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
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?
No More Guessing on Author Intent in Mudbound – Susan Barber
After falling in love with the novel Mudbound last summer, I decided to make it this year’s summer reading. Mudbound has so many great teaching points from point of view, narrative perspective, characterization, symbolism, and themes that one could spend months uncovering the layers of meaning. Oh, and did I mention the story is high interest? Students came to class on day one anxiously awaiting discussion; they enjoyed the novel so much there were few complaints about having summer work.
… KEEP READING
TP-CASTT, SOAPStone, and DIDLS have been long-time methods of teaching students how to unpack and understand poetry. These have their place in the classroom and offer students a structured approach to poetry. In the past few years, however, class discussions and the teaching of poetry has become more organic and student-driven. With that in mind, here are some simple activities to use in the classroom when teaching poetry: … KEEP READING
Even with my books, electronic resources, coffee, and beagle nearby to listen to me talk through ideas, choosing and planning curriculum for a new school year can be a daunting task. Whether new or experienced, planning for a new school year causes one to question. Am I offering a good mix of novels? Am I providing the right amount of poetry? Have I taught enough older literature? Too much modern?
These are the questions that plague my mind and often cause me to second guess myself. I’m already one week into school but here are some things to keep in mind when planning or evaluating plans throughout the year for AP Lit – or English classes in general: … KEEP READING
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
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
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
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
Desiring to change up my reading list this year, I decided to add As I Lay Dying and am so glad I did because it has proven to a great choice. I feel part of my duty as a southern teacher is to offer at least one southern work for my students, and AILD perfectly fits the bill. The story of Addie Bundren’s death and her family’s journey to Jefferson to bury her offers multiple points for teaching and student reflection. I want to give a shout out Matt Brown for sharing his resources and encouragement; most of my lessons were s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶n̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ inspired by him. … KEEP READING