I am not mean very often, but last week I was mean. Okay, not mean exactly, but certainly snarky.
I friend asked me about my AP scores. Innocent question. Struck a nerve.
I’ve written about AP English and AP test scores in the past, and I imagine as long as I teach AP English Language and Composition, I will continue to do so. I really do not mean to be snarky, but the more I talk with kids about their reading lives, the more I keep hoping more and more teachers Aim Higher — not just in AP classes, but in all English classes.
In the signature line of my school email, I include this quote by Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”
I like that it helps me focus on what matters in my practice: Teaching beyond a test. Always teaching beyond a test.
So what does this look like in my practice? Mostly, it looks like helping readers find their way back to a love of reading. After all, the best readers are usually the best writers, and the best readers and writers are usually the best test takers.
When Jessica asked me about my test scores last week, I know she was just working on building a case for choice books on her campus, a case for a workshop pedagogy. And while my scores did improve 50% the first year I moved to readers-writers workshop, no testing data captures the learning that happens in my classroom. No data shows an accurate picture of my students’ growth as readers and writers.
See for yourself:
For our midterm last week, my students wrote self-evaluations of their reading lives. Their words are much more valuable than mine when it comes to adding weight to the debate for time to read and choice of books in all English classes.
Leslie is a talker. She speaks with a beautiful Spanish accent and loves to use the new
vocabulary words she’s studying. I often have to hush her table because these girls like to talk about what they are reading during reading time. The fuss over Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is on-going. They LOVE that book! Leslie writes:
“My reading goal for next nine weeks is seven books, I want to reach my reading goal and I will make it happen by reading more and do it because I enjoy it not just because I have to do it. I can gladly say that I love reading now, back then I used to be allergic to books and never touch them to read the beautiful stories that they have inside their covers. After I become the perfect reader I intend to become the perfect writer.”
Giselle’s list of books she’s read so far this year reads like a spine poem. When she writes about whole class novels, she means our book club titles. I use book clubs to push many students into reading more complex books.
Lissbeth has been in the U.S. for three years. She titled her post “No Excuses for Not Reading.” My favorite line: “One of the things that I have learn thanks to my English teachers, is that reading is not just something you do for entertainment, it can also become a lifestyle.” Of course!
Already a reader when she entered my class, Audrey explains her reading experience since last August:
“I have learned some about myself as a reader. I’ve learned that I like to stay in my reading comfort zone, but with a little nudge I’m able to read other genres and enjoy it. I’ve learned that I’m always growing as a reader. My reading rate can always improve. My vocabulary can always improve. As a reader I know that with due time, and with a lot of reading and determination, I can read ANYTHING!” [Note: If you read Audrey’s full post, when she mentions me giving the class a list, she’s referring to our book club choices. I do not have a list of all the books in my classroom library.]
Some students are in my block class, so I’ve only had them since mid January.
Cheyenne, who has read 14 books since the beginning of the semester, feels pretty strongly
about the whole class novel. She writes: “I definitely have a deep dislike for class novels. This has more to do with the fact that I hate being forced to read certain books by certain deadlines, for me, it defeats the thrill, if you will, of reading the book in the first place.”
“This year was the first time since middle school that I have been excited to read in class, and that was because we weren’t assigned a class book to read and we got to choose a book we wanted to read,” Rachel writes.
If you don’t believe some students lose a love of reading because of school, ask them. Ask them questions about what happened. Every kid I know was once an excited reader. Few are when they get to me in 11th grade.
Reghan confirms this in her post. She writes:
“From elementary school through middle school, I read every kind of book, big or small. From nonfiction books about the unsinkable, sunken ship: the Titanic, to fantasy books about alternate universes and dystopian societies, I was a reader.
“Until my freshman year of high school.
“Ninth grade wasn’t easy for me. A lot went on that year with my family and personal life, causing me to be unfocused on school, my grades, and reading…and my transcript made that very obvious. I don’t think I read even one book in that entire year, summer included. This carried into my sophomore year, as well as part of my Junior year too. Zero books read, many to go.
“Being in AP English this semester and having to work hard to stay afloat has helped me tremendously and it wouldn’t be possible without my teachers . . . I’ve read four books this nine weeks including: Paper Towns by John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and I’m on my fifth: Columbine by Dave Cullen. That’s more than I’ve read in the last three years, combined. I’ve been introduced to books that I’ve never heard of and books that I never would’ve picked on my own. In fact, thanks to our assigned book clubs, I now have a new favorite book which is the aforementioned, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
” I credit Mrs. Rasmussen with my progress because of her belief that we as students are more likely to read if we’re choosing books that we want, not that our chosen for us. In my experience, any book that has been chosen for me by a teacher, has been uninteresting and/or hard to finish. Being able to choose has only helped me and there’s proof in the numbers. Not only has this freedom improved my desire to read, but it has showed me who I am and what I like as a reader.”
And then there’s Ciara, who wrote “The Oprah Winfrey (with a little twist) Show.” Here’s a reader I am still working on, but oh, her writing voice. And her taste in TV shows! (We’ve bonded lately over quite a few.)
So in a post with AP test scores in the title, I give you a post about what students have to say about their reading lives.
That’s gonna be my answer every single time.
I happen to be assigned to teach AP English Language and Comp, but what I teach is how to love reading to students who miss it. Most of them miss it.
What are you doing about it?
Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She also facilitates professional development for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.
Tagged: AP English, Ap English exam, Book Clubs, choice reading, students testimonials, teaching books vs teaching readers
I love this so much!
I really appreciate how you included examples of your students in this article. It proves that you are inspired by more than yourself. This article inspired me to do better. Thank you.
[…] Brene Brown says, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” Despite the pushes for test scores, data, and measurable growth, we teach souls every single day. Those stories need to be […]
Yes, I have a list of questions — I change them up every now and then, but the idea is to get students thinking about their identity as readers. If you’d like to see my slides, shoot me an email, and I’ll share it with you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Amen, Amy! I love how you are shepherding students back to reading–even in AP courses. Keep up the strong work! I teach kids how to love reading too.
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Lee Ann, can I just say how glad I am to see your comment. I love being on the same #teamreader with you!
Last fall I was in attendance when Kevin Coval addressed participants at the Creative Writing Festival at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I took notes as so many of the things he said resonated with me. What stuck with me the most is this: “We have to build our own canon” — the “we” being each of us as individuals. He spoke of how he found his passion, not just for reading, but for life, once he started exploring those texts that spoke to him–not the one prescribed to him. I put his quote on a Post-It and stuck it to my laptop. It has guided my approach in the classroom ever since.
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Ooh, Amy, I love this so! Yes! to building our own canon — and helping students build their own, too. I wrote this quote on a sticky, too. Will remember it always! Thank you for sharing.
I’m curious as to what questions you asked to get them to reflect so articulately about their experiences as readers. Did you conduct a survey? Or a reflection activity? Love your kids’ responses.
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Kylene Beers tweeted this morning:
“One more test on one more day won’t help one more kid read one more book. Reading one more book will. #DisruptingThinking”
Thanks for this post, Amy. So many thoughts swirling about this topic, but here is one:
We’ve got to redefine what we are calling “success” in education. We can’t continue to allow success to be defined as an exam score: STAAR, SAT, ACT, AP, etc. A testing event, like any one of those listed, doesn’t tell us nearly enough about whether a student will be successful in college, career, and community leadership. Success is much more than that.
So, how do we define success in the ELAR classroom? What results are we looking for?
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Hey, Billy, a post about how we define success might be just the topic for the guest post you’re thinking of writing for me. 🙂
I loved the Twitter exchange btw!