Our curricular framework contains 15 essential elements to ensure that every unit not only has a clear, consistent focus, but also requires students to read closely, write clearly, and think deeply about the issues raised in any literary work.
The order of the 15 elements in the Framework reflects the sequence we use when planning our units and not necessarily the order in which we present material to students.
We adhere to Wiggins and McTighe's "backward design" model by creating our final assessments first to ensure that we maintain a clear, consistent focus for the entire unit from beginning to end.
Once we select an AP Literary Argument prompt and create a corresponding Authentic Assessment, we structure each subsequent element with those final assignments in mind to ensure that students will be prepared for those culminating activities.
1. AP Literary Argument
2. Authentic Assessment
3. Essential Questions
4. Journal Discussion
5. AP Poetry Analysis
6. Author Background
8. Point of View
11. Style Analysis
12. AP Passage Analysis
13. Literary Criticism
14. AP Reading Quizzes
15. Final Exam
AP Literary Argument
Once we have selected a particular novel or play to teach, the first step in our planning process is to determine the subject of the final essay.
Our goal at Literary Focus is to prepare students for the rigor and challenge of college-level coursework, so one way we achieve that purpose is to use AP Literature essay prompts whenever possible.
Even though students will not write the final essay until they finish the novel or play, we use the AP Literary Argument prompt to provide a clear, consistent focus for organizing the entire unit.
While the AP Literary Argument prompt provides an academic focus for the unit, the Authentic Assessment makes students apply the lessons learned from the literary work to some relevant, real-world situation.
The Authentic Assessment could be a project, an exhibit, a presentation, or a performance that allows students to address an issue raised in the novel or play and consider its potential significance in their own lives.
In many ways, the Authentic Assessment is the most important activity of the unit because it requires students to move beyond the text to find relevance in the lessons one can learn from reading literature.
The Essential Questions ask students to think deeply about the philosophical issues or concerns that are raised in a particular novel or play.
By their very nature, Essential Questions are complex and open-ended, which means student answers should always be provisional and subject to change upon further consideration.
Essential Questions challenge students to think not only about issues raised in the literature, but also about their own lives, the person they would like to be, and the society in which they live.
The Journal activity requires students to respond to a thought-provoking quotation that suggests a possible answer to one of the Essential Questions.
Once students have posted their Journal to the online discussion board, they respond to two of their classmates' entries, allowing the discussion to evolve organically as students consider more fully what the quotation means, whether or not they agree with its claims, and how the ideas are relevant to their lives.
After the online discussion board, students are prepared to compare and contrast the ideas in the quotation with those expressed in the novel or play, which ultimately becomes the focus of the Socratic seminar at the end of the unit.
AP Poetry Analysis
Before we begin reading the novel or play, students first analyze a poem that addresses the Essential Questions and thematically connects to the Journal quotation and the literary work itself.
To prepare students for the challenge of college-level coursework, we present the poem in the form of an AP Poetry Analysis prompt, which will be the first essay that students write in the unit.
The goal is not only for students to practice analyzing poetry, but to begin thinking about the important themes that are also contained in the novel or play they are about to read.
Once students have considered the significance of the Essential Questions through the Journal Discussion and the AP Poetry Analysis, we begin our study of the literary work by first looking at the writer's background.
In addition to reading about the author or playwright's personal experiences, we also examine the historical, societal, and cultural context in which the author lived and the work was written.
Ultimately, students need to consider what might have influenced the author's perspective and how those values, attitudes, and beliefs might be reflected in the larger themes of the novel or play.
We want students to think of every word in a literary text as being potentially significant in establishing the tone or revealing the author or playwright's theme.
If students are not familiar with a specific word in a novel or play, they might misinterpret the writer's intent and not fully understand the importance of a particular passage or scene.
Students are required to study 20 words in every unit, choosing the dictionary definition that best fits the context of the way each word is used in the text, while also considering the word's thematic significance.
Point of View
When students read the first paragraphs of a novel, their initial goal is to assess who is telling the story and how reliable the narrator appears to be.
We emphasize that authors choose their points of view carefully, and students need to examine how a narrator's perspective reveals the author's intent and potentially shapes "the meaning of the work as a whole."
With most plays, there is no narrative point of view, but students should still examine the opening scenes to determine their significance in foreshadowing the larger themes of the work.
Once students have established the narrative point of view, they need to examine how characters are initially depicted and then developed through action, description, and dialogue.
Students should identify the primary concerns and motivations of the main characters, and then consider how those characters potentially change over the course of the novel or play.
Ultimately, students have to determine if the characters are flat or dynamic, and how their change—or lack thereof—helps reveal the author's intent and the overall theme of the novel or play.
Settings within a literary work are more than just the time and place that events occur in a story; they also create mood, establish tone, and convey theme through their symbolic significance.
Similar to characters, we should not look at settings within a novel or play in isolation; instead, they often need to be juxtaposed to understand their connection to the work's overall theme.
An analysis of the setting requires a close reading of the text and an awareness that even the most minute descriptive detail could hold the key to unlocking the writer's thematic intent.
When we analyze a literary work, we not only examine how characters and settings are depicted, but also how the author's stylistic choices help establish tone and reveal the overall theme of a novel or play.
In every unit, students practice identifying how the "four pillars" of style analysis—diction, imagery, language, and syntax—help readers understand the thematic significance of any passage or scene.
A firm understanding of style analysis is required for all close reading and is perhaps the most important skill that students need to develop to be successful in their college-level English classes.
AP Passage Analysis
The ultimate assessment of a student's ability to read closely to identify narrative tone and determine authorial intent is the AP Passage Analysis essay.
The novelist Edith Wharton remarked that every novel or play contains at least one key passage or scene that serves as "an illuminating incident," or "magic casement," that reveals the overall theme, or meaning, of a literary work.
The purpose of the AP Passage Analysis essay is to assess not only how well students can read and understand the text, but also their ability to decipher the potential thematic significance of a particular passage or scene.
In every unit, students read critical commentary to appreciate how literary scholars participate in an ongoing conversation about the interpretation and meaning of literary texts.
Our goal is for students to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to one day see their own writing as potentially contributing to the discussion and furthering our understanding of a particular work.
We emphasize that literature is always open to interpretation and that an argument is only as compelling as the quality of its ideas and the persuasiveness of its textual evidence.
AP Reading Quizzes
Our AP Reading Quizzes are modeled after the multiple-choice section of the AP Literature exam, which assesses how well students have read and understood the text.
Similar to the AP Literature exam, our reading quizzes are interpretive by nature, which means students have to gauge the writer's intent to determine what is suggested, inferred, or implied in a particular passage or scene.
Ultimately, the goal of AP Reading Quizzes is not just to help students prepare for standardized tests like the AP Literature exam, but to challenge them to read more closely and think more deeply about the literary work itself.
Unlike our AP Reading Quizzes, the Final Exam is not interpretive by design. Instead, the goal is to assess how well students can identify and recall the most important elements of the novel or play.
Our 50-question Final Exam focuses on the key characters, settings, metaphors, symbols, allusions, and quotations that students need to know in order to analyze the deeper meanings of the text.
Students that have read closely and paid attention in class should do well on the Final Exam. The benefit for teachers is that the assessment is a quick, efficient way to evaluate a student's basic reading comprehension skills.