To Help Students Identify as AP Students
A significant portion of students enrolling in an AP Literature course that uses an open enrollment policy may feel under-confident in their ability to succeed in the course. Typically taken in the senior year of high school, the AP Literature and Composition course may be the first AP class a student has taken. In order to help students succeed they must begin to think of themselves as AP students, embrace the workload, and establish a comfort with “confusion” and “puzzlement.” I define success as individual growth in reading and composition measured through a portfolio system and not necessarily the results of the AP exam itself.
At the start of the course it is important to build a culture of academic risk-taking and a community of support. Teachers of accelerated classes should intentionally organize seating, and promote dialogue between students of varying racial, economic and academic experience. Within the first weeks of school, the teacher should facilitate discussions about the fears and challenges students hold about the course. Terry Monroe, an AP teacher with Pittsburgh Public Schools, fosters AP identification with his literature students by presenting them with an article about the challenges and criticisms of the AP program. He then asks them to think about their own goals and the reason they elected to enroll in the course.
This unit provides an excellent opportunity to reinforce student identification as accelerated learners. In addition, journaling and personal writing about identity can help students connect with the struggle of the Invisible Man and begin to understand the political implications of being denied access to identity. Students are asked to respond to the following: 1. Do you consider yourself a gifted learner? Why or why not? 2. Do others consider you a gifted learner? Why or why not? 3. Describe the academic journey that led you to AP Literature & Composition.
Students are then asked to share their personal writing with a small group of classmates in order to build trust and promote a culture of achievement. Each group will then share out patterns of ideas that emerge from their conversation with the whole class. This assignment pairs well with a reading of chapters one or two of
because both address questions or feelings of belonging.
To Help Students Understand Political Context of the Novel
The rich political history of Invisible Man can be easily lost on a reader unfamiliar with the U.S. left at the turn of the century. Most students come to the novel with little knowledge of the leading Black political theoreticians (Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, etc.) and almost no knowledge of revolutionary politics. As a result, young readers require support developing the background necessary to understand the influences these bodies of thought have on the novel.
To help students understand the theoretical contributions Washington, Du Bois and Garvey offer, divide students into groups and assign each group the task of researching one of the figures. As a product of their research, groups will create posters detailing the philosophies of each figure, and making note of contemporary figures that seem to share these ideas (e.g. Ben Carson exhibits the beliefs of Booker T. Washington, whereas Ben Jelous exhibits the influences of Du Bois’s more). The posters are then hung around the classroom where the teacher can refer to them. As characters express viewpoints that correspond to the beliefs of these theorists, ask students to consult the posters to identify the origin of the thoughts expressed in the novel. See the Appendix for samples of student work.
In order to help students understand the Brotherhood and the criticisms Ellison is levying against the Communist Party USA, student must become familiar with politics of the U.S. left. To provide this context, divide students into groups and assign each group to read and annotate a section of the journal article, “The Communist Party and Black Liberation in the 1930’s” by Paul D’Amato. After annotating and discussing in a small group, students will write a gist statement (a one to three sentence summary of the section). Regroup students, so that each new group is comprised of members who have read different sections of the text. In this new formation, students will share elements of their original group discussion, share questions that arose and create an outline on chart paper using their gist statements as a basis for summarizing the article in its entirety.
This strategy has multiple benefits. In additions to providing necessary background knowledge for the novel, students are also engaging with a complex text published in a peer-reviewed journal and developing varied approaches (annotating, questioning, summarizing, small- group discussion) to help make meaning of complicated written material. The text itself details both the contributions the Communist Party USA made to the Black struggle and where the party failed to sustain meaningful support to Black workers.
Finally, to familiarize students with the American left at the turn of the century, students can view selections of the documentary film,
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.
The first third of the film details Grace Lee Boggs’s early activism and political life. The film depicts the conditions of Black Americans in living in Chicago in the 1930’s and also provides helpful background knowledge that may be lost on young readers of
. For example, the documentary briefly explains why Marxist activists took party names to protect their identities. This provides context for understanding why the Brotherhood gives the Invisible Man a new name after he joins them.
To Help Student Understand Identity
In order to help student explore the concept of identity, various opportunities for journaling, small group discussion, and personal response are peppered throughout the teaching of the unit. Invite students to journal about themselves using the aforementioned essential questions as prompts. Students might also respond to short quotations about identity (see the appendix for an example) or view a Ted Talk such as Amy Walker’s “Defining Your Identity.”
To Help Students Understand Novel Structure
is written as a series of cyclical episodes in which the protagonist gains and sheds a number of identities. To help students keep track of key events and develop an understanding of the symbolism in the novel, students will take structured notes during reading. In addition to dialectical journal entries, a staple of the AP Literature and Composition classroom, students will be provided a note taking template to help them track identity formation as it arises in the text. Because identity formation is closely associated with paper documents in the novel, students are asked to identify important paper documents, describe the conditions under which the document was received and respond to the identity the grows out of or in reaction to this.