Writing a timed essay for an AP exam is stressful for even the most confident of students. The job of an AP teacher (or any writing teacher honestly) is to provide as many tools as possible for the student to have in their writing toolbox. Having different methods of organization is fundamental because it provides the outline and structure for the analysis and ideas of the essay. Organizing can be challenging because there is no one “right” way to do this. Below are the three most common ways to organize a timed writing response with examples of sample essays from AP central. … KEEP READING
Winters in Texas often resemble spring in other parts of the country. These beautiful winter days offer great opportunities to take learning outside. Every year I wait for the temperature to reach a comfortable range and out we go to experience the natural world the Romantic poets extol in their poetry. The following lesson is easily replicated with a different poem, but I turn to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” … KEEP READING
One of the most underused resources in AP Literature are the sample essays (or anchor essays as I call them) on the College Board AP Lit exam page. College Board provides sample responses for Question 1 (poetry), Question 2 (prose), and Question 3 (open-ended) for every year dating back to 2003. In addition to the essays, College Board provides a summary justifying the scores the essays received at the reading. These essays are GOLD, and the possibilities of using them to improve student writing are endless. Here are a few ways I use them in class: … KEEP READING
Registration for next year has begun at my school. Students have so many options in today’s education system. Dual enrollment, virtual school, and non-AP English classes are all options offering different benefits. There is no one right answer for all students; instead, students need to figure out which class is best for their strengths and curriculum path. This post is not to take away from any of the other options students have but to promote why I (along with some support from former students) think AP Lit is beneficial. Forgive the question/answer slides, but I’m obsessed with JEOPARDY! and this week’s college tournament. JEOPARDY! is the perfect mentor text. … KEEP READING
Multiple choice practice is a staple of any AP class but can quickly become routine and dull and thus less effective for students. As teachers strive to provide opportunities for low-pressure practice, we should also dedicate ourselves to being creative in our approach in an effort to keep students engaged in learning and building skill. The result – students who are confident and prepared for the exam but more importantly mature readers and thinkers. Below are seven ideas to shake up multiple choice practice: … KEEP READING
When it comes to literary terms and how to teach them in the AP classroom, I am often stumped. Typically my approach is to teach them in context, and students seem to have a grasp on those terms. I don’t quiz students on terms and definitions. Early in my teaching of AP, I did this and found students simply memorized the terms and definitions without much skill in applying them to the text they were working with. This is what I wanted to avoid. I want my students to be prepared for the exam and to be able to apply terminology to the texts they read. … KEEP READING
I sat before my AP Literature class and asked a question about the poem we had just read. It wasn’t a tough question: “What is the first thing you notice?” I want students to react to a poem as an opening move. I don’t want to get weighed down in devices or the “deeper meaning” before we simply discuss what we notice first. I want them to consider their initial reactions before we dig deeper.
“What is the first thing you notice?” I asked, again.
My thirty students responded with collective silence. Some kids looked at me, some looked at their shoes, and some pretended to search for meaning on the ceiling.
Silence. … KEEP READING
The Things They Carry by Tim O’Brien has become a favorite in my AP Literature classroom. O’Brien’s journalistic style allows students to delve into theme and literary analysis without being weighed down with heavy diction and ornate syntax, but this is by no means a lightweight book. The stories and reality of war bring the depth.
I ask students to write down twelve things that they anticipate they will take to college. These should include a mix of tangible items such as their phone, blanket, and favorite coffee mug with intangible items such as their mother’s love and memories from high school. Students cut these items into strips and turn them face down on their desk. I randomly choose six items from each student’s desk. Students then write for five to ten minutes on their feelings of what was taken, how life will be without those things, what was left, and general observations. Students are then prepped for a conversation on the randomness of war, the effects of war, and personal sacrifices the war required of soldiers the same age as many of my students. Some students are surprised to learn that losing some things can be good but most have negative effects; some students. … KEEP READING
With so many books and so little time to read, our AP Lit Help team offers reviews of their favorite professional reads from last year. Happy reading and learning in 2017!
Writing with Mentors – How to Reach Every Writer in the Room, Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell Review by Jori Krulder
Writing with Mentors is one of those books with ideas so straightforward and obviously useful that you ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of this years ago?” It is based on the simple premise that the best way to create engaged and independent writers is by teaching them to find and use current texts as models for writing. Students read and analyze the text and use what they learn to write their own texts. In addition to providing step-by-step ways to build units of study tailored to the needs of your students, this book offers several resources for finding the real world texts that will help students to see the possibilities out there when it comes to writing. Once I learn the process for finding a mentor text to fit the needs and interests in my classroom and using it to guide students in creating their own writing, I was given limitless possibilities for instruction. And once students learn the process, they’re also able to apply it to future writing endeavors. This book empowers both students and teachers with one of the most important gifts of learning: independence.
I read Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ new book, Who’s Doing the Work?, at the start of this school year. It was a perfect shot-in-the-arm to help me reflect upon my role in student learning. I’ve taught high school English for ten years and have worked with all skill levels from struggling freshmen to Advanced Placement seniors. As I read through the book I saw myself in many of their examples. When students struggle, teachers often feel responsible to do more. Check! When teachers define, scaffold, or summarize for students, the student becomes dependent upon the teacher. Check! When students are assigned a complex text, they rarely use the strategies teachers have taught them. Check! Burkins and Yaris argue that reading and English Language Arts teachers must take a step back and allow their students to grapple with material. Additionally, they explain how teachers can make easy adjustments to facilitate authentic learning and how those adjustments can help students become more independent and capable of transferring their learning.
Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie Review by Roy F. Smith
What started out as required reading for a professional development session, John Hattie’s book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning turned out to be an essential addition to my professional library. Hattie’s work is grounded in data and effectively argues for a visible “practice of teaching.” While most teachers work to assist their students in becoming more knowledgeable, Hattie focuses on those teachers who are “expert teachers” in their disciplines. Hattie argues that these expert teachers are not only content experts, but they are also “passionate and inspired teachers.” Visible Learning leads teachers and administrators to an understanding of the strategies and techniques these knowledgeable and passionate teachers practice every day. Hattie’s work is not a “theory only” lecture. The heart of his book develops the key stages of the expert teacher’s daily lessons. He delineates a framework that includes chapters on preparing lessons, starting lessons, the flow of lessons, feedback, and the end of the lesson. Evaluating expert teachers’ strategies to make learning “visible” for all students, and putting these strategies under rigorous scientific measures, helps all teachers practice these strategies in their own classrooms. Hattie sums up his book’s goal when he claims that “My point is that teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we have some control – and this book outlines those beliefs and commitments.”
In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom by Kelly Gallagher Review by Susan Barber
Seeing Kelly Gallagher’s name with “the best interest of students” on a book left me no choice but to buy, and this book did not disappoint. Gallagher honestly reviews Common Core standards and argues that teachers need to stay true to teaching reading and writing rather than a set of standards. This book provides practical and theoretical content, old and new ideas, and teacher and student insight. In a world where many educators seem to either be highly outspoken against the standards or all in with them, Gallagher walks the line between the two putting best practices and students at the forefront of the book rather than engaging in an argument about standards, the current state of education, or the despair of literacy in today’s society. Some of the book is common sense which in my opinion is what is missing from many of today’s classrooms. Other parts of the book fights for student choice and engagement pushing educators to stay current with research and continue to grow as an educator. My copy is already earmarked and worn from use already, and I have no doubt yours will be as well.
I read a lot. I grade a lot. I confer a lot. So when I find a book with lessons ready to roll out in my classes, I have found a gem. The Art of X-Ray Reading is a gem. From Fitzgerald to Shakespeare to Homer to Joyce to Morrison, Clark provides a lesson for a section of a text focusing on close reading. Do not confuse the term “close reading” here with a fad of filling out a worksheet on a passage but rather a serious study of a section. Students wade through syntax, determine diction and connotation, and tie the small to the big picture of the work. Clark turns the texts into mentor texts for writing and labs for teaching reading skills. His lessons are meaty, thorough, and engaging. Though only providing lessons for twenty-five works, teachers apply the principles of these lessons to any and every work taught in their classrooms.
What was the best professional book you read last year?
I will provide a variety of quality works for my students.
I will teach skills that will help students become better readers rather than teaching a text.
I will be an active reader and share personal reading with my students.
I will learn alongside my students.
I will embrace the ambiguity of multiple interpretations of a text instead of one “right answer.”
I will offer reading at times during class just to enjoy the beauty of words and passages without analyzing the text.
I will provide EPIC (experiential, purposeful, imaginative, and collaborative) lessons.
I will allow students to have choice in their reading. … KEEP READING