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July 08, 2014


Oh man, I wish we could get together this summer and talk. I am in a bad place in my mind with the AP Lit test right now, after a few years of pretty good experiences with AP Lang.

First of all, our junior class rocked the Lang test this year, as yours did. I had about half those kids while Lucinda was out, and had taught most of them before, so I am in a pretty good position to say that they got the scores they were capable of. The seniors in Lit, however, tanked. Now this is partly because we skim off about 35% of the Lang students to take a post-AP course (assuming they want to--they also have the option of taking the Lit course, even though there is virtually no way to use BOTH the Lang and Lit scores in college), so what's left are the less motivated/less skilled Lang students and those who didn't take Lang as juniors.

BUT. The kids I thought were capable of 5s got 3s or 4s. The kids I thought were capable of 4s got 3s. And the kids I thought were capable of 3s got 2s. I don't know if it's me, them, or the test itself, but I am feeling pretty down on the whole enterprise right now.

And I hate that stupid symbol question, too, and those reductive ways of teaching English literature.

Apparently I'm too cranky to respond in a thoughtful way to your thoughtful post. I'm just grousing. I do feel privileged, as you do, to get to focus on literary acumen in an environment where no one gets put upside down in a trashcan, or worse. And I should also add that I value our open-door policy on AP classes for seniors and don't expect to catch any real blowback myself for their mediocre scores. Still. Humph. I hope your cold goes away soon.

AAAAAAAAAACK! I can't even finish reading this post because I'm getting flashbacks to middle- and high- school English. Everything was @#$@#ing symbolism. For 7 years, @$@#ing symbolism in every single class (and elements of a short story, every single year). And in high school it was always a symbol for sex or death because nobody ever talks about anything else in literature. Ever. (I even had a teacher say that. All literature is about sex or death. No feminist theorists in my educational background! Though junior year I did get kicked out of a deconstructionist's class for saying that words do have meaning and put in a linguist's class instead. The linguist's class was interesting.)

When I took the AP exam I was like, wow, there's all these (literary theory/criticism) words I don't even *know* ... somehow I managed to get a 4 by mostly educated guessing.

I hated HS English, and I think a big part was that we spent a ton of time looking for here a symbol, there a symbol, without ever (as I realized later) talking about what a symbol IS and how it works culturally, and so forth. Just that would have helped me hate it less.

And thank dog for feminist analyses, because that, along with cultural crit, Marxism, etc made lit so much more fun for me later.

p.s. I'm sure that green light was either death or the "little death" because, to quote the same guy whose name I can't even remember, what is sex, but the little death?

Come to think of it, I was in his class (sophomore year) because I got kicked out of yet another English teacher's class earlier that semester... another white guy who believed that you shouldn't know anything about the authors and just judge works without context--I believe works need historical and cultural context to be truly understood.

Well, you're both making me feel better about not teaching more to the test. :-) And probably shoring up WN?'s resolve to teach the way she teaches--not that there is really another option.

I should say that some of the free-choice essay questions (there are three essay types on the exam: poetry analysis, prose analysis, and the free-choice one where a large broad question is asked and you answer it by discussing one book "of recognized literary merit" you know well) are really quite good, for this kind of thing. The 2004 test gave students a sentence from Roland Barthes: "Literature is the question minus the answer." They had to discuss a single work in terms of a Big Question it asks. I have to say this was a great challenge for them and a touchstone of our work during the year--the idea that a work of art explores a question without providing an answer.
Here's that year's essay section, in case you're interested: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap04_frq_english_lit_36149.pdf

re reductionism in literary analysis. My daughter, a STEM student to her core, was asked on a middle school English class test why the main character's eyes in The Giver were blue (unlike most of the other characters)? Her entire answer: Genetics.

Ah, the "Symbol scavenger hunt" approach. All you need to do is hunt for symbols and then wave them in their in triumph--literary analysis complete. I knew a teacher once who had students memorize a table of what colors ALWAYS symbolized in literature, and then those students were shocked when it didn't always work. Literary analysis=difficult to accomplish by formula, unfortunately!

Knowing where you were I"m wondering who the local author is....

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Who is this What Now?

  • I'm an English teacher at Fabulous Girls' School (FGS). I've recently converted to Judaism. I am partner to D. We live in an adorable, messy little house in Adventure City. Two cats -- the Muse and the Contemplative -- live with us and keep life at home plenty adventurous.

    Email me at whatnowblogger at yahoo dot com.

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