Can you believe that it’s already “mid-to-late” July? I cannot and I know that the summer always flies by, but this one seems to be speeding ahead at a pace I cannot keep up with!
Last week I had the amazing privilege to attend a College Board AP Training presented by Davara Potel, who, before she retired, taught in a district that was near mine, and she is just the sweetest woman that I’ve ever met – and really knows her AP stuff! I was blown away by so much that she said and I just wanted to record her so that I could get every bit of information imaginable.
What really struck me about AP is how much everything needs to be vertically aligned from level one until AP. I knew this, or at least, I thought that I did. But this workshop had me looking back at last year and feeling even worse about it than I did at the end of May. I was not focusing on the right things. I wasn’t getting kids prepared now to build on their knowledge as it relates to AP. I wasn’t doing enough grammar, probably.
And it really hit me: I’m so young. I have four years of teaching under my belt, and like that old guessing adage, “the first two don’t count.” I don’t know a lot of things that most people give me credit for, and for that I sort of blame the internet. Each 140 character interjection makes me seem like the world’s best teacher, but believe me that I’m far from it. This four-day workshop took a lot of the things that I “thought” I had figured out and turned them upside-down, as it relates to AP.
What I thought I knew #1: We should be spiraling the same themes from level one to AP. I feel like this one was pretty self explanatory.
What I learned from this workshop: It’s not enough to cover the same things – we should be covering the same themes with different contexts! For example, in the theme of science and technology, year two would be “what are the benefits of recycling,” year three would be “how can we save the planet” and year four would be something like “eliminating food waste” or “what future inventions could change our world?” If you’re blessed to have AP in years five or six, you could go even deeper! I need to rethink what my level one units look like for this purpose.
What I thought I knew #2: We should continuously be asking questions to elicit information from our students. Again, self-explanatory. But teaching level one, it looks a lot different than it does in the upper levels.
What I learned from this workshop: It’s not enough to just ask the question and get a response. For upper levels in particular, it’s about the follow up questions – the spontaneous answers that show what and why our students are thinking a specific thing. Davara was great at asking a question and then following it up with a great 5 W question – “Who are these people?” “Farmers” “Oh, they’re farmers? What is it about them that made you think they were farmers?” I need to be intentional about the follow up questions I choose, in level one and beyond.
What I thought I knew #3: The role (or supporting role) of grammar.
What I learned from this workshop: Everything. Nothing. More. Less. I’m doing it wrong. I’m not doing enough. I don’t know the role of grammar in each (or any) level. (sidenote: a few years ago I plunged a ladle into the “grammar is bad” punch and sipped so much kool-aid that now I hardly touch grammar. I’m not saying it’s a good system. I need to rethink all of this completely and totally.)
What I thought I knew #4: If kids are speaking (to me, to each other, to the video recording of me), they’re getting interpersonal practice. I know that level 1 is primarily memorized chunks of language, so “spontaneous” just means not knowing which question I might ask.
What I learned from this workshop: The key to success on the interpersonal speaking part of the AP test is just that – it needs to be truly interpersonal. I need to develop and implement more ways for my kids to speak spontaneously without knowing what I’m going to say beforehand. I’m thinking implementing a can of questions à la Creative Language Class will help in all levels. 5 minutes left? Boom, pull a topic. Need a brain break? Boom, pull a topic. Half the class is gone for an assembly? Boom, pull 4 topics. I’m thinking of color coding these by either a) the level in which the learned the information (this year’s AP interpersonal speaking was about CAMPING for goodness sakes!) or b) by the type of interaction (invitations, question to elicit information, opinion, etc.) I’m also thinking that Wednesdays (our classes are shortened) might be purely to practice interpersonal skills.
What I thought I knew #5: Novices need structure in what they read. I rely so heavily on infographics in level one that if I had a nickel for every one I used, I could buy my own classroom supplies! (har har)
What I learned from this workshop: Infographics are still great. But, I also looked closely at the kinds of texts that students are reading in AP, and my level ones should be exposed to more text as we get to the end of the year. Sure, I might edit the text to break up the paragraphs or make things double spaced, etc, but I think they need to get exposure to text-driven texts as well as visual-driven texts. This workshop did reiterate that there are GREAT infographics for all levels, though, not just level one. Still relevant at the AP level, so booyah!
So, this year, I’m going to be a little bit like Laura – reinventing the wheel where it needs a little work, and hopefully coming out with lots of knowledge on the other side. And, hopefully, like Laura does so well, I’m going to try to show my ups, but mostly my downs as I try to figure it out and make it work for me and my students. A lot of that goes back to being intentional, no?