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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


It was Christmas in July for me when I received the e-mail informing me that I could check my students’ AP® scores online! Back in April, I was part of the College Board’s Webinar sessions that reviewed the new online service, so naturally, I was eager to see how it all turned out. Mostly, I was excited to be able to see my students’ scores online (rather than having to make a trip to school to get the score report from my registrar)!

I hadn’t realized just how cool it would be to see the scores so quickly. It was July 9 when I received my e-mail indicating the scores had been posted online, a mere three weeks since I had returned from the Reading. Teachers are now privy to the students’ scores before the students receive them. This surprised me, yet I see how this is in line with the College Board's attempt to provide teachers with information they may use to enhance instruction.

The Web site is fairly simple and offers three main features: the subject score roster and two instructional planning sections (one by section, one by school). Since my school does not divide our three AP® Language classes into sections, the two planning sections are identical for me. The score roster is simple: student/score. The instructional planning part provides much the same information that was on the paper reports we used to receive: overall score distributions, multiple-choice section performance, and free-response section performance. All sections provide global comparisons. For student scores, comparisons are by score; for section performance, comparisons are by fourths (highest to lowest fourths).

Though in my Webinar session I expressed a strong desire for an analysis by skill of student performance on the multiple-choice questions, this feature was not included in this year’s report. I hope that the College Board will add that kind of highly specific information in the future. Providing specific skills analysis on a multiple-choice section of an exam is not new for the College Board as this information is provided on the PSAT student report so that students and teachers are able to fine-tune instruction— and ensure that students work harder to learn specific critical skills before they leave our care.

I would love to be able to do the same for my AP® students. Adding this information to AP® English reporting would be a completely new feature, one that I am sure many AP® English teachers would be happy to see. But, given the College Board’s reluctance to release multiple-choice sections from past exams,  I would imagine that this would be a huge step for them. It would open up a whole new area of specificity with regards to what is being tested on the multiple-choice section, and perhaps they are just not going to go there?

Like any new site, this one has its glitches and is prone to “processing” requests.  More ironing out of these details is hopefully in the works.

But how great is it that even while you’re traveling (and I know of a teacher who was traveling in Guyana when she accessed her AP® scores online!), if you can connect to the Internet, you can get the information you’ve been waiting for all year, just weeks after school has ended and while the students are still so fresh in your heart and mind. We’ve all been rooting for our students to do well, and knowing how well they’ve done so soon is really an exciting addition to our AP® experience.

Did anyone else try online score reporting this year? What did you think?


®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


Occasion, Argument, and Research Using Internet News Sources


Part 1 of this series can be found here.


Using occasion to drive the writing of arguments in the AP® English Language class flows naturally out of class discussion of any current event, and inspires excellent writing—in part due to the critical relationship between occasion and tone, which is clear to students when they approach a current topic. For example, in the weeks following the Arizona shooting, it became clear that tact, discretion, and appropriate restraint are nuances of rhetoric that relate specifically to occasion and to audience. My students expressed immediate and passionate views on political rhetoric and its role in the shootings, on gun control legislation, and on mental health care. Yet how they expressed their positions, and to what specific audience they would write would be crucial. The differences they noted between President Obama’s response and Sarah Palin’s response were differences centered in an awareness of audience coupled with the ability to be tactful and use proper discretion and restraint.


I assigned students to research factual grounds and evidence that would support the position they wanted to take on one of the three topics they felt strongly about: rhetoric, gun control, or mental health care. In addition, they were to find a minimum of five opinion pieces on their particular subject, examining each for tact, discretion, and restraint. I am continually reminded that honing Internet research skills for current events is a necessity, for students are so accustomed to simply “Googling” anything they want that they don’t realize how well a search can work when they know where and how to search.


For a news or op-ed search, students typically need instruction on Boolean search techniques. Simply using quotation marks, they quickly discover, makes all the difference. For straight news searches, the old standby,, does an excellent search. Since AltaVista doesn’t sort in the same manner as other search engines, it doesn’t really compare to Google News, a section of Google that many of my AP® students are unfamiliar with. A class is well spent in the computer lab having students work in groups to sort out the special features of Google News by varying search combinations and noting how the Web site groups articles (and how it connects to additional articles in colored text links). Students quickly learn that the better the search terms, the better the results.


For op-ed pieces, two Web sites are highly efficient in locating pieces on specific topics. Daily OpEd and Opinion Source will locate the significant opinion pieces from the most respected news sources with ease, leaving out, for the most part, lesser known periodicals and blogs.


A current event–driven writing assignment raises awareness of our country at play on the international stage. Students were very surprised that the Arizona shooting was covered and commented on so thoroughly around the world; it was something they originally thought of as just a local and national event. In addition, event-driven argument creates a deepening of student understanding of the Greek concept of kairos: the awareness of what the moment requires and that rhetoric in a given moment carries tremendous power.


®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


The horrific murder of six people outside of a Safeway supermarket in Arizona on January 8 has galvanized our nation these past few weeks. It would seem that everyone has something to say about the event. Emotions are high. Did violent political rhetoric drive Jared Loughner, apparently a mentally deranged individual, to plan the assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had gathered with her constituents at their local Safeway supermarket that morning? Because of the tenor of the national and international conversation that has followed the shooting, this question needed to be at least tangentially addressed in the speech by President Obama at the memorial service he attended in Arizona on January 12.


More than 31 million people watched President Obama’s eulogy. Across the country, many watched Sarah Palin’s video in response to the shootings, a video she released on the same day as the president’s speech, thus inviting a comparison of the two speeches.


Rhetorical context—the occasion, the situation, the time and place—these influences press powerfully upon a writer, and never more powerfully than in a situation like this recent one. Examining the two texts in our AP® English Language classroom can be a good exercise in awareness of context, audience, presentation, and the appeals. The power of rhetoric lies in so many varied features of speech making, and these two public figures—one, the sitting president and the other a political hopeful, a former governor of Alaska, and a losing vice-presidential candidate—have very different contexts from which they speak.


Exploring Context, Listening to the Speeches, Studying the Texts


Before listening to and reading the speeches, students should explore the historical context surrounding each speaker, the details surrounding the event itself, and the response in the media. I’ve learned never to assume factual knowledge or a clear understanding of even the most recent historical events among my teenage students. The night before the classroom discussion, assigning students to research the background is essential.


As a class, we would discuss the events that occurred and the public response in the days and weeks following the event. Some questions helpful in driving this discussion might include:

  • What do you know about Palin (history, life, political views, and so on)? What specifically has occasioned Palin’s speech? In light of these facts we’ve discussed (details surrounding the shooting and the media response), what do you think Palin will hope to achieve by making a statement to the public? What kind of things might she hope her rhetoric will accomplish? Why is it significant that she released her video on the same day the president would speak at a memorial service?
  • What is the role of a president in a national tragedy? What other national tragedies can you recall at which a president would have made a speech? What is President Obama looking to achieve—for the nation, for himself—through a speech at a memorial service for the victims of a national tragedy? Does his status as a first-term president influence how he would approach this task?


We can take our students through our usual methods to examine the texts comparing diction, syntax, tone, and delivery. Teachers might be interested in a small group worksheet for discussion.


In my classroom this week I used the videos and printed copies of the speeches and instructed students to annotate them, marking rhetorical choices and writing marginal notes on the effects of these choices as I paused the video every couple of paragraphs where appropriate. The entire lesson, including small group work, took three forty-minute class periods.


For a very cool ending to the lesson, I used a free online tool called Wordle that I discovered through The Guardian’s Datablog. Students created their own “word clouds” for each speech to further analyze and compare the texts. After pasting in the text of each speech, the Web site creates the word cloud, giving greater prominence to words used most frequently. The visual impact of the word clouds aptly underscored the understandings the students had come to through our study of the texts and our viewing of the videos.


®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

Common Core Uncommon Sense

Posted by carol.jago Partner Mar 20, 2016

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


Some readers of the Common Core Standards see the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) distribution of literary and informational passages on page five and go into an immediate tailspin. Twelfth graders read 70 percent nonfiction? The horror!


Let me dispel a common misreading of this chart. The NAEP measures reading across all disciplines, not only in English. The message the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) intended to send to schools is that in order to be prepared for college and the workplace, students need to read informational text as well as literature. NAGB was not recommending that 70 percent of what students read in English should be nonfiction, but that 70 percent of what students read over the course of the school day should more closely resemble the kinds of texts that high school graduates will be assigned in college and for other post-secondary pursuits.  Developers of the Common Core concurred.


The Common Core Standards will affect curriculum, particularly in terms of the inclusion—from kindergarten through twelfth grade—of more nonfiction. Before jumping to the conclusion that any addition of nonfiction must mean the subtraction of fiction, picture a classroom where students read twice or three times as much as they do now. Before assuming that I have lost my mind here, check out Jeff Wilheim and Michael Smith’s Reading Don't Fix No Chevys": Literacy in the Lives of Young Men. Many students who take little pleasure in poetry will read with interst books like Ishmael Beah’s Long Way Gone, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and Mary Roach’s Stiff. Nonfiction can invigorate classroom discourse.


Reading nonfiction can also complement the reading of literature. Let’s say you are coming to the end of a unit on Romeo and Juliet. What if you had students read the excerpt from Amy Chau's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and asked students to write about their position on parental involvement in teenagers’ lives? You might invite students to peruse the thousands of online comments that poured in following the article’s first appearance and craft their argument using or refuting other readers’ points of view as well as evidence from the play.


I can almost hear you thinking, “But what about the tests that must, as the night the day, follow? Won’t they, more than anything else, determine classroom practice?” The Common Core assessments under construction include items that ask students to read a collection of texts and write an analysis of an issue based on the readings. Sounds a lot like the AP Language synthesis question, doesn’t it? Imagine if students were engaged in this kind of reading, writing, and thinking from early elementary school on. Imagine a unit—only you don’t need to imagine it because the readings are laid out for you by Robert Atwan in the most recent edition of America Now—on how social networking is transforming behavior:


  • Garry Trudeau, “Hi, Dad,” Doonesbury
  • Mary Katharine Ham, We Shall Overshare
  • Brent Baughman, Growing Older in the Digital Age: An Exercise in Egotism
  • Elizabeth Stone, Grief in the Age of Facebook


Instead of bewailing the coming of the Common Core, I’m excited about its potential to make close reading and textual analysis commonly held skills. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but that’s a brave new world I look forward to.

Wikipedia Research

Posted by jodi.rice Mar 20, 2016

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


Toward the end of the past school year, a teacher on the AP® English listserv asked for advice about what to do with a student who had cited Wikipedia in his research assignment. Should she dock him for inappropriate research?


The reactions from the other teachers on the list were, predictably, mixed, but I was intrigued to see the number of them who didn't unilaterally disapprove of the student's use of Wikipedia. To me, it clearly indicated a shift from reactions of not too long ago, when the user-created and -edited resource earned sniffs of disdain from the academic community,  and students were told by teachers and librarians that under no circumstances were they to use it in "serious" research.


Here is my take on the matter.


My definition of "research" involves a few different stages; two important ones are the "discovery" stage and the "depth and breadth" stage. While Wikipedia is definitely not the most reliable source for the latter, it is absolutely an excellent source for the former.


Many of our students come to their research topics with little or no basic knowledge of them. In many cases, they do not even have enough knowledge to come up with the search terms that will lead them to the kind of rich information they might access through scholarly databases, or even effective internet searches. They waste a lot of time plugging what they assume are inclusive search terms into Google and then sifting through the myriad pages that come up.

In the "olden days," we used to send students to general encyclopedias to start their bank of useful knowledge and terminology related to their research topics. They could get an overview of the subject, clarify some of the key concepts and their related terms, and even find lists of works cited or bibliographies for further reading, perhaps finding access to those further, richer resources in the library at school or in the community.


"But those encyclopedias were edited, their contents and further reading lists vetted," sniff the Wikipedia-haters. True enough, but they might be surprised to discover that Wikipedia, too, has considerable scholarly currency in some circumstances, and that the popular policing and self-correction, while not 100 percent effective, is still pretty solid. In fact, very often it is those with actual credentials who provide some of the most effective policing in their areas of expertise. In any case, the fact is, if you're consulting certain editions of a given encyclopedia, even Britannica, whose reputation as a top-notch general encyclopedia is sterling, you'll get some inaccuracies too.


(By the way, reading the "history" pages of Wikipedia entries can be a very enlightening experience. In fact, it's an excellent teachable opportunity for students to understand the process by which Wikipedia is created and maintained. Here is the history page for the entry "How to edit a page." An examination of these history pages can be a very useful exercise in source evaluation.)


That said, as with any other encyclopedia, Wikipedia is only a place to start the process of research -- the discovery stage.  The more important part of research -- the part we want our students to explore as fully as possible when writing their papers -- is the depth and breadth stage.


In incorporating this stage in a paper, I would never accept a citation to a general encyclopedia -- not because of the reliability (or lack thereof) of the content, but because it just doesn't constitute deep or broad research. I would hope a student in high school (or even middle school) would be embarrassed to claim that she had done extended research if she was calling an encyclopedia a source -- that's just lame, and, in my mind, one of the strongest arguments to students against using Wikipedia as a source.


Instead, students should use what they have learned from the discovery stage to deepen their research. Students who know absolutely nothing about a topic when they start out can learn enough of the basics of that topic to further their research with actual sources. Also, in many cases, the sources cited for the Wikipedia entry can be useful in themselves -- the key there is to make sure that students have a good toolbox for source evaluation to determine whether those websites are reliable or not, but that would be true with any search they were doing on the topic. Source evaluation is a skill that should be explicitly taught, which is why I teach the annotated bibliography -- we do source evaluation exercises as part of that instruction).


But back to the teacher who wanted to know whether her student's paper citing Wikipedia deserved an automatic downgrade. I wouldn't write off an entire paper if it did cite Wikipedia. It would depend what content was cited, and for what purpose within the paper; other sources cited would hopefully outweigh its use, as well as the quality of the research and writing overall. In fact, using Wikipedia just once for, say, a definition or some other kind of general information would have no effect on the paper, for me, if otherwise the paper was solid.


Actually, in some cases, Wikipedia is the best resource for finding out basic information on a topic. This is true in cases of pop culture and technology, which are constantly changing -- too much to make more static sources reliable. Also, the users writing and editing those topics are often rabid about accuracy of detail, and are the type to develop a culture out of sharing information about it publicly online. If for some reason a student is looking for source info about a topic such as these, I might accept a Wikipedia citation (amongst others -- again, corroboration creates credibility).


And personally? I often refer to Wikipedia. I don't generally take its content at face-value, usually prefacing whatever I have to say with, "Well, according to Wikipedia, anyway...," which my friends understand to be a signal to take whatever-it-is with a grain of salt. If it's important that it be 100 percent accurate, I then go on to corroborate the whatever-it-is.


Long story short, I don't disapprove entirely of Wikipedia as a source of information, and don't like to knee-jerk in reaction to students using it. But it is important that they learn to use it effectively, as with any other technological innovation we introduce into our classrooms.


®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.