Literary CSI



Do we each have literary DNA? Is our writing style unique?

Vassar College professor, Don Foster, whose book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, argues that no two people use language in precisely the same way, our identities are encoded in our own language, a kind of literary DNA. Combining traditional scholarship with modern technology, Foster has discovered how to unlock that code and, in the process, has invented an entire field of investigation–literary forensics–by which it becomes possible to catch anonymous authors as they ultimately betray their identities with their own words.

I first heard about Foster’s book through Lawrence Scanlon at an AP workshop a few summers back. An activity that can promote close-reading skills, Scanlon suggested, was to have students become literary detectives by investigating multiple poems with the poet’s name removed to determine who wrote what.KEEP READING

Why I Don’t Play by the Rules



A better title would have been “The Few Times I Actually Do Play By the Rules,” because it seems my default position is to play outside them. Take my involvement with this site, for example. I do not teach AP Lit. Never have, never will. I do teach AP Latin. I have done that for longer than my students have been alive, but I do not teach AP Lit, and so right away you may be thinking, “Why am I reading what this guy has to say?” That is a fair question, and if I were writing about topics particular to the AP Lit exam, then you should by all means move on to something else, but I am not, and so I hope you will stay with me for a few more words. … KEEP READING

5 Works of Art to Teach Critical Thinking


With the emphasis on high rigor in today’s class, the English class sometimes becomes repetitive. Reading, writing, and discussion are the staple of a successful class, and these must be done. Art, however, is one of the most underutilized resources in today’s AP class. The Roman poet Horace claimed, “A picture is a poem without words” meaning art and written word are different mediums of expression. Art offers students a break from written words while continuing to develop the same skill set needed to be successful readers through challenging students to think both critically and analytically.

Here are a few examples of how I use art in class: … KEEP READING

The No-Fail Pre-Writing Strategy


There is a strategy that has gotten me four jobs. In each case, I was asked to demonstrate my teaching skills in front of interviewing committees, and was completely confident that this exercise would cast me in a positive light. Moreover, the strategy is as easy to administer as a think-pair-share.

If Anthony Robbins taught AP, he’d use this strategy: the discussion web, a process and graphic organizer first developed by Donna Alvermann in 1991.

You could probably get an idea of how it works by studying the graphic organizer, but there are a couple twists that really give it power—namely step 5 and step 8, below: KEEP READING

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