We know that teaching teachers is a tough challenge- we are a tough crowd!
But we also know that teachers are life-long learners, so they also must play the role of student regularly. AP (Advanced Placement) Institutes takes experienced secondary teachers and prepares them to teach college level courses, write and submit their syllabi, and to grade student work according to the AP Central Board national exam and essay criteria. According to the AP Central website the goal of their training is: “course-specific content and pedagogical knowledge, and serve as collegial environments in which teachers can interact with experienced members of the AP community.”
Last summer I had the opportunity to attend two AP World History training weeklong sessions, one in Minnesota and one in Beijing. The AP World History course has only existed since 2003 and this year the course underwent its first logistical changes to both the course and the exam. The shift to the Five Course Themes is similar to the widely utilized and popular “Five Themes of Geography” and the revised historical periodization of the current course moves from five periods to six periods, with the last period emphasizing global events starting at circa 1900, rather than the overtly Western perspective of 1914 and WWI as the starting point of the last period. Nineteen key concepts set the framework for the teaching and learning elements of the course, enabling the instructor to prioritize the concepts being taught and also allowing for teaching students how to study for the exam in May of the academic year, during the two weeks of AP national testing. The first key concept in each period gives clues as to the focus of the AP national exam and a hierarchy for each time period is set by the College Board in this fashion, thus I was advised to spend more instructional time on the first concept of each period with my students, as well as setting a firm skill base with sufficient practice for the two required types of essays and the Document-based Questions essay, also part of the spring AP exam. (Needless to say, this is a rigorous test!) Additionally four historical thinking skills are taught: crafting historical arguments from historical evidence, chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, and historical interpretation and synthesis. The Workshop handbook and resources for this school year includes suggested student activities for many of the specific changes, along with numerous required teaching concepts, specific people, specific events, and so forth. We were also given a AP Curriculum Module entitled: “Zones of Interaction: Long-Distance Trade and Long-Term Connections across Afro-Eurasia”, which includes David Christian’s article “Silk Roads or Steppe Roads?” and suggested instructional activities tied to six of the AP World History Key Course Concepts across the school year.
One of the courses I took spent more time on student curricular activities while the other spent more time on syllabus development. I felt that I got the best of both approaches and submitted my AP World History syllabus early last fall, which can take up to two months to be approved and which the AP list serve e-mail exchanges demonstrates that many secondary teachers feel great concern over, across the nation.
Of course, one of the advantages of any syllabus creation is the chance to revisit your entire year long course, check the balance of the work load for both students and yourself, and the opportunity to add new materials that you have researched, viewed, read or incorporated into your own new learning while also attending various History and Social Studies conferences, which is both exciting and invigorating. (History is NOT as static as some would have you believe as a secondary student, decades ago!) Four sample syllabi are included on the AP website, covering the top AP textbooks currently used across the U.S. The syllabus checklist includes 21 specific items that must be met to pass the AP course audit, reviewed and verified by a college subject area professor. The key question to answer in the syllabus audit is “What is the student doing?” We also have a more thorough regional approach to World History in this update, including Oceania and Australia, which I have not previously taught in a yearlong course, due to time constraints. Many of these checklist items reflect current national History standards and common core curricular trends and global historical trends as well, such as the “Big History” movement. Other methods and disciplines, such as archeology, anthropology, economics, geography, visual arts, literature, and political science are incorporated, just reinforcing my assertion that teaching history means you teach about EVERYTHING!
A variety of practitioner teaching tips, short articles, essays, and activities are included in each appropriate handbook section, along with discussion questions and workbook space to record answers. Practice exams and essay prompts are also available in the handbook and online. I also found the time dedicated by each instructor to grading sample student essays of all three categories by the AP rubrics to be very helpful, so that as college level instructors, we can grade comparatively to the testing standard used in May and with professional confidence. The overriding instructor focus for us as teachers was the fact that no student will be able to KNOW everything about World History, but by teaching key concepts, vocabulary, historical patterns and writing and critical-thinking skills, most students will be well- prepared to take the exam and incorporate historical thinking into their own metacognitive schema.
Both instructors have a wealth of teaching experience in APWH and fielded constant questions from all of the teachers attending the institutes, whether novices or also experienced teachers from across the nation. Some of us attended to particularly to learn about the revisions to the course and add to our repertoire of great lessons and student-centered learning. I appreciated the instructors’ patience with all of us on the long, hot summer days that we attended last summer, sometimes in buildings without air conditioning! We frequently were given the same tasks as our students are given in a more limited preparation time frame and asked to present to our colleagues, often allowing us to infuse some historical humor and role-playing into the course. (I often wonder what our students would think of us if they could see us in the role of students.)
These various activities, including online sources, allow us to actively evaluate the potential effectiveness of the activities for our own diverse students and how we might modify the lessons for use in our own classrooms. I took notes and marked a variety of these activities in the almost 400 page handbook for use in my curriculum this school year. I made contacts and friendships over these two weeks that will go on past the school year, fulfilling the collegial and community focus of great teaching collaborative that AP training promises. I left looking forward to an exciting year in AP World History with students eager to tackle the enduring questions of the ages! And I can tell you now that the academic year is almost over, that I have utilized these resources multitudes of times and successfully followed up on many of the suggestions made by the instructors, the handbooks, the AP websites, and my fellow AP teachers across the country.
(c) The Middle Ground Journal, Number 4, Spring, 2012.