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Bonneau Says: Professional Development in an Unlikely Place


    Bonneau Says:Professional Development
    in an Unlikely Place

    Table 105For the better part of a decade, I have been involved in the scoring at Advanced Placement US Government and Politics exams. Each June, I (along with 700 or so colleagues) spend 10 days learning, teaching, and applying a rubric to hundreds of essays. Basically, we sit at tables of 8-10 people and score the essays on the same topic for 8 hours a day for 7 consecutive days. What would possess someone to do this? For high school teachers, the payoff is obvious: they receive continuing education credits for this and knowing how the exam is scored helps them teach their students in subsequent years. But why do college professors do it?

    At first, I did it because I knew some colleagues who did it and it seemed like an easy way to make some cash without teaching a summer class. And the first few years I did it, I treated it simply as a way to make some cash.

    Chris, Jim, and Heather

    As the years have progressed and I have needed the cash a little less, I found myself still going—and even looking forward to going—each year. It took me some time, but a few years ago I figured out why I enjoy it: the professional development and camaraderie among readers.

    Much of my professional development centers around research activities. Thus, the AP reading is one of the few times I get to exchange ideas about teaching, grading, assignments, and other instructional issues with peers outside my department. Indeed, the non-hierarchical nature of the reading encourages this kind of exchange. High school teachers, adjuncts, graduate students, professors at research universities, and professors at teaching colleges are all equals at the reading. The conversations that occur during breaks, meals, and after hours often involve discussing how to effectively teach certain material, what topics our students tend to struggle with, etc. Of course, it is not all work; there’s a fair amount of talk about families, sports, and other normal stuff. But it is a fantastic opportunity to pick the brains of smart, dedicated, insightful people.

    Additionally, scoring AP exams over a fairly long period of time has taught me the difference between a good essay question and a poor one—and I’ve seen (and written!) both. Like many college professors, I had zero classes that taught me how to teach, write exams, grade reliably, or anything having to do with effective classroom instruction. Looking at how good exam questions are worded has significantly improved my ability to write fair exam questions for my students as well as grade them consistently.

    Finally, I have made many friends through the years, and I look forward to spending time with them every summer. In a lot of ways, it is like a summer camp for educators.

    A break in the reading day in Salt Lake City

    So, regardless of what subject you teach, I highly recommend participating in the AP Reading. If there’s an AP exam in your subject area, there is an opportunity for score exams. You can find information about how to become a scorer here. Whether you do it once, or decide to come back year after year, it is a worthwhile professional development opportunity. Your classes and students will benefit from your experience doing it. And you’ll even make a bit of extra money too.

    Chris Bonneau

    Bonneau Says is a monthly (more or less) Profology column from Chris W. Bonneau with his thoughts on important issues facing academics, and his life as a professor. 

    Chris is associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has been since 2002. His research is primarily in the areas of judicial selection (specifically, judicial elections) and judicial decisionmaking. Bonneau's work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and he has published numerous articles, including in the American Journal of Political Science and Journal of Politics. He is also the coauthor of three books: Strategic Behavior and Policy Choice on the U.S. Supreme Court (2005), In Defense of Judicial Elections (2009), and Voters' Verdicts: Citizens, Campaigns, and Institutions in State Supreme Court Elections (2015). Currently, Bonneau is co-editor of State Politics and Policy Quarterly, the official journal of the State Politics and Policy Section of the American Political Science Association.

    Professor Bonneau teaches undergraduate classes in constitutional law, judicial politics, and research methods, as well as graduate classes in judicial politics and research design. He has served on the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee at Pitt since since 2011.



  • Bob Ertischek likes this
  • Bob Ertischek
    Bob Ertischek The AP reading has been a wonderful professional development opportunity for me as well. I'm heading back for my 10th year. I've learned so much and gained friends and colleagues that I look forward to seeing year after year. I like getting to know people...  more
    January 28, 2016
  • Beth Hammett
    Beth Hammett I, too, enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie among educators across many gade levels that took place at the AP scoring event. I met some wonderful educators who provided insight about education in their state and region. Also, a colleague who I knew fro...  more
    January 28, 2016 - 2 like this