This is the first time I’ve taught AP Language and Composition, and as I enter into thematic units, I’m finding it a challenge to decide what pieces to read. In my experience of teaching traditional English classes, there is often a novel or long piece that the unit centers around, with supplementary texts. With this course, the primary focus is to read a wide variety of short pieces to learn how to closely read lots of different genres of non-fiction writing and other media (the value of focusing on short and varied works in every English class to teach stronger literacy skills is a great discussion for another day!). My goals in this unit are to continue learning how to closely read texts and recognize the function of writing strategies, and to use this knowledge to teach students how to enter a conversation by synthesizing ideas and establishing their own unique viewpoint. My quandary for a week now has been what issues of education to read about, because there are so many. I finally came up with probably the simplest solution: ask the students. I think students generally like to be part of the decision process in classes because it gives them ownership--something I like to promote anyway. So I'm confident that they will be very thoughtful in their responses.
I put together a survey of the general issues I could cover with the readings. I will hand it out and explain the five choices, then ask students to rate them, with the number 1 being “most interested.” Hopefully this will give me some guidance as I go forward in the unit!
When reading student responses on their Reading Sheets from last week, I realized that with the exception of a couple, most student answers were not particularly rigorous; they wrote generalized answers (for example, writing only that the context was about the expense of high school sports, rather than adding school budgets and American student success vs. other countries to this), only provided one piece of evidence, or wrote opinions of the piece rather than focus on how the writer’s moves function. While I’m not sure if this was due to effort or understanding, it makes more sense for me to take the blame and look at it as something I need to explain more thoroughly (spending the time doing this will clarify ideas for those that need it, while also providing a kick in the pants for those who blew it off the first time, because they’ll realize they need to step it up).
So, after the surveys I will ask the students to take out the article The Case Against High School Sports by Amanda Ripley and review it for a few minutes so they can re-establish the context of the article. While they are doing this, I will hand back the scored reading sheets so they can see the feedback (which was largely me circling words in the question, like “explain your reasoning” and “moves” –the things they didn't really pay attention to).
After about five minutes of review, we will take a close look at the questions of the reading sheet. Before launching into the questions, though, I will also note that I will log the scores on this first reading sheet but not count them toward their grade unless they did well on it, since it was the first time they’ve done one of these (there may have been legitimate misunderstandings about expectations, so I don’t think it is fair for students to be penalized for that).
Class will be largely directed by me today as we jointly answer the questions. The goals are to review the different elements of rhetorical analysis and appeals, to emphasize reading questions carefully, to emphasize citing specific evidence to support understanding, and to model how to complete this type of assignment. By doing it together I can emphasize specificity right away, and also set a tone for rigor to counter those that may have taken the writing lightly the first time.
I will also have the Reading sheet document open on the Smartboard so I can write in responses, thus providing a visual model for them.
When we have completed the joint construction of the reading sheet based on the high school sports article, it will be time for students to practice with a new piece. I chose a piece by Fareed Zakaria from 2011 titled When Will We Learn that is a sweeping call for improving the educational system, and compares ours to the likes of South Korea and Finland. I’m using this to practice their rhetorical analysis, and particular using the structure of the reading sheet, because it is short, and they can therefore focus on the whole (we will move to longer pieces in the coming days). Also, I want to move them to using their rhetorical analysis as the first part of the process for entering a conversation by recognizing where the author leaves things uncertain, and this piece has enough generalities to provide space for them to do that tomorrow when we take this step in class.
For today, I will hand out copies of the article and a fresh reading sheet. Students will begin reading the piece quietly in class and answering the questions of the reading sheet.