18 July 2010


I wrote the following post last August as I planned for a senior class which blended Honors Seniors and AP level seniors. The AP level seniors elected not to take AP Lit, so they came to me. I figured that if they were willing to do a little extra work (1 mini project a quarter), then they deserved the extra quality points. We would design how that happened as we went along.

 Unfortunately, I was taught by their unremitting insistence upon resting on their AP laurels that sometimes things do not go as expected.  I dragged them kicking and screaming through some innovative (my judgment) mini projects that I will assign to my Honors students this year, because they could have been fun.  But one project will remain the same--the college essay. I had been reviewing college essays from first semester seniors since I began teaching at my school, and was always upset at the gap between what I knew about the students and how little of that showed up in their college essays. Having AP students in my class last year, I decided that there was an opportunity to use their superior writing skills to lead the entire class to a superior group of essays sure to make all of my kids make it to the top of the pile in the Admissions offices of their chosen colleges.

To no one's surprise but my own,  the best essays came from the students who were not afraid to think about themselves and their futures "outside the box."  We listened to a few of  NPR's This I Believe segments, and used that prompt as a way to start. The higher level students had a tough time letting go of their As being the defining trait of their personalities, but we got through it. This I Believe confounded most of them at the beginning.  It is, to an extent, about how well you did in school, but the best essays came from the interesting kids, no matter the level.

And my only job in this assignment? I told them to write about themselves and what THEY judged to be most significant about their experiences. I told them: Write about yourself, remembering what you believe. This year, we will be sharing our essays with each other, after the trauma of college admissions letters arriving February through April. Revisiting their September essays in April will be a good exercise in self-reflection: another critical skill for a successful adult. 

From August 2009:
 First essay this year is going to be the college essay: I review so many that are BAD, and it happens primarily because they do not know what to write about themselves. I think I will start by having them make a shortlist of the most important ideas in life. They can all tell me what they want to OWN in 10 years, or what they want to be DRIVING, or what JOB they should score, but few of them are able to identify what lies at their own core--maybe I should do a kind of "this I believe" (NPR)thing--they could podcast it, and then they could create an essay from that--the podcast will eliminate some of the conversational smoke they all blow in the written version. Now I have to come up with some models.

UPDATE February 2011: This project went great this year: different kids, different experience. I have the privilege of teaching 10 AP level seniors which includes an Asian and a Hispanic student, two musicians and two artists in addition to my more "traditionally" gifted students. (this is pretty diverse in a religious school.) Wow.  What a difference a year makes. They each made a personal blog, and they keep me honest. And we are all having fun and learning.

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