I have this terrible habit as a teacher of promising my students things in writing. I have this idea that if I put it in writing, I am more likely to follow through on it. So far, this hasn’t been the case. For example, I apparently put on my website for my AP summer reading project that I would post an example essay, showing them what I meant with the citations. I’ve gotten several students who have emailed me asking when this magical link is to be posted. Back in May, I really truly planned on writing an example essay. I try to complete most of the tasks I assign so I know the process my students might take and any hiccups they might encounter. I learned this trick from my high school AP Calculus teacher; he would always take the test or do the homework before giving it to us, and then report to us how long it took him. He was extremely humble: “This test took my forty minutes. Some of you are smarter than me and it will take you twenty!” In my English world, this means I can say, “It took me forty minutes to find ten sources for my research paper. You can certainly do it with three class days!”
In retrospect, he might have lied to us, but it always made us feel that we were never doing busywork in his class, and that he knew what we were going through.
Well anyway, since the first day of school and the summer reading deadline is a week from Monday, I am spending this afternoon attempting to live up to my promise. Part of their assignment was to select a book from my reading list (at the bottom of this post) and then write a 1000-1500 word essay analyzing a moral or ethical dilemma presented in the book. For my example paper, I couldn’t use one of their novels and give someone extra ammunition, but I wanted to use a book I had on hand and that most of them were probably familiar with. Thus, I am spending my afternoon drafting an analysis essay of the ethical dilemmas found in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a baby on my lap.
I will work harder this school year to better fulfill my promises, mostly by being more careful about which things I promise. I got some really good suggestions over the summer for how to solve some of my grading dilemmas, which were most frequently the source of broken promises. For example, in the second semester last year I had my AP kids draft AP practice essays on Fridays. This left me with 84 essays to grade every weekend, and even if I only spent two minutes on an essay (which never happened – I needed at least five for good comments), that would mean I would need to spend at least three to six hours every weekend grading – and I especially during football season, that’s just not realistic. If I had a dollar for every time a student asked, “When will get our XYZ back?”…
An AP teacher at a neighboring district made this suggestion: he reads all the essays with a notebook next to him. He doesn’t make any comments on the papers; this is the time-consuming part, and it’s so frustrating when I spend more time commenting on an essay than the student spends reading my comments. To avoid this, the teacher keeps a list of things he sees in the essays, since often many students make the same mistakes. He only writes the students’ grades on the paper, then the following week he returns all the essays and goes over the big list with the students, encouraging them to look for things to improve in their own papers. If they really want individual feedback, they make an appointment to come to tutorials. He said this way, he reads some 100 one-page essays as the students turn them in (so he doesn’t even take them home!), and usually only needs to hand-grade and comment on five or ten.
Another suggestion I received involved getting students into groups. Everyone in the group reads each others’ papers and then chooses which they feel is the best one to turn in, and then everyone in the group gets that grade. Obviously there could be some game-theory issues with this approach if the students know it’s coming: “Kayla always writes the best paper, so I don’t have to work hard and I’ll still get her grade.” But on the other hand, if they know their peers are going to be analyzing their work, often times AP kids work harder on it. A variation on this is to have students put all their writing in a portfolio and then at certain intervals choose the best one to turn in for a grade. A writing training I attended this week made the very reassuring assertion that ALL writing practice helps a student get better; they don’t need feedback on every piece of writing they do.
Even though I’m not returning to teaching right away this fall, I still am excited to work on making this year better than the last. One small hitch will be my schedule – at least the one I saw yesterday:
NONE of my classes are back-to-back. I really hope my sleep-deprived baby brain can keep up! Yikes!
My AP English summer reading list options: