As I drive to the airport, I am increasingly nervous. Why did I use my paid vacation time just to go work for a week? That increasingly seems like a bad choice. The extra money will be nice, but I am going to miss my family and my normal Routine (ah, sweet routine). I am so glad that I am going to do this AP thing with a good friend to help me navigate the journey. Still, I dread airport security and the dullness of waiting at the gate. At least I have essays to mark to pass the time!
A Feast of Words: Reading the AP English Language Exam
Once my friend and I land in Kansas City, MO, we discover that the promised heat wave is a reality. The air is heavy and humid, weighing me down even more than my overly stuffed duffel does. My shoulder aches, my arms are tired, and I really wish I had taken advantage of the free checked bag that ETS would have paid for. I'm so used to packing light and roughing it that I completely forgot how good ETS is at arranging all the details of our travel (they pay for air fare, hotels, transportation, and food)! Independence strikes again!
As we check in at the conference center, I get a glimpse of the scope of the endeavor. Hundreds of people mill around, trying to find their scoring assignment. This was only a fraction of the full group, and I am already feeling crowded. We discover that they have not yet posted the English Language assignments, so we go back to the hotel to relax. Pizza and wine with friends ends our night. Oh, and we get swag!
The next morning, we wake up around 6:30 AM (which is a significant improvement over my normal schedule) and get on the shuttle bus to go to the conference center. The air is already oppressively hot and humid, so I am glad for the free shuttle. At the conference center, the AC is blasting, and I am glad I brought a cardigan and blanket for the day. We get in line for the first of many overly-hearty breakfasts. I learn the secret to weak coffee - mix in a hot chocolate packet! DELICIOUS! I leave the breakfast area full and sleepy (uh oh).
The Chief Reader greets us in an opening assembly, and we finally get our reading assignment. I'm assigned to "Argument" (which veteran readers tell me is easier). We go to our respective rooms (and by rooms, I mean roped off sections of the biggest conference room I've ever seen) and meet our table leaders and table mates. After a quick meet-and-greet, we start learning how to score the essays we will be reading. We learn about the scoring guide (0-9) and look at "anchors" and "range finders" to help us understand where an essay should place on the scoring range.
After a few hours of training, we launch into live reading. The room is chilly and the chairs are uncomfortable, but I'm excited and nervous to start reading real Student essays. Oh ... these essays are not very good. I worry that I am scoring them too low, but my table leader assures me that I'm on target. I just got a book with low-scoring essays.
As the day progresses, I despair of ever reading a good essay! I am starting to suspect that what high school students consider adequate would never be sufficient for my college-level composition classes. I consistently have to remind myself that my standards are not what matter here, so I try to think about the easiest graders at the college where I work. That helps me realize that 1) I definitely hold my college students to a high standard and 2) a majority of American high school students have unrealistic expectations about the rigor of college work.
We break for lunch and go back to the "cafeteria" room to face the heaviest meal I've eaten midday in basically forever. This is the beginning of a trend of too much food, too much soda/coffee/sugar, and the lethargy that comes with overeating. I do not know it then, but I am about to gain eight pounds over the next week of sitting and eating.
As the days continue, I develop my routine: wake up, make hot chocolate coffee, read essays, eat snacks, read essays, eat lunch, read essays, each snack, read essays, eat dinner, go the bar for a drink, sleep, and repeat. It is almost relaxing in its monotony and routine (remember, I love routines). While the people around me are complaining about the exhausting work, I feel like I am on vacation since Ionlywork one job each day. Normally, I run from job to job to job.
On the last day, despite being told previously that we were all on track to finish, the question leaders and Chief Reader came by to push us to read faster. I typically read and score about eight books (approximately 200 essays) each day. On this last day, I read so efficiently that I end up scoring1650 Essaysby the end of the week! I think I might be the fastest "acorn" (aka new reader) in my question group!
In retrospect, I had a good time at the AP English Reading 2016. I went in without too many expectations, so I went with the flow. The work was grueling and mentally exhausting, but it was a nice change of pace from my normal work.
I gained way too much weight, and I told ETS in my evaluation that, next year, I would prefer lighter lunch options. Since the point of going was to earn money, I didn't really feel like going off-site to purchase my own food. I don't mind if they keep the heavy stuff, but I would love if they would have a sandwich option each day for those of us who don't really want to eat the equivalent of two dinners.
I am excited to go to Tampa, FL for the reading next year. I hope that I am invited back to be a reader again! ETS is a great company to work for, especially since they genuinely value the expertise we all bring to the subject. The professional development and networking at the reading were excellent!
Finally, while some students impressed me with their grasp of argument, history, literature, and composition, the vast majority of essays that I read reflected a troubling lack of historical perspective and critical thinking on the part of American high schoolers. When I think back to my own experience in high school, I am struck by how privileged I must have been to learn the things I learned as a child. These students are not being given what I was given, and it shows.
Here's what I learned from student essays:
- The North seceded from the Confederacy to end slavery, and if Abraham Lincoln had not been disobedient to Congress, America would still have slavery today.
- Disobedience is good for society, but not if you have to break laws. We should all be like Thoreau, Gandhi, Parks, and King and protest unjust societies without breaking laws.
- Violent disobedience was great when it helped found the United States, but violence is bad in modern society because we don't have problems anymore. Also, we don't like having our lives disrupted by violence because ugh ...
- Disobedience is when people make mistakes, and when we get punished for our mistakes, we learn. Therefore, punishment actually helps society progress.
- Every child in American has touched a hot stove, stolen a cookie, or snuck out to a party.
- Lots of American high schoolers are planning to get secret motorcycles when they get to college.
- Disobedience, deviance, defiance, mistakes, and failure are all the same thing.
Obviously, the above statements are not direct quotes, but rather my own paraphrasing of students' "logical claims." I still have hope for this generation, but I certainly hope most of them take Freshman Composition!
Any other Readers out there? Favorite quotes or memories from AP Reading? Reply in the comments below.