Annotation for Smarties – 5 Tips for Teaching Students Active Reading and Critical Thinking

Active Reading

“How many of you have ever gotten to the end of a page of assigned reading, and realized you have no idea what you just read?”

Every year, I pose this question to my English classes, and every year, just about every hand goes up, including mine. I share with my students that there have been several times, even recently, that I’ve realized I have absorbed absolutely nothing of what I thought I just read, this, despite 16 years of teaching and a lifetime of being an avid reader. It’s the discovery of why this happens that led me to one of the most successful strategies I use to help my students become close readers: annotation.


The Freedom to Respond: Q3 on the AP Exam



The one question on the AP exam that produces the most anxiety is the free response question, Q3. I have had students tell me they become overwhelmed with the choices listed and cannot decide which book best fits the question. Or, they go in with a novel in mind that they know well, and the question doesn’t match their selected novel, and they scramble to make a suitable choice.

I wanted to find out which books provided the most versatility for the AP exam and which books students were expected to have read or have knowledge of in college courses. … KEEP READING

Multiple Choice Monday



Each Monday my students do multiple choice practice. My non-AP classes work on SAT reading comprehension questions while my AP students focus on AP exam type questions. Tests vary in length each week from 10 questions to a full AP practice exam of 55 questions. Multiple-choice practice can often suck the life out of a class, yet practice is necessary in order to increase reading comprehension skills and prepare for the exam.

I have started using Socrative in all of my classes for several reasons. Students benefit from Socrative because it provides a game-based feel for an ordinarily mundane activity and gives immediate feedback on questions. Teachers benefit from Socrative because valuable class time is not wasted on questions the entire class answered correctly, and data can be saved from each practice test in order to tailor future lessons to class weaknesses. … KEEP READING

Episode 1 of The Test





Could they read and could they write? That’s what they wanted to know. Of course they could do it, but how well could they do it? So they worked in silence for three hours, reading and writing. That’s all it took — three hours. A year’s worth of work, and it was done in three hours. And then, they awaited judgement.

Issac and Annie are two of the nearly 400,000 students globally that took the AP Literature and Composition exam last year. It is a rigorous exam. Typically, the best and brightest students in a school take AP exams, at least that’s the way it was when I was in school.  The multiple choice section lasts an hour. Then in the next two hours students write three essays, back to back to back. Its exhausting. Few do well on it.

How tough is it? Well only 8% scored a 5 last year. 18% scored a 4. If you do the math, and bear with me I’m an English teacher, nearly 75% failed to score a four or a five. 75% of the smart kids. That’s a tough exam. But when you want to award college credit for high school students, this isn’t the in-house soccer program, not everyone gets a trophy.

But Is it fair? Can a test, especially a high-stakes one, reveal what you know?

This is a podcast about one TEST. I want to know what those two students did to succeed? What did their teachers teach? Did they teach to the test? Did they ignore it? But once you start asking those questions, your magnifying glass picks up clues that lead down a much bigger rabbit hole. It leads you to wonder, what should a test do? Are we testing too much? How do you help a struggling reader?  Can you assess a student, a school, and entire educational initiative if you don’t test what they know and how they’ve progressed? And what about the students? What impact is all this having on them? Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk to students, teachers, test makers, advocates and critics. I’m going to ask questions of them all to better understand where we are, what’s working and what isn’t, and the impact its having.

Welcome to THE TEST