It feels great to finally send this first email during the year! After wrestling with MS Office Outlook, dealing with district server issues, updating and revising distribution lists, and finalizing grades for the progress report, we are ready for our first Family Update. I apologize for the length!
Let me begin by saying how much I admire this group of students. On the whole, they are coping with this significant jump in rigor with determination and positive outlooks. I’ve been here before with new AP students, and the prospects are daunting, the work load requires a shift in time management and deep, thoughtful reading.
And they are beginning to see that my role as their instructor has changed as well from their experience last year. In the AP environment, the student is responsible for doing the learning, the instructor’s role is to facilitate that process. That is another paradigm shift that will require our patience as your student adjusts. Fortunately, you have made the very worthwhile investment in Robert Strayer’s, Ways of the World. Unlike any other text available, Strayer is in tune with College Board’s approach to the World History curriculum. You student will enter into the human narrative at just the right level of detail and no further. Strayer always keeps the “big picture” in mind so that every topic connects to the larger processes, trends and contingencies of the story. So this course is, at its core, about your student engaging with Strayer in a year long conversation. My role is to offer feedback on their learning, clarify muddy topics, make connections and guide students thinking. Students must to come to class having done the content learning. That’s new, that’s a bit scary, but that will offer feelings of accomplishment that may well drive their academic career for some time to come.
The other part of my role in this course is to develop student’s critical thinking and writing skills. (There are details about that on the website http://www.binghamsplace.com/parents--whap.html). That is why I can’t “spoon feed” the content, I need every possible minute between now and May to do that job with your child. With the start we’ve made, I’m extremely confident not only about great scores in May, but quantum leaps in understanding that will serve your child well in his or her future.
I know there is some grade panic out there. I understand, and I am sympathetic and aware that you may be concerned. I am also very proud of this year’s group in the way they have worked to meet the challenge. While you may not see improvement, I certainly do. The adjustments to open ended questions, fast pacing, elevated vocabulary, a college level monograph and a vast body of content are not easy, but the rewards are meaningful – and long lasting. This is not a school experience that will fade from memory once the final is taken! My goal as an educator is to help students reflect on the process of learning, not their grade. I want students to learn what study and reading strategies work for them, to identity strengths and weaknesses in their own writing, but mostly, to practice the critical thinking skills that will help them succeed in college.
So here, as plainly as I can state them, are the not-so-secret secrets of success in WHAP. Each student must devote 3 to 5 hours every weekend to reading a chapter from Strayer in this way; survey the chapter and make note of the margin review questions, any graphics and the “big picture” questions at the end. Then, over two or three sessions, simply read the chapter with as much focus as he or she can muster. Then go back through the chapter and answer the margin review questions and the “big picture” questions in writing. I’m not playing a game of “gotcha”, those are quite literally the test questions. Then, come to class ready to engage with me about the chapter and ask any clarifying questions they may have. It’s quite simple, but not easy. But by now you and I know what our children probably don’t know; the meaningful things in life are rarely easy.
There are also extra credit opportunities available on the website if you or your student feel the need for a little insurance.
This past week, we slowed the pace a bit investigating primary source documents from the American Eugenics movement and the fragility of democracy in the German Weimar Republic between the wars. We’ll continue that with a viewing of Steven Spielberg’s outstanding film, Schindler’s List this week. After the viewing, I’ll ask students to respond to the following writing prompt: Based on the film, what conclusions can you draw about the impact of science and industrialization on our species' essential and enduring nature?
Your student should have brought you a parental permission form for the viewing and a one page briefing from Mr. Spielberg and the Facing History and Ourselves organization. If not, that and more information about the film are available on the website http://www.binghamsplace.com/20th-century.html Please have your student return the signed form to me on Monday.
Then, the marathon begins through the winter break; one chapter a week immersing ourselves in the human story. It can be a grind or an adventure; it’s all a matter of attitude. I’ll do my best to make it engaging and interesting.
This BinghamsPlace gmail account will serve as my main outgoing email client throughout the year, it just works so much better than the Outlook interface (sorry Microsoft!). But don't be surprised if you receive an email from firstname.lastname@example.org in response to any contact form submissions from the class website. I check my school mail often, but many students and parents choose to use the following resource to email my personal email account directly: http://www.binghamsplace.com/contact-me.html, after all, the website is designed to be the best tool you and your student have for staying on top of WHAP.
As always, thank you for trusting me with your child’s education. I take your trust and the needs of your child seriously.