When choosing the AP Literary Argument prompt for the final essay, we also need to think about the corresponding Authentic Assessment. Whereas the final essay is a purely academic assignment, the Authentic Assessment requires students to apply the lessons learned from the literary work to some relevant, real-world situation. Since the final essay is a written product, the Authentic Assessment should primarily be a non-written assignment—such as a speech, a presentation, an exhibit, or a performance. Authentic Assessments are a chance for students to show their understanding of the material in a non-traditional way, using multiple intelligences to create products or performances that are presented in front of a classroom audience in a simulated real-world setting.
While it is sometimes helpful to start with the AP Literary Argument prompt and then create a corresponding Authentic Assessment, other times it makes sense to create the Authentic Assessment first and then find the most appropriate AP prompt afterwards. For instance, when reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies, we want students to consider why the island society falls apart. Does Golding suggest that human beings are biologically driven towards violence and need to live in established societies to control their base instincts, or are the boys compelled towards conflict by societal pressures that are artificially created on the island? What accounts for the wide range of reactions to the boys' island environment as represented by Jack, Piggy, and Simon? Why is Ralph, the novel's protagonist, drawn to all three characters at different times in the novel? How does Ralph's struggle represent the human struggle to determine the most appropriate response when faced with conflicting pressures and motivations?
To frame this philosophical debate, we introduce three competing theories on human nature espoused by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in both written and video form:
After discussing the competing philosophies and answering any questions that may arise, students submit a list ranking the three philosophers in the order that they think most accurately represents the true nature of human beings. With those rankings in hand, the teacher then divides the class into three debate teams. While students are not guaranteed to get their top choice, the goal is that they at least will not get their last choice. Alternatively, the teacher can assign philosophers randomly to different groups.
Once students are divided into groups of four, each group is assigned to defend a specific philosopher's theory as it pertains to the boys' island society in Golding's novel. Even though there will be multiple groups defending the same philosopher, students will work only with their assigned group of four. As students read the book, they will look for evidence to support their own philosopher's claims and for evidence to refute the opposing philosophers' claims.
If this assignment were simply staged as a three-sided classroom debate, it would be interesting and thought-provoking, but it would not necessarily be an Authentic Assessment. To put the debate in a real-world context, we simulate that each group is a team of academic scholars that has been invited to present its findings at the International Conference on Peace and Conflict Resolution in Montreal, Canada, on May 23-24, 2022:
To a certain degree, any activity inside a classroom will be somewhat contrived, but the purpose of an Authentic Assessment is to give students an awareness that academics do, in fact, serve a legitimate purpose in the real world. Events like the International Conference on Peace and Conflict Resolution do exist, and people attend these conferences to learn from experts in the field. The hope is that by advancing our collective knowledge and understanding, we can improve our institutions and create policies that better our society and the world in which we live. To enhance the authenticity of students' "research," we look at the parameters outlined for participants in the conference:
After reviewing the aims and goals of the conference, we emphasize that our analysis of William Golding's novel fits under the "conceptual, constructive, empirical, experimental, or theoretical work in all areas of Peace and Conflict Resolution" and that our findings might advance our collective understanding of human nature and societal conflict. We then distribute the assignment sheet that outlines the debate format:
To make sure that the debate is conducted on a level playing field, students are required to follow the traditional body paragraph format when presenting their statements. We have adapted the Jane Schaffer body paragraph outline, which requires a claim to be supported by two pieces of evidence from the text:
Since Authentic Assessments are presented or performed in front of an audience, we feel it is important that the audience (i.e. the rest of the class) helps evaluate the quality and effectiveness of each performance. In addition to peer assessment, students will also evaluate their own performance in light of the criteria and what they have seen from other students' presentations. We use some variation of the following scorecard to provide a holistic assessment of every Authentic Assessment activity:
To ensure that every activity aligns with the thematic goals of the unit, we have to choose an AP Literary Argument prompt that corresponds with the Authentic Assessment. In looking at AP prompts from previous years' exams, Lord of the Flies was listed as a recommended text in 1985, 2008 (Form B), and 2015:
1985: A critic has said that one important measure of a superior work of literature is its ability to produce in the reader a healthy confusion of pleasure and disquietude. Select a literary work that produces this "healthy confusion." Write an essay in which you explain the sources of the "pleasure and disquietude" experienced by the readers of the work.
2008: In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder; in other works, they are depicted as times of tribulation and terror. Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.
2015: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social and political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
Of the three options, the 2015 prompt seems to correspond most closely with our debate on human nature and why the boys' island society falls apart. When students write the essay, they will have to determine the reason for the boys' depravity. Does Golding suggest that cruelty and violence are a fundamental part of human nature, or are the boys simply products of an uncivilized, primitive environment? How do we account for differences between characters and how they respond to the same environment? Why does Jack so quickly revert to violence and brutality, for instance, while Piggy and Simon never do? There are many viable and valid theories as to why cruelty exists on the island and what Golding wants us to understand about human nature and societal conflict as a result.
Ultimately, the Authentic Assessment and the AP Literary Argument prompt should complement each other and provide a clear focus for the unit. As we construct each element in the Framework, we want to keep our thematic goals in mind so that every successive activity and assignment prepares students to be successful on those final assessments.