I became an English teacher largely because I love literature. Most of us would consider ourselves “readers” and have a love for words that led us to this career. That’s why I was really surprised when I loved AP Language so much. There was no poetry, very little fiction, just nonfiction works (articles, essays, speeches, letters) to synthesize, analyze, and argue. AP Language gets down the building blocks of why and how an author uses words to achieve his purpose. From my first introduction to the course, I found myself analyzing every sermon, televised speech, and opinion column for its use of rhetoric.
The largest benefit of teaching both AP Language and AP Literature is being able to see first-hand how the courses complement each other. Both AP Language and Literature offer unique challenges, but have a common overall purpose. These are five areas that may benefit both students and teachers as AP Literature courses begin.
Students entering the AP Literature classroom that have had the AP Language curriculum should be more prepared to answer multiple choice and free response questions under a strict time limit. While synthesis is certainly not poetry and the argument question has little to do with understanding the novel as a work as a whole, these students should still feel more confident in their AP English skills in general.
Make yourself familiar with the AP Lang course—If you have not had the pleasure of teaching AP Language yourself, familiarize yourself with the previous test administrations free response questions (AP Lang free response) and sample responses. Take a practice multiple choice from your AP Language teacher or from the course description (AP Language Course Description). Nothing is more humbling than taking an AP multiple choice test, and you will feel better prepared to “meet them where they are” once you take the time to do this.
Find the 2’s—Either officially from the school or AP Language teacher or unofficially from the students themselves, find out their AP Language scores. You will then know who the 5’s are and will be able to successfully transfer their analytical skills into the world of AP Literature, but the most important number you will find are your 2’s. I have seen many AP Language 2’s go to strong 3’s and even a few 4’s in time for the AP Literature test. First of all, the test anxiety is lessened and AP Language 2’s will often be hungry to prove themselves this time around. A year longer of reading, developing clarity and voice, and a more sophisticated natural vocabulary will propel them forward. You will also be able to identify the students who possibly took the class but not the test. Find out why and see if you can use that to both of your advantages.
Use prior reading—Early in the AP Literature semester, I like to have students create a Major Works Data Sheet for a novel or play of literary merit that they read during the AP Language class and either studied as a class or independently. This includes basic information about plot, characters, author’s style, and most importantly, themes. Students also write their first graded Q3 in class on this work (the question choices are a part of the MWDS) and can use the MWDS as a help sheet for this first open-question essay.
Everything is analysis—AP Language students have been taught to analyze, particularly for the Q2 Language rhetorical analysis question. Reassure them that the prose analysis is rhetorical analysis’s next-door-neighbor and then build on those skills to include analysis for the poetry question.
Letting go of the rhetorical triangle—As a reader of the Literature Q2 prose analysis essay, I can say that many students still used the terms logos, ethos, and pathos in order to ineffectually analyze the fictional characters found in the prose passage. One major problem was that students were confusing pathos and logos, but even when used correctly they did not develop very sophisticated analysis using these terms. So although your students may feel very proud of learning these terms, for the most part they need to let them go when analyzing a fictional character.
A well-known saying in AP Language and even the title of a textbook for the course is Everything’s an Argument. In AP Literature, everything is still an argument, but now literature is the students’ medium. By combining your expertise as an AP Literature teacher and an understanding of your students’ background in AP Language, you are creating a scenario for success for the upcoming year.