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:
Choose a variety of texts
Texts on the AP Lit exam fall into four basic categories: pre-20th-century poetry, post-20th-century poetry, pre-20th-century prose, and post-20th-century prose. This framework offers an easy check when choosing texts for the year. I physically keep a running list of works taught throughout the year on my desk updating by hand each day as needed. Because it’s on my desk, I am forced to look at it daily, and since I record the genre in parenthesis next to the text, I am also making sure we read a variety of styles – not just the Dark Romantics which are my preference.
In addition to a variety of prose and poetry, students must be exposed texts that are not only engaging and easy to manage but texts that are challenging and often times initially frustrating. Imagine an Olympic athlete eating rice cereal and drinking formula throughout her training; it’s ridiculous! Yet many students are not pushed to the next level academically because it’s not only hard for the student but it’s hard for the teacher. Offer students smaller chunks of texts initially to build skill and confidence. Model reading difficult texts to students. Be sure to teach skills and not simply teach the content of work. BUT don’t shy away from doing hard things!
Offer large group, small group, and individual learning assignments
All three of these groupings have advantages for student learning. My favorite days are when we circle up as a class and discuss texts; the class learns so much from hearing different perspectives and voices. Small groups (or family groups as we call them in my class because in spite of good or bad times, they are stuck with each other for nine weeks) offer a place for collaboration, wrestling through ideas, and allow quieter students a chance to be engaged in conversation. Individual learning, however, is often overlooked, but as the year progresses, students should be given more opportunities to wrestle through texts individually to ensure they are becoming independent learners.
Balance structure vs. surprise
My teaching philosophy for many years was centered around the motto “the higher the predictability, the less the impact.” This fits my creative mindset and keeps me from becoming bored in the classroom. What I have found, however, is that many students cannot operate in a class where there are surprises every day, and I have had to adapt and build in structure. In my effort to find balance in this area, I have designated days in my class – Multiple choice Mondays, Writing Wednesdays, and Free-day Friday. On Monday students can count on some type of skill-building activity that will help them with multiple-choice passages; this could be an exercise in close reading or multiple choice practice through games or in groups. Wednesdays are devoted to some type of writing instruction and practice, and Fridays are days for reading or working on independent projects. This provides enough of a structure for students to feel grounded but allows me room for creativity in planning.
Organic lessons and learning
As with most things in life, plans change. Assemblies, snow days (or snow-flurry days here in Atlanta), or maybe even an engaging discussion that took longer than expected can interrupt “the best-laid plans of mice and men.” (Sorry, that’s the English teacher in me coming out). Planning is necessary and important, and plans should be followed because intentionality in the classroom keeps teachers and students moving forward. Adapting plans when needed, however, is also necessary and important, and a mature teacher is able to do this without causing disruption to the big-picture plan. If you need to adjust, adjust and move forward.
Plan well, execute well, and prepare for a great school year!