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It seems as though everyone is jumping on the AP bandwagon. Schools are offering professional development and a variety of incentives to implement this program. Advance Placement courses are intended to replace freshmen level course at the college level. This allows high school juniors and seniors to receive college credit early. Sounds great, right?
Well, students only receive the credit if they score a “3” or higher on the AP exam (and for some colleges, a "4" or higher). How do you prepare students for such a test? Here are a few things I have learned from implementing AP English Language and AP English Literature in my own classroom, but almost all can apply to any AP subject area.
1. Reading Content. It does seem obvious. But WHAT are your kids reading? I advocate the classic novel. What is a classic? Well, I believe a classic is a work of literary merit. Will this novel stand the test of time? Will people still be talking about it twenty years from now? Students will struggle with the language and even the setting at times, but if you teach them to read with a purpose, it will become easier. I love How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas Foster. I also give my students general study questions. I use this set. They answer the questions as they read and eventually the reading becomes easier and they look for things without being told. Connections become easier. Making the students use textual evidence in the novel log, will make them deal with the text and use it to support their own concepts and ideas.
Helping your students learn and recognize the major AP literary and rhetorical terms, will go a long way on the exam. The most important concept is not teaching the students to recognize the term, but realizing why the author chose to use it. What is his or her purpose for using this allusion and not another?
2. Timing. Kids need to learn time management Time management is a serious problem among not only students, but adults as well. One of the most important lessons you can teach your students is the importance of organization and time management. Give deadlines and stick to them. An English AP curriculum includes an extreme amount of writing, as a teacher you do not have time to take every essay late and give proper feedback. Show them how to use planner. It make seem obvious, but to the average high student it is not.
Teaching your students to think on their toes will go a long way in AP. In both, English AP Language and Literature, students have one hour to answer fifty-five questions and two hours to answer three essays. Encourage them to buy a watch. Teach them to use it on every test. Break down the types of multiple choice questions and essay questions.
3. Tests. Besides timing tests, make sure your tests are on the same rigor level as the AP test. There are plenty of books dedicated to AP. I like 5 steps to a 5 published by McGraw Hill. Appliedpractice.com is another wonderful site that offers passage with AP level questions. AP is an entirely different beast than a regular class. You must design tests and questions that reflect college level thinking. Without teaching the students how to UNDERSTAND the question, they will not succeed. Giving students cold read passages with AP level questions is the best way to prepare them for the test. Have them discuss WHY they chose an answer and debate which answer is the best. Practice makes perfect.
4. Professional Development. The AP Summer Institute was amazing. Not only do you learn usable things, the opportunity to network with other AP teachers is irreplaceable. Collaboration is key. Beg, borrow, and stealing does not just apply to new teachers. Share ideas, talk to other teachers about what works and what does not. The Institute also offers you access to student example essays, teaching you how to grade on an AP level rather than a traditional honors level.
5. Support. As with any class, support from administration is crucial. AP is extremely difficult to go about alone. The class requires an extreme amount of time and effort. College level material must be made available as well as considerable amount of cost. An administration that helps AP teachers provide College level text books and supply of copy paper can go a long way. It also helps to have an administration that is willing to back a teacher when students that once always received A's now receive C's. AP changes the dynamic of an honors classroom. It is a college class in high school. There will be an adjustment period for the students, teachers, administration, and parents. A principal that understands this is essential to making an AP program a success.
AP is a challenging curriculum, but it is a great asset to a high school curriculum. Students that excel in AP class are more likely to be prepared for college and more likely to graduate. The curriculum does take a while to master, but the benefits are valuable. AP is more than just extra points toward a school improvement score. AP is really about helping students prepare for college and life.