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Business as Usual

Charles Hart


     When I first heard that the College Board was going to change the curriculum framework of the AP World History program I was naturally alarmed. As a teacher who had taught the course since its inception, I wondered if all the lesson plans I had painstakingly prepared, test banks I had carefully nurtured, and review sessions I had meticulously manicured would go by the boards as the Board attempted to remain fashionably current. After reading the suggested content changes, I can say that the impact on the way I teach the course will be "no big deal." While the calendar may get tweaked a bit, and I do not yet know what the exam in May will look like, based on the content outlines I can say my course will be business as usual. If anything, the content outline provides a stronger focus to the subject matter of the course.

     The Historical Thinking Skills envisioned in the new framework (Crafting Historical Arguments, Assessing Points of View, Chronological Reasoning, Connecting Historical Developments, Historical Synthesis, Insights about the Past) are not new ideas but rather concepts I have hoped my students have learned since the 2001-2002 school year. The curriculum framework is also encouraging teachers to keep asking the questions familiar to all of us who have taught this course before:

  • What are the significant turning points?

  • How does this fit into the larger global context?

  • How can we determine the value of historical evidence?

  • What does and does not change over time?

  • How can we craft a persuasive argument?

  • What is the best way to periodize history?

     In the Achievement Level Descriptors (a device developed to demonstrate the quality of essay writing) we still see the same verbs to discriminate the excellent and good from the average. Words like "synthesize," "critique," and "create" identify the exemplary; "assess," "evaluate," and "analyze" are used to identify the good; average by AP standards uses such descriptors as "define," "identify," and "describe." The progression of difficulty from basic definition to simple analysis to a synthesis of information is the evolution of historical thinking that we want to instill in all of our students.

     The Curriculum Framework has identified five themes. They are very similar to themes we have seen in the past for this course: Interaction between Humans and the Environment, Interaction of Culture, State-Building and Conflict, Economic Systems, and Social Structures. In breaking down each of the themes I came up with twenty-two different qualifiers for the course, ranging from disease to gender roles. When looking at the sixteen Free Response Questions (excluding the DBQs) written since 2002, I found that every one of the qualifiers was used at least twice and six or more of the qualifiers were needed for at least half of the questions. Clearly, the new course themes as delineated by the 2011-2012 Curriculum Framework would have helped my students prepare for all of the previous Free Response Questions.

     So, what changes for me? The Foundations period has been bisected, though collectively the point value of the period remains the same, and the end of the penultimate period and the beginning of the last period has changed. This means I will have to more carefully look at my unit exams. The detailed course content guide offers greater insight into how to more effectively prepare the students for the May exam. The Course Framework also suggests the coming of a simplified world map, something I anxiously await. Though we can never get too comfortable with our teaching, all in all the changes seem to validate the way I have been teaching the course.

Charles Hart currently teaches at Shorecrest High School in St. Petersburg, Florida but has also taught in the Chicagoland area as well as South Africa, Singapore, Jordan, and Taiwan. He has been a reader and table leader in World History since the beginning of the AP offering. He can be contacted at


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