One of the things I've grown to like about the changes to the AP Lang curriculum design (aka The CED) is the ability to approach things in a See it/Do it fashion. I think this simplifies our purpose for students and makes the why of what we are doing so clear. First we tackle the reading skills and examine the work of professional writers--what are they doing on purpose? Why is it effective? What choices are they making? How are they organizing their writing? Then we attempt to do it ourselves as writers. For my students, that framing is an important step in helping them see themselves as writers vs. students completing writing assignments.
The SEE IT texts
Weeks two and three were dedicated to the See It part of the Rhetorical Situation for my students. We focused on two speeches: Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural and Nehru's Tryst with Destiny. Both worked well for introducing students to the What/How/Why analysis. For the most part, students were able to identify the rhetorical situation with Lincoln (end of the Civil War is pretty accessible for most students!!), but Nehru was a little trickier. This was a great opportunity to talk about the need for a deep contextual pool that shows an understanding of the basics of world history. With a little discussing, a little googling, and a little teamwork, they were eventually able to piece together enough background information (Who was Nehru? What was happening in India when this speech was given?) to work with the text. Of course, this immediately created concerns: We can't google on the test in May!! Do we need to know everything??!!
The answer, unfortunately, is "kinda?" They don't need to know everything, but they need to have a clear idea of big events and major happenings and how that knowledge informs their reading. The test is really trying to see how aware they are of the world around them and if they're able to use that knowledge to support their reading and analysis. There's always a little contextual information provided with the texts that will help them, but those with deeper contextual pools will often be more successful. They need to understand this now, in September, so they can commit to developing and deepening their contextual pools all year long. It can't happen over night in early May!
Let's Connect This to Multiple Choice
And so we constantly revisit that idea. Constantly. We've done a number of things in past years in our school (contextual pool notebooks, weekly discussions) all with varying levels of success. In recent years, though, we've just started shifting to trying to establish a culture of curiosity about their reading. Everything we read is a chance to deepen our contextual pools. One that I'm leaning on heavily this fall is multiple choice passages. Immediately after our students' realization about the importance of context with the Nehru speech, we did the multiple choice AP Classroom Progress Check 1.
The AP Classroom progress checks have always been tricky for me because it's hard to get buy-in with students. When they realize it's just formative (no points allowed!) and when they realize the answers are easily found online anyway, it's hard for a teenage brain to value the practice. In order to combat that, I spend the first progress check showing my students the concrete connections to our work with reading to understand the rhetorical triangle.
The text used for the Progress Check 1 Multiple Choice is a commencement speech given by Barbara Bush. It's short, and spending some time showing students how our work with the rhetorical triangle and what/how/why analysis applied to this text too was eye-opening for many of them! Most of them just put all of our work into silos. Today we are doing a reading activity. Tomorrow we are doing multiple choice. Next week we will write an essay. By approaching the multiple choice passage the same way we approach the texts we are analyzing in class, they start to see how the skills they are learning apply in concrete ways to the tasks they are doing.
As we discussed the text, it was crystal clear that many had abandoned our work when they approached these! They flipped straight into test-taking mode and didn't bother to consider who Barbara Bush was, who her husband was, why the audience might have been a little unhappy with her presence (one of my students was pretty sure the first President Bush was responsible for the Vietnam War...or maybe the Cold War...). The footnotes (which many had skipped!) provided enough context for most kids to get started and the more we discussed the rhetorical situation, the clearer the answers to the questions became.
I used these slides after they completed the AP Classroom Progress Check #1 (multiple choice only). The first 6 slides use screenshots to help them understand their reports and how to access the review resources. Starting at slide 7, though, I walked through the text with them and applied our what/how/why thinking to that text. You'll notice I did not go over the multiple choice questions one by one. That's very intentional!! I find that students get caught up in the wrong things when we do that--arguing about nuances of an answer, getting frustrated by choosing a 'next best' answer. All of the answers are available on there and they can (and should) examine the ones they got wrong. To improve their reading skills, though, and to ultimately improve their multiple choice scores, they need to link the skills on multiple choice to the skills we are practicing in class. Approaching it this way right from the beginning helps them start to see multiple choice as an extension of our analytical reading. When we start to actually write rhetorical analysis essays, they'll see that that task is calling on the same skills as well.
What are you doing to help students refine their analytical skills? Do you have great strategies for multiple choice? Let me know in the comments--I'm always up to try something new!
If you found your way here, you were likely in one of my APSIs for AP Language over the summer. This blog is intended as a place to continue our work together. Please email me if you're willing to write a post!