Class discussions are a characteristic feature of honors classes.
Your honors professors do not perceive you as a sponge absorbing information to give back to us when squeezed.
We see you as alert people who radiate ideas; think independently; evaluate class materials; and challenge themselves, their classmates, and their professors.
Honors classes treat learning as a collaborative effort.
We have high expectations for you—we want to hear what you have to say.
Four key ingredients distinguish how honors classes are designed and taught
- Honors sections are smaller, which allows for a greater emphasis on critical thinking by insisting on active student participation in each learning environment (supported and made possible by limiting the section to five openings). Classes are typically taught seminar style; come with questions, have something to say, and say it. Developing your verbal agility and confidence is an important part of honors classes.
- Honors classes emphasize reading challenging primary texts, not simply textbook material. Reading assignments often emphasize the use of primary sources and help students develop an ability to analyze those sources on their own. You’ll be reading material that you will have to study and re-read, and you’ll encounter texts about which thinking people engage in vigorous discussion and debate. We fully expect you to actively participate.
- Honors classes emphasize developing your writing and critical thinking skills through research projects—this will better prepare you for the demands of university level work and challenge you to learn to articulate your ideas and insights in clear academic prose.
- Faculty focus on improving students’ ability to make interdisciplinary connections between the course content and other areas of their education. Throughout the honors curriculum there is an ethos of pedagogical innovation that encourages students to be teachers as well as learners.
In summary, the expectation is that honors courses are more challenging and demanding, not because they assign more work or are evaluated more rigorously, but because students gain more intellectually and academically from the honors experience.
How do you succeed in an honors class?
- Class members must attend regularly and come prepared. This last point is crucial. Any small group is demoralized and rendered less effective by sporadic attendance or poor preparation. Unprepared members may get something out of attending, but they sap the vitality of the group, diluting the honors experience for the others. And they can be detrimental if they try to bluff their way through a discussion. For our honors classes to do well, your full commitment is essential and expected. Professors need you to be a person they can count on. So come prepared to all classes, ready to join in discussions with an eye toward what you can give to your group.
- When everyone participates and interacts, we respond to each other and treat learning as a collaborative effort. It is not possible to divide participation into exactly equal shares. Nonetheless all class members should speak up some of the time. Don’t worry about whether you’ve fully comprehended the material. If we heard only from those who had already mastered the material, then we would simply listen to a lecture from the professor and skip discussion, eliminating the potential for genuine engaged inquiry.
- One of the best features of the honors classes is that they foster a sense of community. This can help you to succeed if you take advantage of it. Practically speaking, be sure to get contact information from some of your classmates so that in the rare event that you miss class, you don’t compound the absence by coming unprepared to the next class session. Beyond that, treat learning as something that takes place outside the classroom as well as inside—and remember that genuine learning is often collaborative. Consider forming study groups (formally or informally) with classmates. Talk about class materials over a cup of coffee or study together and discuss ideas. This will enrich your learning experience, which in turn will pay dividends in the classroom.
Fair Expectations of Honors Students
While it is not fair to expect honors students to be graduate students in intellectual and academic ability, it is reasonable for your professors to place some expectations on your new relationship so that you can maximize your involvement with them. In general, honors students should exhibit the following characteristics:
- Be well-organized, have a sense of time management, take adequate notes, and be able to access a variety of information sources.
- Come to class mentally prepared, focused, and ready.
- Commit to engage the material at hand.
- Believe in their own ability to learn and seek out those who will help them master the material (the instructor, other students, tutors).
- Acknowledge and tolerate risk in trying new approaches.
- Willingly accept and incorporate constructive criticism.
- Use collaborative social skills.
- See education as a personal project or task.