparatory papers that put forth scholarly assertions backed up by a coherent and compelling body of evidence

Coordinated Curriculum

At most traditional high schools, writing is taught by individual subject area teachers and only as time permits. As a result, teachers must choose between covering key content and communicating critical writing skills. Meanwhile, students receive conflicting messages as to which strategies to use to develop strong essays. To address this issue, Achievement First requires four years of composition instruction for all scholars. This represents one key aspect of Achievement First's coordinated humanities curriculum -- a system of three-week cycles in which composition serves as the glue between literature and history learning. In a given cycle, while literature teachers introduce new material for reading and annotation, history teachers move from annotation to discussion, and composition classes help scholars craft evidence-based essays rooted in the previous two stages. Over the next three weeks, as history classes move on to new material, literature progresses to the discussion phase and composition turns to literature content. By the end of the school year, each scholar has produced 12 evidence-based essays -- measurable signposts on his or her path to college.

Collaborative Teaching

The Seminar Cycle requires significant and meaningful teacher collaboration. Before each new cycle begins, content and composition teachers meet to develop an evaluative question that will guide instruction (e.g., "Was the Civil War inevitable?") along with an exemplar of the essay they expect scholars to produce. They come together again at the end of the cycle, this time to assess completed essays against the exemplar, along with Achievement First's interactive writing rubric. Beyond fostering strong teacher-to-teacher relationships and opportunities for professional growth, this process reinforces a focus on student outputs, thereby allowing teachers to identify execution gaps that might otherwise hinder post-secondary success.