Yesterday the students did their first full practice test of the AP reading section (multiple choice-a one hour session). We are a couple months from the actual test, so I thought it was a good time to get a read of where students are in their understanding of rhetorical analysis so I can adjust accordingly going forward. I scored all of the tests last night, and there was a general range of 30-45 correct out of the 54, which is actually pretty good at this point, given that their essay writing is generally strong. I unfortunately don’t have the benefit of a machine for reading their answers and collating data, so I’m going to have students do some analysis of their own scores to see if there are some specific patterns that can help frame instruction for the second semester. This should give them some strong ownership of their own learning, since they have the opportunity to tell me what they need to work on after analyzing the data (also, they will soon do a research project, so this will provide practice in evaluating data--part of writing standard 7). Just listening to their conversations should give me a better sense of where they are, too.
To start out, I will tell them what I just wrote here—that this is their chance to identify learning needs and tell the teacher what they want to work more on. Hopefully this chance at democracy will encourage them to go through the drudgery of closely analyzing data—going though each one they got wrong and evaluating why. I will then ask them each to share one thing from their reflection writing of the previous evening to get an initial sense of where they are before beginning the analysis process.
The next part of the process will be for students to look at the questions they got wrong (I will say they should look at ten of them, so everyone is working in the same time-frame), and analyze why they got each wrong (and if they have questions). I will also ask them to note any patterns regarding what they are getting wrong—a specific type of question, conceptual item, etc. While they are doing this I will circulate around the room to answer specific questions as they come up, as well as get a better sense of what issues they had.
After they’ve had some time to look at what they got wrong (I’m not sure how long this will be, but I’m sure they will give me signals, like no longer focusing on the task!) we will then closely analyze the questions themselves-- how they are constructed and, more importantly, what skills they are asking students to use. Just like any other writing, test questions are a specific genre of writing with certain organizational characteristics—so I think spending the time to do this will benefit them (this is one of those times where teaching a skill directly related to a standardized assessment feels okay to me—they will answer plenty of questions in their lives, like interview questions, where the skill of quickly assessing what the question is really asking will be important!). To do this I will ask students to go through the questions and label what concept is being assessed—a rhetorical appeal, organization, central idea or purpose, etc. They can work with a partner on this (I am not going to formally pair them—they are good at doing this themselves and there is no real reason for mixing them up in this case). I will model the first couple questions by discussing them with the class and establishing what is being asked and how they know it. In my own analysis, most of the questions are at their root about author purpose and central idea, then become more specific to rhetorical devices, organization, evidence, etc., if they aren’t specifically about central idea and purpose only. After they wrestle with the questions for a little while (I don’t expect them to get through all 54!), we’ll talk this through as a class, looking at a few of the questions and looking for key words that indicate appeal, evidence, etc., and making the broader point that it is important to turn up the awareness of rhetorical choices.
After establishing what is being asked, I’ll ask the class to look again at questions they struggled with to see if there are any patterns with respect to what skills the questions are addressing, and ask for specific suggestions concerning what they think they need more work on.
After establishing what is being asked by the questions, I’ll ask the class to look again at questions they struggled with to see if there are any patterns with respect to what skills the questions are addressing. At this point, I will then ask students to complete a free-write where they draw conclusions from their analysis of data regarding what they think they need more work on, and make specific suggestions concerning what they want to focus on moving forward in class.