Thoughts from an AP Reader: “Juggler” Question 1

AP Lit Exam

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

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

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.

KEEP READING

Literary Criticism for the Student’s Soul

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One of the biggest challenges of the high school English teacher is teaching literary criticism. It can be such a subjective mystery for so many students, even the brightest. I have found over the past few years that having students take ownership and responsibility for not only their learning but the learning of their classmates pushes them to a level of understanding and communication that is far more engaging and often easier to grasp than my method of presentation. … KEEP READING

Using Children’s Books as Mentor Texts

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One of the best professional decisions I have made was applying to become a fellow with the National Writing Project. Because of my interaction with colleagues across the spectrum from K-12, my teaching has expanded and I see possibility everywhere. One of my favorite techniques for assessing students both for formative and summative purposes that has come out of these connections has been through the use of children’s books. Here are three of my favorites:KEEP READING

AP Lit Quickfire Challenge

Quickfire Challenge

 Have you ever had one of those loose-ends days where the students are tired, you’re worn down, and everyone is a bit unmotivated or even unwilling to give the content or curriculum the TLC it deserves? I offer you a quick fix, or “fixe” if you will…the AP Lit Quickfire Challenge!

Inspired by the “Quickfire Challenge” on reality show Top Chef, students have one class period, and one class period only, to create an intentionally designed product highlighting the literary element dujour. Similarly to the show, students may only use whatever’s in the kitchen. And by kitchen, I mean classroom. … KEEP READING

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