Thoughts from an AP Reader: “Juggler” Question 1

jugglers

Writing a timed essay for the AP exam on “Juggler” by Richard Wilbur was much like juggling; students had to manage a prompt asking them to analyze the juggler and the speaker’s attitude toward the juggler while considering poetic devices Wilbur detail the juggler and the speaker. Trevor Packer from College Board posted on Twitter last week that students “continue to find analyzing poetry more difficult than prose” in regard to this year’s AP Lit exam; writing about poetry may be the biggest challenge for students in AP Lit. After reading approximately 1,200 students essays, here are my observations and takeaways from this year’s reading.

What Students Did Well:

  • Taking advantage of multiple entry points in the poem
  • Addressing both literal and figurative meanings
  • Identifying poetic devices

Even though I definitely scored more lower level essays than higher level, I was surprised at what students were able to accomplish in approximately 40 minutes. Essays scoring a 4 often offered good thoughts about the poem but failed to go deep or back up ideas with textual support. I came away encouraged that AP teachers are teaching students to find the point of the poem they connect to or identify with and enter the poem there. KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Lit Reader: Question 2

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The College Board dotingly refers to their first-time readers as acorns and even distinguishes us with an acorn on our name badge.  “The Reading,” as it is so fondly referred to, is a surprisingly pleasant professional development opportunity that involves reading 1.2 million essays in a collaborative effort with colleagues from all over the country and even the world.

When the Chief Reader report comes out it will be a valuable resource for all teachers. According to College Board, sadly only 11% of teachers who access the exam questions take advantage of the material provided by the question leaders.  This will use much more sophisticated vocabulary likely including words such as penultimate and ubiquitous. In the meantime, here are my observations as a first-time reader on Question 2 that are designed to be helpful for implementation into the AP Literature classroom.  KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Lit Reader: Question 3

stack of books on the dark wood background. toning. selective focus on the middle book

Many of the lessons I learned from reading Question 3 essay after essay were ones I’d learned before, but the prevalence of some the problems that cropped up reinforced in my mind the points I am going to emphasize with my students next year. Here are some of the crucial ideas I’ll be bringing to my classroom this fall:

Introductions: GET to the point and HAVE a point

AP readers who are looking at many, many essays for many, many hours do not enjoy reading lengthy introductions. Students have a very limited time to write their essays and readers will understand (and appreciate) not having to hunt for a thesis amidst historical accounts of the author’s time period and your thoughts on which politicians tend to lie the most. Do not bother to restate the prompt, as I can assure you, many, many students have already done and do not give a laundry list of the three literary techniques you will be discussing in your essay. Instead, formulate an idea that answers the prompt using the novel you have chosen and hopefully incorporating the meaning of the novel as a whole and get on with your essay. KEEP READING

Teaching Beloved

Beloved

As excited as I was to teach Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time, I was also terrified. With the conservative culture of my school, its reception was, as I expected it to be—hesitant, at best. Concerns ranged from violence to sex, and the pushback allowed me to reflect on all the benefits of teaching Beloved. Now, years later, the novel remains as a mainstay in my AP literature curriculum. KEEP READING

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.

KEEP READING

Summer Writing

diary

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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