Tag Archives: organization




Are we actually reading all these books? Do we read the whole book of each selection? How many books do we read this year? Do you do in class group readings?
You should complete an “elite eight” of titles by the end of the course. Some we’ll read in class together, and the others you’ll read on your own. I’ll assign the bulk of the works, but you’ll have a few opportunities for input into what we’ll be reading. If you’re talking about reading aloud for the class, no.

Will we be reading more modern or older books?
The works I’ve selected are a blend of both. We’ll be spanning the gamut from ancient Greek drama to 20th-century masterpieces. And no, they won’t all be Shakespeare.

Are there other readings other than listed?
We will read a few short works at the very beginning of the course to warm up your literary engines. We will also study poetry throughout the course alongside the major plays and novels.

Is the reading going to be very hard to understand?
Some works will be more challenging than others. If you work diligently and ask questions, you should be fine. Students who complain that books are impossible are usually the ones who either 1) Haven’t read them at all and are trying to justify using the SparkNotes instead (not recommended) or 2) Procrastinated until they couldn’t complete the assigned reading, even if they intended to, and are therefore lost because they have no idea what everyone else is talking about. But if you ever do hit a snag, ask me. Helping you is my job!

What is the workload like? Will we have a lot of homework?
Plan to do some reading nearly every night when you have an assigned novel in hand. Other assignments, like out of class essays, will have due dates for both the initial draft and the final copy to be submitted for grading posted well in advance so you can plan for them. Class will be a mixture of individual and group work, while homework is usually reading, completing tasks associated with the reading, poetry journals, and occasional out of class writing assignments or projects. Socratic seminars will be conducted at the end of each major work; you will be expected to prepare for these by completing a Six Pack Sheet as you read. More details later.

Will I be expected to read at my own pace, or are we given a schedule for when certain books should be read?
I don’t usually specify a certain number of pages per night, since all of you differ in the kind and amount of homework you have. I will post on the class calendar how far you need to progress at certain points, like everyone being at the end of Chapter 10 on a particular date. Those days are usually posted on the whiteboard in the front of the class as well.

How often will we write? How many essay types will we work on?
Writing practice happens frequently. Expect either an in-class timed writing or an out-of-class prepared essay for each major work. Out-of-class essays and the occasional revision of an in-class writing will be submitted electronically. You’ll also be practicing the prose and poetry questions of the AP exam. AP Lit essays, since they explore themes within works, are nearly always a kind of analysis. There is no synthesis-style question on the AP Lit exam. Figure on about an essay a week, on average. Alas, there’s very little time available for creative writing (short stories/poetry), but if you’re inclined to write that, I’d love to hear about it!

Is this class harder than AP Lang?
That’s tough to answer. Both Lang and Lit are asking you to analyze writing at some of the highest levels. They’re designed to stretch you. They look at two different things, though. Lang focuses on claim and support for argumentation and primarily focuses on nonfiction works (essays, letters, speeches, etc.), while Lit asks you to provide textual evidence for interpretation of meaning. The claim and evidence structure is the same, but the type of claim and the evidence differ. If you tend to love novels and plays more than nonfiction, you might find Lit “easier,” although that’s really not the best word for it.

How many tests but we have per month? Is there a curve on tests?
You’ll be writing far more often than you’ll be taking a test. An occasional reading quiz (quote and short answer format, primarily) might pop up, but old-school, end-of-chapter tests with a bajillion multiple choice questions? Not in here. Most of the multiple choice questions you’ll see will be AP practice items, and they aren’t graded like regular tests. I rarely curve because I rarely need to.

What materials do we need?
Didn’t you read the syllabus? Notebook paper, a writing utensil (preferably pen), and a composition book. NO SPIRALS. Why? Because spiral notebook paper likes to have inappropriate relations with other spiral notebook paper, littering my desk with wee spiral shrapnel and generally making a nuisance of itself. Spiral paper is no bueno. If you can tear pages out of a spiral neatly and without that evil shredded wheat on the side, okay—but you’re pushing it!

majestyWhat is life like when you take AP Lit?
Pretty much like life without it, but with more books. Seriously, though, that depends on what kind of reader you are. If you enjoy reading and writing or are really good at planning your study time, you should be able to fit things in just fine. If you put it off or take shortcuts, it will start to dog your life and make you say naughty things. If your procrastination level equals the completion date of the Majesty Building, then ask me for tips on how to become a ninja in completion rather than avoidance.



How is the exam going to be set up?
The AP Literature exam has two parts. Part I, the Multiple Choice section, comprises 45% of the overall score. The section has 55 questions which will test your close reading of both prose and poetry. Selections will be drawn from pre-20th century and post-20th century works. This section takes one hour. Part II, the Free Response, comprises 55% of the overall score. You will write three essays. One asks you to respond to a poem, one asks you to respond to a prose passage, and the third asks you to select a work of literature to illustrate/explore a given theme. This section takes two hours. There is no reading period on the AP Literature exam.

Will I be surprised by the AP exam?
The only thing that will be a surprise on this exam will be the content of the questions themselves. You will practice every type of question several times so that you can be relaxed and ready to rock on test day.

What happens if I don’t pass the AP exam?
Technically, there is no “passing” an AP exam, since the 1-5 composite score expresses the College Board’s recommendation for conferring college credit for the coursework. Typically, most colleges award credit for a score of 3 or higher, which means less money coming out of your pocket for tuition. The course is designed to train you to produce college-level work. Regardless of your score on the exam, if you do your work diligently for me and listen to me when I try to help you improve, you should be just fine in college. Your high school credits and graduation status are not affected by your AP score.



Do you write recommendation letters? How about help with college essays? Scholarships?
Yes, and yes. For letters, you might want to consider waiting until second semester, when I know you better, and ask me for scholarship recommendations or assistance. I’m happy to review essays as long as you give me some lead time. Last minute requests for either make me cranky; if I’m feeling benevolent, I might help you out—but you’ll have to grovel first. And I’ll put that picture on Instagram (you can bow your head in shame to hide your face, though).

Can you help with finding scholarships? What scholarships are available to seniors? How to obtain as much scholarship money as I can?
Attaining scholarships can feel like a real burden, but they don’t have to be. The main thing is to stay organized and apply, apply, apply. The best scholarships, and the ones you’re more likely to earn, usually require effort: a full application, an essay, etc. Make sure you qualify for the scholarship you’re applying for so you make the best use of your time. And keep checking the Dr. Phillips Student Services page—it lists scholarships all the time, usually organized by deadline.

Where did you go to college?
I earned my bachelor’s at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. I double-majored in English and Fine Arts (drama/speech concentration) and minored in history. I earned a master’s at UCF in secondary English education. College was awesome. I highly recommend it.

What’s the best tip for doing well in senior year?
Plan. Schedule your commitments, including homework, community service, jobs, etc., and stick to it. Remember that even though it feels like you’re done with high school, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, and it ain’t over until May. Keep on pushing!

What are some good anti-procrastination techniques?
If I knew a great answer to that, I’d be a gazillionaire. Since I’m not, I’ll refer you to some great time management apps you should install on your phone or extensions to add to Chrome. Check out links to some of them in the “Simplify Your Life” menu to the right.



Can we eat in class?
I’ve had seniors who swore to me that they would be neat but who actually turned out to be Visigoths. Don’t be like them. I’m fine with drinks in containers with caps. Finger snacks like Goldfish crackers or carrots are okay, but save anything you have to eat with utensils for later. And pick up your trash!

Can we listen to 70s/80s music all year? Can we listen to music in class? What’s your favorite band? What’s your favorite rapper/rap group?
I actually have pretty wide musical taste, so you’ll hear a little of everything except things I can’t concentrate to (sorry, screamo and hardcore rap). I won’t play music every day, but it makes regular appearances. As far as bands go, I have a bunch of music from R.E.M., Rush, Sting, The Police, U2, Jimmy Buffett, Foo Fighters, big band orchestras, Miles Davis, Liz Phair, and 80s music. I’m always open to new artists as long as they’re melodic, which is how my kids got me into Alt-J and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. And although rap is a genre I don’t listen to often, I like artists who have something intelligent to say in an interesting way, so bring on the Public Enemy, De La Soul, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Missy Elliott.

How long have you been teaching? What is your favorite thing about teaching?
Since last century. It’s never the same day twice, and being around young people keeps me young.

What’s your favorite children’s book/book?
Children’s books: Go, Dog. Go!, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Nicholas Flamel series, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and The Phantom Tollbooth.
Grown people books: Pride and Prejudice, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Winter’s Tale.

Other favorites (color, animal, country, TV show, movie, thing ever)?
• Blue, green, or purple (depends on the day)
• Horses for beauty and dogs for loyalty and companionship
• Scotland, because it’s the home of one of my hidden talents—traditional Scottish Highland dance. My other “hidden” talent is that I’m a published author.
• British murder mysteries, especially those with history like Foyle’s War and Grantchester, The Big Bang Theory, classic Star Trek. I also enjoy hate-watching House Hunters.
• The Princess Bride, Better Off Dead, Raising Arizona, Young Frankenstein, Galaxy Quest, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And Star Wars. All of it. Even The Phantom Menace, because you should always be kind to the awkward people.

What was your hair color before it was grey?
Medium to dark brown. It’s still in there, but the white is taking over. Look closely and you’ll see.

What’s something you’ve never said aloud? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
If I’ve never said it aloud, why would I write it down? And probably agreeing to an AMA with high school seniors, LOL.

What is your favorite subreddit? Do you use Reddit a lot?
Actually, I don’t use Reddit at all, but if I did, you’d find me with the writers and geeks and general know-it-alls. I’m all over Twitter, however.

Could Ned Stark have found a way out of that “situation”?
Not really. His loyalty was to Robert Baratheon, so it’s not like he could refuse the request to become the Hand of the King. And he was basically too honorable to think that Cersei Lannister was plotting to get him and King Robert out of the way, but he figured it out. Too bad it was too late when he did. I’m sure Arya will set things straight, though. She’s on a roll.

Is this class going to be lit?
If you’re being literal, then of course, because it’s already LITerature. If you mean the colloquial phrase closely related to “turnt,” then clearly you haven’t received proper intel, or you’d know the answer to this question already.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?


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Filed under AP Literature

Get More Done

make it happen

Senior year, with all its excitement and change and possibility, can be daunting. Managing a busy schedule that includes AP and honors classes along with a job and extracurriculars is something most of you have figured out, but adding the college search, beginning the college application process, and securing financial aid can gum up what used to work in unexpected ways.

Thankfully, there are a number of apps that can make the time management process easier and simpler. Each of the ones listed below has something to offer, so pick and choose based on your particular needs.

Keeping Track

Dropbox is free cloud-based storage. You earn 2 GB of free space when you sign up for a Dropbox account, plenty of room for any research you might find: pictures, notes, .pdf and Word files, audio clips–if you can save it to a flash drive, you can save it in your Dropbox!

Dropbox is a great solution if you are in the habit of saving things into folders or onto flash drives–especially if you often misplace or lend out your flash drive. It’s accessible on any Internet-connected device, including smartphones and tablets. A free app is available for all platforms. Everything in your Dropbox is private and secure, but you do have the option to share folders if you’re working with a team.

Dropbox online
FREE iOS and Android apps


Evernote is a multi-platform notetaking program designed for people on the go. Like Dropbox, it is accessible through a web interface or through a smartphone or tablet app. Evernote live-syncs across all platforms to keep your information as up to date as possible. Evernote organizes notes into notebooks that you design. You could set up one notebook per class, or one for a special project, or your scholarship search, or separate notebooks for each college you’re exploring–you have lots of flexibility. Evernote also gives you the flexibility to share notebooks with collaborators, which can be really helpful for classroom projects. Whenever you sync, you have all the latest input, whether someone’s absent or not!

Evernote has a number of add-ons that add functionality, such as the Skitch app, which allows you to annotate pictures and .pdfs, and (my favorite), the Evernote Web Clipper, a browser add-on that will clip web information and import it directly into your Evernote account as a new note.

Evernote online
FREE iOS and Android apps

Homework Apps

If you need a place to keep all of your tasks in order, you need a planner. If you’d rather not carry/write in a hard copy calendar, try one of the following phone apps:

  • Google Calendar
  • My Homework
  • The Homework App
  • Reminders (iOS)
  • Taskade


Staying on Task

Pomodoro Timers

The Pomodoro technique is a great way to help you tackle a ton of tasks you have to complete in a limited time frame. The technique works in blocks of thirty minutes. You work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. After you complete four Pomodoros, you should take a longer break of a half hour. Psychologically, it enables you to fully concentrate on the task at hand because you know that a work period (homework, reading, etc.) will be followed by a break period (social media, snack, play with the dog, etc.)–your productivity goes up, and so will your grades!

Multiple free apps modeled on this technique may be found at the App and Google stores, including BeFocused, Toggl, Clockwork Tomato, Tide, and Brain Focus. Want to introduce some gamification? Try Forest. As long as you concentrate, your little forest of trees will grow. Get distracted and they die. See how the technique works below.


Tumblr can eat your life. So can Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook, and just about any other social media platform out there. That’s where Anti-Social steps in. You specify the social media sites you wish to turn off, schedule the days and hours you want them to be disabled, and go about your business. You can set blocks for as short as 15 minutes and as long as 8 hours. This is a great tool to use when you need access to the Internet for research or to finish up that pesky FLVS course but can’t manage to get through a session without checking “just for a minute” (which turns into an hour or more). Compatible with Windows and Mac systems.

Anti-Social online
$15 shareware


Freedom provides you total freedom from the Internet. You specify the period of time you want, and it blocks access to the Internet until your time is up. The only way to disable it during a session is to reboot your computer. This is an effective tool both practically and psychologically. If you are very distractible and can just as easily amuse yourself reading CNN as you can Reddit, then Freedom may be the solution for you. Available for Mac, Windows, and Android-based systems (like Chromebook).

Freedom online
$10 shareware


Stay Focusd
This nifty extension for the Chrome browser restricts the amount of time you can spend on specified websites. Once your allotted time is used up, those sites are inaccessible for the rest of the day. You can block entire sites, specific subdomains or pages, or even in-page content like videos, images, or games. Best of all, it’s free!

StayFocusd online
Free Chrome browser extension

wastenotimeWaste No Time
This browser extension for Safari and Chrome helps you manage your online time more efficiently. The Time Tracker gives you reports on what websites eat most of your time when you’re online. Instant Lockdown mode gives you very limited Internet access during a specified time period, while Time Quota blocks a site once your present amount of time for the day is used up. You can set a global quota that will track all of your Internet activity or specify a time limit by site.

WasteNoTime online
Free Safari and Chrome browser extension


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Filed under AP Literature, Honors IV

Prepping for the AP Lit Exam

studyAP Lit is a different beast from most AP classes, since there isn’t a study guide of names, dates, events, or what have you that you should review. However, there are some things you can do to help you face the exam with confidence. First, gather your materials. Have your class portfolio, poetry journal, and copy of Sound and Sense handy.

Multiple Choice
Review your sets of practice questions, paying attention to the types of questions being asked. Many of the questions ask you to relate selected words or phrases with others in the passage or poem, so this is where you unpack your syntactical skills from AP Lang class. Pay attention to punctuation—it will often reveal relationships among the words, phrases, and sections.

Quick Tips:

  • Scan the question stems and bracket any specified lines stated in the questions before reading the poem or passage.
  • Don’t overthink things, smart people. You’re pressed for time, so go with your first, best instinct.
  • If you can eliminate at least two of the possible choices for a question, it’s better to go ahead and guess on the answer. If you’re truly stuck, skip it and move on.
  • If you skip questions, pay close attention to where you are on the answer sheet. Getting off by one can really screw things up.
  • Watch your time. Remember the one-minute rule for passages: each passage and question set should take the same number of minutes as the number of questions, plus one minute; i.e. allow thirteen minutes for a twelve-question set.
  • If you get down to the last minute or so and still have unanswered questions, then it’s okay to begin singing. (“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, I think I’ll mark this answer ‘E.'” Or B. Or what have you.) There is no penalty for an incorrect answer, but you will accumulate points for those last minute lucky guesses.

Free Response
Remember that the ultimate goal for all of the writing prompts is to reveal your understanding and analysis of the work, passage, or poem in question. Summary is not required! Really. The AP readers assigned to the poem and prose prompts basically have them memorized by the end of the second day of the reading, and the ones on Q3 are most likely teachers or college professors who really don’t need to have the plot of The Great Gatsby or Romeo and Juliet explained to them. Especially that one professor from the Ivy League school who wrote her dissertation on Fitzgerald, or the gentleman who’s taught R&J to his freshmen classes every year for the past decade. Yes, those kinds of people read AP exams.

To avoid this, my friend and AP colleague Skip Nicholson suggests that when you write, try pulling examples from different parts of the work, but don’t present them in order. As he says, “If students begin at the start of the work, you can be sure the next detail will be whatever follows in the text, and the Great Tide of Retelling is on the way to carrying them into the Brown Swamp of Plot Summary for novels or the Murky Pools of Paraphrase for poetry. There be dragons there.”

Q 1 – Poetry
Review the poems you selected for your journal, keeping in mind the focus of the selected chapter in Sound and Sense. Each poetry prompt asks you to relate the poet’s techniques with the overall meaning or theme of the poem itself. Reread some of the poems you annotated and see how those annotations help build to a theme. Practice on some of the additional poems for study to sharpen your skills.

Quick Tips:

  • Titles of poems go in quotation marks: “Song of Myself”  “Dulce et Decorum Est”
  • The voice presented in a poem belongs to the speaker, not the narrator.
  • Tone is a vital part of any discussion of poetry! Make sure you address tone in your commentary.
  • Pay attention to shifts—in tone, in style, in rhyme. They often accompany shifts in meaning.
  • Don’t arrange your essay by device! Instead, talk about how the poem presents meaning as you work from beginning to end, discussing important devices like word choice, imagery, etc. as you go.

Q 2 – Prose
The prose passages ask you to focus on evidence for a particular theme, stance, or point of view. Often they will ask about how a character is being presented and ask you to select the specific evidence from the passage to support your reading of the piece. Review your previous attempts at Q2 and see how you’re doing with using specific textual evidence as support.

Quick Tips:

  • Read the prompt carefully! Be sure you are addressing all parts of the prompt.
  • Remember that any list of techniques presented is usually a suggested list; you may choose to discuss some, all, or none of those techniques, depending on the wording of the prompt.
  • Relate any specific technique you select back to the meaning or thrust of the passage as a whole. Don’t be a tour guide shouting “Hey, look! A metaphor!” without explaining why that metaphor is important or how it connects to a larger idea.
  • Again, don’t organize your essay by device. Consider what the prompt is asking about characterization or what have you and show how that builds from beginning to end, weaving in appropriate devices as you go.

Q 3 – Open
Here’s where all those Six Pack Sheets will come in handy! Question 3 is truly an open question. As we discussed in class, Q3 will list suggested works, but you are not required to select one of those works as your response. You may select any work that you believe you can use confidently and that will help you craft as detailed and thoughtful a response as possible. My advice is that you select six works to review so that you will have names and specific details handy. From your class folder or laptop, find all of your Six Pack Data Sheets. Pull the foldables we made for Light in August and Their Eyes Were Watching God. You will also need your Window Notes pages from the Literature Circles (play and novel). These should represent all of the works we studied during this year together in AP Literature. From all of the works, select your top six. These do not have to be the six you like the best! Consider a range of time periods; include some historical works in addition to modern ones. Think about the various points of view, style, and settings represented by the works as you select your six pack. Once you have chosen your six pack, review the information in the appropriate Six Pack Sheet, foldable, or set of Window Notes. Check this website for posts about the works—use the search feature or the tags to go directly to posts about the works in your six pack. Review the Canvas discussion boards for each work. Skim SparkNotes (yes, this is what they were made for!) to remind yourself about character names and plot details. Think carefully about theme/MOWAW you have recorded on your Six Pack Sheets and decide what details within the texts support your ideas.

Quick Tips:

  • Titles of these works should be underlined since you can’t create italics with handwriting. No quotation marks. Ever.
  • Resist the urge to retell the story. The person reading your essay is probably familiar with the work and doesn’t need you to retell the plot. Refer to incidents as if you’re having a conversation with someone who read it along with you.
  • Avoid the phrase “meaning of the work as a whole” by substituting what you think that meaning/theme is. You’ll sound instantly smarter—and the essay will be more powerful as a result.

Whether you believe it or not, you’re ready. You’ve done the readings, we’ve discussed, you’ve written. You know what you need to do in order to succeed. Now go in there and make it happen!

Good luck on the exam. I’m proud of all you’ve accomplished.

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Filed under AP Literature

Learn as You Go: How to Succeed in AP Lit

There’s a kitchen principle known as “clean as you go” that suggests that if you keep a sink full of hot, soapy water available as you’re cooking, then drop in your messy tools and bowls as you finish using them, the cleanup afterwards goes much faster. The same is true of learning. If you do a little as you go along, there’s much less effort right at the end, whether that means studying for test, writing a paper, or preparing for a seminar. Here are some “learn as you go” principles that will help you be a successful student in AP Lit.

Plan Your Reading – Senior year can become great practice for college. A heavy class load, lots of responsibilities, extra activities like college and scholarship applications, and the usual demands at home and work can really eat up your time. Plan your reading so you don’t get behind. Divide the number of pages you need to read by the number of days available, and read a little every day. It’s okay to schedule in breaks as long as you maintain your pace.

Take Note – In college, you’ll be able to mark up your books, since you’ll probably be buying your own copies. With plays and novels, you have two primary options: sticky notes or directly on your Six Pack Sheet. When you come across something in a book that makes you go “Hmm…” or “Aha!” or “I wonder…”, that’s something to note. Poetry notations will go directly into your journal.

Once Is Not Enough – You always notice new details when you watch a movie for a second time. Why should reading be any different? Rereading is okay. In fact, it’s encouraged! If you’ve read one of our class selections before, don’t decide you can skip it this time. You’ll gain more from the rereading and probably make some insights you missed the first time.

Connect – Read everything with a question mark in your head. How does this sound familiar? Why does this image keep recurring, and what could it mean? Where have I seen characters like these before, and what happened to them? What were people like during this period of history, or how did this event change people’s lives? Connection is the way human brains make ideas stick. The more you connect what you read with something you already know, the more you’ll be able to recall and analyze later. 

Check the Website – When in doubt, check this website. Background information on the author or the context of the book can sometimes be a key that unlocks an idea in a play or novel.

Keep thoughts thoughts bubbling. Happy reading!


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A Note About Grades

I arrived at school today to a mailbox full of angst:

“I turned in Assignment X and got Y grade. Why wasn’t it a Z?”
“I really need X points to get Z grade—what can I do?”
“I just turned in Assignment Q (which was due a month ago). Please grade it ASAP so my grade can go up.”
“I know I didn’t do Assignment V. Can I do it now so it can be counted?”

These are variations of many, many conversations I have with students about their grades. Most of the time they take place during the marking period, when something can be done about it without unnecessary stress on either of us. The cries explode the day grades are submitted, and all of your stress is firmly transferred onto me. I’m supposed to FIX IT.

I understand. I was an AP student in high school, and I know the pressure to maintain a high GPA is immense. It seems that everything you hear from teachers, colleges, parents, your peers, and the world at large seems to suggest that keeping your GPA at stratospheric levels is necessary in order to gain admission to college and basically win at life. Let me clue you in on a little secret:

It’s not.

You don’t have to believe me. Einstein said it better:einstein

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re focusing very hard on the things that can be counted, but not so much on the things that count. When I get emails about the class, they’re hardly ever about the subject, the concepts, your discoveries, or learning. The conversations are always, always about numbers. Specifically, numbers that translate into letters on your transcript. Those things are important, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really count. Here’s what does: Understanding. Stretching. Growth. Discernment. Discovery. Challenge. And, most importantly, failure. Failure is the best teacher of all. It reveals your weak spots and invites you to grow. You should embrace failure—which might look like a B, or even a C. That kind of failure keeps you humble and shows you where to focus.

But if you (or your parents) come from the “Failure Is Not an Option” school of thought, here are some proactive things you can do to keep your grade looking the way you like it:

  1. Pay attention. If you’re busy chatting with friends or playing on your phone or doing other homework on your laptop when you’re supposed to be doing something for this class right now, that’s a near-guarantee that poor and/or missing work is to follow. I’m aware you’re sitting at tables. That doesn’t mean you have license to do what you want, to be rude, to ignore what’s going on and expect me to explain it to you special later. You know how to be a student. That shouldn’t be contingent on where you sit and how.
  2. Listen. On essays especially, I try to provide feedback to help you improve. What do my notations say? See any patterns? Are you making changes based on my comments or just glancing at the number at the top and filing the paper away for later? Heed the wisdom of Jackie “Moms” Mabley: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
  3. Read. Read the assigned works. The ones I hand you, not the summaries on SparkNotes or PinkMonkey or Shmoop or whatever the avoid-actual-work site of the month happens to be. Plot summaries will not help you with AP questions. You won’t have the depth of detail needed to answer them properly, and you won’t have the practice necessary to analyze text closely when the time comes. And while we’re talking about reading, read the directions. Don’t skim, don’t assume, and don’t let your friend’s four-second summary scalf-roping-hlsr-590x742tand in for what I specified. I can’t tell you how valuable this skill will be in college, where your course syllabi will rule your life in ways you can’t even imagine now.
  4. Ask questions. Don’t understand something? Ask. Unsure about what something means? Ask. Have an amazing idea that you’d like to explore? Please, please ask! The ability to ask good questions is an invaluable college and life skill. Professors love students who can ask good questions. Be that person.
  5. Slow down. Stop being in such a hurry. I’m well aware that the procrastination struggle is real. Fight it. Plan your reading so you aren’t trying to finish a two-hundred-page work in an evening. That’s why I gave you a calendar, so you could plan. Hint, hint. Make sure your name is on the paper itself and in the filename, if it’s electronic. Do you have any idea how many assignments I see entitled “AP essay”? Am I supposed to guess what each paper is about and who submitted it? I really don’t need that kind of excitement in my life. Don’t do all your work at the last minute, or worse yet, in the class period before you show up to mine. That slapdash effort rarely earns what you’d like. Learning isn’t like the calf roping competition at the rodeo. You don’t earn bonus points for being quick. Plus, if you haven’t tied off the calf properly, it doesn’t matter how good you look during the process. You lose, plain and simple. Do good work, and good results will follow.


Ideally, I’d love to face a class full of learners, people who are engaged in the process, willing to take risks, asking good questions, and thinking thinking thinking so their knowledge grows and their outlook expands. But if the grade monkeys screech too loudly—and I get it, they do sometimes—follow the steps above. Pay attention. Listen. Read. Ask questions. Slow down. They help, I promise.

As my father is wont to say, “End of Sermonette.”

Calf roping photo © Bob Straus


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Edmodo Reminders

Missing homework assignments? You can set Edmodo to send you text message reminders.

Want to get reminders about quizzes? Want to be notified when Mrs. Wells replies to a post? Setting up your account information and notifications is just a click away! From the “Settings” page, you can sign up to receive (or disable) notifications, control your privacy options and manage your profile information.

How to Edit Your Account Settings and Notifications

  1. Select the “Account” drop-down arrow on your Edmodo toolbar.
  2. Click the “Settings” option in the drop-down menu.


Note: You can also access your account settings by clicking on the profile icon on the top toolbar, then clicking “Edit” to the right of your name.

From there you can edit your:

Email & Text Updates Tab:


Notification Type – Choose text message from the dropdown to edit.

  • Text Message – Type in your phone number and select the type of notifications you’d like to receive by checking the box located next to each option EXCEPT replies. You can receive notifications for alerts, notes, assignments, quizzes, and direct messages. Do NOT select replies unless you want a text anytime anyone in the class posts a response to a post! Enter your 10-digit phone number and select your current mobile provider. You will need to verify your phone number in order to enable text alerts. (Note: Standard text messaging rates apply.)

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Research Paper: Structuring the Writing


Now that you’ve gathered source material and have a good idea about the relationship between between your stated problem and your chosen solution, it’s time to get your ducks in order. A strong underlying structure is the key to a well-written paper. It also makes the writing process easier, since your structure creates a “road map” of sorts for what to write about next.

Although some students like to work from diagrams, many prefer a formal outline to help them organize their thinking. Here I will create an outline based on our original problem –>solution map with additional explanations of each part of the outline.



I.   Define the Problem

II.   Potential Solutions

A. Solution A
B. Solution B

III.   Selected Solution

A. Why it’s the best choice
B. Expected outcome



INTRODUCTION – Your opening paragraph has two jobs: spur interest in your choice of topic and introduce your thesis. The thesis statement is, essentially, the answer you have arrived at for your original research question. Your thesis does not have to be super-specific (that’s the job of the body of the paper), but it should give the reader a good idea of how you will be developing the paper.

DEFINE THE PROBLEM – This section should define which aspect of the problem you will be focusing on in the paper. For example, if you’re writing about schools, you’re not going to list everything that might be an issue with schools right now. You might want to look at inequities between schools, perhaps, or what kind of effect standardized testing is having on daily curriculum, or how the school day and year are arranged and whether those are beneficial for learning. Whatever your choice, you should include enough information so that someone who is not familiar with your particular issue has a decent grasp of what you want to talk about.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS – Here, you list the solutions for your problem as they have been proposed by various groups. You should present a minimum of two potential solutions. You may have more, depending on your problem, but you should not have fewer. Using the school day example above, I might talk about varying school starting times (high school starting later in the day, or double sessions, or course selection more like a college campus), or even changing the school year (online choices, year-round school, trimesters, etc.). Your number of solutions will be determined by the research you have done. However many you present, keep the information as balanced as you can.

SELECTED SOLUTION – In this section of the paper, you go into more detail about your chosen solution. Why is this solution preferable over the other possibilities? If this solution were implemented, what benefits or changes should someone expect to see? I might decide–even if don’t like the idea personally–that we need to change the start time of high school to later in the day to accommodate teens’ need for sleep. If I choose this as my solution, I should also have information showing how it will work and why it will be a better choice than another alternative. This will be the most focused and detailed section of your paper.

CONCLUSION – The conclusion should wrap up the paper. It works well if it echoes what’s in the introductory paragraph. It doesn’t have to repeat elements (you don’t have to recopy the thesis), but it should refer to the initial idea and reinforce why your chosen solution is a logical and thoughtful approach to the problem.

Sorting your research notes and assigning them to the appropriate parts of your outline will help you see if you need to review or revisit sections of your paper for additional source material. Some students find it helpful to color-code sections of their outline, then do the same with individual notes to see how much material is available for incorporation and commentary.

As always, be sure to ask questions if you get stuck!

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Organizing Your Research

The key to a solid research paper is organization. If you can find and retrieve your source information quickly and easily, the process of working with the sources and pulling good information for the writing is exponentially easier. Here is a brief roundup of methods you might consider as you gather your information.


http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-w2_bQjzXH6Y/T-5AG1vZ9rI/AAAAAAAACGU/smvKgbyWuiQ/s1600/index+cards.jpgNote cards
There’s a reason why note cards are so popular. They’re cheap, portable, and easy to rearrange to help you organize your thinking. Note card users will make two kinds of cards: SOURCE cards and NOTE cards. Source cards contain all the bibliographic information about the source: the author, source, publisher or URL, etc. in proper MLA format. Note cards contain snippets–individual notes or quotes from your source materials. Keep these small. If you find yourself copying whole paragraphs, you’re not reading closely enough! Strip out the extraneous information and write down the most important. Be sure to transcribe accurately! Each notecard should contain a keyword or symbol so you know which source the note came from. Consider color-coding your cards, one color for your source cards and the other for the notes you take from the sources.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Highlighter_pen_-photocopied_text-9Mar2009.jpgSingle Sheets
Another tried-and-true way to organize your research is to keep hard copies of your source information. With this method, you have a couple of options. You can photocopy pages from books and magazines or print out webpage information, then use highlighters to select the information you wish to use within the paper. One way to create a hard copy if you don’t have access to a copier is to download the CamScanner app. This app will allow you to take a picture with your smartphone, then convert it into a .pdf that you can save and print later. Be sure to write the full bibliographic information at the top of each source page to save yourself some time once you begin to compile your Works Cited page.

If you’re working with books, you can also keep handwritten notes. Use one sheet of paper for each source. Write the page number in the left margin and the notes on the right. Skip lines between notes to keep things organized. As you would with copies, write the full bibliographic information at the top of the sheet.



Dropbox is free cloud-based storage. You earn 2 GB of free space when you sign up for a Dropbox account, plenty of room for any research you might find: pictures, notes, .pdf and Word files, audio clips–if you can save it to a flash drive, you can save it in your Dropbox!

Dropbox is a great solution if you are in the habit of saving things into folders or onto flash drives. It’s accessible on any Internet-connected device, including smartphones and tablets. A free app is available for all platforms. Everything in your Dropbox is private and secure, but you do have the option to share folders if you’re working with a team or it’s time to let me review your work for a grade. Here’s how you share a folder:

1. Go to your list of files and folders and select the folder you want to share by clicking on the empty space to the right of the folder’s name. (Clicking on the folder name or icon will open the folder instead.)
If the folder is currently unshared, click Invite to folder in the toolbar:

Click Invite to folder to share a folder the first time

2. If the folder is already being shared, click Shared folder options:

Click Shared folder options to invite more people

3. Enter the email addresses of the people you want to invite.
4. Add a personal message if you’d like and click Share folder.

Dropbox online
FREE iOS and Android apps


Evernote is a multi-platform notetaking program designed for people on the go. Like Dropbox, it is accessible through a web interface or through a smartphone or tablet app. Evernote live-syncs across all platforms to keep your information as up to date as possible. Evernote organizes notes into notebooks that you design. You could set up one notebook per class, or one for the research paper, or divide your research into separate notebooks–you have lots of flexibility.

Evernote has a number of add-ons that add functionality, such as the Skitch app, which allows you to annotate pictures and .pdfs, and (my favorite), the Evernote Web Clipper, a browser add-on that will clip web information and import it directly into your Evernote account as a new note.

Evernote gives you the flexibility to share notebooks with collaborators. If you choose this option, you will need to share your notebook with me when it’s time to grade your research. Here’s how you share a notebook:

1. Sign In to Evernote through your web browser.
2. Click the “Share” drop-down menu at the top-right corner of the window, and click “Share Notebooks.” If you are collaborating with a team, they will also need to share their notebooks in this same manner for you to view their shared notebooks.
3. Click the “Start Sharing” button to the right of the notebook that you wish to include in your collaboration.
4. Click the “Invite Individuals To Access This Notebook” link at the right side of the window.
5. Type the email address associated with the Evernote account of each person that you want to allow to view your notebook, then click “Send Invitations” at the bottom of the window. (See me if you are using Evernote, since my Evernote account is not set up with my school email address.) This will generate an email invitation that will be sent to the Evernote user’s email inbox. The email includes a link that must be clicked to accept the notebook invitation.
6. View notebooks that have been shared with you under the “Linked Notebooks” section at the left side of your Evernote screen. Any notes that you add to your shared notebook will be visible to your approved collaborators through this linked notebook.

Evernote online
FREE iOS and Android apps


Think of StudyBlue as notecards for the 21st century. StudyBlue allows you to create flashcards of information and sort and arrange them in a variety of ways. It’s excellent for helping you study terms (you can study traditionally or omit cards you’ve already learned from the review mode, take quizzes, and play games with the cards you create). You can also organize your research by keeping the source material on one side of the card and the note itself on the other.

Like Evernote and Dropbox, StudyBlue allows you to share your cards with others. To share:

1. In the My Backpack view, find your work that you would like to share, and click on the drop-down menu marked by an arrow on the far right side of the row of your flashcards.
2. Select Share via Email.
3. Enter the recipient’s information, and the flashcards will be sent directly to them.

StudyBlue online
FREE iOS and Android apps

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