Ap american Studies 2013-2014 Mr. Willecke Mr. Johnston course description

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AP American Studies


Mr. Willecke Mr. Johnston
This course combines the study of history with literature and writing to create a more profound understanding of past events and their effects on today’s world. Emphasis rests on drawing relationships between the literature and the historical developments of the time. You are required to read and understand the works and time periods, comprehend, analyze, and synthesize material, and write with clarity, thoughtfulness and thematic certainty. We will conduct our exploration using a variety of methods, including group presentations, writing analytical essays, poetry, and personal reflections.
AP/Honors American Studies begins with the earliest peopling of America and proceeds to the present in roughly chronological fashion. Particular emphasis will be placed on the formation of the Republic, how the ideas of that time period have influenced our Nation since, and how those ideas have either changed or remained the same. Recognizing that you have taken a course in American History every few years throughout your school career, we will favor depth over breadth and focus in on those events that have formed, reinforced or changed the “American Character.” The literature in this class supports the historical periods studied, creating pathways that clearly define the American Experience. You should leave this class able to marshal the lessons of history and human nature with modern issues and concerns. Finally, we will recognize the importance of historical interpretation, and we will practice “doing history” by comparing competing interpretations and examining primary sources. Your work with the literature requires you to historicize and contemporize; successfully defining each work’s place in the literary and historical world, while applying the work to today’s world, will greatly enhance your experience in this course.
All of this will prepare you well for the two writing portions of the United States History Advanced Placement Test, which all students are strongly encouraged to take. In addition, the College Board places a strong emphasis on students being able to recall a large number of historical facts in a multiple choice test format. In-class exams will help you to prepare for this, but additional exam preparation and regular upkeep of memorized information on your own time will be needed in order to put in a strong showing on that portion of the AP exam, and is expected of students in this course. You should be able to transfer your literary analysis skills into a good performance on the SAT II Literature test.
We assume that students who sign up for Honors are Academics, something that is not true of all high school students. Here are some behaviors we expect from fellow Academics:
Academics do not get frustrated when the intellectual challenges in front of them are not crystal clear. They never say "just tell me what to do and I'll do it," but instead embrace the frustration of puzzling their way through the difficult work that confronts them.
Academics focus on learning and not grades – they never grade grub.
Academics recognize and embrace the challenges of expressing their ideas both verbally and in writing. This means participating actively in class – taking the initiative to break into the conversation and put ideas on the table for everyone else to discuss. This also means taking pride in your writing and working hard to learn and display the craft of writing to effectively contribute your ideas.
Academics are curious about the ideas they encounter and will look up additional information about themes and items found in the readings or discussed in class, not because they are assigned, but because Academics are curious. Academics share those ideas and research with the class.
Academics recognize the availability of their teachers and the opportunities provided during office hours and make regular use of them to improve their investment and success in the class. Academics would never make the mistake of trying to sort out important course issues during the 5 minute passing period.
Academics recognize that because they engage in academic discourse on a daily basis, their teachers will treat them as fellow academics and accommodate for special circumstances that arise when "life happens." Of course, they would only discuss this with their teachers in person and would try not to address special, personal circumstances via email.
Academics have a life outside of school – this is where they decompress and find the energy to engage fully in the class on a daily basis.
Academics budget their time wisely and do not overcommit their time or resources, knowing that to do so would hamper their ability to exhibit the above academic behaviors.


Although many observers bemoan the bankrupt nature of on-line classes so common in contemporary education, we would argue that too many classroom teachers abdicated their responsibilities long ago in classrooms where students arrive, sit down, and attempt to absorb information disseminated by the “sage on the stage.” What, we ask, is the difference between this and watching a podcast or flash video of that same sage? Our model, rather, is the coffee shop or public house—a place where intellectually curious individuals arrive eagerly to discuss politics, the past, and works recently read. You, in turns out, are the essential component in our education.
Thus, if you are ready to fulfill your responsibility to yourself, your classmates, and your teachers, a great journey begins for all. Practically speaking, this means reading nightly and bringing your thoughts to class daily. But thoughts are not correct answers and a discussion is not a verbal quiz. Your reading should generate observations, connections, skepticism, criticism, a fair number of questions, and perhaps an occasional epiphany; correct answers are mostly optional. Read actively! When a passage doesn’t make sense, re-read instead of moving on. Highlight passages that you find compelling and commit acts of observation in the margins. Perplexed, disturbed, awe-struck, and apoplectic are pretty cool ways to show up to class.
Participation credit may be earned in a variety of ways, including effectively answering questions directed personally to individual students, responding to your peers’ comments, articulating viewpoints to the class that reflect an understanding of the themes, tropes, or other interpretive values from the material studied, and through dialogue in group work and with the teachers. The best participants will foster and steer discussions, raise applicative issues, and make connections to the past and present.
So, we will call on you randomly, and participation/formative assessment quizzes make up 30% of your semester grade. Intimidating? Understandably, but it is honest, immediate, and immeasurably more stimulating that sitting in groups where you freeload off of classmates who jumped through the necessary educational hoops the night before. We note that not all students will master each concept on their own or have comprehensive answers to every question; students in that situation should demonstrate that they have wrestled with the materials, and should posit questions accordingly to demonstrate attempted mastery. This is not a correspondence course, and in the words of Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution will not be televised.” We cannot bend the rules for students that are shy or reluctant. Participate!
Your teachers have created a class that requires respect—respect for other people’s ideas and respect for everyone’s right to learn. Respectful behavior includes talking only when it is your turn, raising your hand to speak, avoiding disruptive noises, ignoring your quiet cell phone, showing up to class on time, coming to class prepared, and maintaining a clean classroom, along with other human respect and dignity behaviors.

We prefer to deal with instances of disrespectful behavior by simply making eye contact to let you know you are being disrespectful, after which you should modify your behavior. If that is not possible or does not work, and one of us has to interrupt class to ask you to stop, we might assign you 30 minutes of detention to make up for the time you took away from the rest of us. Some behaviors will lead us to ask you to step into the hall and wait quietly until one of us has time to come out and discuss your behavior with you. You may be asked to leave for the rest of class in some instances. In the case of repeated or particularly offensive disrespect we will arrange a meeting with you, us, your parents, and administrators and/or refer you to the office for increased disciplinary measures. Additionally, students that are disruptive or focused on something other than the course will have participation credit negatively impacted.

Keeping Track of Assignments

We expect students to be active listeners in this discussion-based class, a practice which extends to keeping track of assignments given verbally. Oral directions regarding assignment due dates and specific requirements will be considered adequate in this class; the onus is on the student to record those directions as needed. Students are welcome to use the various electronic and social media at their disposal to track assignments, in addition to setting up a study buddy system for keeping track of everything. Part of being in this class is the assumption of responsibility in managing your calendar. You are accountable for assignments and direction derived from our spoken words.

A Note on iPads, Laptops, and Smart Phones

We are excited about the 1:1 electronic environment at MIHS and will be using the iPad for many activities, which we will design specifically to take advantage of these new tools. Essential to using these new tools is knowing when they are the best tool for the task at hand, and knowing when the other tools, such as pen, paper, books, brains, and most importantly discussion and discourse, should be used instead to best facilitate learning. The main focus of this course is on verbal participation in academic discussions over complex topics, and that approach is ill-suited to electronic multi-tasking.

To this end, please realize that the iPad is properly seen more like a pair of scissors or glue stick than as a book, pen, or paper—when we need to cut up paper we will use the scissors; when we need to glue construction paper to a poster, we will use the glue stick; and when we need to put together an electronic presentation during class (for example), we will use the iPad. Homework, notes, written formative and summative assessments, the annotation of articles, and other quintessential academic activities will require pen and paper. The iPad, which is linked to the internet, provides access to additional materials saved in the device memory, and since we currently do not have no convenient method of collecting electronic work, is a limited tool for work that is part of daily formative assessment in the course. An open book quiz, for example, changes by definition if that book is stored on an iPad. As such, we will not be using iPads for these purposes, but rather for activities constructed to make the most of the specific functionalities the iPads provide.
We require that your cell phone be in your bag before you enter the classroom and that it stays there—we should neither see nor hear it. Violations of this rule will result in the cell phone being confiscated and turned into the administration as per school policy (see the Student Handbook for further information). The same goes for headphones, iPods, etc. On some occasions we will let you listen to your music while working individually. No headphones are permitted during testing. During regular class time we do not allow the use of laptop computers, which are distracting to others and reduce participation, thereby working against our goal of fostering a discussion-based classroom (they may be appropriate in a lecture-based classroom, but this is not our approach to learning). We will let you know ahead of time when there are group work days where laptop use would be allowed, so please do not bring your computer to class as a matter of course.
Open Door Policy

We have always had an open door policy, which means that all guests are welcome at all times in my classroom. Visitors must check in with the Main Office, of course. Because of our policy, you may see administrators, parents, or even random visitors coming into our classroom, so please treat them with courtesy and respect. Do not stare or engage them in conversation, please!

Finding Out What You Missed

Being absent requires time to catch on what you have missed. If unable to obtain the missed assignments from a classmate, then make time to visit with us during our planning period or after school on the day you return. Because there is insufficient time during the 5 minutes passing period before and after class for us to explain what we did the day(s) you were absent, coming in before or after school is a requirement. We realize this often conflicts with your activities or sports schedule, but we are of the strong opinion that academics come first. Failure to make time before or after school will result in loss of credit for the assignments you missed. Please respect the fact that your teachers are busy and that we use passing and break time for ourselves; please do not approach us then.

Work Assigned While You Were Absent

For assignments given during your absence, you have 3 days to turn in make-up work. For extended absences of a week or more special arrangements must be made with us (outside of class time) to develop a schedule for you to turn in the work you missed.

Long-Term Assignment Due During Your Absence

Major assignments with due-dates published prior to your absence (projects, papers, etc.) are due on the first day you return to class. However, if that assignment is required to be submitted via email—being absent does not affect the due date for those assignments. If you are absent on the date of a presentation, you must appeal to make up the grade as your absence greatly affects your group and the whole class. We follow school policy, so please refer to your Student Handbook.

Submitting Absent Work

Keeping track of all the work that comes in after the due date because of absences takes up much time. To help us with this we require that you clearly write “absent” and the date(s) of your absence(s) at the top of your work turned in after your excused absence.


Because of the nature of participation and whole-class conversation, by coming in tardy you disrupt the whole class. As such, tardies are both a discipline issue and an academic one. Each tardy results in a minus being applied to your participation. If you are only tardy a few times a semester and participate well, then there should be no grade deduction. If you are frequently tardy or particularly disruptive when you enter, we might also assign you detention to make up for the time you have taken away from the class. Being more than 10 minutes late to class is absent; 10 minutes or less late is tardy. Every 3 tardies counts as an unexcused absence.

Academic Honesty

Using someone else’s work in place of your own is disrespectful to yourself, to the author of the work, to your teachers, and to the classroom community. If you do not do the work, you need to take responsibility for that choice. See the Student Handbook for the consequences of academic dishonesty; be aware that this can lead to a loss of credit in the class.

For clarification, we consider the following actions to be academically dishonest: First, writing a paper WITH someone else. You may certainly get help, share ideas, have a proofreader, etc. but if we get two papers that are structurally the same with similar sentences that differ slightly in word order or with a few words altered, we will consider this academic dishonesty on the part of both individuals (one student has plagiarized and the other has cheated) and take the appropriate action—you need to do your own writing. This is also true of research—we expect you to read and find your own evidence or facts from the readings, not just copy the choices of others. Second, cutting and pasting from the internet without citing the source when doing research is never acceptable, no matter what the assignment is—all of your work needs to be in your own words—period. There are other forms of academic dishonesty, none of which are acceptable. Note: we reserve the right to submit your work electronically to an anti-plagiarism website, such as turnitin.com or SafeAssign.
Test/Paper Return

We reserve the right to collect and/or recollect and keep any assignment or test given in the class. On rare occasion, papers might not be returned at all, depending on the purpose of the writing.

Grading Policy

We will grade on a points/percentage system. Every assignment will be worth an amount of points and you can figure out your own percentage by dividing the points earned by the total points possible.

Grading Scale





















Mr. Willecke’s Grading Categories
30% Participation and Preparation

20% Tests

20% Writing

20% Final/Mockumentary

10% Best Score
*The test category includes all AP style tests and assignments meant to prepare you for the AP exam. Students who score a 4 or 5 can swap out their AP grade for this category. See the documents in AP section of the course pack for more information.

**At the end of each semester, your highest score in the 4 main categories is duplicated and entered into the Best Score category. As a result, the category which you are best at becomes more important, allowing you to play to your strengths.

A List of Some of Our Graded Assessments

Researched, MLA-format essays

On-demand essays

Persuasive, text-based essays

Quizzes – pop and planned

Group presentations

Paired-Partner presentations

Solo presentations

Creative music projects (thematic literary analysis expressed by creating a CD w/annotations)

Group in-class essays

Poetry Cycle or chapbook creation


Paragraph quote analyses

Essay revisions

Reader Response journaling

Artistic Projects

Exit slips

Peer evaluations

  1. group presentation evaluations

  2. peer editing of essays


  1. blogging on course website about teacher-initiated prompts

  2. emails to teacher

  3. verbal discussion, student-driven

  4. verbal discussion, teacher-driven

AP-style exams

Historical ID’s

When emailing assignments to me, save the document file like this:

Jane_Doe_Huckleberry_Finn_Essay (of course you use your name)

Mr. Johnston’s Course Notes

Course Curriculum: Because of the subject material mandated by the State of Washington and the School Board in this course, religion, politics, and many other charged topics are part of the curriculum. I do not believe that your teacher should sway your opinions on these topics; rather, you should use your course exposure and research to support discussions with your parents. Your participation and opinions on the course curriculum are an important part of the course, but I do not allow students to belittle or demean others for their opinions. Tolerance is a vital part of my everyday classroom.

Personal Bio: I started teaching in 1989, and I love it. I coached volleyball for 10 years and won a state championship before retiring in 2000. I have also coached football, basketball, and softball. I attended several schools while earning my degrees, including BYU, Indiana, Notre Dame, and Ball State. I am National Board Certified and completed AP training for three courses. I have two children: Emily, 16; and Tyler, 14. I love to travel and wish I could do much more of it. My most traveled destinations are Vietnam (12 times), Cambodia (6 times), and Italy (4 times).
Educational Philosophy Snapshot: I set students up for success. My daily goal is to teach and inspire students to develop a writing ego that gives them the confidence to write well in any situation. I believe that synthesis of ideas and the ability to convey complex ideas in writing are paramount to success in almost any arena today, so those are my overarching goals for all students. We do not all learn the same, nor do we all express our intelligence the same way, so I use many different assessment tools for evaluation. Although my main assessments are various kinds of writing, I believe that artistic talent is the purest form of expression, and since I have no artistic talent, I love to see it and hear it. Because every student starts at 100% in the course, all students can earn an A. You have to earn it, of course, but I will give you all the opportunities and support you need to earn the grade you desire. I use a total points system to determine grades, and attempt to make this rough breakdown of points: Participation and Preparation (30%), Formal Writings (40%), Final Projects (20%), and Daily Work (10%).
Our Academic Team: Mercer Island is a very special place. The District has created an environment where everybody on this island is part of the team that educates you. I will reach out to anybody I deem necessary to help you succeed. Your counselor, the administrative team, coaches, the community, other teachers, your peers, and definitely your parents are all on the same team, so all will be utilized as necessary.
Right to Change: Sometimes I need to adjust part of an academic unit, or change a text, to better fit the tone and style of a class; this means that each of my sections may not be doing the same assignments or thematic units. To maintain energy and enthusiasm for the material, I reserve the right to make changes as I deem necessary.
Mr. Willecke’s Grading Philosophy Statement

Grades are an attempt to distill the specifics of your performance in a class down to a percent or a letter; they are, by necessity, an oversimplification. Grades measure how you did, but they never indicate who you are—someone is not a “B” student; they are a student who earned a “B” in that class. That being said, grades are important and I take very seriously my responsibility to be accurate and fair.

The category distribution listed above indicates the importance assigned to different forms of assessment in this course. Writing, the chief way in which the academic world develops and shares ideas, and also one of the most widely important skills in higher education and the “real world,” makes up the largest percentage of the grade. A corresponding amount of instructional time, as well as the amount of time students are required to write (and rewrite) their work, will be devoted to summative written assessments.
Homework in this course is almost exclusively assigned for the purpose of preparation. In a discussion based classroom, as outlined in the “This is Not a Correspondence Course” section above, homework is not just the demonstration or practice of skills that can be made up later or skipped entirely as long as the student performs well on the test. Instead, preparing for class, that is, doing your homework, allows the student to participate in the vital and important task of being an academic, and is part of their responsibility to the group as a whole. The variety and scope of what a student/academic/teacher internalizes is far greater than those things assessed in a test, presentation, or paper. The idea that everything important a person learns from an academic course can be expressed as objectives and captured through assessment is simply preposterous. For these reasons, preparation and participation, which is really the same animal, are assessed at the same level as summative tests: 20% for each category. Preparation and participation are chief ways I gauge how well you are understanding the material and allow me to shift my questions, pacing, and content to enhance our experience (teachers call this “formative assessment”). Being absent from this process is bound to impact your understanding of course materials and your performance, which can be somewhat mitigated by a diligent effort to catch up upon your return, but in no way do I factor attendance directly into grades.
To give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate in an arena of choices, creativity, and flexibility outside of the already required genre of tests and papers, you will complete a final worth 20% of your grade that is in the form of a verbal or video presentation.
Finally, because students are individuals with unique outlooks, skills, affinities, and interests, the Best Score 10% category allows them to be evaluated in their area of strength—putting their best foot forward, so to speak.
It’s worth adding that the flexibility of the rewrite system I employ for the 30% writing category, and flexibility inherent in the participation system, should leave little need for “extra credit” that compensates for low scores. In extreme extenuating circumstances, such as long-term illnesses, I may employ “replacement assignments” designed to allow students demonstrate their knowledge of what was being measured for the assessment in question. Test retakes will not be available due to the logistical challenges and validity issues they present.
That being said, because social studies values civic and community involvement, and having students become good citizens is an objective we have for you in all our courses (and in life), I will occasionally offer what I call “soft extra credit” for participating in out of class activities that I believe encapsulate these types of civic values. I am very sensitive to the busy nature of student life and will always make sure ample opportunities are available to all students, as well as issue a cap on the overall number of activities any one student can apply to their grade, thereby avoiding a system that favors students not already committed to other amazing opportunities. I will take these activities into account when deciding on the rounding up of decimal points at the end of each semester, which is clearly not going to take the place of hard work in the various formative and summative assessments in the course. These points will not show up in skyward—there is no extra credit column with a fixed amount of points—hence the term “soft extra credit.”
A note on seeking help: We encourage you to stop by and talk with us any time. We want you to be successful in this class (and in life) and are here to help you!

Mr. Johnston

Mr. Willecke

Office: 205A

Planning Periods: 5, 6

Office Hours: 5, 6

E-mail: curtis.johnston@mercerislandschools.org

Web Page: linked from H.S. website

Office: 200

Planning Periods: 5, 6

Office Hours: 5, 6

E-mail: david.willecke@mercerislandschools.org

Web Page: linked from H.S. website

Honors American Literature

This is a reading and writing intensive course. Participation is mandatory, and will receive a separate grade from other evaluative tools.

Critical literary theory and analysis drive the pedagogy in this course. Students are encouraged to avail themselves of resources that will help them understand the texts, but only by engaging in the classroom discussion and assigned essays can students find success in the course.
While discussions of the “Other,” misogyny, miscegenation and literary theory are part of our everyday focus in the course, this year, special attention will be paid to conventions, words, syntax, dialect, and puns found in the works we study.
Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto (1993)

Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (1963)

Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn (1884)

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Dos Passos, John. The Big Money (1936)

Hemingway, Ernest. Sun Also Rises (1926)

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925)

Faulkner, William. Light in August (1932)

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible (1953)

Cleaver, Eldridge. Soul on Ice (1968)

O’Brien, Tim. Things They Carried (1990)
Movies/videos that possibly might be used to enhance the English curriculum:

Smoke Signals (PG-13, 1998), PBS Mark Twain Biography, PBS Hemingway Biography, In Love and War (PG 13, 1996), CSA (Not Rated, 2004), Barbershop (PG-13, 2002), PBS William Faulkner Biography, Platoon (R, 1986), The Crucible (PG-13, 1996), The Great Gatsby (PG-13, 2013), Schindler’s List (R, 1993).
Some books will be purchased at Island Books; some are housed in the MIHS library, and some readings are posted on my course website. In addition, a course packet(s) will be given to students.

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