AP Reading – Day 3!

Day 3 of the Reading, and man was it a rough day! My day started at 4 AM – yes, you read that correctly – FOUR AM when I received not one, but TWO, count ’em, two text messages. They were sent from Arlington, VA, which is of course, two hours ahead, which means that had I been at home, I would have already been awake to receive the texts (which was about a traffic delay, by the way…see what happens when you sign up to get emergency messages from your county? You find out all kinds of interesting things at all kinds of interesting hours). As it was, I was rudely awakened by the first text, and then about 10 minutes later the second one came through. I had a very difficult time getting back to sleep. By the time I finally drifted off, my alarm went off (this time actually at 6, local time), and I felt that awful kind of drowsy that you feel when you’ve been woken from a deep sleep and not at the proper point of your sleep cycle. It was not a happy morning.

I actually did manage to get myself over to the convention center in time enough for a leisurely breakfast, despite the rude awakening. Had breakfast, and went to buy my coffee (remember, the coffee offered by the convention center is very weak and kind of yukky) only to find that my coffee shop that has been my lifeline the last two days was closed. CLOSED. On a Tuesday. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It was just, well, awful. How was I expected to function on disrupted sleep and no coffee, I ask you? I made it to the break, barely, and chugged down some of the awful, weak coffee. Bleah. Just bleah.

It’s OK, though. I have a line on a Starbucks that’s about a block from the convention center, and I plan on going there first thing tomorrow morning. In fact, I may go there even before I grab breakfast, because this whole “no coffee” thing just is NOT working for me.

(Plus, it really wouldn’t be fair to the students either.)

As for the Reading itself, I think I’ve got the rubric under my belt, despite an overly sleepy and under caffeinated day. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, though. I tend to have these peaks and troughs with the rubric – sometimes I’ve got it, and other times it unravels and dissipates like so much smoke. (Yes, I did mix that metaphor. Get over it.) One of the things that’s pretty cool about this rubric is that we’re looking not just for the student to show mastery of the skill of thesis writing, or evidence, or comparison, but we’re also asking for some plain old good writing as well. The watch-phrase has been “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t tell us there’s a similarity…show it. Kind of cool, huh?

Day four tomorrow, and who knows what kind of writing it will bring? Hopefully I’ll see some really good ones! I had a few that were quite good this morning, and then a string of … well … yes. I’ll just leave that to lie there, shall I?


AP Reading – day 2

Good morning from Salt Lake! It’s day 2 of the Reading, and I am sitting at the desk in my hotel room with a gorgeous view of mountains out of my window. This particular angle does not give me the snow-capped mountains, but I do get mountains nonetheless. Kind of cool to be surrounded by mountains like this!

It’s going to be a beautiful day here in Salt Lake, with a high of 77, and about 25% humidity. Back home it’s going to be 90, so this is just wonderful. (Although in all honesty, I could do with a skosh more humidity, but not the levels they’ll have at home, thank you).

The first day of the Reading went well – we started with our opening meeting with the new Chief Reader, and a fairly long, drawn out metaphor about missionaries (that we are world historians and on a mission to bring world history back into American high schools). Some amazing statistics: 208,000 students took the APWH exam this year, which means that we have about 624,000 essays to score.

I mentioned yesterday that I am on the comparison essay this year, and so far it seems to be going OK. There are a couple of tricky things about the rubric, so I’m hoping that this morning will help solidify it for me. Having only gone through 1 folder of actual live essays (that’s just 25 … my reading partner reads v e r r r r r y s l o w l y.), I can’t say with much certainty that the students are writing all the essays this year, but out of the 25 in yesterday’s folder, only 3 students left the comparison essay completely blank.

Since we are here in Salt Lake at the convention center, this year we are not the only readers in the area. In addition to AP World History, we are joined by AP Chinese Language and Culture, Japanese Language and Culture, Latin (Virgil), Art History, Studio Art and US Government & Politics. I have several colleagues from other schools here reading the AP Government exam, so I run into them randomly throughout the day (although I have yet to run into the colleague from my school reading gov’t…).

Our accommodations are a far cry from previous years as well. Since I started reading exams for APWH, we’ve been at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO. Ft. Collins is gorgeous, and it’s a cute town too. The CSU campus is pretty (and since I went to New York University, the campus is HUGE and I am SO NOT USED to that), and we were staying in campus dorms. As you can imagine, our accommodations were…well, they were dorms. You know what that means.

We moved here to Salt Lake because we are too big for CSU’s campus. (We’ve got 1030 readers.) How have our accommodations changed? Well, I am in a hotel, for starters. It’s a FOUR STAR hotel. My room is about the size of my apartment, and I am NOT exaggerating. The bed is king sized (as opposed to the smaller than twins you get in college dorms), and when I came back last night, there were chocolates on my pillow. Chocolates. On. My. Pillow.

A girl could get used to this!!!

The only problem so far – the coffee has been so weak that it might as well be water…

I am on a mission to find a decent cup today. Or three.

In terms of Salt Lake itself, I am enjoying being here because it’s a city. As my friends know, I am a city girl through and through. I like concrete and tall buildings. I like being surrounded by people (but not crowded by them…it’s an interesting contrast). I am not a fan of great big, wide open spaces. It’s not an agoraphobic kind of thing, it’s just a discomfort kind of thing. I like knowing that around the corner or down the block is a bodega or an ATM or a Rite Aid (even if it does close at 7pm) or a reliably good book store (used, for rummaging…found one on Sunday. Am going to pick an evening to explore more fully). Ft. Collins was pretty, but it was too spread out. It was too … not city-ish. (I went to Scotland one year, the Isle of Skye. Gorgeous. Beautiful. So glad I went. Spent much of my time wondering how the people (what, there were only like 50 of them, right?) living on Skye didn’t go mad from the open spaces and lack of other humans. There are more sheep on Skye than people!) So all in all, I will say that the switch to Salt Lake has been a positive one.

AP World History Reading – Day 1

Good morning! So it’s just about 7 am here in Salt Lake, and I’m getting ready to head on over for breakfast on the first day of the Reading. Usually the way the first day goes is that we meet with the Chief Reader, who talks a bit about how the Reading has gone in the past, and there’s always a bit where the CR talks about how big the APWH course has gotten. Last year we had about 1000 teachers (high school, college, university). it will be interesting to see how many we have this year. I think it may be about the same, but we’ll see. I’m also interested to see about how many students took the exam. Last year I think it was something like 175,000 students. So consider this: on the AP World History exam, students have three essays they have to write. That means that last year there were 525,000 essays to score. Now, that’s actually NOT an accurate number, as many students do not even attempt the last essay. Some students don’t even attempt any essay. One year I got a booklet where the seal had not even been broken.

After we meet with the CR, we then break into what we call our “yurts”. (We are world historians, after all). A yurt usually consists of a few tables of readers. At each table is about 8 or 9 readers, and a table leader. The table leader is our manager, so to speak, who will guide us through the scoring process over the next week.

So we get samples of essays that have been scored and we walk through the rubric. There’s a generic rubric that the College Board uses (and that I use to score my student essays), and when we get to the Reading, that generic rubric has been tweaked based on how the sample students have been writing the essays. We get a chance to read through essays that have already been scored, and talk about why something earned a particular point (like why did this essay earn thesis point when that essay did not). We then are given more sample essays without an annotations and we score those, along with the person sitting next to us, who becomes our reading partner. We don’t usually go “live” (meaning into our own, not yet graded folders) until later in the day. And even then, we share with our reading partner and discuss why we scored a particular essay the way we did. It’s like learning to ride a bike, almost – first you’re on the tricycle, then you’ve got a 2 wheeler with training wheels, and then you are riding along with your dad behind you, and then you’re let go and suddenly you’re riding (scoring) on your own!

Even then your essays are being scrutinized, though, because the College Board is really concerned about accuracy – they want the Readers to stick to the rubric like super glue. They are trying to make sure that the student whose essay is read first on day one and the student whose essay is read last on day 7 get the same treatment. it’s a complicated business, but it’s so important, especially because the students have worked so hard all year long and deserve to have their essay be given due attention.

This year I am scoring the comparison essay. That’s the same type of essay I scored last year. So this year’s question is

Compare demographic and environmental effects of the Columbian Exchange on the Americas with the Columbian Exchange’s demographic and environmental effects on ONE of the following regions between 1492 and 1750.
Africa, Asia, Europe.

I am hoping that more students will have actually attempted this essay this year. I think that they know about this topic. Or they darn well should!! This isn’t a topic like “racial ideologies”, or even “national identities”, which the students had trouble with in years past. It’s straightforward. We’ll see.

I won’t be able to give specifics about the essays that I read, because of confidentiality, but I will try to keep you posted on how things are going. I am looking forward to seeing some decent attempts from students!

The best thing about summer

The best thing about summer.


Oh, me too. I love that I get all kinds of uninterrupted reading time. I read by the pool, I read in the pool, I read on the couch, I read at coffee shops. Oh my, heavenly. I also have a spectacularly long list of books to read, some of which I have been saving up since September. I do have a class through until the end of July, so I’ll be reading for that too, but since I am only working 3 days (THREE DAYS! WOW! That’s just AWESOME!!!!!) in July, I should be able to manage my nice long TBR list as well as my class list.  Keep an eye here to see how that’s going! You can also friend me on Goodreads, by the way: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/974392-jessica

Happy reading!