AP Question

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13 thoughts on “AP Question”

  1. Ernesto this article written by our own Robert Harrell and taken from our Primers section here on the blog describes recent changes in the AP exam and may be of interest to you. Robert teaches AP German in Los Angeles:

    In many ways the new AP exam is better than the old one. There is no cloze exercise, and there are no discrete-item grammar questions. Grading is done holistically.

    However, scoring is still based primarily on output, and no matter what anyone says, a typical high school program will not get students to the level for which AP is designed. I am certain that there are schools and students that are capable of attaining Pre-Advanced proficiency in four years, but they are not typical. My school’s most recent score on the state testing was 867, so we are not a low-performing school. However, our students as a whole will not spend the extra hours necessary to get sufficient exposure to the language to move higher more quickly.

    In addition, AP still runs counter to my goals for the German curriculum in its Scope and Sequence. The emphasis in AP is on academic language (just as it is with Common Core), but is academic language what is most useful to high school students? Realistically, what will most students do with the language? Most will be tourists and talk to friends and family; that does not require academic language, but it does require interpersonal skills. To use the jargon: I am trying to help my students acquire Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), not Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Students who wish to acquire the latter can do so after they have achieved proficiency in the former.

    As a result, my class is geared toward Interpersonal Communication with an emphasis on conversation. As students move into years three and four, I do more content-based instruction but still with an emphasis on interpersonal communication. Students who wish to pursue taking the AP Exam are provided with resources for out-of-class study. I make certain they understand that I am willing to meet with them outside of class, answer questions, assist them, etc. However, with a mixed class of 3/4/AP, the majority of students are not planning to take the AP exam (not even most of the students who sign up for the AP Course). and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one – at least in this case. Besides, I can actually address the needs of the many, the few, and the one by providing the foundation in the classroom and the opportunity to go beyond outside of the classroom. To date I have had incredibly few take me up on the additional instruction time, and none of them for more than a couple of weeks, either at the beginning of the year or just before the AP exam.

    Some might claim that my instruction lacks rigor because I am not pushing students to produce more and sooner, but I observe on a daily basis that most of my students struggle with meeting the rigor of sustained focus – not to mention depth and integrity of inquiry, continuous testing of hypotheses, and suspension of premature conclusion. My class is less onerous but more rigorous than many others they attend, and I have to deal with the need to keep re-focusing attention, hold students accountable for being there, etc.

    At the same time I recognize that I can always improve my instruction and find ways to engage my students more fully. Taking advice from Plato, I seek to do it without coercion for, as he writes, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” (Another thing to keep in mind is that the definition of “education” has changed; for Plato education was training in the skills of being human, not simply acquisition of facts. Or as Socrates puts it, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”; in William Butler Yeats version, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.) Apropos lighting a fire, here is an interesting article from a psychologist on education:


  2. I recently prepared an AP syllabus (it looks like my school will have an unusually advanced, but small group, of AP Chinese students). Those at my school are highly motivated students who speak in Chinese throughout class, trust me & each other, and throw themselves into everything — and enjoy playing with the language, too. 3 non-native speakers, 1 heritage speaker.

    Annick Chen & I met & consulted about creating a syllabus. She looks likely to teach an AP class for the first time next year, too. I’d appreciate hearing from others who have already taught AP level, esp. if I’m missing anything here. The Chinese test has always been about communication (but at a higher level than students can reach in 4-5 years, unless a summer of immersion happens in the midst or they’re a heritage language student). It is also typed (not handwritten like I think the IB test is): HUGE difference for Chinese.

    The Chinese AP involves story writing based on 4 sequential pictures; responding orally to conversational prompts they hear; responding in writing to a friend’s email; seeing a sign & predicting where it’d be/what it’s for; and responding to an English question about some aspect of Chinese culture, which they speak about in Chinese. Heavy on cultural knowledge (including more surface things like which holidays have which foods, but also deeper values). My students have these abilities but with less academic style & less vocabulary. They are also used to CI, and the AP is going to present them with a lot more unknowns.

    I’m planning a combination of things:
    – Summer reading: their choice of one English book on Chinese culture/history, and 2 short Chinese books for enjoyable reading;
    – During the school year: regular time for independent, lighter reading (they chose one book we’ll all read & discuss occasionally as a group) — developing reading speed & comfort, & seeing story language;
    – Culturally-related, short readings that’ll need more instructional time to hit some of those specifics about culture & specialized vocab related to it;
    – Some test format prep so they’re familiar with how it feels (time length, tasks to do);
    – Some test strategy — mostly, how to cope with unknown language, find enough to give a decent response;
    – Some tools for writing: ex, providing a list with more academic-sounding words for making their story writing & cultural oral presentation more polished.
    – Story creating & conversation will continue, hopefully picking up some more vocabulary through it & keeping some fun in the mix.

  3. ” Heavy on cultural knowledge (including more surface things like which holidays have which foods, but also deeper values). ”

    That sucks. Maybe I need to stick to ESL.

      1. Yes, too much culture, and some of it I feel isn’t as universally Chinese as the test creators would like it to be, perhaps. However, these are kids who are about as into the language & the culture as I am. I wouldn’t consider doing an AP class if they weren’t likely to enjoy (at least some of) that side of it. From what you’ve described about content-based instruction, Claire, I think it’ll be somewhat like a content-based class instead of TPRS.

        I haven’t heard that Spanish, French, German AP tests are this heavy on culture, but maybe I just missed that info. I’m curious if anyone knows.

        1. “…isn’t as universally Chinese as the test creators would like it to be”


          How do you reduce “culture” -any culture- but especially one as ancient and rich-and as foreign to us in the Occident as Chinese culture? How? I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, but how?

          It’s so strange to me. In fact, it’s kind of a let-down to go from helping kids in ESL maintain their heritage L1 cultures and deal with how complicated biculturalism is for them, and how truly challenging cultural assimilation can be on families. To go from real-deal multicultralism to teaching crepes and barrets…it sucks.

          I’m not even a “real” French teacher, I just took a French Praxis, so I’m probably not qualified to teach culture. I’ve spent little time in France, but several summers over the years in Quebec and then I studied Arabic in Tunisia, which happens to be French-speaking. But that’s not technically “French” culture.

          And by the way, exaltation of French culture at the expense of former colonies that have traditionally been oppressed by France imposing it’s “superior” culture..is that something I want to participate in? Tunisians –whose Quartet is the current Nobel Peace Prize winner and who are on the front lines in a war against ISIS and for democracy in the Middle East– they’re on the forgotten content, so they will never be on the AP “French” culture test…so I should just stick to crepes.

          I know it sounds too moralistic and way too intense (I’m always too intense), but I hate teaching “French” culture. This is why I’m a terrible French teacher and I’m lucky I don’t teach past French III. I’m actually not a bad ESL teacher, though, so I don’t feel so bad.

  4. Steven Ordiano

    My former “master teacher” prepares her kids in AP in this way.

    She starts with about 30 students.

    She has them present an article in class every Friday with questions and summary of the article. The article must address the four(five?) themes of the AP exam.

    Whenever someone has a question of “what does ___ mean” she gives the def. and makes them write it down.

    She also has them watch the news online with subtitles. They summarize on a paper. Then with a pop quiz on Mondays about anything on the news.

    The rest of the curriculum is: 2 practice AP exams (usually Saturday), a video presentation, reading short stories, comprehensive review of grammar, skits and Genera discussion. To ease the students she makes them do a music project on an artist.

    She ends with about 10-14 students in the class because the rest have dropped the class. About 8-10 of those students will take the AP.

    About 5-7 will pass the exam.

    1. Steven Ordiano

      The sad thing is that she has an amazing talent to connect with kids. Then it becomes a hard goodbye as students feel that it is too much work then drop the class.

      1. So when they drop, they feel it’s a problem with them, not her unreasonable expectations. (But of course, she uses the test to justify her use of unreasonable expectations, no doubt.)

        How tragic.

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