Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Letting AP students take the helm...

As teacher my greatest weakness is giving control to students. I like control. I like being in control. I have a deep seeded fear that by letting the students take control something will fall apart. I am sure there is something of this fear in all teachers. The deepest manifestation of this fear happened when I had long-term subs for maternity leave. What will happen with my classes?! Will they learn? It's taken time, but, slowly, I have learned to let some of that control go.

In an attempt to turn over control, I developed a project on the "isms" of 19th century American Literature: romanticism, realism, transcendentalism, and naturalism. I taught my AP class the slave narrative (or, narrative-ism, my students joked that it needed to be an "ism", too). I modeled how to review the time period, choose texts for reading, and run a discussion. I am a HUGE fan of the discussion in AP class, so my students are very familiar with formal and informal discussions. After we finished slave narratives I introduced the project. I needed 8 groups of 4 students each (yes, 8 groups, it's a big class) and each group randomly drew an "ism". I had the "isms" doubled up, which proved to work out well because it allowed students to cover a more diverse body of writing. I gave students 3 library/computer days to work on their projects. They needed to include the following: information about the time period, information about the writer they chose to research, a piece of text for the class to read, and discussion questions. Each group had to complete a 45 minute presentation on their time period including discussion time. This is how I would teach the -isms. Less me, more them.

So, how is it going? Well, my first group went today, the transcendentalists. One grouped focused on Emerson, the other on Thoreau. For going first, I was happy with the work from both groups. I was particularly impressed with their ability to run the discussion. I think being able to discuss questions that are posed is important, but, even more than that, being able to deliver the question and offer follow-up and insight about the topic is even more impressive. Going forward, I have groups who will be teaching Dickinson, Whitman, London, Crane, Chopin, and James. I have a group who will be using artwork in addition to poetry. I have students who are arguing over the merit of literary works and creating meaningful questions for the study of rhetoric. I am really proud of the work and learning that is happening.

Working with my AP class this year has truly been a grand adventure. I love teaching AP, I think the program offers an incredibly rich learning experience for those willing to put in the time and effort. I tell all of my students that once they find their niche, once they find the subject that they really love, they need to try and take an AP in that subject. I can't wait to see what the rest of the school year holds with these students. Not every moment teaching is beautiful, but when things work, being a teacher, or, really, witnessing, learning, is truly magical.

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