Let me preface this by saying: I love and adore my AP juniors this year. They are, as a whole, a sweet, funny, responsible group of kids. I actually look forward to seeing them in class; some mornings I am able to rouse myself out of bed (at five AM) for the sole purpose of teaching them.
However, they are perfectly awful readers, and after grading 100 timed essays over three days, my eyeballs are about to fall out of my head, and I am ready to leave both classes on a deserted island and never look back.
Maybe I'm being unreasonable. But the AP test is in two months, and my students are still making the same basic mistakes. I'm not just talking about their spelling and grammar (that is another post for another time). No, I'm talking about their general reading skills.
Take, for example, timed essay prompt #1. It is an argumentative prompt that notes the proliferation of public statements of opinion in this Information Age and asks the students to take a position on the value of these public statements of opinion and whether they foster democratic values.
Pretty simple, right? But over half of my students wrote essays about how the Democratic party uses the media to win voters/share its ideals/bash Bush.
Lesson the first, dear students: democratic (lower-case 'd') refers to general democracy (as in, America has a democratic government), whereas Democratic (capital 'D') refers to the more liberal political party that recently upset the Republican Congress. It's not a particularly subtle difference.
So what's a totally misread of the prompt going to get you on your essay? No higher than a 4 of 9.
Then there is timed essay prompt #2: an analysis of an excerpt from William Hazlitt's "On The Want Of Money." It asks the students to analyze the rhetorical devices Hazlitt uses to develop his position on money. (Not, by the way, how he persuades his audience, as two-thirds of my students aptly -- though incorrectly -- proved.)
Maybe not so simple, but still -- this is an essay on the want, or lack, of money. And yet, another misread; nearly everyone wrote essays about how Hazlitt believes our desire for money (that other "want") is bad/good/potentially life-destroying.
Bah! Misread! We want for money when we are poor and thus want to get some.
I get two months off in the summer (when I don't teach summer school). This is one of the many reasons why: so my head doesn't explode.