AP Courses: Let Students Interact with the Course at a Glance

by Michelle Lindsey

One of my favorite activities we do in AP Literature is having my students take a dive into the Course at a Glance found in the course’s CED (Course Exam Description provided by The College Board). The Course at a Glance is the list of skills by the unit that is beautifully color-coded and labeled by type of skill. An example for AP Literature can be found here:

I know this doesn’t sound like an overly engaging lesson but it is one of the most helpful assignments I give them all year. I give each student a printed-out version of the Course at a Glance and colorful highlighters. This can absolutely be done digitally but I am a paper and pencil kind of gal and there’s something special about using markers that my seniors still enjoy. 

The objective is for them to completely color-code the Course at a Glance based on their strengths, weakness, and unknowns. They have 3 categories so they need 3 different colored highlighters. 

As they read and understand each skill, each student needs to individually decide if that skill is a personal strength (they can confidently tackle that skill within that unit), a weakness ( they already know they struggle with that skill- finding metaphors in poetry, as an example), or if they don’t know if they can tackle that skill or not because they’ve never been asked to try. 

This is a completely reflective activity that has no wrong answers. I only ask my students to take their time, really self-reflect, and perhaps ask their table partner for clarification on a skill if they need it. No one sees these except me and I fully use them to my advantage. 

We complete this task early in the year, perhaps the 2nd or 3rd week of school, and I hoard their answers. I keep them because I use them for several reasons:

  1. When beginning a new unit, I can quickly gauge how much scaffolding needs to go into my lessons as I plan based on how many students struggled with each skill within that unit. If all students feel confident about the skills within that unit, we can dive right in. If most students have never been asked to try those skills, then we may need to take more time. If they clearly see those skills as weaknesses, then I know we need to really take it slow and start with a strong foundation.
  2. When I want students to get into teams, I can quickly integrate students who are confident with that skill with students who are not or have never done it before. Or, I can pair the strengths with the strengths, the weaknesses with the weaknesses, etc. and I can scaffold the skills appropriately within each team to ensure I am differentiating effectively. Students never know how I group them. Ever.
  3. I hand them a fresh Course at a Glance printout for a specific unit we may have just finished and have them do the color coding again to see if any gaps need to be filled before moving on to the next unit.
  4. I have students do the entire process about a month before their AP Literature exam to see which areas we need to hit hard before their exam date based on where the remaining weaknesses live within the units. Usually, they get narrowed down to structure within poetry. It never fails. And, because I see this pattern now, I know I need to lean into teaching these skills a little harder and a little earlier in the year this upcoming school year.

Most AP courses have a Course at a Glance in their syllabus or CED. Scrolling through those PDFs can be a little daunting so if you pull up the CED offered by The College Board and hit “control” and “F”, you will be able to type in “Course at a Glance” and it should bring you to where you need to be.

I’m a firm believer in being upfront with my kids in regards to expectations they need to meet. Not only does this color-coding activity give me information to inform my instruction, but it also allows the students to see how the College Board is measuring them and that plays a huge role in their success. 

Michelle Lindsey has been a high school teacher in Florida for nine years, and currently teaches AP® Capstone as well as literature and writing courses.

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