So...I officially got beef with ACT.
I have a class of young, yet decent writers - writers who can analyze the nuance of presidential speeches and other challenging texts - but still, they struggle with the ACT task. Do they counter all perspectives outside their own? Do they simply acknowledge that other views exist? Is it expository or argumentative?
Of course, I know the answer to these things, and I walked them through it this week, but in all honesty, I hate the ACT writing portion. It’s too scripted so that students’ writing becomes rigid and lifeless. The perspectives are often too thinly different to effectively discredit one over another, or the prompt itself is so obvious that every single student agrees with one of the perspectives.
Now, I know this isn’t ACT faults entirely. Students need to write on anything and do it well, but I just gotta blame someone. And ACT is responsible for possibly the most hectic afternoon of my year with their field test.
So pretty much I’m whining. Let’s move on.
Back to AP world this week! Aaaaand… its not really anything new. I posted most of this week’s plan previously when I thought we’d be doing synthesis earlier.
Here’s the “Student-10-Minutes-Before-The-Test” version.
This week was five days of sharp right turns and putting the car in reverse.
Detour #1: As mentioned, last Friday, my kids did their first FRQ (JFK Rhetorical Analysis). Upon returning to school Monday, I realized that a large portion of them had not written more than their introduction and a body paragraph. I am a firm believer in not wasting my grading time on something I know won’t go well for the kids, so we decided to give them another period to finish and revise.
That moved Synthesis back to Thursday. No big deal.
Detour #2: My admin (well, my department chair) tells me that we are going to require all juniors to complete two ACT writing practices. (Awesome. I’m down.)
Then, I find out it has to be done by Nov 16, which would be right in the middle of my synthesis unit, so we duck and weave.
Synthesis goes on the back burner while we do ACT prep.
Here’s what Week 10 looked like instead.
Monday: Rubric Analogy Project Presentations.
Tuesday: Sample study (JFK).
Wednesday: Finish and revise JFK FRQ.
Thursday: Review scoring and look at two samples from peers.
Friday: Task analysis and prewriting for ACT. (I used a PAT Template my department put together that I will be sharing next week when we get into synthesis).
So that means, this week is far from what I planned. Instead of synthesis, we are going full ACT prep - something that I usually try to save for early March. The kids are going to practice the writing three times (as that feels most aligned to AP prep). They will also complete two diagnostic exams: one for each of the English parts of the text. Not an exciting week, but necessary.
This week is a great example of making the best out of an obligation. Teaching Sincerely is how I approach those roadblocks and detours that seem to get in the way of your real intentions as a teacher.
No. I didn’t want to do ACT prep this week. No. I don’t think it’s the best time in the year. However, Teaching Sincerely is about making the best of these hiccups. So - with synthesis in mind - we are focusing on addressing a unique task. That's why I pulled in the same prewriting template I'll be using with synthesis.
As much as I hate handouts from above, I have found some of my best teaching moments are born of adaptation and adjustment. These moments force me to think about why I do what I do and what needs to take precedence. It forces me to stop, rethink, and adapt. And that’s what Teaching Sincerely is about.
Last week stayed pretty well on target. The kids completed their collaborative FRQs… kind of. Most of the groups ran out of time, but at least they got words on the paper. Our scores were in the 3 to 5 range - which is expected - and the kids weren’t actually that scared about Friday’s first FRQ.
Now...what those look like - I have no idea. I was at a training Friday, so I haven’t seen any of the work yet. Regardless of how great (or not so great) those essays are - my plan is pretty much the same this week.
Tomorrow, we are going to present their rubric projects so that students can really understand the rubric and holistic grading. Then, I am going to task them with table reading and picking out what we need to work on as a class. I use skills lessons or reteaches after each FRQ to make sure we are slowly correcting the issues that come up in their writing.
After that we’re on to synthesis with an AWESOME activity I stole from Erin Palazzo - a great voice in the #aplangchat I look forward to every Wednesday. THANKS, ERIN!
Being able to teach sincerely relies more on the people we surround ourselves with than our school initiatives or restrictions. A common illustration of this is the “Find Your Marigolds” advice we pass to new teachers: Surround yourself with a community that will help you grow, not weeds that will suck you dry.
For me, my PLN (Personal Learning Network) helps me teach sincerely by giving me tools and ideas to stay true to what is most important to me. For instance, I believe strongly in authentic experiences, even when we are prepping for an AP exam. The High School Drama Synthesis Prompt is such a fun way to point out the type of discourse students see on a daily basis. I am so grateful that an idea like this was graciously shared. It may not be mine, but it falls right into place with what I sincerely want for my kids.
So here's the deal…
First let me apologize for the delayed post. I was in California consulting this weekend and I used about every spare second to grade my kids’ stuff.
Now, let's talk the heartache of a weak performance on an assessment. What I realized while tackling their prewriting check was that the same old issues are popping up with rhetorical analysis. Describing strategies is so hard for them, and it seems like more of the same. I'm hoping my sample moves them in the right direction... but it's always discouraging.
But we are on the move nonetheless, the kids are tackling their first RA tomorrow, and I am honestly just hoping they finish. Ha!
We all know the hard truth that is the first solo RA. They'll make silly mistakes you explicitly told them NOT to. They'll write "uses pathos" no matter how many times you tell them that doesn't make sense. They'll manage their time poorly, even though you did all the prewriting before class. Nothing feels quite as discouraging as that first FRQ, but we'll persevere! (After a little shock).
Something I am passionate about is building a growth mindset. This week - or rather, whenever they get their scores - is ROUGH. A three kills them more than any F on a math quiz ever did, and for that reason, it's about a positive positive positive reaction for me:
“You know, a three is pretty good when a 6 means you qualify to skip a year of college.”
“You were so close! I needed one more sentence. Fill in the gap, and you're there!”
“This is just a check in. We'll revise and keep at it!”
So plaster on your best teacher smile, hide the panic, and brace yourself. It's FRQ week.
Back for a short week! Yay teachers' convention!!
I won’t lie. I have a little bit of anxiety about the fact that this week is the first time we’re even digging into test materials. In theory, it’ll be smooth sailing because of all the critical reading prep, but I’m pretty sure the usual rhetorical analysis panic will soon be upon us.
(There's a horror film in there somewhere).
Here’s how I approach the RA essay...
And that’s the pattern I follow for all three with a few extra lessons thrown in for synthesis and argument.
So this week, it’s modeling - task and passage analysis, writing claims and assertions, and evidence integration. (Oh my!)
Here are some images to support your modeling. I have my annotation of the Adams passage as well as my outline.
As we begin our exam prep, I always find myself thinking about teaching authentically, or Teaching Sincerely. AP teachers are always conflicted by the “teaching to the test” feeling - and I am no exception.
Here’s how I stay true, or sincere, to my own goals as an AP teacher…
Teaching Sincerely is about finding the best way to adapt to your teaching situation because that will never stay the same from year to year (or let’s be honest, PD day to PD day). So for me, AP is not about teaching to the test, but using what’s best in the test to teach what I sincerely care about. Make sense?
Phew! We are done with a unit. (Well, after Tuesday). It took us quite awhile, but next week, we are on to rhetorical analysis! I’m optimistic that the extra time with critical reading helps us out.
As per usual, I found my kids struggling through determining purpose and tone on SOAPSTone. In order to make sure they were prepped for the test Tuesday, I went over collective feedback with them.
Basically, I wrote out detailed notes about Purpose and Tone - which they then copied into their notebooks. Since those notes are available for their test, they can use these notes to get through those two tough spots on the test.
BUT before we jump into RA, we are taking a pause to assess their reading habits. I have an Independent Reading Assessment for them to complete this week which will ask them to analyze the book they chose but also (and possibly more importantly), they will do a self-assessment of their own habits.
To be honest, it isn’t a busy week. Just a test and this assessment.
For me, Teaching Sincerely is about being able to pursue what you deem most important. Independent reading is one of those things for me. I look at the other teams in my building, and despite how much we all value this reserved reading time, it always takes a back seat - for a lot of different reasons. I myself even find that I will cut them off a couple minutes early in order to get to the skills lesson.
Nonetheless, the day I decided to give students reading time every day was an essential move for me. Even if it is just 50 minutes a week, I at least know I’ve got them engaging with text for that long. And, frankly, that’s a lot more reading than I did in high school. People sometimes scoff at me investing this much time here, but my kids scored better on their AP test and its a better bell ringer than anything I’ve tried to sustain in the past.
Week 5 was ambitious, like I said. Tone. Tonal shift. Diction. Imagery. Syntax. AND Rhetorical Appeals. The kids, however, followed along like champs. In particular, they were ALL about the Diction Dress-up paper dolls. It was one of those risky lessons that outshone my expectations.
It’s a highly recommend if you want to talk about tone and diction. :) I will warn you, though, that cutting out the doll was a much more daunting task than I thought. Ha ha.
Now we are on the downswing of our Critical Reading unit. (About time… we are on Week 6 after all). Therefore, I am going to spend the week walking kids through how these different concepts tie in to AP: Annotation and SOAPSTone analysis. Now that I think they have some of the core concepts down, we are ready to start analyzing text for multiple choice.
Part of Teaching Sincerely is being adaptable so that the kids get what they need. Nowhere is this more important than the AP classroom (...in my biased opinion). Kids need feedback, and they need it often, but anyone with more than one section of AP knows how impossible that feels.
This summer, I posted a blog series about how I keep feedback manageable. (It starts here). One of the strategies that I shared - collaborative writing - is coming into play this week. Students will do collaborative annotation and a collaborative SOAPSTone. By using the methodology I share in this free resource, I am able to make sure that all kids are practicing the skill with fidelity while simultaneously limiting the number of submissions. This, in turn, means I can give them lots of feedback before their test next week.
Collaborative writing is a big go-to in my room. Try it out and see how it changes your practice!
I’ve realized more and more how powerful vulnerability is as a teacher - with my students, with my colleagues. With you.
We all know it isn’t shiny and glossy all the time, and to present myself in a way that implies that is unfair. So here I am - sending off one of my low moments to the world, packaging up my vulnerability so it might be medicinal instead of toxic.
Because, last week, on Thursday, I found myself struggling more than usual with my depression. As my students wrote about rhetorical strategies and The House on Mango Street. I wrote what follows.
Snap, Out. Of. It.
I optimistcally scrawled it across the top of my To Do list this morning. Like a warning. Like telling myself would bring me back. Like positive self talk might work this time.
Affirmations. Positive thinking. Growth mindset. I can hear myself cycling through the mantra over and over again, trying to use the same tools I use to encourage my students. Obviously, it isn't working.
And it's probably because these things are all good and all important, but they ignore one glaring question:
What about when it’s chemical?
Because words don't to much against poison being pumped from your brain, especially when it feels as if it’s already rewired your thinking permanently, even immobilized you.
The reality of depression is ugly, and I hate the say it, but those positive words just don’t do much when you have to keep swallowing the sobs in your throat. And they don’t do much when you can’t steady your hands long enough to write on the board. And they don't do much when everything feels artificial and pointless.
But that’s what I’m up against today. As a teacher fighting through depression and anxiety, sometimes I feel like an imposter. Like I’ve been replaced by this uglier version of myself.
On my ugly days, I struggle with the guilt. The physical pain. The frustration.
I just struggle. Completely.
And I think the worst part is that I have no idea when it’ll let up. Every second is a string of the same questions:
How many days will I wake up with the weight of an iron vest pinning me to my bed?
How many days will I have to keep reminding myself to put on this fake smile?
How many days can I lie, throwing out a “Fine” when my students kindly ask how my day is going?
Because without some end in sight, I worry about my students. I can maybe fake it for a day, but pretty soon it starts to interfere with my lessons. I find myself swapping active, engaging lessons for those things they can do independently while I let myself drown a bit.
It quickly becomes a disservice.
Then, I fight with myself about staying home in the hopes a day of rest might resurrect me - but that, again, is just another disservice. And in my heart, I know it doesn't work that way anyhow.
So the guilt thickens the poison.
I try to fortify myself with a half hearted smile and pray they won’t notice because it’s terrifying if - even for a moment - they realize it isn’t Cwik standing at the front of the class but this evil twin.
And I hope - no, plead - that tomorrow will be better and the fog will pass.
And I evade one horrible, taunting truth.
That they deserve better.
Guys. It’s Week 5! That realization fills me with both panic and relief. Mostly panic. We haven’t even started any test prep.
Nonetheless, it was another good week. The kids managed to write essays without me when I was away at training, and we finally started jumping in to BIG ideas and the rhetorical triangle. Next up, more critical reading! Wee!
We are working through more strategies to look for as they read challenging texts this week. Tone, imagery and illustration, syntax, and rhetorical appeals. It’s a lot to tackle in a week, but they are ready to rock and roll (Thanks to their AWESOME Honors teacher!).
I’ve got my axes to grind, but one thing I love about my school is that I am not tied to American Lit in AP. I am not forced to tie rhetorical reading in with fiction. I am not forced to include any full length texts at all.
Now, I do. We read Gatsby in a thematic unit just for the sheer beauty of it, but no one is standing on my shoulders telling me I have to get to anything.
That’s one of the reasons, I am able to stay skills focused. This week, we are reading passages from Mary Roach’s Stiff, “Salvation” by Langston Hughes, Queen Elizabeth’s speech at Tilbury, and Toni Morrison’s endorsement letter to Obama. Because I have the freedom, I can choose texts by what skill they mentor or demonstrate. That’s incredibly rewarding.
Unfortunately, I know that isn’t the case for all my readers. Many are tied to American Literature (Gatsby, The Crucible, etc) while others are caged in by “lock step” curriculum. Some unfortunate souls get strapped with both.
For me, Teaching Sincerely means you adapt to find your own passion in the “have to’s”. I’ve spent most of my career finding just how far I can bend the rules to suit what my kids need, and I am passionate about helping others do the same. If you are feeling locked in, reach out. I am ready with ALL the ways around those shackles.
Have a great week, AP world!
So this last week was our first jumping into our critical reading unit. I have to say I was excited to hit the ground with some of our skills lessons.
Overall, I made very few changes to the plan I posted. I just switched my overview of Standards Based Grading to Friday. (It was a pep rally Friday - so discussing the Rhetorical Triangle didn't seem all that enticing).
We started our My Dream for America speeches. Already the kids are off to great ideas, using MLK's iconic speech as a model. It's proving to be a great assignment for the beginning of the year - a chance to see what they are most passionate about. As they picked topics, I told them to think about what they would "march on Washington" for, and they aren't disappointing me with their fiery beginnings.
This week, we are continuing on with our critical reading strategies, but first - I have to be gone for two days. (Of course). I figured they could always practice more expository writing, so I outlined a compare/contrast writing assignment using Washington and McCain's farewell messages. To fit in with our prior strategy - the Rhetorical Triangle - I am having them compare and contrast the speakers, the audience, and the subject to ultimately distinguish between their purposes.
(It's actually looking to be a happy inconvenience that I have a training).
For me, teaching always seems to get interrupted. Part of Teaching Sincerely is finding a way to maintain your focus and intent when things like... MANDATORY TRAININGS... get in the way.
When it comes to sub plans, I go back to those BIG Rocks - those things I care most about for my kids. As much as it kills me to be away, I have a few "go to" filler activities that still move us toward my big goals. Hence, the expository writing practice. As long as my kids are going writing that is intentional and focused, I am down.
As I mentioned in a past post, my BIGgest rock is that students find a voice of their own - so this lesson, which is analyzing the voice of others, is a step in the right direction.
UPDATE: Here is a link to the document for the Expository Compare/Contrast essay. Sorry it's a PDF. My original was corrupted. (My life this week...)