Wow. Four weeks slipped by before I even realized I hadn't updated this page on our personalization journey in class. I know it isn't much of an excuse to an audience of teachers, but I just had too much going on: hosting focus groups, planning a professional development session, and unfortunately, we lost a student last week. It has been one of those all-too-familiar spells where teaching is all consuming and getting through the day-to-day takes every spare second. In fact, last weekend, I put in about 14 hours trying to prep my next unit and catch up on grading.
That said, my hours paid off for you as well. Unit 4 of my College Board aligned units is posted and free! Unit 5 is still in early access, but it'll be available Dec 1.
But for right now, let's talk about what has been going on in AP Language...
Personalization Tip #5
Change is scary. Be persistent.
My experience with personalized learning has been years of trial and error. Were you to look back on my posts, you would see many versions and variations of what I use and have used. From the outside, it may appear as though I kept "throwing out the baby with the bathwater," but in fact, each variation has informed the next and played some role in defining what I currently use.
Today, I am known in my building for personalization strategies and standards referenced grading. However, I would say I am far from an expert. I've just tried the most things.
I mention this not to brag, but to explain that the process of creating a personalized classroom is time consuming. Over the course of that time, one will face a lot of questions, and sometimes, these questions can appear as people trying to put you off the move.
In fact, I had a conversation with an administrator this week. We were talking about reassuring teachers that they would be supported in giving out rational consequences, and I mentioned that many teachers don't feel supported when it comes down to a tough decision. The administrator was perplexed as to why anyone would feel they wouldn't be supported, and said, "I might ask a few questions, but..." I told him that there is a misconceptions that when people ask tough questions, they are trying to set you off or change your practice.
Personalization - or really, any venture from traditional education - elicits a host of these tough questions. At first, I too felt threatened by questions from administrators and parents. I also wrongfully assumed that these questions were meant to discourage me.
What I found is that the longer I kept at it, the easier these questions were to answer. Not only did I have evidence from past classes to support my choices, but I had spent more time thinking about the practices myself. In other words, the more I had to answer questions, the more I understood the teaching practices themselves. (Seems kind of backward, right?)
The bottom line is this: don't let questions put you off trying something new. As much as we assume negative intent with parents and administrators sometimes, it really is unfounded. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team, and best practices speak for themselves. Yes, there will be the stray challenge, but the more you reflect and refine your method, the better you'll feel about responding to obstacles and inquiry.
We can all agree that American education is in disrepair, or as some would say, broken. We can all also agree that change is difficult and intimidating. But change is the only way to see any real reform, and that change happens one classroom at a time.
Personalization Tip #4
Get out of your desk. Better yet, get rid of it! Sit with the kids while they work. For some reason, the teacher desk is scary and easy to get stuck behind.
Time is starting to get away from me. I had every intention of posting this yesterday, but laundry, meal prepping, and The Great British Baking Show took priority.
Usually I start falling behind a little later in the school year, but this is 2021. And I would argue 2021 is worse than anything 2020 threw at us. (At least… that’s how we’re feeling in my neck of the woods).
For us, we have wrapped up Unit 1 officially and are working our way through the learning of Unit 2. Below, I have some notes on navigating end-of-unit, all-or-nothing blackout deadlines and two group activities.
Our first hard deadline (“blackout deadline”) came and went last week. That means I had to put some zeroes in for the first time this year. Because I use a decaying average, these will be replaced when I assess the same standard again, but until then, those students are sitting with a 22% in the standards they did not submit work for. (Which - as you might guess - for some of them, is all of the standards thus far). It’s slightly panic-inducing for those kids, but as I tell them, it just means we reflect on where we went wrong and make the appropriate changes.
Similarly, I had a handful of kids that waited until this blackout deadline and rushed through their final assessment. Not surprisingly, I saw a host of inadequate work. Work that usually would have been revised. However, because they waited for the last second, they didn’t have the time to make these revisions. I have fielded a few questions about improving their grades - as you might expect. Instead of offering more time or re-attempts, I turn these into conversations about time management and making better pacing choices in the next unit. Again, we look at the mistake and make appropriate changes.
In other words, the kids who needed a reality check got one, but the mistakes won’t bury them in the long run. Instead, we focus on what we can do differently. I’ve found that kids will dwell in the past if you keep offering re-attempts or revisions. Sometimes, it is wiser to just move forward. (It’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone back since switching to a standards referenced grading system).
More Group Activities
I feel I mentioned it before, but even if a class is personalized, there should consistently be times where the class comes together. For my kids, I shoot for two group lessons and pick out the learning targets that I anticipate will slip them up. In this case, it was rhetorical appeals and composing defensible thesis statements.
Group Activity #1: Being a Compassionate Writer
One initiative that many schools are starting to implement is a portrait of a learner - or a list of dispositions that the school hopes to foster in students before graduation. Ours is called a Profile of a Graduate. As I designed units this year, I tried to design group activities that would line up with different dispositions. For this activity, I was aiming for compassion.
I used the following PowerPoint to guide the lesson. Notes for each slide are below.
Biden appeals to ______ in order to….
This is evidence when he said, “...
This shows his appeal to _____ because…
By using this appeal, Biden hopes to…
Group Activity #2: Defensible Thesis Statements
This is an activity that I have used for a couple years. It is a simple review of what makes a thesis statement defensible.
Here again is the PowerPoint with notes below.
Personalization Tip #3
Ask students how it is going. OFTEN.
God bless you if you are teaching and still, somehow, making time for professional learning outside of school. I have not spent nearly the time I normally do reading blogs, checking out teacher content, or creating shared resources.
Mostly, I am watching TikTok and crying at how accurate all the teacher creators are. (I am also simultaneously guilt-ridden that I support TikTok when it is single-handedly making a job that already felt impossible actually unbearable. #amiright?)
Other than combatting "Devious Licks" and the far worse upcoming challenges, how are things? I mean, we're only handling the politicizing of COVID, subbing in every spare second because of crippling staff shortages, and being accused of "indoctrinating" children....
Lockdown isn't looking all that bad now.
But we persist. Somehow, we keep doing what is best for kids and sacrificing our own well-being (and sanity) for theirs. And listening... which is kind of what I wanted to focus on in today's personalization update.
My tip above is one that I think applies to all teaching, but especially to personalized learning. The entire goal of personalizing learning is to get students to use their voice and make positive choices about their education so that they can so the same outside of school. Without habitually checking in with them, they slowly lose that voice and just surrender to the traditional teacher-driven form of learning. In other words, without listening - personalization fails.
There are two types of check-in that I try to employ consistently: Conferencing and Surveys.
While I try to do quick "How's it going?" checks while I move around the class during learning time, I also try to ask questions about their learning. For instance, as they were coming up with assessment ideas this week, a lot of them were asking me about finding articles to analyze. My response has usually been: "Well, what do you care about? What is going to make this interesting?" Then... they look at me blankly, as though they've never been asked such a question in school.
I also try to ask about the best approach. I had a few students who were taking a long time on the teacher-designed assessment (CHECK), so I asked: "Would it work better if I asked you the questions instead of you writing out all of your response?" Again... blank stares, usually followed by "I can DO that?"
While conferencing is sometimes about questions they have on the content, I also use those moments to ask them what is working and what isn't. From conferences I've had during Unit 1, I learned that a couple students needed to be added to my oral response group for assessments (as mentioned above) and that my teacher-designed assessment was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It motivated me to look at my Unit 2 assessment and eliminate some redundant prompts. One of my favorite things about personalizing the learning process is that I have time for these conversations.
When I want to hear from everyone, I use a survey. Especially, as I am learning about a new group of students, it is important to give them a chance to speak up anonymously or privately. Survey's give that opportunity.
This week, I created a survey about my LMS (Schoology) setup and pacing. It also had an open spot for kids to pose other questions. Based on their responses, I made some slight changes to Unit 2, but for the most part, they were on-board and positive.
Actually, what I liked about this check-in survey - which I created entirely to have them reflect on MY work - was that the kids used it more as a chance to reflect on how they were doing. I got a lot of comments about how they had the tools they needed, but they needed to avoid procrastination and focus in class. Or comments asking me what my expectations were in niche situations.
Surveys seem simple, but they are a powerful tool to hear from kids. And, as I learned with this one, a subtle way to get them reflecting on their learning.
Because this week and last have been focused on finishing assessments, my time has been largely spent in conferences and talking to kids. I have also started some of my usual interventions for those students who begin to fall behind.
This - the point where kids fall behind or struggle to manage their time - is what frightens a lot of teachers away from personalized learning. First of all, honestly, they're usually the same kids who fall behind regardless, and secondly, there are so many ways to keep kids on track.
Here are some strategies I've used over the last two weeks:
You'll notice that as of now, I have not contacted home. Part of building agency is giving students a chance to handle it themselves. I try to give them as much chance to right mistakes on their own before reaching out to parents.
That said, our "blackout deadline" for unit 1 work is Oct 13. (These deadlines are the final cut off for any work related to Unit 1. I usually schedule them a week or two after my suggested deadline). Because my blackout deadline is Oct 13, I will probably message parents the Friday before if I am worried about a kid finishing on time. At that time, I send a list of their specific tasks to complete and the final blackout deadline.
I want to clarify that flexible pacing does not mean a free-for-all. Its more about allowing for a window of time in which kids can complete work. Completely open pacing - which I have also tried - is not successful and honestly, the kids didn't want it each. They love the flexibility, but they have told me every year that they need some hard deadlines to keep on track.
So these weeks, it was listening and intervening where I needed to. Without the daily lesson planning of traditional learning, I have time to do these things. As I mentioned in previous posts, personalized learning gives me the time to do all the things that I actually enjoy about teaching. Mostly, it allows me to really know kids...
...which is just enough to make up for stupid TikTok challenges.
Personalization Tip #2
Even if you think you have explained the process enough times... Explain it again. Unfortunately, personalized learning is very foreign to kids. They need lots and lots of reminders about pacing, next steps, and learning targets.
We are finally making personalized moves! Last week, I explained that the first two weeks in a personalized class really need to be about building the right culture, so we didn't even touch any content until Week 3.
Like I've been telling the kids for the last two weeks, we are making baby steps so that we can climb mountains later. I have always felt that when students first encounter AP Language content, you need to build their confidence with "baby steps" or tasks that seem simple but actually scaffold to some challenging work.
Here is the daily breakdown of how we've been doing that:
Week 3, Day 1 (Tuesday, because of Labor Day)
I started class with their Daily Dose (daily ten minutes of informal reading or writing). Then, I warned them that this is one of the few days where I would stand up and talk at them for most of the period (a.k.a. My own personal hell). It is a necessary evil for this particular lesson as I walk students through the core features of my personalized classroom. I ask them to write questions on the PowerPoint notes (below) as I go.
After my spiel about our procedures, I ask them to complete a detailed learning inventory. It is a simple Google form with questions about how they learn best.
Week 3, Day 2
My school adopted what we call "Flex Wednesday" last spring. Students are given an open schedule to fill based on what they need and want to do. As you can imagine, it is a work in progress, but fostering student agency means giving up a lot of control.
For AP Language, I have designated Wednesdays as test prep, so for this day's sessions, I offered a walk through of the exam. I use the 2020 Practice Exam from the course audit.
Week 3. Day 3
Ten days into the school year, and this was our first day of content and the first day of Unit 1. I begin each unit with a "Launch," or group activity, that tries to accomplish two things: 1) starting new content and 2) engaging our disposition, or focus, for the unit. (These dispositions come from our district Profile of a Graduate).
Because I designated this unit to be about Communication, we did one of my favorite early AP lessons: Rhetoric of a Snap. [This is also available in my A Year of AP Lang (Updated).] It breaks down the foundation of communication: speaker, audience, and purpose.
Here is a video version of the lesson and the handout:
At the end of the lesson, there is extra time, so I walked students through our Learning Management site, Schoology.
Their unit folder includes the following:
1. Unit Calendar
2. LEARN Folder (Vocabulary and Flipped Knowledge Lessons)
3. CHECK Folder (AP Classroom Progress Check, Review, CHECK Assessment)
4. SHOW Folder (Brainstorming Guide, SHOW Assessment).
This format uses a similar format to what I have posted about in the past. Please note, there are deadlines listed in the folder; however, these are suggested deadlines. Flexible pacing is essential for a truly personalized class.
Week 3, Day 4
This was our first "Learning Day" where students are engaging in personalized options and I am taking a more flexible role. We still started class with our Daily Dose, and before I let them jump in, I expressed my expectations for this flexible time.
Using the CHAMPS format, this is what I tell them (and tell them and tell them...):
Conversation: Only whispers are allowed in the room. If you want to collaborate with others, you need to head to the hallway or FTLAs.
Help: Approach the teacher OR send a Schoology message.
Activity: Personalized learning time.
Movement: Move freely, but quietly.
Participation: Working on your Learn folder without side conversations or distractions. Making progress!
I also take a moment to show them their unit calendar again. The unit calendar is very simple: learning targets, checklist, and an empty calendar. Each day, I ask them to set a goal for what they want to accomplish for the day between Daily Dose and learning time. At the end of the period, we do emoji reflections in the box to assess progress.
Week 4, Day 1 & 2
Over the weekend, I came down with this horrific head cold that is sweeping through the school. So while the kids were continuing their personalized learning, I was getting a COVID test (negative!), napping, and chugging DayQuil.
My notes for subs were simple:
1. Daily Dose
2. Update Unit Calendar
3. Learning Time
As with anything, the kids were probably less productive without me, and it killed me that I wasn't there during their first days of this format, but they were able to make progress. Good enough.
Week 4, Day 3
I was back for Flex Wednesday. This week, we talked FRQ rubrics. I walked students through my pizza analogy for the FRQ rubrics.
Week 4, Day 4
The next day, it was time for another group activity. When students and I looked at the Unit Calendar for the first time, I was sure to designate days on their calendar for group activities. These are more traditional days where I walk them through a whole class activity.
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I wasn't sure they'd LOVE it, but they really loved the sass-factor from both Abigail Adams and Dear Abby. I strongly encouraged them to bring that same sass to their letters.
Reading their letters, I saw pretty consistent ability to pick out her claims. A pretty impressive task when using a letter from 1780!
Week 4, Day 5
And our last day was another learning day. After Daily Dose, we did Unit 1 Calendar as usual, but then I took a minute to review the second folder on the unit: CHECK. Some of the kids were working ahead and onto this section, so I wanted to review what had to be done. Yes. We talked about it the week before, but I've been reviewing what they need to do daily. Like I said in my tip for this post... even if you feel you have told them enough. Keep telling them.
Here are some of the things I did during learning time:
- Provided a few students the passage to complete their CHECK assessment. (I vary the passages to avoid cheating, and I keep the passages with me).
- Corrected Unit 1 Reviews with students using the textbook for their knowledge learning.
- Checked with a couple students who had completed the AP Classroom Unit 1 Progress Check to see how they felt about their learning so far.
- Refocused students who were more excited about the evening's out-of-town football game. Because... teenagers.
- Sat with a group of girls that had been doing too much talking during the prior day's Dear Abby lesson. I wasn't sitting there to punish them, but I made a point to joke around with them a bit to work on building the relationships a bit. As my fellow coach would say, I was making some investments in hopes of cashing in later.
- Provided feedback on the Dear Abby letters for those who stated they prefer in-person feedback. (It might seem difficult to keep track of every one's preference, but I made myself a quick cheat sheet of their results that I just carry on my clipboard).
- Encouraged a student who did a sad face emoji after our Dear Abby lesson. She was second guessing herself so I wanted to show her she did it correctly.
- Asked a student to read her Dear Abby letter to me because I couldn't read the handwriting, but I also felt that she might be able to explain it better orally.
Going through this list, I am reminded exactly why I love a personalized format. These are all things we need to do, and even love to do, as teachers, but we rarely get to do them if we are at the front of the room teaching.
It may seem like I did a million things, but really, I walked into my classes Friday with a very short post-it list of things to do. The rest happened organically. Once upon a time, I was never the teacher who would still be planning her lesson the day OF the lesson (Hello, Dear Abby). Adopting a personalized format has forced me to get out of my own way and focus on what is needed in the moment. It has made me a more present teacher and a much better teacher.
Personalization Tip #1:
As promised, I want to be diligent about sharing what class looks like each week, using my personalized method. This post is about establishing the right culture right from the start.
UNIT 2 is OUT!
I have posted the free release of the Unit 2 supplemental material. There is a vocabulary list, group activities, and many practice activities for students to engage in. Check it out!
Unit 3 Will Be Out October 1.
Now... Let's talk about the first seven days in a personalized classroom. (Well, in my personalized classroom, at least).
Personalization only works when students are comfortable with you and willing to ask questions. In my many attempts at a personalized classroom, I was never really able to get this desired culture at the start of the year. Kids come in apprehensive of the class and you, the teacher, and frankly overwhelmed by all the other classes they are jumping into.
That's why I took a new approach this year. I have always been prone to rushing into the content - usually diving into the first unit within the first three days of school. This year, I wanted something that would get them talking and allow me to interact with them often.
I decided to invest at least a week in my school's "Profile of a Graduate." This is just a snapshot of dispositions we want to see in a graduate from my school (Compassionate, Creative, Responsible, etc). We are trying to embed this more consistently, so I figured this was a good way to start kids on low pressure content.
So, all this week, they were tasked with designing and planning the "Ideal School."
Because the kids were split into committees and given a focus, I was allowed to spend each day walking amongst the groups and getting to know the kids. It also created a less intimidating environment for them to start engaging in class.
It simultaneously let me practice one of the main practices in my personalization style - the idea of the teacher as a coach. Instead of me being up front and guiding them through activities or lessons, they were independently navigating the word. I asked questions when I found them to be stumped, but the ideas came from them.
Our next step - I mean, after their video presentations in - is to have them complete a self-assessment using the POG dispositions. There is no grade attached to this project. They will be annoyed, having put the time in, but it is my gateway to talk about proficiency over points in our overview of personalized learning on Tuesday.
And that's what we've done so far. If you are hoping to engage in personalization in your own classroom, I hope this recap of my first days gives you some ideas about how to establish the right culture. Come back next week for how we transition into flexible work time and pacing.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, I have struggled with how to create materials that will actually result in personalization. Instead, I think any content I have been putting out there just fits into the traditional model, or that it doesn't really make sense on it's own.
I think I have it figured out now. (Maybe).
College Board Supplement Packs!
As I was putting together my own content for the upcoming school year, I knew there was a lot of things I could share, but I knew my own personalization method would probably be hard to digest in a simple download.
Therefore, I gathered up what I have made and merged it with the College Board units. This allows you all to use it however you see fit, and it even includes SOME of my personalization materials as well. Essentially, each pack is just a little extra content thrown together so that you can start playing around with personalization! (Or just survive. Let's be honest.)
You're probably wondering what each of these packs include. Well, let me tell you!
Unit Guide One Pager
Personalization Materials (Conferencing and Intervention Trackers, Personalization Guide, and more!)
Let's talk release of the content...
I have mentioned in the past that I really hate taking money from teachers. I know that so many of your are living paycheck to paycheck because... usually, I am too. That said, I really appreciate when people offer monetary support (and honestly, it allows me to invest more time outside of school making new content).
So here's the plan:
I have already posted Units 1-3 on my TeachersPayTeachers site. (Unit 1 is free!). I am going to list these packs at $5 on TpT. HOWEVER - if you can be patient - I will have a later release here. The later release will be free! It's kind of a thank you to anyone who reads my ramblings. :)
Units 1 - 3 are already posted and accessible below. Unit 1 is free! The others are currently $5.
Now... If you can wait, I will release Unit 2 for free on Sept 1. (It will be in the Free Resources and under a new tab titled "Supplement Packs" under A Year of AP Lang).
Unit 3 free-release will then be Oct 1.
...and if you are interested in personalization...
As always, I hope these materials help! Check back Sept 1 for a free version of Unit 2.
I want to create so many things for others to use, but I am realizing that it is very very hard. Personalization is about adapting and changing to the kids in your class, so I really have no way of knowing what to make. Any unit plans laid out in my usual style are very regimented and inflexible - the complete opposite of a truly personalized classroom. How does one create personalized materials for OTHER people?
So while I spouted all the incredible things I planned to make... I'm not sure I really can. Instead, I think the approach is to just share everything I am making for the new year and walk others through the "HOW" via this blog throughout the year. That's the plan... for now.
My plan for today is to compile Units 1 and 2 into packs of materials to supplement College Board's content. Stay tuned!
Personalization for me is what education always should have been, but never figured out. Now that we have the tools to really make amazing things happen, I am ready for a massive shift in how kids learn. How about you?
As a teacher (and now as an instructional coach) I bet I can guess the first concerns that come to mind...
- Some kids don't do well with personalization.
- The current education model makes it near impossible.
- It's a lot of work.
Here are my thoughts to those...
Some kid don't do well with personalization.
This one kind of makes me laugh. Personalization, to me, means setting up content in the very best way for every student. How can they not do well if you are providing exactly what they need?
Sometimes this concern - that students fall behind or get overlooks in a personalized format - comes from a misunderstanding of personalization itself. Often time, the first glimpse we get into personalization is with pacing. Some assume that pacing is the core tenet of personalization, when really, that is just one aspect. For some students self-pacing is a nightmare - inducing stress and frustration. In fact, when I poll my students about personalized learning, they often wish there were MORE deadlines and structure. Every year, I have students that I quickly see canNOT self-pace. These are the kids I create a calendar for or with. Personalization is about the option to self pace.
Sometimes the best option is a more traditional format. (And it really kills a renegade like me).
The current education model makes it near impossible.
Correct. This is a purely true statement.
When I implemented standards based grading a few years ago, it meant working and reworking it into a model that I could enter in the gradebook. When everyone else is finalizing grades at the end of a quarter, I am the one reminding kids that quarterly grades mean nothing. Traditional education has it's claws into our platforms, practices, and attitudes, and frankly, it hasn't let up much.
That said, I am hugely encouraged by the national movement toward more personalized learning. Colleges have learned to decipher standards based grades and deemphasized standardized tests. State governments are re-writing standards to move toward a more student-focused learning experience. The national government is funding initiatives that promote voice and choice. (And before you say something like "Well that's in your state, Cwik..." I will remind you that I work in North Dakota. Check out the results from the last presidential election and then we'll talk about progressive states).
I guess my point is this: progress takes time but in my short 10 years as an educator, I've already seen a whirlwind of positive change!
If you are nervous about attempting personalization in your classroom, I suggest you talk with your admin before hand. You might be surprised to see how on-board they are with the idea. (I would guess - if they are like mine - they just want to know that you are communicating the process each step of the way to students, parents, and other stakeholders).
It's a lot of work.
Yup. It is.
No sugar-coating here. Personalization is an incredibly daunting task for some. (Ok... for all). The thought of being able to cater material to 30 individual kids every hour is insane. BUT... first of all. personalization should never result in 30 versions of the same task, and secondly, the work is just a redistribution of the work you are already doing.
Setting up a personalized class is HARD. You have to have everything for the unit created and ready to go before the kids even touch the subject. For most, that seems like an incredibly huge task... because it is. I spend hours putting together units for my kids.
That said, I am not working into the wee hours of the morning putting together content. I go home at contract time most days (or, at least, I would if I didn't spend an extra thirty minutes talking to my friends).
Instead, I just use time a little differently. For instance, I DON'T spend much time outside of class providing feedback. Instead of sitting down with a stack of 30+ essays during my prep period, I am bouncing between students in class, reading their work right next to them. When a kid submits something, I sit down with them the next day and grade it right there, and explain my feedback. It's a) faster, b) more meaningful, and c) NOT SWALLOWING MY PREP PERIOD. Usually, my prep period is working on materials for the next unit.
A personalized unit IS scary, but not impractical.
That said, I'm here to help. (Well, help AP Language and Composition teachers at least). If you don't know it already, I've created TWO yearlong curriculums for AP Language. (What?! You didn't know. Hurry up and steal all my stuff!). The first one was before the 2020 test changes. The second was suited to the new test, but didn't align to the College Board unit alignment. Can you guess where this is going?
I am reworking old content to create a College Board aligned, personalization-friendly version of the course! For each unit, I am creating vocabulary lists, resource documents, practice activities, and guides to help you try out different aspects of personalization in your classroom.
Seriously. I am so passionate about personalization that I am willing to do all the work for you. THAT's how much faith I have in this method after trying it out one step at a time in my own classroom.
Over the next few months, I'll be sharing activities and strategies for personalization. I also plan to post more "day in the life" style blogs where I walk through days in my class, in the hopes that it will help illustrate some of the things I talk about in the course design.
But for now, let's get to the goods. Presenting...
Pick the unit apart if you just want some new activities or use it in full force! More importantly, keep coming back starting in August to see more posts about what it looks like in my class.
As always, I appreciate and respect you all so much. Keep on doing the amazing things you do for kids in this country!
I am EXHAUSTED.
In all reality, I did a small amount of scoring. Between nannying during the day and my inability to score very long via computer screen, I didn't make much of a dent. In the "normal times," I would have scored over 1000 essays, easily. Not so much this year (or last). But I did it - even when it felt seemingly impossible to score after a year like this one.
And I'm glad I did. I always am. (Even though, I always make the joke that some hormone exclusive to readers makes us forget how tough it is when we sign up for another year). What I value most about being a reader is that notes I take away each year: ideas, strengths, weaknesses. I keep a short list of thoughts I want to bring into a new school year.
This year, as with last year, I am excited to share these notes with you in the hopes that you too can apply them to your own teaching.
2021 Reader Advice
I cannot express how important it is for the kids to include a direct, defensible thesis. As I read essays, I often found myself waiting for the thesis to come across. Often times, the essays had a defined line of reasoning with evidence carefully and even artfully integrated from the sources. However, they never came right out and said it. ("It" being their thesis).
The issue this creates is that without a thesis, they cannot score higher than a 2 on evidence and commentary. They top out at a 0-2-0. And it KILLS me every time when I can see signs of a strong writer who just overlooked that clear thesis statement. My guess - in these cases - is that they thought it was an implied thesis, when it wasn't successfully done. To be honest, implicit thesis statements are too risky.
What I Plan To Do About It:
I am going to encourage students to write a conclusion. As a time management strategy, I've made it a habit to tell them to skip the conclusion, but as I was reading, the unclear thesis sometimes came up in the conclusion. I can teach it as an "insurance plan," where a "backup" thesis in the conclusion might save them. My plan is to pair this with a reminder to re-read the prompt before writing the conclusion.
2. Do more with less.
I read a multitude of essays that were so long that I cannot imagine those students were able to complete the other two essays. Time management is such a difficult thing to teach, but so important on the exam. Recognizing this in my own practice, I am going to emphasize being concise to save time.
I noticed a pattern in the essays where teachers were encouraging the standard 5 paragraph essay with one source in each body paragraph. I can see this as a very straightforward way to teach synthesis to kids, but three well-developed body paragraphs can be time consuming (and as I noticed, VERY repetitive).
What I Plan To Do About It:
I am going to teach a four paragraph format (see below). This will achieve a few things: 1) Give students a functional outline and 2) Help them maximize their limited time. An added advantage to this model encourages them to find tension between sources - which is a great way to gain that sophistication point.
This is probably the happiest take away I got from this reading. The sophistication point is not the mythical, unachievable thing we have all perceived in the past. From the pilot reading to last year's reading to this year's reading, I have seen the expectation for the sophistication point evolve in a way that is going to help students so much.
It is not about perfection. It's about moments. Students earned the point by figuring out the broader context, by finding tension between the sources, and (occasionally) with a vivid, persuasive style. Very few students can write in a vivid style on demand, so I was happy to see a de-emphasis on this as we rewarded kids for having good ideas more.
What I Plan To Do About It:
I know we all preach the importance of prewriting, but I think good prewriting is a direct route to the sophistication point. If students invest time upfront they can start writing with some idea of the broader context in mind.
In the past, I have had students practice this with the Memorials prompt from 2013. On the surface, it is a prompt about statues, but we practice talking about WHY people care about statues and memorials.
I have been playing with the idea of "Compassionate Debates" where students have to imagine all different opinions that might surround an issue or topic. Then, they pair up and I assign them a stance. Not only is it good argumentation practice, but it also pushes them to think about alternate perspectives and consider an opinion that might not be their own. As I flesh out the idea a bit more, I'll definitely share it here!
So those are my notes. Now to go turn my brain off for a hot minute.
May 27: Last day of school.
May 28: Record keeping day. (Hungover. Obviously).
May 29: Slept 14 hours.
May 30: Graduation. At which one kid swore in his speech, another did a backflip, and one gem got up and peed on the field. (Graduation was on the football field).
May 31-Jun 7: A blur. I slept. I drank. I ate. I was an amorphous blob moving around my house.
June 8-10: Back to work, at a training for Marzano.
Usually I begin summer with an ambitious list of the things I want to accomplish and hit the ground running after graduation. After a year like this, however, I needed that "blob time." I can only imagine others felt the same.
But now, it's time to get back to work and let you all know what I have coming up.
1. AP Reading Reactions: Again, I am reading AP Lang exams from home. (First time synthesis!) I will post my immediate reactions to the work as a reader, and as a teacher. I always appreciated this information as a young AP Lang teacher - to hear from the assessors what issues are being seen and what conversations are happening. Look forward to a post about this after the reading next week.
2. Year of AP Lang REDESIGN: So I have created an entire year of AP content TWICE now. BUT I wouldn't be me if I didn't constantly upset the balance and change everything, so this summer I plan to redesign my Year of AP content (not replace, but add another set) that matches up with the College Board design and utilizes the personalized method I have been sharing about.
3. Book Units: Next year, I won't be teaching my AP Literature class anymore. It is a bittersweet change as 1) I am so excited to be moving into a new position in which I am an instructional coach part time but 2) I was just kind of getting into my groove teaching literature again. Knowing that the course is being taken over by newbs, I am going to put together some units for them. While this is work for my Teacher Pay Teachers site, I'll be making a free version to post here as well.
So stay tuned! The goals are big, but this is my version of fun. (I know. It's sad and confusing. Ha ha). Be back soon with more.