At the beginning of the school year I was trying to think of a way to make the AP Lit standards visible and accessible for my students, so I turned the questions from the CED into task cards (and naturally, I made them pretty!). These task cards are available in my store here, but you can also make your own using the questions from the CED if you wish.
So far in the school year I’ve been looking for ways to implement these task cards into lessons. I’ve given particular cards to students during post-PPC reflections (which I discuss in this blog post).
I’ve also used the task cards to attempt a bit of backward design in our poetry unit. As we neared the end of our poetry lessons, I placed all of the task cards (minus the ones on writing) around the room. I passed out the 5 central poems we had discussed and written about as a class and put their titles on the whiteboards as well. Students were asked to select a standard that matched with one of our poems, then write a 1-2 sentence response to that standard’s question. The only rule I had: Each sentence must contain a bold claim (that’s the language I use for a claim that is arguable and unique). As they posted their sentences I read their responses, gauging if they were reading for our upcoming poetry assessment (which they were!).
I’m still looking for ways to implement these task cards in my own lessons, but rather than wait for me to collect a year’s worth of ideas, I asked for help from some friends on Instagram.
Here are some other fantastic uses for these task cards in AP Lit classrooms:
“I use them in Socratic Seminar circles! Everyone picks a question within each category and they discuss them with whatever lit we are currently reading. I love them! Sometimes, I pull them out and use them to spark class discussions, too.” @Readnclick
“My students are reading 1984 right now in chunks. For the first two assigned readings…I went through the list of skills and found the skills I thought were relevant and could be related to the reading. Then, I made a Google Slide and designated one prompt per student. Students had to respond to the prompt with a claim based on the reading, and then find 3-4 quotes to support their claim throughout the chapters. Students were able to hone in on one skill for the reading rather than jump all over the place. Then, we discussed the reading in class we discussed their answers so students who didn’t have the prompt were able to hear how that student answered & add/comment if needed, and students have access to all of the quotes/answers because it was all compiled on one Google Slide!” @smccormick19
“I’ve used them with short stories so far. Getting ready to start The Kite Runner and plan to integrate them in class discussions and in literature circles, too. Gives kids a chance to take ownership of the discussion.” @jbridge82
“I absolutely love these cards!!! I use them every day!! I have them color coded by standards and laminated. A lot of times I will do rotation learning stations for close read assignments and I use the cards to create the questions and prompts. I have also used them “Family Feud” style where I will ask questions relating to the standards and let kids “buzz” in to answer. It’s a great review!” @meganjyount
“I just finished using the character ones for Things Fall Apart…I put some characters’ names in a box and I had students pick out their names and then assigned them one of the character skill task crds. They worked together to answer the question pulling three pieces of evidence to support their thinking. Then each group presented their standard question and answers. I had the students ask the presenters questions and judge if they fully addressed the standard in their answer. It led to really rich discussions. And we talked about how they should continue thinking about these questions and the standards while they’re reading and begin to annotate with these characterization skill cards in mind.” @mrsjayj
I’d love to hear more ideas of how you use these task cards, or just the questions from the CED itself, with your students to further their AP Lit studies. If you’re interested in a set of task cards like these ladies are using, they can be purchased from my TpT store here.
Today I ventured into new territory with my AP Literature students: online practice testing. Until today I’ve resisted online assessments in favor of pencil and paper, mostly because I’ve found it too hard to monitor for cheating. However, with College Board rolling out their new AP Classroom feature, I decided to give it a shot by assigning a multiple choice progress check. Overall, although the website takes some exploring to fully understand, I found the process very rewarding in terms of the data it provided.
*Disclaimer: The College Board does not recommend using the assessments on AP classroom for any kind of grade. In fact, if teachers use these assessments for any kind of recorded formative or summative grade, they can risk their class’ status as an AP class. Instead of assessing skills for your gradebook, use these tools to prepare your students for the AP Exam.
Step 1 – Prepare Yourself
Before even beginning to introduce AP Classroom to your students, I suggest spending some time navigating the site yourself. In my attempt to fully understand it, I ended up creating a fake student’s name and registering myself in my class (big mistake, as I believe I also ended up registering for the AP Lit exam in May!). But between my blunder and your time exploring, you should be able to understand its features.
To get to AP Classroom you’ll need to log into AP Planner first, which is a web page run by College Board. Use your College Board login info here, which you should have already from a course audit. If you are a first-year teacher or one who has not ever used College Board, you should be able to create your own login information. However I would suggest letting your AP Coordinator know that you did this just to be safe.
Another thing to talk to your AP Coordinator about is getting your AP Classroom code. Chances are, he or she has set up your course for you. If they have, simply get your code (it should be 6 random letters) and enter it to claim your class. If they haven’t, or you have no AP Coordinator, you can create your own class. Once you do, a code will be provided. You’ll need this later to enroll your students.
Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be shown a home page with important dates for AP teachers and coordinators. Scroll down a little and click AP Classroom (on the right). Fun fact, if you look to the top right you’ll see a button that says Student View. I did not know this when I created my phony student page, but it shows you what a sample AP Classroom looks like to students. Click around and explore the features of the site, but maybe avoid assigning a unit until you’re sure you are ready. I’ve heard of people having a hard time “unassigning” a unit.
If you’re unfamiliar with the site, you’ll want to learn about the different Personal Progress Checks, or PPCs, that you can assign students to track their progress. You can assign PPCs in multiple choice form (MCQs) or free response questions (FRQs). AP Classroom also has a growing list of questions in a Question Bank which can be targeted towards specific skills. However, some of those questions are still under construction. If you’re a newbie or still easing into this online testing thing, I’d keep your eye on those but don’t touch them for now. The PPCs are great to use as-is and shouldn’t need customization.
Step 2 – Prepare Your Students
On a day before you give your first Personal Progress Check, walk your students through registering with AP Classroom. When I did this, many of my students already had a login with College Board due to previous AP tests (the login link is the same as the teachers’). However, some did not, and more had forgotten their credentials. Give them at least 5 minutes to register with College Board, and make sure they save their credentials to their computer (and even write them down) so the process can be quick the next time. Once registered, all they need to use AP Classroom is your course code, available on your teacher page. Their login screen will look similar to the teacher’s screen. Again, ask them to scroll down and click on AP Classroom. When I did this, I had not yet assigned any PPCs to my students. However, they were still able to navigate the different tabs and see where units would show up once they were assigned. I made sure that each student not only logged in, but clicked on AP Classroom, found the tab that said Units to see the different PPCs that were currently locked. Altogether, this registration process took us about 10 minutes. I’d budget for longer time with a bigger group, as some other classes experienced wifi issues.
I want to emphasize again the importance of doing this step on a day before you intend to assign it. Many teachers lost a full day because they ran into technical difficulties, or a student fell behind because of login issues. I did this two days before I needed it to be cautious and it led to a pain-free PPC during our scheduled time.
Step 3 – Assign & Take the Personal Progress Check
Once your students are registered with AP Classroom, you can assign your first PPC. Simply log in to AP Classroom and click on the tab that says Progress Checks. Select your unit and question type and click Assign. A box will show up. Make sure you check each class that you want to take the PPC. You can also toggle Unlock the assessment now (or do it later if you want), as well as give a time limit, a due date, and whether or not you want students to see their results. I’m indifferent on time limits, but I strongly suggest you allow students to see their results. They won’t be able to see them until you mark the assignment complete, and the data they collect from their scores will be useful later.
You can assign the PPC to be completed outside of class or provide time in class. I gave students time during our block period and they all finished in 30 minutes. I highly recommend printing out the passages for our MCQ so students can annotate the text. Printed passages also make it easier to refer back to the text when discussing it later. You may not want to, but I chose to take the assessment with the students by reading the questions from the Preview button. We spend at least 30 minutes of every Thursday doing independent reading, so as they read I looked over the data.
Step 4 – Study the Data Yourself
Once my students were finished and off to independent reading, I marked the PPC as complete. This populated the student data so I could see it. First of all, you see an overview of your class’ performance (see below). You can also click on your individual students to see how each student fared.
I clicked on View Results to the right of the colored bar and I was able to see my students’ individual scores on each question. It only took a few minutes to sort my students into three groups based on their weakest standard. I then accessed the questions listed below each skill on the new AP Lit CED, selecting one central question for my student groups to review. These questions are paired with the essential skill on my AP Lit Task Cards, for sale in my TpT store. You can see how we used them in the pictures below.
Step 5 – Guide the Students Through Data Study and Goal-Setting
Students got into groups based on their data and reflected on weak spots in the assessment. I asked each group to reflect on the question included in their standard’s task card and apply it to one of the texts from the PPC. These group discussions helped students compare their interpretations of the text and the questions with their peers in order to look at them in a different light. Finally, students returned to their data sheets and created goals for their next PPC. The forms are being stored in my classroom for them to access anytime.
Overall, I was very pleased with the overall assessment process of AP Classroom. I’ve always struggled with multiple choice practice tests in my own classes because I wasn’t able to provide much for feedback or ideas to build off in our lessons. I like how the PPC brings each question back to a focused skill and that those skills are easy to track.
I plan on using these forms and the PPC data to gauge our progress at the semester break. If certain skills are testing lower than others I can adjust my lessons to strengthen these weaknesses for the second half of the year.
As I prepared my lessons for AP Lit this year, I knew that I needed to try something different from years past. For one, I’ve been learning so much from fellow high school teachers, both online and in person, and I wanted to try something more engaging but also more rigorous. Secondly, I wanted to clearly indicate the expectations for the course on the first day, to avoid any confusion later on. In the end, I think the lesson was both a clear indication of the work we do, as well as an invitation to work together to grow in analysis.
Overall, this lesson was designed to demonstrate my three expectations for AP Lit students throughout the year.
To start off the class, I passed out a handout on annotation that I created (found for free on my TpT store). This handout explains the benefits to annotation, including increased active reading, less re-reading later, and stronger connections between the prompt and the text. Then I passed out a printed copy of David M. Wright’s article, “Why Read Literature.” I like this article because it is clearly organized, but it is not too simple. For example, it uses allusions, strong vocabulary, and makes strong, even arguable claims. I gave students about 10 minutes to read and annotate the text (using this time to take attendance and circulate to look for annotation styles). This exercise showed the students what I expect when I require active reading.
Next, I distributed my “Why Read Literature” One Pager and handout (also free, found here!) Using some samples from previous assignments, I explained the concept of a one-pager, a demonstration of learning through images, words, symbols, and other visual images. While one-pagers are a great opportunity to showcase artistic abilities, drawing talent is not required. (Here’s a great article that explains the benefits of using one-pagers in the classroom, as well as how to involve non-artsy students) Students were asked to fill the white space with Wright’s three criteria for a Great Book, as well as the six benefits to reading literature. Filling out the one-pager can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to fully complete. I stopped them at 20. To shorten this time, you could ask students to partner up and complete the assignment together. This one-pager shows my students what I expect when I ask them to demonstrate understanding.
Finally, when the one-pagers were done (or almost done, some were allowed to finish up during the discussion), I asked students to look at the question on the bottom of the handout. It asks them if they agree with the article or not. If yes, why? If no, why not. As expected, I heard overwhelming yeses. Without my help, the discussion fell flat after about one minute. When prodded for more, several students gave longer answers. And, as expected once again, each answer began with, “I like how he…” or “I like that he…” I let this continue for a few more minutes, then I told them what I needed to hear when I ask them to think critically.
I told my students they need to go beyond agreeing with the author. If you agree, you need to expand with your own reason.
For example, one student brought up that they liked Wright’s example of how Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed the mindset of America in favor of abolishing slavery, supporting the point that literature can change a culture. Using this example, I asked them what other pieces of literature they could think of that, when read, changed a society’s mindset or opinion of an issue. Suddenly, students were alive with ideas. Titles like The Diary of Anne Frank, The Communist Manifesto, and recent articles discussing the “white savior” concept of To Kill a Mockingbird were all brought up. This, I explained, was strong critical thinking in support of a text. They agreed, but also demonstrated how the text applied to their own worldview and literary exposure.
Next, I challenged them to find something to criticize. They weren’t expecting this. I think many students get an article or text and consider it “holy” since the teacher passed it out. It wasn’t until I told them that there was a facet of the “Why Read Literature” article that I myself disagreed with that they even considered it. However, it didn’t take long for one student to take the bait. He suggested that perhaps not all great literature has be written in elevated language, as Wright suggests. This led to a great conversation where more and more students agreed, naming other “Great Books” with lower reading levels from their own experience. In the end, my students learned what it means to think critically about a text.
This lesson took about 45 minutes in total to complete, and met our learning target to understand the three expectations of AP Lit: read actively (through annotation), demonstrate understanding (through our one-pager), and think critically (through in-class discussion).
It’s the end of July and teachers are preparing to move back into their classrooms. A good portion of these teachers are first timers, which could mean several things. Some are bright-eyed twenty-two-year-old grads, eager to step into their first job. Some are new to the teaching field after making a career shift. And others have been teaching for years but are approaching a new grade level or subject for the first time. Teachers who are new to AP Lit often feel intense pressure to meet high standards and produce high-scoring students in their first year. Furthermore, there are countless ways to structure an AP Lit class and no standardized reading list, so many new teachers feel completely lost.
For this post I’ve teamed up with another AP Lit teacher, Ashlee Tripp, to provide two different perspectives. We asked new AP Lit teachers for some burning questions they had as they readied for the new school year, and we actually got so many that we created two blog posts to answer them all! I’ll cover half of them here, and make sure you click here to access the other half of the material on Ashlee’s blog!
Q: How many books do I teach, and which ones?
Gina: These are the top two questions I see in the AP Lit Facebook groups. I think the number of texts we teach, an achievement that used to be competed about among AP Lit teachers, is becoming arbitrary. A teacher could teach 15 books but if her students never write then what’s the point? I say, teach as many books as it takes to do it well. For the upcoming school year, I’ll be teaching six texts (two plays, two novels, a novella, and How to Read Literature Like a Professor). I did eliminate two from last year’s list to make room for short fiction units. As for which books to pick, the College Board answer would be to find books that are complex, diverse, and engaging. However, I think it’s equally important to teach books you love. Students can sense when you’re teaching a book because you have to, making them less likely to read it. I would encourage new AP Lit teachers to stick to some “safe” texts, but don’t be afraid to take risks. If there’s a new book that you think would be perfect for AP Lit but you don’t know if it’s “AP approved,” take a leap and try it out! And also, don’t forget to let us know how it went! AP Lit teachers are always looking for books to add to our must-read list.
Ashlee: I think you have 3 camps on this—those who read more than 10, those who read 5-10, and those who read 3-4, and you just have to decide which camp you would excel in as a teacher! I give a summer survey, and consistently over 80% of my kids identify themselves as readers. It just makes sense to me to push my kids to read a wide range of texts. I constantly get e-mails from graduates thanking me for making them read more because it helps them manage the reading load of college. We’ll be doing nine novels (three choice, two book club, and four whole class) and two plays this upcoming year. That’s cutting three books from last year to include even more poetry and short fiction than I have ever done! My first year teaching AP Lit, we did all whole class reading chronologically: Oedipus Rex, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, King Lear, Paradise Lost, Candide, Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Last year, I let the kids choose their whole class texts; out of a list of ten, they chose eight, had one book club, and three choice books. This year, I’m still thinking about it, but there have been major curriculum changes in our lower grade levels, so I’ll be adjusting for that and the new standards. As of now, I’m thinking we’ll move thematically and do dystopian book clubs (previously summer reading) followed by a whole class read of 1984, a Shakespeare play (I’ll probably let them choose), Frankenstein, The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, The Importance of Being Earnest, and a Contemporary option in book clubs. I may end up cutting Invisible Man in favor of something shorter depending on how the year is going, but I like to have them read a longer text if time allows. My kids have never had a year where they took the exam and didn’t have at least five of the texts we read listed for Q3 (though I don’t think it’s that big of a deal if you don’t cover the listed books).
Q: How much do my students’ scores matter?
Gina: It depends on your school and your administrator. Most administrators will look at your scores and possibly discuss them, but from a data standpoint. I think you should always look at your scores and learn from them, but never define your teaching ability or your students by their scores. Keep them tucked away in a file or file cabinet, make any necessary changes to the following year, and move on.
Ashlee: My admin looks at our AP scores, but I don’t think they matter as much as we sometimes think they do. My principal sends congratulatory texts to anyone over the national averages in July, and we get our essay exams back, but that’s about it. I think it depends on your school and your state. I use the scores to plan and set goals for the following year… last year I wanted to improve Q2 responses and multiple choice averages, and we drastically improved on each because I was more intentional on planning for those things! I also let kids talk me into doing a poetry standalone unit instead of weekly poems last year, and our Q1 responses went down by 0.2 points. Never again! LOL Just remember you can always do more poetry, and poems are short and sweet and oh so complex.
Q: How much of my time should be devoted to test prep?
Gina: The answer to this question depends on how much of your course is driven by the exam. If your test double duties as a dual enrollment or Brit Lit course, the exam may not be the best assessment for the work you do. But if you teach the AP Lit course at your school and the exam is the ultimate end goal for the course, I’d recommend at least 20% of class time be spent on test-prep activities and assessments. My class is strictly an AP class so we do multiple choice practice tests at least every quarter and timed writings each month. With the new AP Classroom resources being posted, I am hoping to do shorter multiple choice activities each week if possible. My literature units are also driven by the new AP Lit standards and many of our activities are filled with close reading and analysis activities. Some of my units, like my prose analysis unit and my test prep unit, are purely driven by the exam, but could apply to SAT and ACT preparation as well.
Ashlee: We spend April specifically on test prep, but I do go over the format of the exam and the expectations at the beginning of the year, and the kids do a mock exam in August, in December, and again in April. Otherwise, we’re just a college-level English class, and I treat it as such. If you’re teaching your kids how to think critically as they read and write, then you’re preparing them for the test the entire year.
Q: How often should students practice timed writing?
Gina: My students complete a timed writing about every two weeks. I’d actually like to do it weekly but I can’t handle the grading load. One way to incorporate more on-demand writing is to scale it down. Sometimes I just ask students to produce a thesis statement or a short outline for a text we’re studying. I give them a few minutes and we share in class. This only takes about 10 minutes in total, rather than spending an entire class period on a timed essay.
Ashlee: I do a full timed write about as often as Gina, maybe a little less. And we do tons of thesis statements, outlines, paragraphs or discussions of released prompts throughout the year. I’d rather get through more texts than spend an entire class period every week doing a full essay. That said, they read, write, and discuss at least one text every single day in class.
Q: Can I see a sample syllabus?
We got so many requests for this! I recently moved from a written syllabus to a visual one, and Ashlee has explored this as well. The links to all four examples are included below:
Ashlee – Written Syllabus Remember, these syllabi are designed for in-class use. These are not submitted to College Board and are not to be confused with the AP Audit, which is standard-driven and much more intensive!
Q: What does a typical class period look like?
Gina: My lessons vary depending on what we’re studying and what day of the week it is. Our school is on a modified block, so once a week I get them for a block period. On these days we start with a vocabulary quiz and a poem study. This takes up about half of the class period, so most of my classes are structured to last about 45 minutes. I’m not nearly as structured as Ashlee, and my lessons vary by what we are reading. Sometimes we spend almost an entire period in small and whole group discussion, other times we move from lecture to discussion to independent reading. I’m usually pretty amped up to start each lesson so I prefer to begin with bell-ringers or introductory activities and conclude lessons with independent reading.
Ashlee: I wish I was more structured! I’d love to model my class after Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s 180 Days, but that’s still goals for me. I do start with 10 minutes of reading every day, and then from there it depends on the day! I use the same strategies in AP that I use in all of my classes: learning stations, gallery walks, Socratic seminars/discussions, think pair share, silent discussions, speed dating, circles, etc. I have 50-minute classes three days a week and an 80-minute block once a week. Ideally? It would probably look something like this (though it doesn’t always): 10 min. free reading 10-15 min. text study/mini-lesson (longer on block days) 20-25 min. writing/discussing/practicing (longer on block days) 5 min. sharing/closure
Q: How do you vary your teaching patterns to avoid monotony, but encompass recurrent practice of the same skills?
Gina: I pick different summative assessments for each long fiction unit we complete. They vary between a test, Socratic Seminar, long essay, project, and more. Each one has a timed writing, but everything else varies. I have also begun pairing literature lessons with mini-lessons on certain skills or materials pertaining to the text. For example, in Frankenstein we explore Paradise Lost and foils, whereas in Things Fall Apart we study proverbs and folk tales. Honestly, every unit seems pretty different in my AP class! The things that do become a routine are our weekly vocab quizzes and poem studies. Those are ever present, no matter what unit we’re in.
Ashlee: One way is through the volume of texts we read and study, but I also try to change up how we’re interacting with a text from day to day, how we’re responding, how we’re learning… and I’m always trying new strategies and adjusting!
Q: What’s the best wine to pair with essays?
Gina: I’m not an avid wine drinker, so I’m going to defer to a fellow Facebook member for my answer. She said: Persuasive Essays: Merlot or rosé Narrative Essays: Sauvignon blanc or pinot noir Expository Essays: Chardonnay or cabernet
Ashlee: Where’s the moscato? Actually, Hemingway said to write drunk and edit sober, so I don’t tend to pair grading essays with wine. Maybe that’s why I despise grading so much!
Want to see more questions answered? Head over to Ashlee’s blog to read the rest!
Gina Kortuem has a Masters in education from Bethel University and is going into her 14th year of teaching AP English Lit. She works in a parochial K-12 school in St. Paul, MN where she teaches AP Lit, Brit Lit, Shakespearean Lit, and the sophomore English 10 classes. In addition to teaching the class she has worked as an AP Reader five times and has scored for each essay type. She teaches full time and also runs the Teachers Pay Teachers store AP Lit & More.
Ashlee Tripp is a high school English teacher in Douglas County School District, just south of Denver, CO. She has an MAT English and BA in psychology with a focus in neuroscience. She currently teaches AP Lit (seniors), College Composition I and II (juniors and seniors), and Young Adult Literature elective (juniors and seniors). This is her fourth year teaching AP Lit, but she’s been teaching for a decade, two years at the college level and eight years at the high school level. In all of her spare time she enjoys reading every genre of literature and writing for her blog. You can find her blog, Life’s a Tripp, at http://www.ashleetripp.com and purchase AP Lit and other teaching resources from her TpT store that she recently started.
You’ve probably heard of Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor and may already use it in your classroom. Foster’s text, while not originally written for classroom use, has become a staple for many AP Lit teachers. Foster puzzles over this phenomenon in the preface of the book’s second edition, saying he is flattered by the new audience but did not anticipate the book being a tool for teachers.
Because How to Read Literature Like a Professor (henceforth called HTRLLAP for the sake of my sanity) is neither textbook or novel, AP teachers have integrated it into their classes in many different ways. I’ve been teaching it for a few years and have deduced some excellent strategies for incorporating HTRLLAP into the AP classroom. Furthermore, I’ve learned four consistent ways to effectively kill HTRLLAP’s joy and knowledge. Here are four ways that AP teachers misuse Foster’s text:
#1 Assign it as summer reading
This one is going to ruffle some feathers, but I think the worst mistake AP teachers make when using HTRLLAP is assigning it for summer reading. That being said, I totally understand the reasons behind doing it. Foster’s book is not exactly short, and a universal truth among AP Lit teachers is that we are always running out of class time. However, exporting it to summer reading introduces a new set of problems:
Some kids will not read it
Many kids will not fully grasp all of the book’s meaning
Some information may be forgotten in the summer months
Chapters blend together, making individual lessons hard to remember
SOME KIDS WILL NOT READ IT
That first one seemed so obvious I felt it needed mentioning again. Personally, I find HTRLLAP too valuable to let students rush it, skim it, or skip it altogether. Instead, I devote the first three weeks of AP Lit to studying the book, usually 3-4 chapters at a time. Each day the students take a short quiz on the reading, then we go over notes and breakout texts from each chapter (available for purchase from my Teachers Pay Teachers store, see below). By including it in the school year my students learn that the book is important. In fact, we treat it as our textbook, referencing it often enough that some students buy their own copy so they can annotate the text permanently. For these reasons and more, I cannot allow Foster’s text to be doomed to die on the summer reading list.
#2 Confine it to the page
Another common crime committed by AP Lit teachers is to simply discuss HTRLLAP as it is, when I believe teachers should model intertextuality skills and connect Foster’s lessons to their own favorite books. Foster does an amazing job of this in his book, which is one of the reasons people love reading it. He throws in allusions as well as Master Shakespeare, and clearly he has done his reading homework before writing the book. However, not many teenagers have read Lolita, “Sonny’s Blues,” or Dubliners in their spare time. To say it frankly, some of Foster’s textual references are too highbrow for teenagers.
To combat this, I move HTRLLAP beyond Foster’s text and connect it to novels and plays that I know my students have read before coming to my class. To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and Animal Farm are popular choices in my lessons. Another thing I love to do is use Foster’s lessons to analyze film and television. Some of my students were more insightful in their analysis of Breaking Bad and Inception than any other text we read throughout the year. See below for some examples of the connections to television and film I make in my notes:
One of my favorite memories was of a student running into my classroom and joyfully telling me that his family wouldn’t watch television with him anymore–because he couldn’t stop analyzing the shows. He was using Foster’s methods to make predictions and spoiling the endings of live television! I was so proud!
Foster’s appeal grows when modeled and expanded. I urge you as a teacher to model understanding of Foster’s lessons with books, plays, movies, songs, television shows, and other references from your experience. By showing them that you can make these connections with HTRLLAP, they’ll begin to make their own.
#3 Use the One-and-Done Approach
Probably the most common crime against HTRLLAP is analyzing it as the beautiful resource that it is–and then abandoning it on a shelf for the rest of the year. In my use of the text, we study it at the beginning of the year for a reason. The students are told to use each of Foster’s lessons (there is one per chapter) to guide them throughout the year. At the end of the unit, I give students smaller versions of a classroom poster I designed, showing each of Foster’s chapter lessons on one document. My students look to this poster throughout the year and use the handout to study for the AP Lit exam.
Just last year, we were discussing a detail from All the King’s Men when all of a sudden a student shouted out, “He’s going South!” The rest of the class was puzzled for a moment, until another kid lit up and responded, “He’s going to run amok!” The poster reminded them of one of Foster’s chapter lessons, and all at once the class was making predictions as a group. I almost cried.
For more details on this poster see the links at the bottom of this blog post!
#4 Skip the Writing Assignment
The final misuse of HTRLLAP is skipping Foster’s last chapter, which contains a short discussion of Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party.” I understand the motive to skip it, since Mansfield’s story is 1) long, and 2) hard. However, Foster included it in his text for a reason. AP Lit students need to practice close reading paired with analytical writing.
In my classroom, I ask students to read “The Garden Party” only, without the commentary afterwards. They come in to class ready to discuss it and we spend 20 minutes drafting an on-demand essay analyzing the story. They partner up and share their insights, and then we return to HTRLLAP. Together we read the rest of Foster’s text and his insightful take on Mansfield’s short story. My students usually have a dramatic reaction to his chapter, and it is always one of despair and anger. I have yet to have any student make the connection to hell that Foster makes in his book. However, this exercise is not designed to break their spirits. It is to show how a story can be interpreted in varying ways, and how looking for patterns can yield such interesting results. I follow this lesson with our first prose timed writing of the year (I prefer the 2009 prose question based on Ann Petry’s The Street). Overall, consistently pairing HTRLLAP with writing trains students to read closely, looking for patterns and predictions like Foster trains them in his book.
If you already use How to Read Literature Like a Professor in your AP classroom, I commend you for finding such a rich resource for your students. I hope this blog has convinced you to use it purposefully in order to make the book more than just a book but a valuable resource in your AP students’ toolbox.
If you are looking to add How to Read Literature Like a Professor to your AP Lit curriculum (or your own lessons need an overhaul), I have a ready-made unit available on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. This resource has recently been modified to match the College Board’s new course description and hits several of their essential skills. I actually count this unit as a short fiction unit in my own course planning. You can purchase my How to Read Literature Like a Professor bundle here, or the typography posters alone here.