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High school art honors: excitement, challenge and shared joy!

For the past three years, I have taught the Honors Program in Art at my high school using the curriculum of the International Baccalaureate Program. The honors students have a zeal for doing and a self-determination that becomes the highlight of the day.

My biggest problem is that I have not had enough honors students to create a full class, so the students come to me at different periods every day. To solve the problem of group cohesiveness, we meet once a week either before or after school at everyone's convenience. Then, daily, I work with the students in whatever class time they are scheduled. This "problem" has turned into an opportunity for all concerned--having only one or two honors students at a time allows for individual attention; each class benefits from the honors students' enthusiasm and quality work, and the honors students benefit from the ideas and support of each class group.

Honors students are required to be primarily self-directed. The teacher is there as a reference and support person. Thus, the responsibility of learning lies exactly where it should--with the student. It is not the teacher who does the extensive preparation and learning. Students select their own media and theme. They follow their own drummer and march to their own tune for which they are account able at their individual end-of-year examinations.

At our weekly conferences, I become the checkpoint with such questions as:

1. Have you incorporated direct observation drawing?

2. Are you varying the sizes of your projects?

3. How many styles have you studied and tried?

4. What historical references are you using?

5. Is there variety in your palettes from neutrals, monochromatic, complementary, triad, etc.?

6. Have you shown technical excellence and skill in value control?

7. Do you have a variety of media to present in your show?

8. Have you selected a focus or center of interest for your one-man show?

9. Is there a high level of originality and/or creativity prevalent in each work so far?

10. What professional work have you recently viewed either at galleries or museums?

With the support of the other honors students, each one grows in ability and confidence as they critique each other's work and develop in their own perceptions. Their sincere compliments when a high level of skill is attained or a really unique creative thought is expressed are a joy to hear, and spur on the entire class. We not only talk about elements and principles of design and ideas, but also about how the world is influencing them right now. We discuss time management, how they feel about their progress and what is currently their biggest problem.

Enthusiasm abounds as the students enter the artroom with comments such as:

"I want to find out what encaustic means!"

"My glazing in watercolor finally is really working!"

"I've got a handmade paper project started at home so big it won't fit in my bedroom--it's in the garage!"

What turns them on? It's the opportunity to go as far as they can dream, the opportunity to select their own materials and themes, the opportunity for wide open growth limited only by their oval choices, the opportunity to work unbelievably hard on these choices, and the opportunity for support and encouragement that is consistent with effort and skill.

I urge each secondary teacher to look into and establish an honors program. Is it more work? Yes, but the joys and benefits, the attitudes of all the students, not just those involved in the program, and the accomplishments of the students are a compensation many times above the cost. Go for it! You'll find your students, your school and yourself benefitting from an Honors Program in Art!

Barbara A. Pratt is the art teacher at Richardson High School, Richardson, Texas.
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Title Annotation:Showcase
Author:Pratt, Barbara A.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Think smart! Develop art education support in your community.
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