This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.
As an AP® teacher, I feel like I’m expected to assign gobs of summer work. I do, in fact, fulfill this expectation by assigning gobs of summer work, but I don’t do it out of spite. I do it in order to be able to cover all of the necessary material in a meager eight months, while still allowing a miniscule amount of time for those facets of American literature that students are missing out on by taking an AP® class.
Admittedly, a tiny part of me assigns so much work to build up the AP® stamina of my incoming posse and to impress my fellow AP® colleagues (I’m kidding about that last one!), but even in my masochistic summer-work-state, I still want kids to be kids and enjoy their summers. Every piece of assigned summer work is significant to the success of the class, thereby making the ones who neglect it suffer all year long. (Well, first semester anyway.)
My summer agenda includes memoirs, critical reading journals, American literature, current events and vocabulary flashcards. I’ve heard that the work takes hours and days and weeks (oh my!) to finish, and so every year my guilty conscious tries to streamline it. So how does this summer work help get us there?
In the first week of class, we address the memoirs in separate Socratic seminars. Not only does this teach students the Socratic seminar process, which is used throughout the year, but it also gets them comfortable with the college-like atmosphere of the AP® classroom. Critical-thinking skills flourish and students begin to feel comfortable voicing their opinions and thinking for themselves. Students must keep critical reading journals for each selection, which forces them to dialogue with, as opposed to summarize, the text (an AP® teacher’s worst nightmare).
For the next Socratic seminar on the second memoir, students are asked to identify and mark their texts for examples of rhetorical strategies, and then voice them during the discussion. This offers an opportunity to practice identifying how the writer writes. Students continue marking and sharing their findings for all remaining texts and soon they are using these strategies in their own writing.
By marking the text, along with studying their flashcards, students begin the process of mastering the terms. Students can also go to Quizlet.com to find sets of AP® terms, some which show examples in addition to definitions. Students are given a quiz that asks them to identify examples of the terms, but there’s a twist. Students are led to believe that they are working individually and that the grade counts.
After fifteen minutes of suffering through the quiz, I tell them to draw a vertical line down the center of their papers and that they now get to work with the rest of the students at their table. (They write their group answers to the right of their individual answers on the other side of the line). They work together for about ten minutes and then (surprise) they get to use their flashcards for the last ten minutes. The grade on this first quiz does not count against them and is only used as a baseline assessment. The “real” quiz (no gimmicks this time) is given a week later and counts for a grade.
To address the aspects of American literature that my eleventh graders would otherwise miss out on, each student chooses a novel from a provided list (students may not double up). Then at the beginning of each class, one person gives his or her American literature presentation on the novel (this goes on for several weeks until every student has presented). Not only does this assignment give them a taste of American literature, it also allows for a deep analysis of fiction (which they don’t often get in AP® Language & Composition).
Additionally, the presentations are usually so in-depth that students are able to compile a mental list of interesting books and resources to use later in their own writings. I also have them read ten short stories from the American literature textbook, which they use later on as the main inspiration for their researched argument paper.
By the end of the first month, students are well versed in the terms, experienced Socratic seminar participants, comfortable with presentations in front of their peers, knowledgeable about many American writers’ styles, and able to critically think about text. Making the summer work valuable and relevant assures my students’ success. And after that first month, students no longer think of me as the “mean one” but instead as the “one who ties it all together.”
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