AP English Literature and Composition
The objective of this AP Literature and Composition course is both to prepare students for success on the AP Exam and provide a college-level survey of English literature that stresses the fundamental skills of literary analysis and written composition. It is designed to meet the curricular requirements described in the AP English Course Description and covers literature by both British and American authors from the sixteenth century to the present. The skills and knowledge necessary to be successful on the AP Exam are the same as those required for any advanced level study of literature, and, therefore, conflate nicely with the overall objectives of this course.
The skills of critical or reflective thinking are as essential to the analysis of literature as they are to living a meaningful and rewarding life. By reflective thinking, we mean John Dewey's "active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends." This is an activity that can take place only "when one is willing to endure suspense and undergo the trouble of uncertainty." The study of literature is the study of what it means to be human, and as such it requires that we be willing to live in an intellectual world without clear-cut answers, that we "undergo the trouble of uncertainty." The literature we will read this year addresses the essential questions of human experience, questions that by their nature do not admit simplistic, facile answers. It is important that we be willing to live with ambiguity and uncertainty as we read and analyze literature.
For Northrop Frye, the poet's job is to "show [us] a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind," because the "only genuine joy" we can have is when we are "a part of what we know." This basic human drive, to unite in some emotional sense with the world outside of us, is the motive for literature. We will examine literature from vastly different time periods and cultures, always with an eye toward the unifying themes and issues that link these texts. We will look closely at the cultural and historical contexts that influenced these authors, especially the intellectual worlds in which they lived. Our analysis of these texts will be an opportunity to, in Robert Frost's words, express "enthusiasm... through the prism of the intellect," and thereby increase the range and sensitivity of our enthusiasm, gaining the ability to articulate with precision ideas of great complexity and subtlety. And this, in the end, is the purpose of studying literature: to increase our ability to understand, participate in, and enjoy human experience.
Close Reading and Style Analysis
(Advice to the Student)
The AP Literature curriculum necessitates that you acquire good close reading skills. Simply to read the text without noting significant passages, language, and plot events will not prepare you for the obligatory class quizzes, discussions, and analytical essays. An accomplished author intends for you to pay attention to irony and ambiguity in the text; he or she wants you to note strange or incongruous language and think through its implications. The final goal of this course, as of all the courses in the English Department, is to create critical, autonomous readers and thinkers. To internalize the skills and knowledge necessary to analyze complex texts, you must practice these skills independently as you read and prepare for class.
In class we will frequently practice style analysis on short passages and quotations. We will look closely at the diction, syntax, figurative language, and rhetorical strategies that create the passage's tone, characterizing that tone as precisely as possible. In poetry we will also look at meter, rhyme, structure, and form, connecting these literary devices to tone and meaning. This practice will hopefully enable you to apply the same skills to the reading you do for homework and the quotations and evidence you use to support your analytical arguments in your essays. For this purpose you may want to purchase the texts we will be reading so that you may write in them and make notes as you read. If you do not wish to do this, it is strongly recommended that you take copious notes in a separate notebook, being sure to cite the page numbers. These will not only help you process and understand the text as you read, it will also be a valuable resource for future tests and papers, including your review for the AP exam. Some things you might want to note as you read include the following: questions that the text raises; language that is apt, incongruous, or ambiguous; passages that suggest a possible theme or reveal tone; possible instances of irony; particularly striking or appropriate figures of speech; possible allusions to other texts or events that you may want to research; and passages that reveal character motivation, point to a symbolic value, or whose imagery implies an attitude towards the subject. With a little perseverance, this will become a habit that will serve you well in future literature courses.
The primary goal of the writing assignments in this course is to enable students to write with insight, fluency, and accuracy about literature. In order to achieve this end, the course will focus on the three modes of writing outlined in the AP English Literature and Composition Course Description: writing to understand, writing to explain, and writing to evaluate. The choice of the types of writing assignments we will practice in this class is influenced by Peter Elbow's dichotomy between writing that encourages first-order thinking and writing that encourages second-order thinking. When writing to understand, we will draw on our first-order thinking skills; when writing to explain and writing to evaluate, we will apply the careful focus of second-order thinking to these fruitful, creative insights in order to establish their accuracy and importance.
First-order thinking is "intuitive and creative and doesn't strive for conscious direction or control. We use it when we get hunches or gestalts.... We use it when we write fast without censoring." By taking the opportunity to write fast and "carelessly" about the literature we read, we find that "a more elegant shape or organization often emerges, one more integral to the material than careful outlining or conscious planning can produce." This type of writing allows for the free association of connections to the text; we can interact intuitively without judging our thoughts. It allows us to "exploit the autonomous generative powers of language and syntax themselves." The very process of writing creatively about the text opens new, unexpected, and potentially rich areas of thought. This type of writing is obviously crucial to the analysis of literature, which is at heart a creative process. We will practice this type of writing on a regular basis in freewrites, poetry annotations, the language analysis of passages, and the first drafts of our analytical papers.
Second-order thinking is "conscious, directed, controlled thinking. We steer; we scrutinize each link in the chain." It is the necessary process to which we must subject the results of our first order thinking; it is a kind of "focal knowledge" that allows us to test the fruits of our "careless thinking." It helps us to "[stand] outside our own thinking." If we apply this type of thinking while we are generating ideas and associations, it is like "trying to examine our thinking while using " too," and it "often leads people to foolishness." Therefore, it is important that we apply this kind of critical thinking only after we have done our creative thinking. We will practice this type of thinking when we organize our freewrites, poetry annotations, and other preparatory writings into formal, analytical essays, write multiple drafts of these essays, apply the feedback from peer editing, and, at times, rewrite these papers on the basis of the instructor's feedback.
Throughout the first semester, there will be mini-lessons on various issues of style. Subsequent peer editing will focus in on that issue, allowing students to gain immediate feedback on their attempts to incorporate or improve these skills in their own writing. In addition to other topics, instruction will deal with sentence variety, including the appropriate use of subordination and coordination; effective use of diction and sentence structure; specific questions of grammar and usage; and logical organization, specifically, the effective use of transitions, repetition, and emphasis to increase coherence. We will also periodically respond to AP-style timed writings, using AP prompts from past exams. These, through analyzing model essays and critiquing our own responses to the AP prompts, will help establish the criteria for successful writing. Establishing the proper balance between generalized, interpretive insight and effective, specific textual details that support the interpretation will be an ongoing topic. On most essays, students will be provided with profuse written feedback. The intention is that students will read the feedback carefully before writing their next essay and pick out some key points to work on. Also, any paper that students wish to rewrite for a higher grade will be accepted up to the end of that quarter. The new grade will be averaged with the original. At times, students will be requested to prepare a thesis statement and find quotations that support it for a pre-conference before writing the essay. Though it will be required of everyone at times, students are always welcome to use this pre-conferencing process if they need help getting started.
All students are required to take the AP Literature and Composition Exam in May. The reasons for requiring that students sit this exam are twofold: First, an AP English class that does not have students take the exam is considered to be a "fake" AP class by many colleges. For this reason alone, it is important that all our students take the exam, even though some students may feel it a waste of money for them personally. Second, it gives the instructor important, specific feedback on how well he is achieving the instructional aims of the class. There is a charge for this exam (around eighty dollars), but those who cannot afford this charge may apply for assistance through the Guidance Department. The aim is for the course to be accessible to all; no one should hesitate to take the course because of an inability to afford the exam fee. The majority of students who have taken the course in past years have scored a three or above, potentially earning themselves college credit and saving thousands of dollars, as well as avoiding the unnecessary delay of introductory-level courses.
In addition to this mandatory exam, there will be both a midterm and a final exam in the class. These will be AP-style exams testing students on their content knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge in an analytical task.
The following units are flexible and vary in their particulars from year to year, though the concepts, teaching strategies, and categories remain largely the same. We start with a brief review of the summer reading assignments, followed by an intense short story unit and a poetry unit. These first three months are intended to establish the basics of literary analysis: the literary terms and major critical ideas associated with stories and poetry, the criteria for writing in the AP English course, and the elements of style. This is followed by novel and play units that are opportunities to apply and practice these skills in a holistic, organic manner. The challenge of longer, complex works of literature enables students to discover their own ability to think about literature in a more autonomous, interconnected way.
Summer Reading Review
Students read The Odyssey, a four-hundred-page epic Greek poem in translation, and a contemporary novel, Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez, a retelling of The Great Gatsby set in present day Spanish Harlem. Students must write an analytical essay on Bodega over the summer and take an objective test on The Odyssey on the second day of school. They also must keep a journal of quotations from The Odyssey, in which they annotate each quotation. In addition, as a nod to necessity and an opportunity to talk about writing in a non-analytical context, they must write a college essay, also due the first day, for which they are provided with a list of prompts and some useful advice.
The Odyssey (2 Weeks): We use the review of The Odyssey to introduce some historical understanding of the development of literature, specifically poetry, as well as to introduce the basics of literary criticism through the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Plato's undemocratic sage kings, his otherworldly idealism, and his view of the afterlife are essential background information to understand the writers and thinkers of the Western tradition. Plato's regretful denunciation of Homer's moral world offers a nice contrast to the almost mindless adventurism of Odysseus, with its own dichotomies between restraint and gluttony, and human and divine will. From there it is quite natural to touch on the Aristotelian concept of catharsis, a sharp contrast itself to Plato's exclusion of poets from the ideal republic, and his hugely influential analysis of tragedy. We also try to gain an overview of the Trojan War and its related Greek myths, a cycle of stories to which students will find connections throughout the year. Finally, students do their first poetry annotation, using the guide provided, on Tennyson's "Ulysses." After looking closely at its meter, structure, diction, and figurative language in class, a useful review in itself, students write their first essay on the poem. Selected readings are given as homework to shape our class discussions:
• Plato, "Apology" and "Crito," as well as chapter 10 of The Republic
• "The Rage of Achilles" and "The Death of Hector" (chapters 1 and 22) from the Iliad
• Edith Hamilton, "The Idea of Tragedy" from The Greek Way (New York: Norton, 1930)
• M. I. Finley, "Morals and Values" from The World of Odysseus (New York: Viking Penguin, 1954)
• Northrop Frye, "The Motive for Metaphor" from The Norton Reader, ed. Linda H. Peterson and John C. Brereton (New York: Norton, 2004)
• Tennyson, "Ulysses"
Tasks: Students take quizzes, participate in class discussions, and write their first poetry annotation and their first essay on Tennyson's "Ulysses." Discussion of the poem focuses on the effects of meter, antitheses, and structure on tone and meaning. Students peer edit for the connection of literary devices to meaning.
Bodega Dreams (1 Week): Students read some of the Nuyorican poets of the 1970s and watch a few clips from the movie Pinero of an actor recreating Miguel Pinero's poetry readings. Discussion of the novel focuses on issues of assimilation versus integration in the immigrant Puerto Rican community, practicality and real world principles versus the escapism/idealism of religion and drugs, and the importance of deciphering tone with a first person narrator. We use style analysis to decipher meaning and tone in selected passages from the novel. We use this opportunity to read and analyze selected poems in relationship to the issues of the immigrant Puerto Rican community addressed in Bodega Dreams:
• Miguel Pinero,"La Bodega Sold Dreams"
• Pedro Pietri, "Puerto Rican Obituary"
• Reading on the Young Lords movement
Tasks: Students take quizzes, participate in student directed discussion of quotations, and give a poetry reading. I use this unit to introduce and model our first style analysis.
Elements of Fiction: Short Stories
We use Perrine's Literature (Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 8th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2002]) as our course textbook, and for this unit almost all the readings are from that source. Students read introductions to the basic elements of fiction, and then we apply those elements to our analysis of representative short stories. There is an analytical essay due at the beginning of each week, stressing both an element of fiction and an issue of style. During the week, students read the stories, and class discussion focuses on analysis in terms of the element we are reviewing. We pick a few passages each week for in-class style analysis/explication in order to give students plenty of practice in connecting stylistic elements, such as syntax, diction, figurative language, and sound devices, to the narrator's attitude toward the subject and the meaning, or theme, of the story. This is the methodology they are expected to follow in their weekly essays. Over the course of this unit, we also introduce the various elements of style through mini-lessons on Fridays immediately preceding students" weekly essay writing. Some topics include sentence types and purposes, parallelism, finding the precise word, issues of usage and grammar, appropriately quoting sources, active verbs, run-on sentences, and punctuation. Some special attention is given during this unit to expanding students" vocabulary for analysis. The issues of logical organization, balancing interpretive generalizations and specific, illustrative detail, and of controlling tone throughout a piece of writing are repeatedly addressed in our analysis of model essays, in peer editing, and in the written feedback from the instructor. Finally, students write a short story themselves, incorporating the elements of fiction we have studied.
• Commercial and Literary Fiction: Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game"; Hemingway, "the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
• Plot and Structure: Greene, "the Destructors"; Munro, "How I Met My Husband"; Lahiri, "Interpreter of Maladies"
• Characterization: Mansfield, "Miss Brill"; Wolff, "Hunters in the Snow"
• Theme: Bambara, "the Lesson"; Gordimer, "Once Upon a Time"
• Point of View: Cather, "Paul's Case"; Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily"
• Symbol, Allegory, and Fantasy: Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown"; Marquez, "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings"; (Handout) Joyce, "Araby"
• Humor and Irony: Moore, "You're Ugly, Too"; (Handout) Atwood, "Rape Fantasies"
• Evaluating Fiction: Wharton, "Roman Fever"; Fitzgerald, "A New Leaf"; Porter, "He"; Oates, "Heat" and "Lady with the Pet Dog"; Chekhov, "the Lady with the Dog"; O'Connor, "Greenleaf"
Tasks: Students take quizzes, participate in class discussions, explicate passages from the stories, and write four analytical essays; three of them focusing in on some element of fiction that we have studied and the fourth one evaluating the relative artistic success of two stories, using these same elements as a basis of comparison. For this last analytical essay in the unit, students are expected to make and explain a judgment between the relative artistry and quality of two stories. Peer editing for this unit is focused on their ability to connect the elements of fiction to meaning or theme, and to gain practice at both incorporating the various lessons on style into their own writing and identifying its use in others" writing. Generally, at the end of this unit, we do our first prose passage AP prompt as a timed, in-class write. Also, as a final task, students write their own short stories.
Literary Devices: Poetry
This unit is also based in the textbook, Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, though there are substantial additions in the poetry. Though each packet of poems usually represents a wide variety of time periods and poets, we have lessons throughout the unit particularly focused on some of the major poets and movements. The quizzes in this unit are relatively intense, requiring that the students have carefully studied each chapter's introduction and applied this new knowledge and the skills they learned to the poems before they come to class. As in the last unit, there are weekly papers where the students must use the literary devices to analyze a poem from that week's packet. The packets have more poems than we can cover in class, leaving many options for each paper. During the course of the unit, students are asked to pick a contemporary, live poet on whose work and life they will write a six- to eight-page research paper and give a class presentation, explicating one of the author's poems for the class. After the initial resistance, students usually find this one of the most interesting assignments of the year. They become resident experts on the poet and, after annotating ten to twenty poems by their author, find they have plenty of material for the six-page minimum. Lastly, I try to capture student interest and inspire creativity by showing excerpts from past National Poetry Slams. Students really respond to the directness of the medium, the obvious creativity of the poets, and the emotional weight of their performances.
• Reading the Poem/Denotation and Connotation/Imagery: Donne, "Break of Day"; Plath, "Mirror"; Revard, "Discovery of the New World"; Robinson, "Eros Turannos"; Kay, "Pathedy of Manners"; Reed, "Naming of Parts"; Jonson, "On My First Son"; Williams, "Widow's Lament in Spring Time"; Heaney, "The Forge"; Frost, "After Apple-Picking"; Hughes, "Thistles"
• Figurative Language 1-3: Keats, "Bright Star"; Wilbur, "Mind"; Donne, "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"; Piercy, "Barbie Doll"; Blake, "the Chimney Sweep"; Clifton, "in the inner city"; Atwood, "Up"; Wordsworth, "the World is Too Much with Us"; Ransom, "Dead Boy"; Shakespeare, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds"
• Allusion/Meaning and Idea/Tone: Milton, "On His Blindness"; Yeats, "Leda and the Swan"; Machan, "Leda's Sister and the Geese"; Dickinson, "Abraham to kill him" and "Apparently with no surprise"; Randall, "To the Mercy Killers"; Eberhart, "For a Lamb"; Drayton, "Since there's no help"; Tennyson, "Crossing the Bar"; Mathis, "Getting Out"; Gallagher, "Gray Eyes"
• Musical Devices/Rhythm and Meter/Sound and Meaning: Auden, "That night when joy began"; Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"; Stafford, "Traveling through the dark"; Herbert, "Virtue"; Housman, "Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries"; Tennyson, "Break, break, break"; Atwood, "Land Crab"; Donne, "At the round earth's imagined corners"; Bishop, "One Art"; Frost, "Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same"
• Pattern/Evaluating Poetry 1 and 2: Keats, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"; Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"; Donne, "Death, be not proud"; Frost, "Acquainted with the night"; Herrick, "Delight in Disorder"; Shelley, "Ozymandias"; Merrill, "The Fifteenth Summer"; Hardy, "The Darkling Thrush"; Bishop, "The Fish"; Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn"
Tasks: There are some very challenging quizzes that require students to apply the knowledge and skills taught in these chapters. We spend time practicing scansion both in and out of class, and students do four or five poetry annotations each week, chosen from the packets above. The intention is that they come to feel competent and empowered at analyzing meter and the other literary devices we study. Always, the emphasis is on connecting these technical matters to tone and meaning. They write five essays during this unit: three three-page papers where they identify several literary devices, such as structure, imagery, symbolism, and figurative language, and analyze how these devices reveal the poem's tone and theme; one in-class, timed AP prompt on poetry; and a six- to eight-page research paper on a contemporary poet, which they research over the course of the unit and spend two weekends finalizing. The last activity of the unit is a presentation on their poet where they share their knowledge with the class.
We usually do four novels in this unit, starting with two shorter novellas and then tackling two longer novels. At least one of the longer novels chosen is from the nineteenth century; the other may be from any era. It is important that students be exposed to the complex and unfamiliar prose of Victorian writers, and, whether or not the novel is by a British writer, I make sure to include excerpts and readings from representative British authors of the period, such as Carlyle, Dickens, J. S. Mill, Addison, and the Bronte sisters. The second longer novel is often by a modern or contemporary author and provides a nice contrast. During this unit, we begin to have graded discussions in addition to the usual round of analytical essays. This is a result of watching the same students who sit silently during class discussions floundering when it comes time to write the essay. I find that students who attempt to voice a point of view or insight on the novel in class, even under coercion, will get more out of the resulting discussion, regardless of what they say. I also believe that skills in public speaking are essential to most fields of study they will pursue in the future, and therefore worth acquiring now. In addition to this student led investigation of the novels, students are asked to bring at least three quotations from the novel to each class, prepared to ask a question about it, make a point, or suggest its significance for the meaning of the work as a whole. Periodically, we will do a close reading/style analysis of certain passages together. Students are asked to keep a freewrite journal for the purpose of responding to or building on class discussions throughout the unit. For the final novel, students are paired and asked to lead discussions for two classes. To prepare for this, they must read ahead and organize questions for the other students to respond to. Towards this purpose, we review the elements of fiction beforehand.
Possible short novels:
• Kafka, Metamorphosis
• Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground
• Tolstoy, Hadji Murad
• Camus, The Stranger
• Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Possible longer novels:
• Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
• Dickens, Great Expectations, Hard Times
• Bronte, Wuthering Heights
• Hardy, Jude the Obscure
• Flaubert, Madame Bovary
• Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
• Faulkner, The Unvanquished
• Morrison, Beloved, Song of Solomon
• McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
• Patchett, Bel Canto
• Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
• McEwan, Atonement
Example Novel Unit:
Heart of Darkness: Since this is an excellent novel for expanding students' vocabulary, I hand out an exhaustive vocabulary list, around forty-five words, and they must look up all of the words before beginning the novel. We go over the definitions and speak about usage and etymology, introducing the differences between Anglo-Saxon and Latinate vocabulary. As we read, students are expected to keep a reading journal where they pick three quotations from each night's reading and write a short response to each. This furnishes the material for class discussions and a series of initial, unedited responses that they can later mine for essay ideas. We look at three longer passages together in class for practice at style analysis, focusing on how imagery, diction (denotation and connotation), and figurative language hint at tone, and thereby reveal the complexity and ambiguity of the nnovel'sheme. The focus here is on how careful, deliberative reading can yield multiple meanings for a work of literary merit, and on how interpretation must be supported by specific textual detail. After finishing the novel, we use our findings from these investigations of style, tone, and theme to inform our discussion of the novel's possible racism. Students read Chinua Achebe's "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" and several short excerpts from critical responses to the Achebe article. They are then asked to write an argumentative essay in which they draw on textual details to make and explain their judgments on its quality and artistry, and its social and cultural values in light of this question of racism. Finally, we hold a formal debate in which students must support their interpretations with evidence from the novel and the critical essays. Often a quite heated argument ensues.
Tasks: Students take quizzes on the readings, do in-class style analysis of various passages, have graded discussions, write a final three- to five-page analytical essay for each novel, and team teach a section of the final novel. They also have vocabulary lists for which they are responsible and are quizzed on. The longer papers (five pages) go through several drafts with feedback at each stage, including pre-conferencing, peer editing, and written comments by the teacher. One of the shorter novels is usually assessed by an in-class, timed AP prompt. In addition, the midterm falls usually immediately after the third novel is finished, and on it they are asked to use one of the three novels to respond to an AP prompt.
This is the last unit before we begin the AP exam prep; we usually use it to study a Shakespearean tragedy and a shorter, contemporary play. Students are asked to memorize a soliloquy, act out crucial scenes in class with props and planned stage directions, write a short language analysis of their soliloquy, and complete an exhaustive five-page analysis of the play as a whole. The focus is on Shakespeare's poetry and themes, and it usually functions as a good refresher on meter and poetic devices before the exam. They also read short excerpts of important criticism on the play and see different versions of key scenes, comparing the director and actor's choices. The attempt is to get students to see Shakespeare's play as both an open-ended, fluid script for the stage, as well as a critical and literary text of great traditional importance. The contemporary play is usually thematically or stylistically related. Students usually relate to its more accessible language and clear modern relevance, but also, hopefully, gain an appreciation for Shakespeare's still important influence on contemporary drama. Most successfully, I've paired Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which create a nice contrast between Renaissance, Christian/classical philosophy and post-modern existentialist angst. For critical insight, we read short excerpts from Goethe, Coleridge, and Eliot with Hamlet, and with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead we look into Nietzsche, Sartre, and the absurdist thinking of Camus (if we haven't already addressed this in the novel unit). Research into the vaudeville connection of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead also furnishes some comic relief with Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" and vintage Laurel and Hardy.
Tasks: Students take quizzes on the plot and language of Hamlet; they are expected to decipher Shakespeare's archaic language using the side notes in the book and, when necessary, a good dictionary. We practice scansion on the challenging soliloquies, annotating them with the same procedure we used for poetry. Students memorize the soliloquy of their choice (extra-points for acting it out in costume). They perform certain key scenes in class together, and they write three analytical essays: one three-page paper analyzing their soliloquy from Hamlet; one five-page paper analyzing the play as a whole, in light of the criticism we have read; and an in-class, timed AP prompt for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
AP Exam Prep
This is an intensive month of essay writing, reviewing literary terms, and doing many multiple choice passages from past AP exams. Though we deal with the issues of an effective use of rhetoric throughout the course, in this unit we take special care to offer prewriting instruction on controlling tone, establishing and maintaining voice, and achieving appropriate emphasis through diction and sentence structure. Usually, the most effective way to illustrate these issues for students is in our analysis of model student essays from previous AP exams. Having already written on the prompt themselves, they have an immediate investment in how other students may have gotten it right. Negative examples of students using overly effusive adjectives like "amazing" and "awesome" provide a humorous but apt cautionary tale, and positive examples of sophisticated and varied sentence patterns give them a sense of what is possible. They come to realize that the excellent prose writing they have been exposed to throughout the year is not only a subject to be analyzed, but also a model to be emulated. These student models also provide great examples of the proper balance between generalization and specific, illustrative detail in an interpretive essay.
Early on, though only after a week or so of practicing in-class AP prompted writing and multiple choice passages, we take one of the complete, released AP exams to find where our weaknesses lie. After that, we focus in on those weaknesses, though not neglecting our strengths. Students generally write two to three essays a week in class, sometimes receiving direct feedback from the instructor on them that night, sometimes typing them up and grading them as anonymous responses along with their peers, and sometimes receiving a packet of model essays from the actual AP exam to grade and annotate. The students become fairly confident in their understanding of the criteria on which their essays will be graded, internalizing the nine-point rubric. They also learn to analyze the various tricks of the multiple-choice passages, getting an idea of where their vocabulary and knowledge are spotty. We spend time writing useful summaries of the texts we have read together, complete with short but pithy quotations and a class-negotiated rendering of the theme. Since I've had most of these students for Reading Intensive American Literature the year before, there is a fairly wide choice of novels and plays. It is a great way to think back over the year and revisit the texts we sweated and bled over. During this unit, I try to write along with the students on a few of the prompts, sharing my work and its pitfalls with them. They get a hoot out of giving me a low score; they're tough critics!
Life in the Hereafter
We've filled this time in a number of different ways, some with more success than others. Sometimes they write a graduation speech or a memoir of their time in high school. We usually watch a film and write a film review; Miyazaki's Spirited Away, with its carefully observed, animated renderings of real life and its mythical resonance, has worked well. Mostly we read a contemporary novel, hopefully something fast paced and interesting. Past selections have included McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, Quiñonez' Bodega Dreams (before it became a summer reading assignment), and Glass' Three Junes. Whatever we do, the pace is more relaxed, and we try to lighten up the heavy analytical atmosphere with food, games, and poetry slams. The last week is review for the final exam, which is an AP style writing exam.