The AP English Literature and Composition course is designed to engage students in the careful reading and critical analysis of imaginative literature. Through the close reading of selected texts, students can deepen their understanding of the ways writers use language to provide both meaning and pleasure for their readers. As they read, students should consider a work's structure, style, and themes, as well as such smaller-scale elements as the use of figurative language, imagery, symbolism, and tone.
The course should include intensive study of representative works from various genres and periods, concentrating on works of recognized literary merit. The works chosen should invite and gratify rereading.
Reading in an AP course should be both wide and deep. This reading necessarily builds upon the reading done in previous English courses. These courses should include the in-depth reading of texts drawn from multiple genres, periods, and cultures. In their AP course, students should also read works from several genres and periods -- from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century -- but, more importantly, they should get to know a few works well. They should read deliberately and thoroughly, taking time to understand a work's complexity, to absorb its richness of meaning, and to analyze how that meaning is embodied in literary form. In addition to considering a work's literary artistry, students should consider the social and historical values it reflects and embodies. Careful attention to both textual detail and historical context should provide a foundation for interpretation, whatever critical perspectives are brought to bear on the literary works studied.
Such close reading involves the experience of literature, the interpretation of literature, and the evaluation of literature. All these aspects of reading are important for an AP course in English Literature and Composition, and each corresponds to an approach to writing about literary works. Writing to understand a literary work may involve writing response and reaction papers along with annotation, freewriting, and keeping some form of a reading journal. Writing to explain a literary work involves analysis and interpretation, and may include writing brief focused analyses on aspects of language and structure. Writing to evaluate a literary work involves making and explaining judgments about its artistry and exploring its underlying social and cultural values through analysis, interpretation, and argument.
Writing should be an integral part of the AP English Literature and Composition course, for the AP Examination is weighted toward student writing about literature. Writing assignments should focus on the critical analysis of literature and should include expository, analytical, and argumentative essays. Although critical analysis should make up the bulk of student writing for the course, well-constructed creative writing assignments may help students see from the inside how literature is written. The goal of both types of writing assignments is to increase students' ability to explain clearly, cogently, even elegantly, what they understand about literary works and why they interpret them as they do.
Writing instruction should include attention to developing and organizing ideas in clear, coherent, and persuasive language; a study of the elements of style; and attention to precision and correctness as necessary. Throughout the course, emphasis should be placed on helping students develop stylistic maturity, which, for AP English, is characterized by the following:
§ Wide-ranging vocabulary used with denotative accuracy and connotative resourcefulness
§ A variety of sentence structures, including appropriate use of subordinate and coordinate constructions
§ A logical organization, enhanced by specific techniques of coherence such as repetition, transitions, and emphasis
§ A balance of generalization with specific illustrative detail
§ An effective use of rhetoric, including controlling tone, maintaining a consistent voice, and achieving emphasis through parallelism and antithesis
It is important to distinguish among the different kinds of writing produced in an AP English Literature and Composition course. Any college-level course in which serious literature is read and studied should include numerous opportunities for students to write. Some of this writing should be informal and exploratory, allowing students to discover what they think in the process of writing about their reading. Some of the course writing should involve research, perhaps negotiating differing critical perspectives. Much writing should involve extended discourse in which students can develop an argument or present an analysis at length. In addition, some writing assignments should encourage students to write effectively under the time constraints they encounter on essay examinations in college courses in many disciplines, including English.
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