This summer I had the privilege of becoming a first-time reader for the Advanced Placement literature exam. This experience was the most influential professional development I’ve had to date. I spent the week reading (and reading and reading) student work, participating in collegial discussions, and soaking in the atmosphere at a poetry reading and Shakespeare in the Park with passionate educators I’m pleased to call friends.
All glamour aside, this process is grueling and stressful. We are reminded daily to remember the integrity of the test and the essays. As our chief reader David Miller reiterated, each essay represents someone’s student and someone’s child. Our Q2 question leader began the week reminding us to read the essay we’re given, not the one we hope we had received.
As I progressed through the essays, it was readily apparent to write down notes that began with “don’t”:
- Don’t “paint a picture”; explain how this enhances the text.
- Don’t define the literary devices; assert how they relate to the development of the text.
- Don’t just stay at surface level; explore the complexity of the text.
- Don’t, don’t, don’t.
Clearly, this experience can and should be transformative for my classroom, but focusing on what I “don’t” want my kids to do will not help them grow as writers. In addition, if I lead with what NOT to do, I can hinder their confidence and their willingness to experiment with finding their voice. The more I read and listened to the discussions, the more I began asking myself questions that I want to research and guide my future instruction.
- How can I encourage depth within a timed setting?
- How can we encourage or guide students to be concise without sacrificing content development?
- How can we get students to clear their minds and focus to create a strong, academic essay in our class– not to mention 3 strong, academic essays in only 2 hours?
Although, I hope to enhance their learning experience, it’s important to remember that the majority of the students we teach will not pursue degrees in literature or aspire to become poets, fiction writers, or English teachers. I was amazed at how our students could push themselves to find insight in a timed setting for three separate essays after performing the section one multiple-choice exam. The foundations that teachers and students build for colleges/universities is strong, and no matter how the scores translate in early July, each examinee should be commended.
I’m excited to plan and begin working with my students this fall to continue to explore our writing together!