How much is too much?

As I expressed in an earlier post, I love my AP World History classes. They are doing their work, heavily participating in class discussions, and despite the fact I am working them like crazy, generally enjoying the class. Parent night was a couple days ago and parents were generally positive and accepting of the rigor of the class.

However, I am getting signals from various students that they are feeling the strain. Individuals are approaching me and wanting to discuss it, a number of parents expressed concern about their individual students, and as a group the different classes are lamenting the amount of work. Of course, it is not just my class, it is the three other honors classes they are taking, sports, clubs, family, friends, and just the stress of being a teenager. I have been asking myself, how much is too much?

Any AP class is a forced march (as another teacher described it to me). You have to get through the content in a limited period of time. I have forty chapters of content to cover in thirty weeks. Plus, I need to teach them skills – like how to take notes, write three types of essays, analyze a document, and manage their time. In the first four weeks they have read seven chapters and completed a small project. It should get easier as they continue, but many are suffering. Physically they are exhausted. Emotionally they are drained.

On one level, I feel bad. I encourage them, I have laid out the stakes (college entrance, college credit), but that is not enough. My words do not make the reality any easier.

Then I just read this article from USA Today. What are the benefits? What are the costs? My high school career was tough – I took all of the honors classes available, but we only had one AP class. When I went to college, I certainly was not ready. I was in honors calculus, but I was in no way prepared for college calculus. It took me a couple quarters to really adjust. With this rigor, will my students be able to adjust more quickly? Is that worth the strain and stress? Is it worth giving up sports or time with friends and family?

In the end, I am faced with the current reality of the situation. If I let up on the students, I lessen their chance of succeeding on the AP exam, if I keep it up, some will probably burn out and quit. Is this the point, those who can’t won’t? Or should we try and accommodate everyone?

I appear to have more questions then answers.

7 thoughts on “How much is too much?”

  1. You’re hitting a topic that’s been pretty hot lately. I tried to summarize some of the new questions about the validity of AP classes in an entry in my Gifted Education Blog. The fact is that while the AP exam is a good predictor of college performance, taking AP classes is not. In fact, there seems to be little or no correlation at all. Given the “forced feeding” of loads of content that many AP classes have become, it’s no wonder. I think a lot of teachers are starting to emphasizes the depth and complexity of the content and skills in AP classes — rather than the quantity of content covered (moving away from the “forced march” you mentioned).

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  2. Excellent question.

    On my AP US syllabus I said that I had a primary goal of teaching them U.S. History and a secondary goal of getting them to perform well on the AP exam. I explicitly said that my goal was not to improve their social life, though some of the facts they learn may make them a hit at parties.

    I explained to them that they can meet the primary goal through ANY U.S. history course at the school, including honors. I assume that if they signed up for the course, they want to pass the AP Exam. I will never give them work just to stress them out, but I will do everything in my power to help them pass the exam, which means a LOT of work on their part. Why would they sign up for the course if they didn’t want to pass the exam? So at times, yes, I will teach to the test. So be it.

    Also, at our school we have students taking 4,5, even 6 AP courses. I explained to them that while I hope they do well in AP English that is not my concern. So don’t give me the “your class isn’t the only class we have ya know” line.

    Finally, I reiterated that I had never heard of a person getting rejected from a college because they did not take AP U.S. History. These kids are under so much stress. More than I would ever have dealt with in high school. They shouldn’t feel so much shame if they can’t do it all.

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  3. We had our open house last week and I had two parents ask me if there was any way to lessen the work load. Each one of these kids is taking mostly AP courses and of course they have their extra-curricular activities.

    At our school, not only do students have to sign a form indicating they understand the amount of work required, but parents do, too. It’s very difficult to get out of an AP course simply because they don’t want to do the work. It has to be a scheduling issue.

    Bottom line, I go on with the heavy workload. It’s a mirror of what will happen at college and beyond, so I believe I’m doing the right thing when assigning the appropriate work.

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  4. Cheers from the desert: Observations about AP classes in High Schools: It seems to me, that AP classes in high schools are sort of a mixture of a ‘typical’ high school class and 100/first year college classes. Students who successfully complete the class recieve high school credit and “university” credit for the class.

    However, arn’t most 100/first year college classes (History 101-102 [ US HIST. ], History 103-104 [ Western Civ. ] etc.), usually taught as lecture classes that may have two or three tests {or a mid term) and final exam and maybe a research project or two as the sole evaluations for the classes ? Maybe a video/dvd or two is shown, but again, lecture in different format. Students are expected to sit in class, take notes, read the assigned text outside of class, prepare for their exams and complete the research project.
    Classes do not meet on a daily basis.

    But, in high school, there is less lecture, more projects, more quizzes, tests and other evaluations? And, of course, classes meet daily.

    Remember, I teach jr. high, but like to know what some of my students may encounter in the future.

    Hope you’re having fun with the AP Dan.

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  5. It’s funny because I was asking myself a very similar question last week, when I looked at the stats of the first biology test. How far do you push students “for their own good”.
    One of my groups has an 87% average on that test – so then I wondered whether I should make the test harder, or include more questions such that only a few make it to the last question.
    But then again, if my questions are pertinent to what we talked about in class, and if they studied and are able to explain, define, calculate, isn’t that the whole point? As the topics get more complex, so will the test questions…
    In your case however, you have students who WANT more work and expect life to be harder, for a little while anyways, hence a different story…
    In Quebec, kids go to high school from grade 7 to 11, then head to College for 2 years – this is the transition to University – What would be covered in one year in high school is covered in 1 semester in College.
    From my understanding, kids in the US need to acquire all the advanced skills right in high school.
    Very interesting…

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  6. In my APUSH classes, I have cut the load WAY down, but it is still a good amount. I have a new colleague, though, who isn’t assigning any homework in his two sections, and isn’t holding them accountable for reading the material, despite my best efforts to warn him and giving him ALL of my materials at his request.

    The kids at my school are often not used to doing this amount of work. I realize this, and try to help/encourage/cajole/crack the whip as necessary.

    Also, not to be mean, but why is it that we have to lower our standards to allow kids to overschedule themselves? I remember a term from econ 101 known as “opportunity cost:” for every choice, there is something else you didn’t or you can’t choose. There are some kids that need to realize that they cannot have or do everything. It’s definitely a part of our consumer culture. There are only so many hours in the day. If you want to play 5 sports, perhaps AP is not for you.

    Of course, the question of why parents are so willing to knock themselves out for sports and not for their children’s education is a post for another day.

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