August 29 marked the first week of school for most students in the Wake County district. For some students, the stress of school assignments came a little earlier than August 29. Students taking AP classes in the upcoming school year, were required to complete a summer assignment. As a senior at Leesville Road high school, I’ve done my share of summer assignments. However, the purpose of AP English summer assignments has never been very clear to me. What is the real purpose of AP English summer assignments? Are they just to keep up the image that this course will be more challenging than an academic or honors class? Or do they actually have some real benefit to a student taking an AP class in the coming school year?
To find out the purpose of English summer assignments from a teacher’s point of view, I asked Mr.Phillips, a AP English III teacher at Leesville. Phillips said, “Mrs. Anderson and I hope that the summer readings we require will offer students a chance to read and annotate some engaging texts without the normal pressures that typically accompany reading assignments during the regular school year. The summer assignment provides our students with an indication of the sort of work they’ll be doing in the course, but it allows them a degree of freedom in respect to choosing a book and personalizing their reading pace. We make these assignments with the hope that students will feel ready to engage with complex texts during the first days of school.”
As described by Mr. Phillips, the purpose of the assignments is to give students insight into the AP course in a relaxed way. However, most students wanting to take AP classes still stress over the assignments, especially since they’ve never taken that specific AP class before. Students don’t know how their work could be graded if they haven’t learned anything in the class yet.
AP English summer assignments typically require the students to complete an activity based on some reading or research they did over the summer and turn it in at the beginning of the year. If students have never taken the class before, however, how are they supposed to know how to complete the activity to the standard deemed appropriate by their teacher? High school students have never taken a college course before, so their knowledge is limited when it comes to techniques they can use in order to be successful on the assignment.
Another aspect that makes the purpose of AP English summer assignments blurry is the “Pre-AP English” course that is now offered at Leesville. For students wanting to take AP English the following year, the class serves as the insight into the AP course. Therefore, the summer assignment, especially for those that took the pre-AP English course, really doesn’t have much of a purpose for AP English students.
For math/science classes, the summer assignments are typically based on previous material the students learned in another class. The summer assignments are given to students to make sure they have a solid understanding of the material students have previously learned so that the first day of school everyone starts on the same page, and so they can build upon their knowledge with more difficult material.
For AP language classes, the summer assignments are given to keep students in a routine of practicing speaking and other aspects of a language that need to be consistently reinforced in order to be successful right of the bat.
AP English summer assignments are supposed to help students for the upcoming course, but the degree of help that they are supposedly giving students isn’t clear in comparison to other summer assignments. It is not fair for teachers to grade AP English summer assignments as if the students have had the college-level thinking that is expected in the course.