Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Big Day is Finally Here

Now Can be a Time for All of Us to Learn!

OK my friends, here is a new one for you...I am speechless. Some of us started in August on this quest to impart the mysteries of US Government on unsuspecting high school students. Others had to unfortunately start in January with the same, but more daunting task. Now is the time that we will find out just how well we did. Monday at 8am the games begin.

Frankly, as I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop downing shots of espresso and typing this, I am nervous. What are those pesky Free Response Questions going to cover this year, and did I do an adequate job of coverage in class on those topics? Will the Exam resemble the practice questions I drilled the kids with? Are there impossible to read charts and graphs this year on the multiple choice portion? Are the political cartoons so obscure that the artists weren't sure of their meaning? What esoteric Court case will pop up and baffle the masses? These and more questions race through my head. But in the end, we are finished and now it is up to the will they do?

The next time I see the kids, I will do a couple of activities that will give me some insight on how they did on the exam and how I did as a teacher. First, we will discuss the multiple choice test. What were the difficult questions can they remember? How many questions did they leave blank? Were there political cartoons and what were they about? Were there graphs and charts and what were their topics? These are all debriefing questions I will go over with the kids in an attempt to ascertain just how well they think they did. The big question for some is, "did you finish on time?"

Second, we will look at the Free Response Questions( you should be able to get the booklets from the test administrators 24 hours following the exam). With these we will first figure out how many points each question is worth. This means giving each question pretty intense scrutiny.

Second, I will give examples of answers that I feel will be on the AP Readers Rubric and then ask the kids to self grade themselves. We will actually do this as a class in a discussion setting.

Finally, I will ask the kids if they felt I prepared them well for the questions. This last part can be brutal. I demand the kids be honest... and they are!!!

I have done this activity for 12 years and explain to the kids that their honesty makes me a better teacher for the future years. Over the years I find I have to apologize for less and less, but even now I sometimes just don't give the coverage on a topic that I need to give. I also ask the kids how they could have learned hard topics better. Would a project on Federalism helped? Would a cooperative learning activity on Civil Rights better ingrained the ideas and facts? If you can take the blunt truth, the kids will hone you into a better teacher and give you insight into what you did well, and what you can do better in the next year.

The truth can be painful...but our goal is to always be better teachers and meet the needs of the kids in front of us. I have been doing AP long enough to be able to say that a decade ago my students seemed to be more interested, better readers, better writers, and maintain a higher level of motivation. But frankly, that doesn't matter. My current students are great kids, just as bright, but in need of different types of teaching styles and different levels of teacher involvement. I need their input to improve my craft and help make them as successful as my past students were. Now is the time for that input. I hope you will take advantage of the last few days of having your students and learn from them how to become the teacher they need.

Next week I will have a chat on my class discussions following the Exam, and on this year's exam questions. Until then...

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