Thursday, July 4, 2013

Summer Reading: Advanced Placement Edition

It's the 4th of July!  Stars, stripes, fireworks, freedom! So many things to be grateful for, and yet I'm always reminded on the 4th how quickly time flies.  I feel like just yesterday I was unwrapping my new Vera Bradley school bag for Christmas (I so love Vera), and then it was Spring Break (in which I sat home and pouted), and then Graduation (lots of Kleenex; my baby girl graduated from 8th grade in the same week that my baby seniors graduated from H.S.), and now here we are,  halfway through 2013.

Summer vacation for my students also brings with it summer reading.  My Advanced Placement students are required to read the wonderful, 1232 page Les Miserables.  And believe me, it makes about half of them "miserables." But in the end, I've never had a student finish it that didn't love it.  Hugo may go on random 200 page tangents about some miniscule, plot-unnecessary detail, but in the end, the themes of faith, love, redemption, freedom, mercy, and citizenship ring out (perfect for a 4th of July post!), and most students fall completely in love.

Assigning Les Mis for summer reading does a few things, first, it narrows the field.  It's amazing how many students decide they no longer want to take an AP course when they realize that they will have to give up chunks of summer relaxation reading about the corrupt French political structure of the 1800s.  My class number dropped from 28 to 20 in the first 2 weeks of vacation.  Summer reading also gives students the understanding that this truly is an advanced class, and that they can take seriously the disclaimer to only enroll if they are ready for a college-level experience.  Just to put a cherry on top, I assign summer work (you should've heard the collective sigh when this was mentioned). 

Using Moodle, (one of my favorite online/tech tools!) the students are required to post a response to a question on June 30th, July 31st, and August 25.  This ensures that they are reading throughout the summer and not cramming 1000 pages of reading into the last two weeks of break, and it also gives students the understanding that I am serious about their learning process.  AP Lit is not an easy class, but it is worth it in the end, and when they head off to college next year, and have to take summer coursework, the summer reading assignment for AP Lit will have been a piece of Marie Antoinette's cake (yes, of course I know Les Mis isn't really about the French Revolution, but it's a good fit!).

Here's a snippet of my Moodle page.  It's not completely set up for the school year, but when they are ready to write their response, they click on the "Topic" icon and it leads them into a forum where they can read the question and post a response.

And as you can see, just in case my students feel like writing a response based on Anne Hathaway's Oscar-winning performance, I always make sure to ask for specific examples/evidence/lines from the novel for support - this is necessary in general, but especially when there is a brand-new musical version out there with Aaron Tveit as Enjolras (can I just say...amazing!) I can't guarantee that there hasn't been any sparknoting or movie-watching, but in general, the responses from the students are pretty thorough and well written.

And a special pic of my Vera school bag - you know you were wondering which print it was!

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