AP Classroom: Features and Best Practices

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This week I had the privilege of being part of a webinar with the facilitators of AP Classroom for AP English Literature and Language. Although I’ve been using AP Classroom for the past year (and even wrote a previous blog post on how to use it!), I learned a lot about its added features and usability. I even used how create with the question bank, a resource I had found mind-boggling before. Here are some cool features you may not be aware of, and a rundown of how I use AP Classroom for data collection and test prep with my students.

Before I begin, here’s a quick overview of some acronyms and terms I’ll use in this blog post:

  • CED – Course and Exam Description. This is the master document that explains what students need to learn in AP Lit and how best to learn it. While also called “the binder,” you can access the PDF here.
  • Skill – Each AP class is broken into standards, which are called skills. You can read about the skills in the AP Lit CED.
  • Unit – Each CED is separated into specific units, which vary according to class. AP English Lit is broken into 9 units (3 on short fiction, 3 on poetry, and 3 on long fiction). See a more detailed breakdown on AP Classroom or the CED.
  • PPC – Personal Progress Check – a miniature practice exam cultivated around a specific unit. There are PPCs for both multiple choice and free response questions.
  • MCQ – Multiple Choice Questions
  • FRQ – Free Response Questions
  • AP Daily – Videos created by master AP teachers and English professors to guide students through each individual skill.

AP Classroom Features

Daily Videos

My favorite new features on AP Classroom are the videos aligned or each unit. These videos help students zero in on individual skills and strategies. You can watch them in class or assign them to students (which is great for those learning virtually or on a hybrid schedule).

Not only do they help students, but they help me get ready for my upcoming lesson. They also offer focus and flexibility. For example, in Carlos Escobar’s video on Setting 2.A, he presented us with a graph for student use. Mr. Escobar asked students to use details from Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” Although my students had read that story, they were much more engaged with Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a story we had just read for homework. I simply paused the video, asked them to follow his instructions but for that story instead, and we were off and running.

AP Daily Videos
This video on 2.A asks students to analyze “The Story of an Hour,” but we were easily able to apply the graphic to a different short story that we had just read. Lots of flexible and evergreen ideas in these videos!

Takeaway on the AP Daily Videos

Use as you like, change as you wish. Feel free to lean on these master teachers and borrow 6-10 minutes of instruction, or even a full lesson’s worth of ideas!

Visual Graphics Indicating Readiness

Student performance
This graph indicates which students showed mastery of the selected skills, which are approaching readiness, and which students are not yet ready. As we’re only 5 weeks into the school year, these results are fine with me!

I’m a visual learner, so I appreciate the score reports with visual images. After a PPC, I can scan my students’ scores and see how they performed in only a second. Even better, I can see how many showed mastery or exam readiness based on their responses. Clicking on the graphic brings up a box that shows the exact students who scored in each percentile.

Student performance
When I click on the Student Performance image (see above), I can see an overview with student names broken up into percentiles. My own students names were removed, obviously, for the sake of privacy.

When you click on the hyperlinked title of the assessment, you go to an even more detailed breakdown, also visually designed. I can see how the class performed by question or by student.

Student results sorted by question
This is a score breakdown by question. Note: This is not on a personal progress check but on a mini-PPC I created using the question bank.
Student results sorted by student
You can also toggle from question to see student answers. By glancing at this data, I can see that it may be worth reviewing why A was correct for #3, rather than D, the other common answer.

Takeaway on Visual Graphics

There are many ways to see how students performed, from quick surface checks to deep data dives. AP Classroom is configured to make it fast and easy to see how your students are performing in Personal Progress Checks and AP skills.

Increased Search Abilities

When I first began using AP Classroom, I found the question bank frustrating. I decided to stick to the pre-made Personal Progress Checks and avoid the question bank entirely. However, there have been big improvements to the question bank since then.

Using the search features in AP Classroom
In the Question Bank you can browse questions, targeting skills, units, question types, and more. You can even click on the search bar and search by title, author, year, and topic!

One unknown feature is the search bar, which can pull up questions and essay prompts that align with a selected topic or title. You can even see what essay prompts have been used on former exams.

Using the search feature in AP Classroom
Even newer titles like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See are linked to essay prompts.

The question bank is also where you’d go to create a quiz using questions from AP Classroom. You can use their questions, and even author your own!

Another cool feature I learned about this week was that you can search the closed captioning in the videos. While I haven’t gotten the chance to do it yet, I’m excited to try it. I really like the feature for when I know the instructor said something specific and I want to go to that moment specifically.

Searching the closed captioning
To access the closed captioning Click on the CC in the bottom right corner. Select “Search Video” to look through the closed captions and do a search.

Once you open the closed captioning search, you can type in a word specifically. By clicking that word, it takes you immediately to that moment in the video.

Searching the Closed Captioning
Just type in the word you’re looking for and hit Enter. It will take you to that moment in the video so you can rewatch it as needed.

Takeaway on the Search Features

These are the biggest improvements I’ve seen. Searching the closed captioning on the videos is genius. As for the Question Bank, I still wish the question labels were a bit clearer, I appreciate the search bar and its functions so much.

Topic Questions

This was a feature I hadn’t noticed until this week’s webinar, but if you go to your homepage in AP Classroom, you will see a clean layout. Each unit is laid out in a tab on top. Once you select a unit you can see that unit’s main skills, its corresponding AP Daily videos, plus a little lightbulb labeled “Topic Questions.”

Topic Questions
This overview of Unit 2 shows the main skill, the AP Daily videos, and the Topic Questions, which offer formative questions you can use for daily checks for understanding. Fun fact: by clicking on the Unit Guide you can download the CED pages that pertain to your selected unit!

When clicking on the topic questions, it pulls up the best formative questions that align to your selected unit. This gives you plenty of options to choose from for creating quizzes or quick checks on a particular skill. I haven’t used the Topic Questions yet, but I imagine using them for skill reinforcement in the spring. I want to use their PPC data to customize quizzes for each student based on their weakest skill (read on to see how I collect this data).

Takeaway on the Topic Questions

While these are accessible through the Question Bank as well, they’re helpful if seeking a targeted skill or creating quizzes on a particular unit.

How I Use AP Classroom

I’ve been using AP Classroom for just over a year now, and I really do love it. I don’t use it for Free Response Questions as often as I use it for multiple choice practice. In my year of practice, here are some of my strategies and suggestions with integrating it into your classroom (in person or virtually).

Explanations of right and wrong answers

I think the number one piece of advice I would offer is to allow students time for reflection after a multiple choice personal progress check to understand the questions they got wrong. We practiced with this just today and I heard students saying things like, “Oh, so the adjective was wrong but the rest of it was right. I thought that that didn’t matter…”

AP Classroom
I absolutely love this feature. If a student gets an answer wrong, it explains why that selection is wrong. If they get it right, it explains why it’s right! They can even select the other options and learn why each other option is incorrect. So valuable!

Just like I said in my post about rehashing, students need time to reflect and discuss what needs improving. This is just as true in multiple choice practice as it is for writing.

Student data analysis and reflection

PPC Data Sheets
These PPC data trackers are a free download from my TpT store. You can also get my AP Lit Task cards, available as printables and as interactive Google Slides, for purchase from TpT if you’re interested.

To assist in student reflection, I created one-page data sheets for students to fill out after each PPC. Students briefly record the focused skill and their performance in that skill. I then ask them to reflect on their weakest skill and their strongest. While this may not mean much to them in the moment, I save these data sheets in folders by student name, so we can revisit them in April when we’re doing test prep.

Teacher data analysis and reflection

AP Data - Kortuem
This was the data sheet I used to collect MCQ scores last year. I hoped to use them to guide our test prep time and create personalized quizzes through AP Classroom.

When we complete a multiple choice PPC, we always do them right before we spend 30-45 minutes independently reading (I’m on a modified block schedule). As students read independently, I collect data. It’s weird; I hate math, but I love data.

Last year I created this data sheet to track my students’ MCQ PPC scores. I planned on using it to help guide our test prep time, but the 2020 exam changes altered those plans. I still hope to use them in the same way this year.

As you can see, these four students have various abilities and skill levels. Student C is showing my desired progress, moving from “Approaching Readiness” to “Ready” by the third PPC. But most students are more like Student D, who bounces around from Ready, Approaching Readiness, and Not Ready at random. There’s nothing wrong with this either. I gave this data to my students midyear and will give it again at the end of the year when we prep for the exam. This way they can see exactly where their MCQ weaknesses lie.

I haven’t used AP Classroom for FRQ responses yet, but that is the goal for this school year. How do you intend to use AP Classroom to prep your students? What new features are you looking forward to?