Diversifying AP Literature with help from PDS interns

Kate Walker, English Teacher, State College Area High School kap17@scasd.org
Nahid Soltanzadeh, Graduate Student, Pennsylvania State University, nms5720@psu.edu
Jamie Myers, PDS Director, Pennsylvania State University,  jmm12@psu.edu


How can you possibly have students read five different novels simultaneously in small groups and offer personalized attention to each group? You invite more interns into the classroom. This year, after evaluating the diversity (or lack of it) in our AP Literature class, we decided we needed students to choose a diverse book and discuss it in small groups. Having the PDS program, and access to multiple teachers/interns, allowed us to act on this and provide a mentor to each small student group. While there’s normally one intern assigned to each class, in this case we sent out a blanket invitation to interns and mentors asking for participation.

Because we were able to have an intern or mentor with each group, the discussions went deeper than just surface analysis. Discussions in four separate classes about The Kite Runner, The Joy Luck Club, Frankenstein, The Awakening, Americanah, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Tracks, and The Color Purple led to group papers, where students collaborated on writing an argument for inclusion of their text into the curriculum. Interns and mentors were able to push students to consider reasons why the text might be a strong candidate or why people might question inclusion for a full class read. Also, when students struggled with understanding or with approaching a delicate topic, interns and mentors were there for guidance.

The wide range of background experience brought to the table by interns and mentors exposed students to a variety of perspectives as they read their choice novel. The group with an Iranian intern had an in depth discussion about the social and cultural context of The Kite Runner focusing on the concepts of Nang and Namoos (honor and dignity). Foreign to the western culture, these concepts play a significant role in the story. As said by one of our students: “Her insights and answers to my questions regarding the book The Kite Runner supplemented my understanding in a way my primary teacher could not. She was able to give context and explain certain concepts, which resulted in a much richer and more immersive learning experience.”

One of the assignments included a potential unit overview, some ideas for teaching activities, and texts to pair with the main text. Because interns had been planning their own units, they could assist students in generating ideas for this–for example, using “The Story of an Hour” to pair with The Awakening, or discussing poems to pair with The Kite Runner.

We had two mentor teachers and four interns working with students, allowing teachers to work with texts they were passionate about and exposing students to different perspectives on texts. Not only did students bring questions for discussions, they practiced creating AP level multiple choice questions, they researched authors, and they wrote proposals to incorporate different types of literature. Some activities pushed students to think visually and collaboratively, like the one where we asked them to produce an image with a quotation capturing an important theme.

16-6-24-walker1authors Kate Walker & Nahid Soltanzadeh