Skill Building through Real World Relevance in an AP Classroom

Student: Why are you going to India for Ms. Bond?

Me: For a conference on how to be a better teacher and person (my typical response).

Student: Is it for AP? (She is one of my go-getter AP students)

Me: Not specifically. 

Student: Did you have to go to a conference for our class?

Me: Yup. I did AP training last summer. 

Student: So what…do they like give you everything to teach us?

Me: *Laughter* No, no. They gave me some resources and a framework…but I have to develop the course—I need to decide what we will do every day. 

Student: Whoa. That is a lot of responsibility.

Me: You’re right, it is. 

Student: How do you know if you are doing a good job? (I love her questions)

Me: *Nervous laughter* I don’t—I guess we will find out on May 8th (AP Exam).

Student: You got this, Ms. Bond. (Ahhh, their neverending faith…it keeps me going)

Truth #1: Teaching a class for the first time is daunting—especially when it is a class where students are depending on it for college credit. 

AP Language and Composition is fast-paced; it is demanding. And the exam at the end is high stakes. It requires students to demonstrate a variety of skills within a very short time frame.

I am always very aware of this exam—it lurks in the shadows of everything that I do. But we know that teaching to an exam is not good practice. We aren’t teaching students how to take a test, we are teaching them life skills that will just so happen to help them be successful on that AP exam.

It is about shifting the mentality.

So instead of doing timed write after timed write (how boring), I look for small wins; I look for ways to increase their skill development little by little. Chipping away by engaging in authentic real-world examples.

And what was a recent and popular real-world example? The Super Bowl, of course! (Full disclosure: I am Canadian and American Football does not interest me.) Those commercial breaks though…now that is where the fun is. They intrigue me!

When I asked my students if they paid attention to the Super Bowl (reminder I teach at an International school in Abu Dhabi), there were probably 2 hands that went up. But when I mentioned the commercials, the chatter in the room escalated immediately.  One of my students even commented: “People used to look forward to the game and the commercials were just a bonus, but now it is the inverse. So, which commercials do we get to watch?” Relevance engaged!

The commercials are in a league of their own, and they provide a perfect opportunity for students to engage in rhetorical analysis without having to write a full response.

Truth #2: This was not my idea entirely—the AP Facebook group I am a part of gave me the initial idea.

(Shout out to that Facebook group of amazing educators…they save me on the daily.)

My AP students are in the midst of this activity, but they are diving in and getting lots of practice at writing mini-rhetorical analysis’—they are chipping away. And they are engaged. The writing they are doing is relevant…they are finding meaning in it. Which means that learning is occurring.

[Here is an example of the planning process they go through for each ad. The information in this table is then converted into a rhetorical precis—a mini-rhetorical analysis of sorts. This gives them practice at the register, style, integration of evidence, and basic structure of a full response rhetorical analysis.]

Super Bowl Table

Truth #3: This isn’t rocket science—it is a means to an end.

It is through connection that we find meaning. By creating opportunities to engage in small connections, we are helping students to innately build the critical skills they will need to be successful on that final hurdle (May 8th is going to come too soon).

The Super Bowl is only one example of where this could work: Grammy Awards speeches, public service announcements, political ads…the list goes on. And not every student has to do the same thing—let there be choice!


Where do you find small wins? What real-world examples have you brought into your classroom lately?  Share in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @readwritemore

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