Round Robin Writing Exercise
It is important to regularly get feedback and suggestions from students. During a discussion of how to practice writing skills a student suggested that we should try having one person write the start of a paragraph and have another person finish it. Based on that idea, I put together a round robin writing activity, using questions from previous AP US History exams. (It is important to expose the students to the actual language that they will encounter on the exam.)
Students were forced to write more clearly–both penmanship and clarity of ideas–so that the next person in line could understand their argument and add to it. And students could see how each other approached the writing process. The round robin exercise became a regular class activity, and because we always gave credit to the student who proposed it, her engagement with the material increased.
Posters, Primary Documents, and Student Analysis
The images below are taken from posters that the students created during the year. One of the posters, done shortly before the semester break, is on pre-Civil War Sectionalism the other is on Cold War fears and was finished much later in the year. Students responded to the prompt “to what extent did each document, or the events tied to it, increase the amount of sectional rage/Cold War fear?” Working in small groups, students had to rank-order the documents from the one which inspired the most rage/fear, to the one that inspired the least, then to identify some pieces of historical evidence that could be tied to the document, and finally to provide a brief analysis. The goal was to get the students to analyze the primary source documents, and then use those documents as evidence to answer a question.
As you can see from the two images, the depth and quality of the students’ analysis improved drastically over the course of the year. The Sectionalism analysis on the Fugitive Slave Law simply states that “the North refused to enforce it, thereby angering the South.” There is some truth to that statement, but it does not explain how the South was angered, or why the North was reluctant to enforce it. The analysis is present, but thin. Compare that to the poster on McCarthyism, which describes how “people were blacklisted,” that “people feared that they themselves could be accused,” and how these fears were further stoked by the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb and by the Rosenberg trial. The later groups demonstrated a much greater depth of understanding, and were able to use their knowledge to more fully support their thesis than the earlier groups.
Assessing Students with Mixed Media
The AP US History curriculum covers so much content that teachers are forced to pare away non-essential elements. Yet despite those demands, there are still opportunities to incorporate poetry, fiction, and art into the classroom. For example, during our units on the 1950s and 1960s, we listened to Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and Country Joe and the Fish, we watched Leave it to Beaver clips, and we analyzed the gender bias of a Folgers Coffee commercial. As an assessment, I used excerpts from Nina Simone, The Monkees, and the glossy childhood recollections of an evangelical preacher, and then asked questions incorporating language directly from previous AP US History exams. The purpose was to assess the students’ document analysis skills using content that they might find somewhat interesting. The results were extremely illuminating; more than 90% of the students correctly interpreted all three documents, and were able to apply an appropriate piece of historical evidence to them, but the students did not include in-depth analysis. As a result, I was able to adjust my practice, to hone in on their analysis and to remind them that it is always necessary to demonstrate exactly how the piece of historical evidence they use clearly connects back to the document.