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Sometimes as teachers we find that no matter how much we may have planned, we have to throw it out the window and improvise according to the situation at hand.

Normally I pace my instruction for Advanced Placement government to finish all the material about two weeks before the AP exam, and then have the students do semi-guided reviews for two weeks.   For several reasons, that is not the case this year.  For one thing, rather than being the test on the first morning of the several weeks of AP testing, this year we are on the morning of the 2nd week, May 15.  Several of my students will be taking other AP exams earlier, which will (a) have them out of classes, and (b) interrupt the continuity of preparation.

Of greater importance, this year's students came in with far less background, and have struggled far more with some concepts than any previous year.

I had already implemented a change I made in the middle of last year.  Instead of curving multiple choice tests (because the score on the AP exam is itself curved around the median), I would let students look up and  correct their mistakes for partial credit to raise their grades.   That is helping them correctas well their mistaken understanding.  They had to explain for each correction why it was correct and their previous answer was not, citing the specific material in the book.  Last year it seemed to help a lot.

Yet there still were not learning how to learn it correctly in the first place.

So this week I did something different.  Before we began to review I wanted them to see where they had strengths and weaknesses across the entire range of material.

I gave them all the multiple choice questions of the 2009 released exam, BEFORE we did any review.  This was not for a grade, but to establish a baseline.    They could then by category find out where they were weakest, in order to focus their own review on that material.

The results were actually interesting.   Let me explain.

The AP test has 120 raw points available.   60 come from the 60 multiple choice questions, 60 from 5he 4 Free Response Questions.   For the test they took, I not only provided the answers and the categories of the questions, but also the data from the College Board on how the students who scored in a similar range performed overall on that examination -  that is, the percentage of scores with, say, 41-50 questions correct, who got each of the five possible scores, from a high of 5 to a low of 1.

In general, because the AP exam determines a median score of examinees on that examination then centers the distribution of scores around that, with about 55% of test takers obtaining scores of the passing level of 3 or higher, one is hoping that students will on the actual exam score at least 30/60 on the multiple choice.  In fact, my target is for them to score 45/60, which is the middle of the 4 range, in order to provide some wiggle room in case they do not know enough on one or more of the five Free Response Questions, where they have to provide the information, unlike multiple choice questions which can be answered by process of elimination.

Let me see if I can illustrate process of elimination.  There was one multiple choice question about what interest groups do NOT do.  My students had done a mini-project on interest groups.  Thus they knew that they (a) lobby, (b) testify, (c) sue government agencies, (d) try to persuade the public.  Thus even if they did not know what franking is (the ability of Congress to send mail to constituents without paying postage) that was the only answer left.  Only a few of my students missed that question, even though many did not know or recall what franking is.

Let's say the results were pleasantly surprising.  Only a handful of my student scored less than 31, with the vast majority scoring 40 or above.   Remember, we have not yet had an overall review of content.  Now I will not do such an overall review.  The students know their individual strengths and weaknesses, and can use the various materials and sources I am providing them to more narrowly focus their own review efforts, and I can focus instead on a few topics where a larger number of students struggled.  I can also spend more time working with them on how to properly prepare for the writing of free response questions.

Some of you may ask if I am teaching to the test.  I am not.  I do not know what specific questions will be asked, so I cannot.  But the AP exam is an important target for several reasons.  For my students, it can determine whether or not they get college credit for the course, which most would like.  It is also, for them, a measure of how well they do.  

It is, for better or worse, in part how others will evaluate how effectively I have taught.  It is not my measure.   If my students tell me on the afternoon of May 165h when I will see some or the following day when I see them all that they felt prepared and comfortable, then i have served them properly.

I am preparing them for how to take the test, which has stakes for them of medium weight.  I think that is appropriate.

I am using material from released test as a means of them determining for themselves where they need to focus, in some cases going back and relearning, and in a very few cases my going back and reinstructing some material.

The AP exam scores will not come back until during the summer break. They will have no effect on the grades my students will receive.

They will do the multiple choice questions of one more released exam, on the clock, for a grade for me which will NOT be as a percentage of the questions they got right, but as a scaled score.  That will have a modest impact on their grade for this final quarter.

Instead, almost half of their grade will come from two assignments.  One is a final "fun" project which cannot be an essay. They must do at least four hours of work, and show me that they learned something.  Yesterday I had out exemplars from previous years for them to explore, including videos, raps, mobiles, posters, games, etc.  I describe some others.  It is an assignment on which extra credit is possible, in recognition of the fact that many students go well beyond the four hour requirement.  It gives those students for whom tests are difficult, for whom written expression is not their strong suit, a chance to work in a domain in which they feel comfortable and demonstrate some learning of the material.

They also have a final -  two out of three paragraph-length response and one out of two essay-length responses.  This is take-home, open-book, open-notes, and un-timed.  It must be handwritten and I will spot check the contents for plagiarism (for which there is obviously no need).   This will demonstrate the ability to take the material they have been learning and make an argument, supporting that argument with facts from the course and related material.

This year those projects (optional for seniors, since they leave us in mid-May), will be due on Friday June 1.  I will stay at school until 7 PM that evening, grading those that are too bulky to easily take home, and absolutely enjoying myself, as I will over the weekend with those I can pack up and take home to read/watch/explore/pay (remember, some do games).  It is one of the two weekends I most enjoy.  The first is when I get to read the personal political profiles they develop, where they explore their political efficacy, their party orientation, their political tolerance, their ideology, etc.  

I may yet be teaching next year:  on Tuesday I am doing a demonstration lesson for a school that is very different than where I currently teach, and for which I have a great deal of respect.  Several key people there are either those with whom I have previously worked in public schools in my district, or in one case the father of three students I have taught in AP Government.  

But this is likely the very last time I will teach AP US Government and Politics.

Knowing I am leaving, I am now beginning to sort through what I will keep and bring home, and what I will either let other teachers have, or dispose of.   I have been back at my school now for ten years, in my current room for 6.  The task of sorting through is bittersweet, as one might imagine.

And yet ...  yesterday morning, as I was putting out projects from previous years, I was remembering students from the past.  It was a rush of memories,.

One project in particular stood out.  It is full of misspellings, but I don't care.  You see, Lorena arrived in the US August 1 with no English.  She got a crash 3 weeks from her family, and somehow did NOT get placed into an English as a Second Language class, but into one of mine, with little English, and no prior knowledge of US History or government.  That project was, given who she was, a magnificent achievement.  

This is the time  when I reflect on the school year.  I can look back at some of the events and exercises we did with satisfaction, but I can also see where I could have done things to better serve my students.  I can always see such things, but I don't obsess.  

I am in the process of letting go -  of the school year, of this group of students.  I am preparing to say goodbye to my school community, a place I have been for 13 of the past 14 years.  It is possible I may also be saying goodbye to being a classroom teacher.

It is a Saturday morning.  As is true of most Saturdays between mid-August and early June, I am reflecting on being a teacher.

Perhaps these words serve only to help me with that process.

Perhaps that will speak toi a few others who might encounter them.

I have been a teacher since 1995.  That is, I have been a public school classroom teacher.

I think, perhaps even before I knew it, I was a teacher.

And if this should be my last year as a public school classroom teacher, or a classroom teacher of any kind, I will still be a teacher, because my role, my function, is to challenge and provoke others, to work with them in learning more, becoming more skilled, understanding more deeply.

On this day many years ago the ashes of two men were sent into space.  One, Timothy Leary, used drugs to try to expand human consciousness.  The other, Gene Rodenberry, created a television show that in many ways challenged our notion of what it meant to be human.  The mission  of the Starship Enterprise was to boldly go where no man has gone before.  Because each student who passes through my care is unique, and each should have the opportunity to develop that uniqueness, in some ways that line from Rodenberry also describes my life as a teacher.  It is what I experience with my students in the process of learning with them.  

It is also how I live most of my life.  At least now, after 17 years being paid for doing something I love, learning and sharing learning with others.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 05:25 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 05:25:42 AM PDT

  •  I can relate. (5+ / 0-)

    When I was sorting through things at my last school, I came upon those little reminders.  There were the homemade Thank You cards, odd assignments that I'd kept for whatever reason, and enough "teacher" coffee mugs to supply a small army.  Each thing had a small face attached to it in my mind.

    Last night, I was at a wedding rehearsal for a former student.  Several of her classmates are involved in the wedding today, and there was one girl I had not seen since she was in 7th grade - at least ten years.  Sometimes I feel old when I play for their weddings, but last night was just cool, with lots of hugs and memories.

    Whatever comes next, you will make a success of it, I'm sure.  You are a born teacher and will continue to help people learn and understand no matter what.  Peace and blessings to you, tk!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 05:50:18 AM PDT

  •  Speaking of reflecting, teacherken, I can hardly (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    wait to read your diaries in about 6 months to a year from now, after you've had a chance to reflect on the experience of working in the public school system, which is different from the experience of teaching. I think the latter will remain, for you, sublime, but what about the former?

    As you may recall, my husband started his 38-year high-school teaching career right out of college. Now, at age 71, he enjoys having former students as old as 66 who are still in touch with him. But, I think a lot has changed in public school systems since he retired in 2002. I would like to hear from you how it is in 2012, and what you would change.

    Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

    by RJDixon74135 on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 06:20:00 AM PDT

    •  am going to disagree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ree Zen

      while there are issues about working in the public school setting, until recently I had been able to carve out enough space to be able to teach with what I consider to be integrity.  It is in part because I am no longer sure that I can that I have decided to take the buyout from the school system.

      For some more of my thoughts, might I point you at this post at Learning Matters?

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 06:25:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmmm, I don't see any disagreement (0+ / 0-)

        Snipped from your post at Learning Matters:

        Friends, it’s worse today. Our voices are not valued, our insights and experience are dismissed, and our ability to teach is increasingly restricted by testing and paperwork.

        Teachers need to be able to meet the needs of their individual students. Instead, we are now expected to adhere to rigid ‘pacing guides’ and stay on a fixed ‘cover the curriculum’ schedule.

        This may have been coming to my DH's school, but it was certainly not there yet. He had a lot of freedom and virtually no interference from the district.

        I hope to see you become even more vocal and more explicit about this problem in the months to come. Progresssives could use a lobbyist on these issues.

        Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

        by RJDixon74135 on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 07:41:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I love being a teacher. I am a fourth generation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    teacher with my great grandmother with a short career, both grandparents on my mom's side, several aunts, my mom, sister, wife, her brother and sisters, and cousins, and into the next generation being teachers. I am sad that my sons have not done so, but I think in their future both might teach.

    That being said, everyone of these people talked about the challenges to teachers. Most of it had to do with the lack of respect from xx, and xx changed over time. My mother was dead set against me being a teacher, and she had 3 of my favorite high school teachers write me letters to convince me not to go into the profession. My dad even offered to pay for some college classes if I changed my major.

    Even after all of that, I planned to teach for a short while then go to law school. However, I love teaching. :)

    Let me also say that I don't have pacing guides. My administration rarely demands that I teach to pacing guides or for a purpose outside of my students. I am lucky. It is one of the reasons I have never left the tiny rural school I have been at for 25 years. (We have 875 students k-12) I also get to teach 4 or 5 classes a year, so I see most of our students. I get the lowest ability students in my beginning writing and communication classes. I get the highest ability students in my College classes.

     Teacherken, I hope our professional gets you back. Too many good teachers leave. I have been fighting with the administration more this year. I have been frustrated and argued with some of their choices. For my efforts to speak for kids, I was reprimanded severely. It took me a couple of weeks to recover, but I can't see any other way to act.

    During my career, I have thought of doing other things. I was even recruited by a business once. I served in the Iowa legislature. Through it all, I knew that I was a teacher. As I look at early retirement in 3 years, I wonder  what I will do.

    No matter what happens, I know that I will always be a teacher, and that I love being a teacher.

    Teacherken, thanks for the wonderful diary. It reminds me of all the students who still remember me. Facebook has allowed me to watch them grow as not only students but parents facing the same difficulties that they put their parents through a generation ago.

  •  Never let a good mistake go to waste. Having (4+ / 0-)

    your kids look up the answers to the questions they missed shows them that learning is not just about the test. It's about finding our more and more as you go along. Great idea!

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 09:03:19 AM PDT

    •  Do you think teaching will become this? Standards (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      education is coming to Iowa. If it comes, I can see my job is going to be a facilitator of information to get students to be able to do the skills necessary to pass the standards.

      It would be a huge change to education, but I think the AP framework shows that it works.

      •  I can't address the issue of (0+ / 0-)

        standards education, but it sounds similar to the objective oriented model that was used when I taught remedial classes for the Army. I'm just a housewife now who homeschooled one of her two kids. I did like teacherken's idea of having the kids correct their errors. I used to do that with my kids. When they'd get upset over missing something I'd say, "Never let a good mistake go to waste!"
        I'd have them find out what they'd done wrong. In my son's case, since I homeschooled him, sometimes we'd take issue with an answer, and we'd make our own. I just think all of life is a learning experience and that experience doesn't end when you put down an answer on a test.

        "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

        by Lily O Lady on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 09:28:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  have told my students a story on myself (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          during the music history comprehensive exam I took as a music major at Haverford in 1973, where the professor made her divide between two periods of history did not make sense to me.  So I moved it, explained why, explained why then none of the possible questions she offered for us to choose from and then answer now made sense, so made up my own questions for those two periods and answered them.

          There were five questions totally.

          I got a 98.

          I did not lose points on either of those two.

          However, I point out that I knew the professor, she knew my work and knowledge, and even should she give me 0 for those two questions the only impact it would have had on me was the difference as to what level of honors I would earn in my department.  Not advisable to do that on exams externally designed by people who not know you.

          "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

          by teacherken on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 09:35:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Standards have been used in Pony Club for (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        many years. US Pony Club was modeled on a program in England.  

        The Standards of Proficiency are a sequential curriculum of both book/practical knowledge, and actual skills riding a horse.  There are 3 beginner levels 3 intermediate levels and 2 advanced levels, and now the addition of some specialty standards for specific disciplines eg. dressage, jumping.  

        Pony Club is designed to be an educational organization and meetings are to have an educational focus.  The instructors are told to "teach to the Standard."  Children move through the standards at their own pace, regardless of age.  They also volunteer for when they think they are ready for the standards assessment, although the instructors help guide them with feedback so they know if they are ready.  

        The actual assessments require 100% pass for every area on the exam, with a rating of Meets or Exceeds the Standard.  They can re-test within 2 weeks if they fail is specified number of sections or less.  Otherwise they have to wait at least a couple of months and get the recommendation of their instructors that they are ready.  The assessments are conducted by an instructor who has not been the one teaching the children, to help make the evaluation more objective.  

        There is a lot in this system that could be used in schools.  I like the notion of badges as used in Scouting too, and Pony Club recently added badges so kids could earn something when they were between levels on the Standards.

        I also see as a speech-language pathologist that I teach children all the time using authentic assessment, no grades, no restrictions on whether I could do something along the lines of the author's use of "old tests" to get baselines etc.  In fact, getting a baseline is pretty much required/standard procedure in therapy.  You baseline where the client is now, without cueing, or even baseline what they can do with different degrees of cueing.  Say they only need min cues for one thing but max cues for another.  On the latter, if they progress to min cues, that's progress.  The emphasis is on learning and facilitating progress, not grades or scores on tests.  Personally I think grades should be eliminated at least until high school.  And there is such misuse--I've seen situations where teaching is basically done by worksheet in the lower grades and every worksheet is graded.  So teaching comes to be basically testing the child all day with a few moments of explanation or some projects thrown in every now and then.  It makes no sense to me to grade every single effort of a 6 year old on reading and writing or math.  Feedback, yes.  Grades, no.  

        Which gets to one of the fundamental problems with typical schooling, which is use of grades instead of measures of progress towards something like Standards.  

  •  AP courses demand teaching to the test, but the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    test is a good test. Unlike other standardized tests, it is not a gotcha test, but one that is rigorous based on agreed to content.

    When I teach the AP English classes, we work hard on multiple choice and vocabulary. Unlike your description of the free response for economics, my students strengths are in the essays. We have two incredible writing teachers who teach our students so much before they get to me. I just have to teach them to think through their responses.

    It would be interesting if we could get other assessments to be as good as the AP Test.

    •  not always such a good test (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boji, annetteboardman

      in the 2009 AP Govt test there were 3 pairs of questions out of a total of 60 MC questions that were all practical purposes duplicates of one another within the pair.

      There are still questions poorly worded.

      There was one question that had no correct answer, because factually Brown v Board did NOT overturn Plessy, even as Warren's opinion makes clear the unanimous justices felt the idea of separate but equal needed to go -  no where does it say Plessy is reversed, and bases the decision on the idea that since schools segregated by race were inherently unequal they were unconstitutional even under the Plessy standard.

      Half the test is four free response questions.  These are not essays, and in fact students who take time to properly structure their answers as essay, with topic sentences/introducions and conclusion, are quite probably hurting themselves, since they get no credit for doing so. And again, I am NOT teaching to the test, since I do not know the specific content on any exam.  I am teaching how to take the test.  I want to be sure my students are comfortable with the structure and what is expected.  I use released things moth as a means of assessing where they may need assistance in content and to make the familiar with the structure and what it takes to succeed on the test.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 09:31:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are being more precise then me on testing. I (0+ / 0-)

        agree that I teach how to take the test.

        The "essay" format was also poorly worded. One of the things I have to teach is not to have a specific organizational structure like a five paragraph paper.

        The specifics on Plessy are really good. Plessy wouldn't be overturned for transportation for years. Also, the Plessy decision specifically quoted Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Explosion Address" to justify "separate but equal."

        The history of the 1950s is amazing, and few today understand the landmark nature of the changes.

  •  So, Ken, how does this skill you have taught them (0+ / 0-)

    on how to take an AP test help them in later life?

    Some of my first year students are looking for holes in the rubric so they can shade their grades a point or two.   Learning doesn't really seem part of their equation.  You say you are not teaching to a test, but you are teaching test strategy.

    The Muslim said "I wished I had met Christ before I met the Christians" - Rev. Marvin Winins

    by captainlaser on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 05:53:13 PM PDT

    •  not really - (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I am teaching how the test is graded.  

      And I am teaching them as well that for whatever tests or other measurements to which they will be subjected in the future, if you care about your result then it is worth your while to understand how a test/evaluation is graded and then decide if you want to alter your behavior.

      It's there choice.

      And trust me, they have independently learned (a) a hell of a lot about government & politics;  and (b) how to form and support an argument.

      They also learn to read with more care.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 08:52:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unfortunately, my student who I have been arguing (0+ / 0-)

        with all evening about accepting a week post-due assignment probably is studying for law school.  

        The Muslim said "I wished I had met Christ before I met the Christians" - Rev. Marvin Winins

        by captainlaser on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 08:55:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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