Another Year in the Bag

sachel

Another year is in the bag. My students have negotiated the AP Literature exam and senior year with grace and dignity (for the most part). It is always a melancholy day when I say goodbye to these kids I’ve come to know so well. But, I know they are prepared for college and the world that awaits them in the fall. Now it is my turn to reflect on the journey we took together and begin my plans for the new crop of students heading my way in the fall. 

Like most teachers, my reflections fall first on what I will do differently next year. I carefully consider what worked well and want failed to live up to expectations, but I also consider what was missing. First, what went well?

Students read deeply and widely. As a class we read and analyzed the following works: Madame Bovary, The Importance of Being Earnest, Hamlet, Frankenstein, and Song of Solomon. Students also read four self-selected novels or plays. Their readings included: The Road, Sula, Beloved, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mudbound, and many others. There was a sense of literary excellence and challenge in the class, and I am proud of this classroom culture.

Students learned to read specific passages and poems closely and analytically. They learned to make arguments. I worked to focus students on the craft of writing and the skillful arrangement of language authors use to create meaning. We looked at specific sentences through warm-ups I call “Spotlight Reading.” I saw growth in insight and analytical writing.

What failed to live up to expectations? 

I try to do too much. I want kids to read everything. What happens? I rush through works that deserve a slower, more methodical pace. Quality literature requires attention. I need to curb my inclination to do too much. In the end, the kids are short-changed, and I feel frustrated.

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Summer Writing

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Assigning summer reading for students is commonplace in most schools. All research supports the need for students to remain active in learning over the summer in order to continue to make intellectual gains and move forward in skill building. Students are assigned a book or two to read during summer break providing the opportunity to continue to build critical reading and thinking skills.

But what about writing? Other than a possible essay on the assigned reading during summer break, most students do not have regular writing practice over the summer and miss out on the benefits of continued writing skill building. Fortunately for me, the AP Lit teacher who preceded me recognized this and had students keep a summer journal. I loved this idea and decided to keep it when I began teaching AP Lit and morphed it into my own assignment by asking students to explore the city and experience some different activities. Here is a copy of the assignment my students will receive before the end of the year: KEEP READING

In Defense of the Exam

MC

My opinions on standardized testing are no secret as I have spoken out against it adamantly and frequently, so it’s no surprise that I’m often asked about why I teach AP Lit, a course driven by and ending with a high-stakes exam. Here are some ways the AP exam differs from standardized testing and why I have no problem teaching a class with an AP exam:KEEP READING

AP Lit Multiple Choice Stategies

Avoiding Multiple ChoiceMania

Preparation for the AP Lit multiple-choice portion of the exam requires critical reading skills acquired throughout the year; last-minute cramming is generally not productive for this type of exam. However, being familiar with the structure of the test and thinking through exam day strategy can be beneficial. Here are a few reminders: … KEEP READING

The Poetry Service Project

Service Project (1)

Let’s party, English teachers! This is our month. Let’s break out the form and meter and read the night away! But before this gets any verse (couldn’t resist), here’s how my AP students and I celebrated National Poetry Month.

Earlier in the semester I received an email from a teacher asking if I’d like to do some classroom collaboration. She happens to be one outstanding educator and the mother of one of my very talented students, and I was thrilled to begin thinking about what she’d proposed. KEEP READING

No More Poetry and Prose Prompt Predicaments

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No formula exists for writing the perfect AP essay; however, these general guidelines can give students confidence and serve as reminders going into the exam.

Typical poetry prompts include:

  • Analyzing how the structure of the poem affects the overall meaning of the poem
  • Discussing how poetic devices are used to convey meaning
  • Discussing similarities and differences between two poems, considering style and theme 
  • Contrast the speaker’s views toward a subject in two poems, referring to tone, form, and imagery.
  • Analyzing an extended metaphor

Typical prose prompts include:

  • Analyzing characterization through narrative and literary techniques
  • Analyzing the attitude of the author including tone and style
  • Analyzing the relationship between the characters or a character and the setting.                                                       

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It’s Poetry to Me

It's Poetry to Me-Using Post-it Notes toOpen the Dicussion of a Poem1

Understanding poetry can be such a daunting task for so many students — and so many teachers. As AP Literature teachers, we have the ultimate of challenges in equipping students for poetry analysis on a high-stakes examination. One of my most successful classes (like so many) was inspired by an AP conference I attended at Wake Forest University. It’s a simple concept that allows students to exercise the freedom of poetry. I often use this lesson sporadically with several different poems to remove some of the anxiety of poetry and allow students to take ownership of the poems. KEEP READING

Question 3: The (Not So) Easy Question

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Question 3 on the AP Literature exam is often thought of as the easy question. Students (and maybe some teachers) think this because of the fact that there is no text to read. Read the prompt; write the essay. That’s it, right? Not necessarily.

What all AP students need to realize is that the AP Lit test is a test about sophistication. Success on the AP exam relies on being able to demonstrate a level of sophistication in reading, thinking, and writing. And, this is all true for Q3.

Sophistication in Reading

Just because no text is given to the student on Q3, does not mean that the text they choose is just an afterthought–a secondary priority to the prompt. The text a student chooses to use for Q3 requires just as deep a level of analysis as any other text on the test. This means that a student needs to prepare for Q3 is a special way. They need to go into the test already knowing what book they will be using on the exam.KEEP READING

Ten Commandments for Teaching Poetry

The Ten Commandments of Teaching Poetry (1)
  1. Teach strategies for understanding. The goal is to help students learn to read and enjoy poetry on their own, so allow the poem to be a vehicle for teaching strategies to unlock meaning and understanding. Sadly poems are too often taught as information to be memorized for an assessment. Teach the skill, not the text; allow students to use their skills to make meaning of the poem.
  2. Expose students to a variety of poems. Just as some people prefer jazz over big band or hip hop over country, poetry preferences exist. While I prefer the Romantics, teaching only Wordsworth and Byron is a disservice to my students. They should be reading Sandra Cisneros, Billy Collins, Langston Hughes, and e.e. cummings. Offering a variety will help students find poems they find comfortable and give them the chance to consider other styles. 
  3. Give students choice. Research proves that choice reading of texts increases student engagement and motivation. Allow students to bring in poems that they like to share with the class. The poems may be silly, sad, or profound. This will not only give students a chance to research and find poems but give teachers insight into their students.
  4. Questions are okay. Students are often afraid of poetry because they don’t understand it. Understanding poems typically requires multiple readings and extended time for reflection. Teachers need to help students be okay with walking away from a poem with questions. I tell my students to lean into what they understanding and dwell on that; further insight will come over time and with subsequent reading.
  5. Shift is everything. Coaching students to identify the shift is the single most important thing that will help with understanding poetry. The meaning of a poem ordinarily follows the shift thus giving students a built-in signal for unlocking the meaning. 
  6. Read for enjoyment. Somewhere along the way in teachers got the idea that everything text presented in class had to be dissected, analyzed, and taught for assessment; this is simply a disservice to our students. When I listen to music, I sing along, dance, and often comment on songs but rarely identify figurative language in the lyrics and how the syncopation adds to the melody; I listen to enjoy. The same is true for poetry: we need offer opportunities for our students to enjoy poetry. Poetry Fridays by Jori Krulder unpacks what reading poetry for enjoyment in the classroom looks like.
  7. Make poetry relevant. Good poetry is timeless but sometimes meanings get lost in generational gaps and archaic language. Modeling text-to-self connections gets students in the habit of thinking how a poem can relate to them. I often pair “The World is too Much with Us” with “Touchscreen” or “The Chambered Nautilus”  with Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite and have students figure out how the modern clips connect to the older poems.
  8. Punctuation matters. When given a poem to read, students will pause at the end of each line and ignore punctuation. Not only does this make for awkward reading especially if a poem doesn’t rhyme, but students have a more difficult understanding a poem read without considering punctuation. When my students are having trouble simply reading a poem, we take it sentence by sentence often reading like prose to build skill and confidence.

  9. Structure, form, and type matter. A basic framework of structure, form, and types of poetry help students understand meaning, and while students may not be able to clearly identify types and forms of poetry, they will be able to tell whether it is formal or informal, structured or unstructured which adds to meaning. Teaching students to use structure, form, and type as clues to unlock meaning moves them from memorizing terms for assessment to understanding poetry.

  10. Have fun! Be creative with teaching and reading poetry. Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 21st or help your students write slam poetry with Ted Ed’s “Become a Slam Poet in Five Steps” lesson. Have your students share poetry via Google Hangout or Skype with another class or devote a day to studying song lyrics as poetry. The options are limitless!

 

10 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month (+2)

Nationalpoetrymonth

 

  1. Read a poem a day with your students. Whether it is reading for pleasure or reading for analysis – share poetry with your students.
  2. Checkout the website: Words Unlocked for poetry teaching resources and a poetry contest.
  3. Celebrate National Poem in Your Pocket Day April 21, 2016Poem in Your Pocket Day
  4. Read Billy Collins’s poem “On Poetry”.
  5. Discover unknown poets at websites like: Verse Daily,and encourage students to submit poetry of their own.
  6. Have students share original poetry or the poems of others by placing copies of the poem around the school or campus.
  7. Explore Cell Poems and have poems delivered to your cell phone – encourage students to do the same.
  8. Tweet lines from your favorite poem or poems throughout the month of April, or follow #NPM16 or #nationalpoetrymonth on Twitter.
  9. Encourage students, with teacher approval, to read a poem to a class other than English. Can they find poems written about other disciplines?
  10. “Chalk the Walk” by having students use sidewalk chalk to write entire poems or just favorite verses on the sidewalks leading to your school or on your school steps. Create a graffiti wall in your classroom where students can use chalk or markers to write lines of poetry or entire poems on the pieces of paper that line the walls of your room.

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