As a newish AP Seminar teacher, I feel a little overwhelmed with the amount I have to cover with my students. Luckily, it is almost all inquiry-based skills. Charged with helping students through three types of performance tasks (an argument analysis, a team research project and presentation, and an individual research project and presentation), I immediately turned to the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) to help me sort through it all.

Although the ILP was not designed with an AP exam in mind as a final assessment, it is rooted in a uniquely flexible approach that allows for individualization at any level. Meg was instrumental in helping me design this semi-structured inquiry setting in AP. Like in all of our other courses, we started by examining areas of the process that we can let go of and identify where we had to hold tight. In this case, our required elements came in the form of specific activities that students needed to apply to their performance tasks for the exam.

The result was an ILP designed to help students communicate with me, share their work with their peers, and reflect on their research and inquiry while preparing to explain and defend their work.

What we let go of…

What we held tight to…

  • Research questions

  • Text selection

  • One-size-fits-all workshop structure

  • Reflection topics (sort of; students selected from a list)

  • Learning activities

  • Final products

  • Standards alignment and learning objectives

  • Rubrics for final, summative assessments

Students identify a research question, and they select their texts, two tasks that an open-inquiry, ILP approach allows. However, the final products of their inquiry are much more controlled; students must write argument and research essays and present findings by following the College Board’s requirements. That means there was little opportunity for students to select skills to practice that weren’t tightly linked to those requirements. As a result, I designed activities to help students practice skills that were required in the course’s performance tasks. So, I looked for places where I could turn over responsibility with those elements, and I decided to allow students flexibility to organize their workshop time. That meant they could establish individualized means for accomplishing daily goals. Some chose to use those blocks as reading time, feverishly annotating articles and essays; others chose to research during those days, coming in having identified gaps in their knowledge and questions to drive their searches; and others spent those days drafting and revising their written work, getting feedback from peers and analyzing their work against rubrics and models.

This course did feel slightly restrictive at first in that I had to dictate what kinds of products they ultimately created, but I discovered that students were still able to run with their own curiosities and really carve those products into something that reflected their own unique interests and personalities.

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