PREP: A simple plan for slides and space for students to write

Readers of this blog already know that I’m teaching again for the first time in 16 years. As I was thinking about how to organize the AP Research class, I think I figured out a simple, flexible scheme for organizing class materials and provide space for students to write about what they are thinking.

Context: AP Research is the second course in the “AP Capstone” experience the College Board developed for high school juniors and seniors. Juniors take a class called AP Seminar that familiarizes them with the idea of scholarly research and thinking. I get to teach 4 seniors who took the AP Seminar class last year. The goal of AP Research is to help students choose a research topic, do a literature review, identify a gap in the literature, design a research question, choose a research methodology for that question, gather data, analyze those data, and form conclusions. Students write this all up as a formal 5,000ish word journal article. 

Here’s the dilemma I faced as I set up the class: 

  • This is a brand new class in my district, so I didn’t have any ideas or materials to inherit from colleagues
  • The College Board has some materials and I attended a good training workshop over the summer. The instructor shared some useful materials he uses in his class, but there was still a LOT of day to day planning left to do (and I foolishly/stubbornly like to make my own stuff instead of using materials other people give me). 
  • I knew I was going to be planning the course as I was teaching it. I wanted to leave room and flexibility for bringing in new topics the class brought up during discussions and brainstorms that occurred on my drive to school (happens often!) 
  • One of the requirements from the college board for the course is a way for students to keep track of how their thinking changes as they develop their project. College Board calls this the “PREP” document. 

Here’s the solution I came up with: 

  • I organized my syllabus around fairly general weekly goals. This helped me know what the big goals were for each week, but left me plenty of room to “play” with day by day planning as we tried to meet those goals. 
  • I decided to make one big set of google slides for each semester. Each slide is labeled with the corresponding week, and I list dates in the notes section of the slide (to give myself an idea of my pacing when I go back to these slides later). Here’s the first 3ish weeks of slides from the class. The whole set of slides got REALLY long, but it worked well. I liked having everything in one spot. 
  • I made a PREP document that includes space for students to write about what we are doing in class every week. I put bookmarks on pg. 1 to each week to make sure it’s easy to navigate in the document. In each week, I have space for 6 “tasks” per week. As I planned how the week was going to go on the slides, I inserted instructions on a slide for students to go a specific task in PREP and write about what they are thinking. They quickly got used to going to the PREP document and writing in a specific “task space.” Here’s an example: 

Students knew they were supposed to go to their copy of the PREP document and write their answers to that question in this space: 

  • Whenever I wanted students to write about what they were thinking (even unplanned, spontaneous times during a discussion, etc.) I could quickly ask them to jump to their PREP document and write in the next task “slot.” I then modified the relevant slide to note what writing prompt or discussion topic they were writing about. 

Advantages of this system: 

  • VERY flexible. I can set up my slides for the week and include writing tasks on specific slides, and students have a hand-dandy place for that writing. If my plans change, all I have to do is change the slides. I have 6 open-ended places for students to write every week, and so far that’s been plenty. 
  • All my slides for a semester are in one place (I started a new set of slides for 2nd semester just because the google slide set was pushing 500 slides and that seemed a bit big). 
  • If a student is gone, I can tell them what slides to look through for the day(s) they missed and they have the writing tasks already listed. 
  • If I need them to write something that is “bigger” than what is convenient in the PREP document, I ask them to just insert a link to a separate google doc/spreadsheet/etc. in that space in the PREP document. 
  • At the end of the course, I plan on asking students to make their own copy of the slides, and put that copy and their PREP document in a google drive folder they will always have access to. With these 2 documents, they will have access to everything we did in the course. 

Limitations/disadvantages: 

  • When I want to look at student writing, I open an individual student’s PREP document and click on the bookmark for the relevant week. That’s not a big deal for me: I keep a tab open with the folder that has all my student’s PREP documents in there and the system works pretty efficiently BUT I only have 4 students. In a big class, this might get tedious? Not sure. 
  • I get the sense that this system might feel “informal” to some of my students sometimes. It’s possible that if I set up individual, separate documents for them to write in they might see them as more “real” assignments and they might write more (or write more formally?) Not sure. 

I like the “flow” of the big set of slides and connections to flexible spaces for students to write about what they are thinking. I’ll tweak this system the next time I get to teach, but I think I’ll keep the overall idea of this slides/PREP document pairing in place for my next teaching experience. 

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