A Review of the Book All 4s and 5s: A Guide to Teaching and Leading Advanced Placement Programs by Andrew Sharos
Reviewed by Erin Whalen
Andrew Sharos is a leader in the field of AP programs and shares great insights in his 2018 book, All 4s and 5s. From practical advice to personal touches, all with evidence that backs him up, Sharos provides a how-to guide for teachers and administrators in growing an AP program both in enrollment and in test scores.
The book begins with an overview of the system Sharos developed – SCORES:
- Simplify homework
- Create a quiz culture
- Offer writing conferences
- Review early and often
- Evaluate cumulatively
- Stop your agenda.
Each of these became part of the author’s philosophy as he began teaching AP courses and was driven to increase his students’ scores each year. From there, Sharos continues with important qualities for the teacher to have and discusses the leadership side of running an AP program as an administrator. As an award winning teacher with a proven track record of high scores on the AP exam, Sharos has powerful ideas to share that would benefit any high school teacher with an AP course assigned to them. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.
Your students are in several other classes besides yours, probably including other AP classes.
Great teachers recognize that their class is not the be all and end all of a student’s academic focus. Each class the student is taking is an important part of their studies. Knowing that there are many factors, both in and out of school, that are competing for each student’s attention can help you focus on what really matters and let go of what doesn’t. Yes, the class is rigorous. Yes, there is a lot to cover. But knowing the limits and maximizing the minutes in the classroom, benefits you and the students.
Focus on Language
Deliberately focus on reading and writing no matter your content area.
The AP exams require lots of writing. Learning the material requires lots of reading. Don’t get so caught up in your content that you forget these critical fundamentals.
Review All the Time
The exam is going to include the material you cover in August as much as the material you cover in May. Constant review and spiraling throughout the year is essential to retention of the material.
Technology Can Help
When the author’s school went 1:1 with Chromebooks, Sharos was skeptical about using technology in his already successful, traditional class. But he quickly learned that internet access is a powerful tool for learning history. The access to primary source materials such as speeches, maps, videos, and other historical artifacts, is a huge gift to history teachers and students. As Sharos says, “Digitizing primary sources met two goals at once: It gave students content and practice. I couldn’t do that by lecturing.”
It’s All About Relationships!
My favorite parts of the book by far are the sections where Sharos discusses the importance of relationships. Even in a rigorous, content-driven, high stakes class, relationships matter. Perhaps especially in a high stakes class. When Sharos talks about flexibility he says, “Designing and planning an AP class is about putting our students first…showing flexibility, alleviating stress, and building trust.” Now that sounds like a recipe for success!