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. At its heart, effective Honors teaching is effective teaching, and there is no single model for an Honors class. However, Honors classes do differ from non-Honors classes in terms of student characteristics and expectations as well as learning activities and assessment.
Honors students …
- Have demonstrated high levels of academic achievement. They tend to grasp academic material quickly and prefer analysis and synthesis to memorization.
- Are individuals. They still have relative areas of strength and weakness, and their learning styles will vary.
- 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.
- Tend to have wide-ranging abilities and interests. They are likely 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.
- Have learned to 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 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.
Considerations for Honors Teaching
Promote active and authentic learning. Try limiting your lectures in favor of discussions, simulations, case studies, student presentations, service learning, or other activities. Academic writing is an important skill for all students, but also consider other assessments that prompt students to apply what they have learned. Honors classes tend to be small, which can allow you to try things that might be impractical on a larger scale.
Emphasize different work, not more work. Having higher expectations does not automatically mean longer papers, more homework problems, or additional reading. Instead, expect more depth in their analyses, assign more complex homework problems, or shift away from textbooks in favor of primary sources. Honors students need experience with true intellectual challenge; they generally have quite a bit of practice handling large workloads!
Establish clear and realistic grading standards. Honors students represent approximately the top 10% of the UConn undergraduate population. This, combined with the small size of Honors classes, makes a normal grade distribution curve unlikely. We also discourage grading practices based on competition within Honors classes. 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.” The Honors credit earned when a student achieves a B- or better should indicate that he or she has met the higher expectations mentioned above.
Manage enrollment requests from non-Honors students. Whether you issue a permission number to a non-Honors student is at your discretion, although we ask that you allow Honors students sufficient time to enroll in the course first. (Contact us if you have questions about the registration schedule.) 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!