Honors Teaching

Honors courses are central to the Honors experience and form the bedrock of Honors’ challenging academics. They help scale the large University of Connecticut down to a manageable and intimate setting for learning.

An Honors class is distinguished from a non-Honors class at the same level by increased expectations and standards. The goal is not simply additional work. Instead, you will likely find that you can increase the depth, complexity, and/or pacing of instruction and assessment. If a class is taught at an Honors level, students should receive Honors credit, regardless of whether they are enrolled in the Honors Program.

Theoretical Foundation of Honors Teaching

UConn Honors has adopted a theoretical framework based in the scholarship of gifted education expert Joseph Renzulli. This framework clarifies that our goal is to promote creative productivity among Honors students. We want them to be able to solve real problems in their fields and in their communities.

Under this framework, an Honors class should fill one or more of three roles:

  1. Exploration: We want students to find their passions. This is promoted through exposure to a diversity of fields (and sub-fields) and a diversity of problems that they might solve.
  2. Skill building: For a student to practice creative productivity, they need advanced skills beyond that of the typical UConn undergraduate. This can include discipline-specific knowledge and skills (ex: laboratory techniques, conducting survey research) and more general skills such as collaboration, creativity, writing, etc.
  3. Creative productivity: Some classes will provide opportunities for students to produce something that is unique, beyond what is expected of most undergraduates, and shared with an authentic audience.
Consider what roles your class may play in Honors students’ education. Use this knowledge to clarify your own goals, pedagogy, and assessment.

Considerations for Honors Pedagogy

  • An effective way to differentiate from a non-Honors course is to increase your depth and complexity in instructional materials and discussion questions. For example, shift away from textbooks to primary sources.
  • If this is an Honors 1000/2000 level course: how would you teach the same course at the non-Honors 3000/4000 level? For the 3000/4000 level, how would you teach for graduate students? (Honors students can earn Honors credit by taking graduate courses!)
  • Promote active and authentic learning. Try limiting your lectures in favor of discussions, simulations, case studies, student presentations, service learning, or other activities. Honors classes tend to be small, which can allow you to try things that might be impractical on a larger scale.
Effective Honors teaching is effective teaching, and there is no single model for an Honors class.

Considerations for Honors Assessment

  • Emphasize different work, not more work. Having higher expectations does not automatically mean longer papers or more homework problems, or additional reading. Instead, expect more depth in their analyses or assign more complex homework problems. Honors students need experience with true intellectual challenge; they generally have quite a bit of practice handling large workloads!
  • Academic writing is an important skill for all students, particularly those who will be pursuing a thesis, but also consider other assessments that prompt students to apply what they have learned.
  • Clear and realistic grading standards are critical. We expect that Honors students will have high grades in Honors classes, but that does not mean that Honors classes should be “easy A’s.” Honors students have histories of high achievement in both Honors and non-Honors classes. For that reason, student performance should be graded against expectations, not other students. (Honors classes do not typically have normal grade distributions.)
Go back to the theoretical foundations section, above. Are you assessing the goals of the course or simply content knowledge?

Student Characteristics

The following are generalizations about Honors students.

  • Demonstrate high levels of academic achievement: They tend to grasp academic material quickly and prefer analysis and synthesis to memorization.
  • Have wide-ranging abilities and interests: They are likely to connect material from your class to other subjects you were not expecting. However, they may also over-commit or have trouble making decisions between academic fields.
  • Expect success: Honors students tend to participate in class and produce high quality work. They may also demonstrate perfectionism and anxiety, particularly if they have had little experience with failure or even constructive criticism.
  • Often hold others to high standards: This includes their peers (in group work and class discussions) and their instructors. Establishing clear expectations for the class can be very important.
  • Are highly motivated and ambitious: They often show intrinsic motivation for learning, but they also focus on their grades–particularly if they will be attending graduate or professional school.
  • Are still college students: They deal with many of the same social and emotional issues as other students, although they may not show it. Undergraduate Honors students are also distinct from graduate students, even when they are doing independent research or taking graduate courses.
Honors students are individuals, with relative areas of strength and weakness. They will vary greatly in how they approach your class.

Not every student in your class will be in the Honors Program. You may receive requests from non-Honors students to enroll in your Honors course. Issuing permission numbers is always at your discretion, although we ask that you allow Honors students sufficient time to enroll in the course first. Consider the expectations of your particular course as well as the student who is requesting permission. Prospective students should show some interest in the topic, confirm that they understand the Honors expectations and grading, and show the potential for success in the class. Requiring a GPA of 3.2 overall or in your subject is reasonable. We want all students in the class to have a valuable educational experience. Some students even apply into the Honors Program after taking a great Honors class!