Another AP Access Success Story

September 3, 2013

This is the third in a series of blog posts I am writing in response to an article that I thought unfairly and inaccurately focused on the negative aspects of expanding access to Advanced Placement courses.  It probably makes sense to read all of the posts in order beginning with “Advanced Placement Classes Saving Students”  posted on August 22, 2013.


At the AP Annual Conference, I had the privilege of presenting with two very successful AP teachers.  In my previous post, I introduced you to Katherine, AP Calculus and AP Chemistry teacher.  Today, please meet Irene, an AP Biology teacher who has more successful minority/low income students achieve recommended scores than any other teacher of her subject in her state.  Irene’s school is 85% low income, 77% Hispanic, with 82% of the students having a first language other than English—hardly the typical environment in which AP programs thrive.


Irene started her presentation by telling a hilarious story about attending an AP Summer Institute as a Pre-AP teacher and thinking, “I am SO glad I don’t have to teach this; it seems impossible.”  The next thing she knew, the AP teacher had left and she found herself saddled with the course.  She quickly discovered that the strategies the summer institute presenter had suggested would not work with her students.  They were not capable of reading the textbook and then doing the complicated labs.


Irene wisely realized that she needed to scaffold her lessons and introduce her students to basic lab procedures through youtube videos and Pearson Lab Bench.  The latter resource allows students to do labs virtually, perform data analysis and take a quiz prior to doing the hands-on lab in class.  She had them begin with the most basic possible lab to address the concept and then challenged them to figure out what other variables they could manipulate in order to make the lab more complex.  Such an approach would help students to master the experimental design question that appears on the AP exam.

Irene’s students are then responsible for group presentations of their lab results.  This encourages collaboration and discussion that helps cement the material into long term memory and also helps students to focus more on the learning and less on the grade.


Irene also discussed her extensive use of technology to assist her students.  She talked about the use of “co-teachers” such as Khan Academy and Bozeman Science.  The disgusting videos she uses from youtube are certainly memorable.  Facebook allows her and her students to communicate with one another efficiently and to connect with other science-related resources.


Irene concluded her presentation with a discussion of assessment and explained how she made extensive use of released AP questions, often giving several in advance and then picking just two of those for the test.  She warned attendees that they should expect some low grades and have several strategies in place to allow students to remediate and improve both their understanding and their grades.


I think the main take away that teachers got from Irene’s session was that they need to tailor their approach to their particular situation.  She tried someone else’s approach and, when it didn’t work, she kept trying until she figured out what would work for her students.  She wasn’t willing to accept that they weren’t capable of being successful in her AP class. Too many people (students, teachers, administrators) simply give up when students are initially unsuccessful in taking on the challenge of Advanced Placement.  They spend too much time rationalizing the failure (“We don’t have the right kinds of kids.”  “They are simply unprepared/unmotivated/incapable.”) rather than finding solutions.  Teachers like Irene and Katherine show what can happen when teachers work hard and inspire their students to work hard.  We all have lessons we can learn from them about how to make AP classes accessible to a much broader audience of students.






Increasing Access to Advanced Placement Done the Right Way!

August 24, 2013

I spent much of yesterday being incensed over a very misleading and one-sided article about the AP program that was posted on the internet.  Through selective use of data and anecdotal evidence, almost anything can be made to look good or bad.  A hammer can be a tool used to build someone a house or to bash in their skull.  It’s all about the person wielding that tool.  Likewise, the AP program can be used to better prepare students for college, particularly those who haven’t had access to higher education in the past OR it can be used to delude students into thinking they are college-ready when they are pushed into so-called AP classes that are not taught at a rigorous level.  The article on which I wasted valuable time yesterday chose to highlight teachers who seemed to be unsuccessful in their attempts to build inclusive AP programs.  Today, I plan to shine the spotlight on two teachers who I was privileged to meet when we presented together at the Equity and Access strand of the AP Annual Conference in Las Vegas in July.

The three of us were chosen to make presentations specifically because we have built inclusive programs and have more minority and/or low income students successful in our respective classes than any other AP teacher in our states.  Our success is measured in terms of student performance on the AP exam.  We all teach at comprehensive high schools that have no entrance criteria.  These are not magnet schools.  Our AP courses are open enrollment which means that we encourage every student who has taken the prerequisite classes to take our AP classes.  We don’t restrict enrollment based on grades, test scores or teacher recommendations.  Kids sign up for our classes knowing our high level of expectations, understanding the work load we will require and that we will provide the support necessary to make them successful—in the class, on the exam, and in the college classes they will take in the future.

All three of us mentioned the importance of teacher training prior to teaching an AP class.  It helps tremendously to get training from teachers who have built inclusive and successful programs themselves and who understand the twin pillars of challenge and support.  I will detail some specifics of my presentation in my next blog post.  I addressed the issue of “Overcoming Inertia” and discussed many of the strategies that I have written about in the past on this blog.  Next up was Katherine, an AP Calculus and Chemistry teacher from Oklahoma addressing the topic of “Maintaining Momentum.”

Katherine stressed the importance of vertical teaming, of purposefully strengthening the courses students take prior to the AP level so that students come into the classes better prepared over time.  She also discussed working with AP teachers in other subject areas to coordinate efforts so that students are not overloaded with major projects all due at the same time.  Her school obviously has an AP PROGRAM, rather than a collection of individual AP classes that exist in isolation to each other.  Katherine spent much of her presentation addressing ways to challenge the most capable students while simultaneously supporting those who are still adjusting to the rigors of college level work.  She provided specific examples of providing those students with extra opportunities to work with her and with their classmates on the content of the class and of providing students with a second chance when they failed to achieve mastery initially.  She discussed the importance of building relationships with and between her students, of creating a learning community and building camaraderie.  She talked about establishing a group identity through t-shirts and activities such as science competitions and doing science projects with elementary level students.  She supports students outside of her classroom by attending their events, offering PSAT preparation and writing letters of recommendation for colleges and scholarships.  When they see her doing those things outside of class, they are that much more dedicated to working hard within the class.  Her overriding philosophy is to “demand and reward rather than threaten and punish.”

This post is a little longer than I wanted so I have decided to introduce the second teacher later this week.  Keep reading to hear the positive side of building an inclusive AND successful AP program!

Advanced Placement Classes Saving Students

August 22, 2013

        My blog has been quiet, but my life has been incredibly busy this summer.  I taught four weeklong AP summer institutes for AP Calculus teachers and presented as part of the Equity and Access strand at the AP Annual Conference in Las Vegas in July.  Now I am enduring a week of teacher meetings and professional development before the fun starts next week with the kids.  I had just finished hearing a speaker who addressed the importance of giving all students an opportunity to tackle advanced level coursework, when I checked my email and someone had sent me a link to the Politico article with the headline “Advanced Placement classes failing students.”  I do not even know where to begin to address the ridiculousness of this article.  I suppose I will start with their misleading use of data.  They mention the large increase in the number of lowest scores (1’s  on the 5-point scale), but interestingly they fail to mention the even larger increase in the number of recommended scores.  The very first sentence of the article (“Taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to nudge more students into Advanced Placement classes–but a close look at test scores suggests much of the investment has been wasted.”) can be easily disproven with some simple research into the actual numbers.  In 2012, there was a federal investment of $30 million dollars and additional state funds of approximately $15 million dollars to provide exam fee support for low income students.  The scores these students earned on their AP exams would have generated $230 million in potential college savings using the average credit hour cost at a public four-year university.  Wasted investment?  I think not.  The article also trots out Dartmouth College as a very tired example of a school that plans to stop accepting any AP scores for credit.  (This probably has more to do with their desire for tuition dollars than with their concern for academic rigor.)  I have taught for 30 years and have not had a single student even apply to Dartmouth.  Why not mention the THOUSANDS of colleges that do award credit or advanced placement for AP performance or who take AP experience into account in their admissions or scholarship selection process?  There was so much simply wrong and offensive in this article that I decided to try to find something within it with which I could agree.

       I do agree there are schools who have expanded their AP programs without carefully preparing their students and teachers and that has not served anyone well.  It’s just as irresponsible to throw a random kid into an AP class as it is to throw a random kid into a swimming pool.  You should assess swim skills first!  If the kid turns out to be a poor swimmer, does that mean they are destined to sit  on the edge for the rest of their lives watching others (perhaps natural swimmers or those whose parents could afford swim lessons) frolicking about and enjoying the pool?  No!  That would be stupid.  We need to outfit non-swimmers with flotation devices and help them develop their skills under the guidance of responsible and well-trained adults.  At the end of the swim season, they might not have mastered all of the strokes, but they should at least be able to keep themselves afloat.  Students who earn a 1 on an AP exam know they are not strong swimmers, but they have often learned enough to  keep from drowning in their first college courses.  More importantly, they had a chance to frolic with others in the pool and might realize how fun it can be and want to come back again to continue improving their skills. 

       As I was reading the Politico article, a former student came in after dropping her sister off for our freshman orientation session.  She reported she had just graduated from Texas A&M University (in four years) with a degree in electrical engineering and minors in physics and mathematics.  In many schools, this Hispanic female would have been denied access to AP classes because she didn’t fit the mold of what some people think an AP student should look like or because she didn’t meet an arbitrary grade or test score requirement.  I am so glad she went to my school, a school strongly committed to helping more students succeed in rigorous classes.  There are schools that are not getting it right and that’s one of the reasons I write this blog.  Politico chose to focus on places that are doing things poorly and cheating kids of opportunity.  My next post will introduce you to several teachers who are expanding access and getting strong performance from students that some people think should just stay out of the pool.  It’s too bad so many more people will read the Politico article (focusing on the negative and things done poorly) than will read my blog (focusing on the positive and things done well).  If you read the Politico article and sent the link on to others, I hope you will do the same with my next post. 

Supporting the Less Traditional AP Student

April 28, 2013

I will be teaching AP chemistry next year for the first time. I have a large number of students signed up for the course next year (mid-50s which is unheard of in my district). I am excited but nervous about how to properly support my future AP students. They are very excited to tackle the course but I want to make sure they know what they are getting into and that I have a strong support system for them in place on day 1. Can you elaborate a bit more on what kinds of supports your teachers have in place to support students who have signed up and eager to try but are perhaps less prepared than the “traditional” AP student?

This is a comment that I got recently and I wanted to respond to it since I have several suggestions that might be helpful.  At this time of year, teachers are getting ready for the culminating activity of the AP exam while also looking ahead to next year as students are signing up for future coursework.  Several years ago, I experienced a sudden jump in my BC Calculus enrollment.  As we go deeper into the student pool, those new AP students are necessarily weaker than when we were just skimming the best students off the top.  We want to make sure that all of the students have the opportunity to be successful without lowering the standards of the course.  Here are a few suggestions:

Be very honest about the demanding nature of the class.  I immediately sent a letter home to all of the students who had signed up explaining the level of difficulty, the homework expectations and the fact that they would need to attend extra tutorials and prep sessions.  I warned them that they might experience lower grades than they were used to but assured them that they would learn a lot and be able to pass if they completed the requirements of the class.  Students and parents signed the letter and I kept them on file in case I got complaints at the beginning of year.  I had none since everyone came in with their eyes open.

Give them something to study over the summer.  Many AP English teachers provide a summer reading list so that students can have time to truly savor the novels and then simply re-read passages or chapters during the school year.  I warn students we will have a pop quiz on the unit circle (learned in precalculus) on the second day of school and that I expect them to be fully familiar with all families of functions.  An AP chemistry teacher might have them practice balancing chemical equations or learn the periodic table.  Try to identify some prerequisite knowledge or activity that would be very helpful in your class and include that in the previously mentioned letter.

Ramp up the rigor over the course of the year.  For the first test, you might provide a review sheet and then assist students in making their own review sheet for the second test and make it clear they will need to do this on their own for the third test.  Help them to develop the study strategies and tools that will serve them well as they go on to college.  Provide plenty of support at the beginning of the year and then wean them from it as the year progresses.

Provide opportunities for small successes.  I give daily pop quizzes over material that I expect them to have memorized (unit circle, derivatives rules, theorems and formulas).  While grades are initially low, soon everyone is making 100’s and feeling positive about something in my class.  Since I give so many of these quizzes, I can usually drop three or four so those initial low grades get tossed out.

Make it clear that failure isn’t fatal.  If a student has completed all assignments and shown evidence of studying, I will allow them to re-take a test that they have failed in order to achieve a higher grade.  They also have to write an essay explaining how they will improve their study methods in order to do better on future tests.

Provide special tutorials for the weakest students.  At least once a week, offer a tutorial for students who are clearly lacking some prerequisite skill or who have been struggling with a topic.  While most of my tutorials are open to every student, these are by invitation only.  It might be a chance to fill in holes in foundation, provide extra practice on problems similar to those they will see on an upcoming test or to preview a topic they will see in the near future so they can feel ahead of the stronger students instead of perpetually behind.

Ask students for feedback.  Some of my best ideas have come from students.  Ask them what else they think you can do to provide greater success.  When they see that you are honestly seeking ways to help them be successful, they will want to work all that much harder.  Check in with them on a regular basis and warn them as you make changes.  “In the past, I offered an AP question as extra credit.  Starting in two weeks, those will be a regular part of your assessment.”  The communication has to flow in both directions in order for both you and the students to make improvements.

I have a lot of readers out there and I know this is a busy time, but I hope everyone could offer one quick suggestion to this teacher.  Here’s the rest of her note:

I have been reading your blog and I have found so many great ideas and am so excited that someone else out there is interested in making AP courses more inclusive. Thanks for taking the time to put your ideas and experience out there for people like me to benefit from!

There is a whole community out there who are committed to building more inclusive AP courses.  We have a lot we can learn from one another.  We can definitely all beneft from one another’s ideas, so make a comment now!




Assembling a Confidence Toolkit for the AP Exam

April 16, 2013

In my last post, I described how I had my students write a motivational phrase on a post-it note to put on their desk during their AP practice exam.  One student wrote, “What would Oprah do?”  Oprah is one of the hardest working people I can think of and constantly implores people to be their very best selves.  I love her magazine and the most recent issue was devoted to the topic of CONFIDENCE.  As I read the articles, I thought about how many of my students are not aggressive and confident enough in their own abilities to earn their best possible score on the AP exam.  They have the knowledge, but will they be willing to put it on display in a timed and high pressure situation?

One article in particular interested me and it had to do with assembling a confidence toolkit, something I will ask my students to do during the next week or so.  This toolkit might be a collection of actual objects or simply some things to think about as they endeavor to take on one of the most challenging tasks many of them have ever attempted.  Into this toolkit, I will encourage them to add the following items.

Proof that you can be bold.  Find a token of a time when you did something that was really hard for you.  It might be a finishers’ ribbon for your first 5k run or a ticket stub from the first time you flew on an airplane.

A photo of someone who wants you to do well.  It might be a parent or other relative who wants the best for you or your best friend who always has your back.  If no one else comes to mind, a picture of your AP teacher who has worked with you all year to make sure you are prepared for this exam.

A symbol of a new endeavor.  I am thinking here of a bumper sticker or t-shirt for the college you plan to attend next year.  Having these AP credits will definitely get you off to a good start.

A token of improvement.  Did you increase your score on the AP practice tests we took in class or ace one of the recent free response questions that we tried?  Find something to remind yourself of how far you have come this year.

A biography, profile or photo of your idol.  Maybe it’s Jackie Robinson or General Douglas MacArthur.  Think of a person who is your personal hero and the qualities the person has that you admire.  If they did great and difficult things, then you can too!

An invitation to an upcoming social event.  What fun event awaits you on the other side of this AP exam?  Maybe it’s prom or a graduation party or a trip you will be taking this summer.

Something to remind you of a time when you were there for someone.  Who have you helped this year in your AP class?  Maybe you studied with them or loaned them your notes when they had been absent.  That person is wanting you to do well.

It’s important to fill the AP students’ brains with the knowledge they need to be successful, but it’s also important to fill their heart and their spirit with the confidence to put that knowledge to use.  As the AP exams get closer, please share other ideas that you use to increase students’ motivation and confidence.  After my last post, a reader sent a really interesting idea so look for their comment and then add some of your own.

Running to Improve My AP Scores

April 2, 2013

When my students returned after winter break, I issued a challenge for all of them to take the AP exam on May 8 and explained that I would be challenging myself by preparing to run a 5k next fall.  If you knew how spectacularly un-athletic I am, you would realize how truly daunting a task I have set for myself.  I showed the kids a photo of myself on the first day I attempted to run around the elementary school track near my house, resplendent in my new running shoes.  The second photo showed me prone on the ground a short while later.  I am happy to report that I have been walking and running pretty consistently over the last three months and have improved tremendously.  I don’t think Usain Bolt has anything to worry about YET.  Teachers do all kinds of crazy things to inspire their students and I think it’s important to think about how the things that we do can impact student performance.

1.  We are role models.  If we want our students to be risk takers who are willing to take a challenging exam, even when there is a chance of not doing well, then we need to show we are willing to do the same.  Taking on difficult tasks (that some of my students might find easy) shows that I am more like them than they might think.

2.  Setting specific and measurable goals.  On May 9, I have promised the students I will run around the track at the high school to celebrate the completion of their AP exam on May 8.  They ask me often how my running is going and I am happy to report my very incremental improvement.  I have now reset my goal to run around the track TWICE.  As they take their AP practice exams, I ask each of them to set a personal goal to improve over their previous performance or to beat the average on the free response questions.  They seem to enjoy working toward those definite goals and try to help one another improve.  They compete against themselves rather than against one another.

3.  All difficult tasks require stamina and determination that can carry over to other difficult tasks.  As I was running the other night, I was thinking about the importance of positive self-talk.  When I am running, I will tell myself “this is difficult, but you can do it” or near the end of my run “just keep going!”  Today, just before students started their practice tests, I passed out post-it notes and asked them to write themselves a message to inspire them to keep going when the test got hard.  I was fascinated by what they wrote:  “Si, se puede!”  “You are smart.  Now prove it.”  “College credit.”  “Make your father proud.”  I plan to tape the notes up on an unused chalkboard in my room.

4.  Fun matters.  Students appreciate it when they see their teachers doing goofy things to inspire them.  It makes them want to work harder.  I have a good friend in Houston who allows his students to shave a representation of a 5 into his hair (dyed blue, the school color) every year prior to the AP exam.  He has had a mohawk with five spikes, an outline of a hand with five fingers spread out, a roman numeral V, etc.  As much as I want to work hard this spring and have the students work hard toward their goal of doing well on the AP exam, I want them to have a good time and enjoy the spring of their senior year.  If laughing a little bit at my expense lessens the stress of studying, then that’s fine.

5.  Success can be measured in many different ways.  Running a 5k seems like an almost impossible task to me at this poing, just as earning a 5 on the AP exam seems almost impossible to some of my students.  I need to keep working toward that goal though.  If I fall short, as some of my students will as well, I will still be far better off for having tried than if I had maintained my couch potato ways.  The process of preparing for and taking the AP exam is important in and of itself, regardless of what score is earned.  I have told the kids that I will never win a trophy or medal for running.  When I get that finishers’ ribbon at the end of the 5k, I am going to be incredibly  proud of myself.  I want my students to feel that same pride when they walk out of the testing room on May 8.

The AP exam is just over a month away.  If you have interesting ways that you inspire your students to study and do well, send me a comment and I will publish it!  Keep running toward your goals and enjoy the terrain along the way.


What Makes a Successful AP Program

February 21, 2013

Recently, I was in Washington DC for an event sponsored by the College Board and the US Department of Education for schools that have been awarded grants to build their AP programs. I spoke on a panel alongside one of my former students, now a math major at Howard University. In preparing for the event, we had to write up a one pager to summarize the factors that we thought were most important to the success of our AP program. I have copied that here for you to consider.

Student Support Services: Raising Achievement for Underserved Students
We are from Pflugerville High School, a 2300 student high school with a rural history, suburban location and urban demographic. Our AP participation has increased from less than 100 exams given in 2000 to over 1000 in 2012, with strong performance in all subject areas.
What are the factors and practices that have produced our success?
• Ours is a district-wide effort encompassing three high schools and the five (soon to be six) feeder middle schools. There are clearly identified roles and leadership.

• We have broadly adopted the preAP concept and provide time for vertical teaming.

• We dig deep to find students capable of being successful in AP classes using AP Potential, AP Ambassadors, alternative pathways and unusual entry points. We look for strength based on both data and personality and don’t adhere to rigid guidelines.

• Our teachers are trained, we adopt best practices and we make deliberate use of College Board, LTF (Laying the Foundation) and NSMI workshops and materials.

• Our teachers understand the necessity of both challenging and supporting students. They are not AP students when they enter our classrooms so we make an effort to fill the gaps, have clearly identified and understood safety nets and provide extra time on task through both tutorials and Saturday prep sessions. Challenge lies in our level of expectations, our attention to detail and clear communication rather than in quantity of work or in the grading scale.

• We keep the focus on the students and their ultimate success and celebrate our achievements at every opportunity we get.

If you want to learn more about what we do at PHS, please google Dixie Ross AP Lead Teacher to find the blog that I write about increasing access to and equity in AP programs.

Building the AP Program Keeps Us Busy!

January 9, 2013

I have not added a new post to my blog in quite some time and I feel bad about that, but I am sure readers understand how busy teaching can keep a person!  I also don’t have much new to report.  Having kept up this blog for several years, I have written about most of the activities that we do to build and maintain an inclusive and supportive AP program.  Right now, Mr. G, our new AP Advocate, and I are busy getting ready for our annual AP Scholar breakfast that I first wrote about on January 11, 2010.  We are hoping for a great turnout this year and are looking forward to seeing our graduates and hearing how AP has helped them make a successful transition to college.  We also have our PSAT results and are getting ready to use those.  See my post from January 4, 2010 to learn more about that.

Since it is the beginning of a new year, you might want to check out New Year’s AP Resolution from December 31, 2010 or A Mid Year Assessment of Your AP Program (December 12, 2011) or My To-Do List for Improving Our AP Program (January 3, 2012).

I hope the new year finds you with a new resolve to help more students reap the benefits of the AP program.  Perhaps some of what I have written will be helpful to you.  I have a new post planned for later this month, but would love to hear from my readers some suggestions for topics or issues that I might be able to address.  Enjoy some of these older posts, but let me know what new things I should write about.  I really hope to hear from you!  Have a wonderful 2013!

Introducing: Our New AP Advocate

September 16, 2012

Long time readers of my blog will know that I have filled a dual role in my school district for a number of years.  I am the math content lead for the district, working with math teachers in grades 6-12 at three high schools and five middle schools to build our AP math classes, and also the AP advocate for my own campus, working with administrators, teachers and students to improve participation, performance and diversity in all of our AP courses and to support other measures of academic excellence.  I have enjoyed both roles, but strongly believe that the more leaders we can develop, the better our program will be.  So, I sought out someone to take over the AP advocate position and found the perfect candidate in Mr. G, our AP English Literature teacher.  Mr. G is young and energetic and has had great success in his AP teaching over the last few years.  For this year, we are doing the job together so that the transition will be a smooth one, but within one or two years, I fully expect that he will no longer need my advice or assistance.

Throughout this year, I will put up posts describing the things we are working on so that you get a better understanding of the work that we do in trying to build a very inclusive and successful AP program.  I will also refer back to previous posts that might be of interest to my readers.  As always, please feel free to suggest topics or to ask questions that I might be able to address in a future post.

We are now three weeks into our school year.  Mr. G and I are already planning our AP Scholar breakfast which will take place on January 11.  To learn more about this event, look at my post from January 2010.  Last week we also held our first meeting of our AP Ambassadors’ group, a student organization that we sponsor to serve as the “face” of our AP program and to help us recruit traditionally under-represented students.  More details about that group are available in a September 2009 blog post.  We had a great turnout of seniors, but definitely need to recruit juniors for our next meeting.  We are also waiting to get more information on which students will be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program.  We will be hosting a surprise breakfast and celebration for those students and their parents in early October so that our current juniors will better understand the importance of doing well on the October 17 PSAT.  In order to make sure that we have a large group of students to recognize next year, Mr. G and I are planning some special tutorials for kids who scored well on the PSAT as sophomore last year.  For the next four Wednesdays, he and I will take turns working with those students.  For more information on how we use our PSAT results, check out the blog post from January 2010.

As you can see, Mr. G and I are busy doing all of this in addition to our full-time teaching responsibilities and the other activities that we sponsor while also trying to make time for our families and our own children.  I want to state publicly how fortunate I feel to have someone of Mr. G’s passion and commitment to share the hard work of building our AP program.  I know many of my readers are also working hard to accomplish the same thing so I want to challenge you to find someone else on your campus with whom you can share the workload.  Having two people more than doubles the possibilities as each person offers their unique perspective and skills to the endeavor.

Creating AP Students

September 4, 2012

Now that Labor Day is past, most of us are back in our classrooms and beginning a new school year. I hope that all of us have students who are going to struggle in our classes this year. If you don’t have those students, then perhaps consider that the door to your AP classroom is not open wide enough. During these first weeks of school, I hope we can keep a particular eye on those students who have taken on the challenge of an AP class and provide them with the additional support to be successful.

Some students might need additional time to process the material.

Some might need specific instruction in study skills that other students have
already mastered.

Some might have holes in their foundation that need to be filled.

Our job is not just to teach those who come to us already successful and well prepared to learn. Our job is to take those who are willing and provide them with what they need to become successful over the course of the year. I will never forget the teacher who dismissed a group of kids by saying, “They are simply not AP students.”

I managed to reply (without shouting, testament to my tremendous anger control), “They’re not supposed to be AP students when they come in the door in September. That’s your job. You make them into AP students by the time they walk out the door in May.”

Think about your classroom policies and practices that help students to become AP students. I met a wonderful AP teacher in Pasadena, TX this summer who told me about her invitation-only tutorial sessions, targeting students who might not come in for extra help otherwise. When is the last time you extended a personal, hand-written invitation to a particular student rather than just posting available tutorial times on the whiteboard?

Think about classroom engagement. Do you try to get participation from every student in the room or just take the usual, vocal volunteers? How do you ensure that everyone is with you and understanding the lesson? As much as we are eager to question our students, we also need to question ourselves. Are we really doing what we can to help each student fully develop their academic potential?

It’s late and there are papers to grade. I want to wish everyone in my reading audience a wonderful year full of the hard and important work that will make a difference in the lives of these children. If you are reading this, you are someone who obviously does more than the minimal requirement. Those kids are lucky to have you as their teacher.