January is a great time to make changes. After all, most students completely forget about school over Winter Break. Teachers can take advantage of that amnesia and implement improvements to their classes.
That’s what I’ve been doing. Even though my AP English class last semester was excellent, I am making some significant changes to improve my students’ learning. Here are a few of them:
1. Reading is the focus. Last semester, we focused on writing. And there’s more work we need to do. But my emphasis on writing shortchanged the importance of reading. Because reading is 45 percent of the AP test, and because reading is crucial for college (and for life), I am going to highlight reading and spend more class time helping my students read challenging texts.
So far, this is working well. My students are loving The Scarlet Letter, not just because of my enthusiasm for the book but also because I’ve purposely slowed down the reading pace at the beginning so everyone is on board. We spent the first few class periods reading as a class, then in groups, and finally in silence.
I’m realizing how crucial the teacher’s role is in motivating students to read. Even though this is a college-level course does not mean that I can just assign books and expect students to read them (and then get mad if they don’t). If I’m going to assign reading, it’s my job to teach reading. It’s my job to make the book fun and to prove to the students that they shouldn’t give up.
2. Homework is every night. Most teachers assign homework per class, not per night. An assignment is due the next class, and students have until then to complete it. For my students, that doesn’t work. They put off the assignment until the last minute instead of doing a little bit each day.
This semester, I’m assigning homework seven nights a week — yes, even including Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I want to impress on my students the importance of daily study. Sure, college won’t be this way, and perhaps I’m enabling my students by telling them exactly how to do their work. Their professor next year won’t care, and maybe my students will flounder. Nevertheless, my job this year is to get my students to read and write well. So far, this little change is making a big difference in homework completion.
3. We’re meeting every other Saturday. There just isn’t enough class time to prepare for the test. So I got my students an AP English prep book (with a DonorsChoose grant) and hosted our first AP Saturday a few days ago. We focused on test taking strategies, especially on the reading section. (The test is not easy.) My students would rather sleep in or do something more fun on a Saturday morning, but they all showed up, and I know that they secretly appreciate my commitment.
I am hopeful that these changes will improve the class and encourage my students to work hard. We have only five months before the AP test, and I’m getting nervous about their chances to pass. I’d love it if they did well on the test; all we can do now is keep pushing.