Thursday, February 27, 2014

AP English Language Exam Argument Essay (Q3)

Preparing for an in-class argument essay (Q3)

On last year's AP English Language exam students were asked to write about the relationship between ownership and one's sense of self. The prompt even included the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre, a philosophy whose ideas prompted John Gardner to write Grendel.

Here's the prompt:
For centuries, prominent thinkers have pondered the relationship between ownership and the development of self  (identity), ultimately asking the question, “What does it mean to own something?” 

Plato argues that owning objects is detrimental to a person’s character. Aristotle claims that ownership of tangible  goods helps to develop moral character. Twentieth-century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre proposes that ownership extends beyond objects to include intangible things as well. In Sartre’s view, becoming proficient in some skill and knowing something thoroughly means that we “own” it. 

Think about the differing views of ownership. Then write an essay in which you explain your position on the relationship between ownership and sense of self. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.

To write this essay students had to understand some of the complexities of "ownership" and "sense of self". They then had to create a create a central idea about how the two concepts are related. Finally, they had to use evidence--any evidence so long as it's relevant--to develop and support the position.

Click here for the scoring rubric, sample responses, and scoring comments. 

* Notice that in the "8" essay the student creates a clear, sophisticated, well-developed position on the relationship between ownership and self in the introduction. The student has embraced multiple meanings of the "ownership" and, while establishing a position, has made those meanings clear.
* Notice that in the "5" essay the student attempts to show the relationship between ownership and self but is less clear and has less command of the terms.
* Notice that the "2" essay begins with a vague statement that uses the keywords but doesn't create a particular position: "Ownership and sense of self are different, but both connect." How are they different? How do they connect? These ideas should be made clear in the introduction.
* Should you use the first person (I, me, my, mine)? Notice also that the "8" and "5" include "I" while the "2" avoids "I." First-person is an important tool in argument essays.
* Although none of these essays include a narrative opening to lead into the position/thesis/claim, many successful essays do use this strategy. (Side note: a big idea opening is easier in an argument essay than in a rhetorical analysis essay.)

Development and support paragraphs
* Notice that although the "8" essay gets pretty repetitive--hey, it's a forty minute draft--the student effectively makes use of two "examples." (That word isn't exactly right but it's the one the College Board uses so I'll use it for now.) S/he first discusses the experience of reading Voltaire's book Candide to show the difference between two types of ownership, the second of which the author then connects to her/his sense of self. The student then discusses how in Jewish thought owning what is in one's own mind has been a way of responding to persecution: you may take away my material possessions but you cannot take away my thoughts. Although the score commentary doesn't state it, I think this essay--which is repetitive in places and contains some awkward phrasing--scores an "8" because the writer not only effective explains how ownership and a sense of self are related but also explains why the relationship matters. To put it another way, the examples appeal to logos and pathos.
* Notice that the "5" includes the same number of "examples" as the "8" but the student doesn't relate the examples (especially the second example) to the concepts as effectively. It's really that simple, I think.
* Something else about the "5": students often have difficulty using novels to support their arguments. If you don't know the book very well and if you don't know exactly how the novel supports your position, don't use the book. Sometimes a novel includes a theme that is generally related to the prompt but not precisely related; don't use it.
* The "2" includes no supporting "examples."

* Notice that the last paragraph of the "8" intensifies the argument, giving the reader a sense of why the relationship between ownership and sense of self is important.
* Notice that in the "5" the conclusion merely repeats the argument.

* I think that the transition between the second and third paragraphs of the "8" essay is pretty great, especially for a forty minute draft.
* There is no transition between the "Ireland" and Gatsby sections of the "5" essay.

From today's class but not related to Q3:

from Grendel chapter 7, pages 93-94 [Grendel describing the queen without seeming to]
Not easy to define. Mathematically, perhaps a torus, loosely cylindrical, with swellings and constrictions at intervals, knobbed--that is to say a surface generated, more or less, by the revolutions of a conic about an axis lying in its plane, and the solid thus enclosed.

Here's one teacher's theory about the torus and Cut A/Cut B in chapter 7.
(And here's another image to help visualize the torus in relation to the "cut" or cross-section.)

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