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AP English Literature and AP English Language.... new ways to think about these courses
Lilianna Serbicki, 5/30/2012

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: We're so grateful to have our former AP student Lilianna Serbicki now teaching with us in our AP Online program, leading both AP English Literature and AP English Language. She's been a true natural teacher, working with real enthusiasm and dedication and creativity-- all while also being a wonderful 'new mom' to her darling little son Luke.  Enjoy learning here about some of her unique ways of actively engaging her online students!          

 Studying Literature and Language can become a passive activity; memorizing terms does not mean you understand or relish them. My goal in both AP English Language and AP English Literature has been to help students pursue knowledge and creativity in an active manner. I provide these opportunities by offering optional creative fiction assignments, hosting live IM chats, and featuring an online “Dinner Party” analysis project.
            The primary objective of both AP English Language and AP English Literature is to provide students with the skill and knowledge they need to be successful on exam day. However, their English experience will not end that day; they will go on to complete college courses and have a variety of other educational experiences. The creative flexibility that they encounter in AP Language and Literature is just as valuable as the specific AP Exam prep. Real life is not limited to filling in circles!
            One of the main interactive activities in my AP classes is the spring Dinner Party project. In AP English Language, I spoke as C. S. Lewis, inviting students (each in their own persona) to join me for lively “dinner and discussion” at “my” Oxford home, the Kilns. In reality, this discussion took place on a web forum that the students could access at any point during “Dinner Party week”. My guests included Patrick Henry, Martin Luther King, Jr., characters from Animal Farm, Jonathan Swift, and Marcus Brutus from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. We discussed social, political and philosophical issues adapted from previous AP Free Response questions. This was an excellent way for students to practice their research skills and develop their ability to see from the perspective of another writer. 

            Speaking as writer Flannery O'Connor, I invited my AP English Literature students to visit “my” home in Georgia. Our web forum hosted characters as eclectic as Professor Henry Higgins (Pygmalion), Beatrice and Hero (Much Ado About Nothing), Dorian Gray, George Emerson (A Room with a View), and all of the main characters from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Our discussion topics ranged from ethics and justice to literature and childhood. I was truly impressed by how enthusiastic my students were! All of us enjoyed researching our characters and interpreting each unique voice.

            Class interaction was not limited to a single project; students in both of my classes had the opportunity to participate in a weekly live IM chat via Skype. These webchats consisted of  brief lectures, open discussion, MCQ analysis, and other activities. All Skype chats were optional; if a student was not able to participate, he or she was able to sign into Skype later and read the chatlog or view the relevant information I had posted on the webboard. Our Skype chats became especially important during the “AP Review” portion of the class; I hosted several “Live Multiple Choice Quizzes”. During these sessions, students answered quizzes live as a group and we analyzed the correct answers together. This was an exciting and VERY “active” way to study!
            However, my favorite activities this year have been the optional creative fiction assignments many of my students have completed. Once students had established their mastery of basic writing skills, they could choose to complete FICTIONAL responses to select course texts. Here are two examples which clarify what a “fictional response” entails:
            We explored the concept of Dystopias in AP English Language as we read Ursula K. LeGuin's ethical puzzle “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Kurt Vonnegut's love letter to individuality “Harrison Bergeron”. Consider the following excerpt from Faith Liu’s (AP English Language) compelling Dystopian science fiction response:

“Paper. Finally, clean paper.

Or at least, the back of it is clean. The front is…well, if you’re reading this, you can flip it over and see. I managed to steal this from the hallway between my cell and the bathroom. I doubt anyone will miss it; there are hundreds of them, posted haphazardly all over that hallway, the building – everywhere, I wouldn’t be surprised to know.

Haphazardly. I like that word. I wonder why no one uses it. You see the word “hazard” everywhere, mostly on these obnoxious posters: ‘Copy is safe. Creation is hazard. Please report all instances of creation and spontaneity to the Department.’”

            Consider the following excerpt from Kelsey McCleskey’s (AP English Literature) emotionally intelligent re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from Frederick Wentworth’s point of view:

            “He woke early the next morning, just as the sun poured over the horizon and flooded the rooftops of Bath with golden light that danced in dust specks in front of his window. Hope, the light seemed to say. What kind of poetry must he have been reading, to fill his mind with such nonsense? He shook his head and began to dress.”

            Both of these students have transcended merely “retaining” or “memorizing” important literary and rhetorical devices; they are able to use those devices in their own writing! They have mastered theme, characterization, tone, imagery, and other important devices.

            Why focus on fiction? While non-fiction lends itself to concise rhetoric, fiction is often one of the most effective ways to express a concept or present an argument. For that reason, I included a wide selection of both classic and speculative fiction. The highly allegorical nature of many sci-fi stories make them ripe for rhetorical and thematic analysis!
            Many of my students preferred writing non-fiction and focusing solely on essay responses. Rigorous academic writing can be exhilarating, and I supported my students every step of the way. Student research paper topics included comparisons of Oscar Wilde and Kurt Vonnegut (AP Lit), the pros and cons of federal funding for the arts (AP Lang), and the development of modern music (AP Lang).

            Walking into the AP Exam room with confidence is only the first step! I want to enable each student to greet important English concepts as old friends wherever they are encountered – in college and beyond.


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