Four years ago, I was part of a conversation advocating for a 8th grade art class that earned high school credit. I was approved to be part of a small group of schools that pioneered the concept in our county. I was lucky to have a supportive administration that worked with me to create the class. Now that we are nearing the end of the 2015-16 school year, I wanted to take a minute to reflect upon the experience.
8th grade Visual Arts Comprehensive (HS Comp) for high school credit is a class in middle school taught with high school standards in a fast paced, high expectation, advanced level setting.
Students are asked to apply for HS Comp at the end of their 7th grade year. They have to be motivated, hard working, and show a love of the subject. Students have to agree to keep a sketchbook in, and outside of, class. They also agree to create and update a digital portfolio and to complete two county mandated assessments.
I have been teaching HS Comp for 3 years now. I see 6th and 7th grade students light up when they find out that HS credit is offered for an art class in 8th grade. I see students who have designated art as their 'thing' feel rewarded when they are part of something like HS Comp. I have seen students create things that I did not know was possible for this age group.
Students who take HS Comp in 8th grade create the opportunity to jump into studio classes upon entry to high school. We noticed that freshmen were being bounced from HS comp to make room for seniors needing a fine arts credit. Taking the class in middle school helped with this issue.
Students who are ready for higher level art classes have their needs met. They are able to work in a faster paced class with more freedom to experiment with art media and tools.
Students inspire each other to try new things and reach higher levels of creativity and success.
You grow as a teacher due to the growth of your students.
Students are given the opportunity to create a digital online portfolio.
Students "get ahead of the game" and are able to take AP Art in high school.
I have had AMAZING work for art shows and contests.
I love it (that counts as a positive... Right?)
Some teachers in the county had a mix of HS Comp kids and on-level 8th grade students in the same class. In this case, teachers were essentially teaching two classes in one period. I am aware that HS teachers do this on a daily basis, but it is a difficult change to make (I have whole classes of HS Comp, so this did not apply to me. This year I teach 2 classes of HS Comp and it is wonderful).
Higher level art students help raise the level of inspiration in the class. On-level students very often raise their own goals for their work when they see what other students are doing around them. I have high goals for ALL students, but sometimes students need to see the higher level work of the students around them to grow individually.
It is a little difficult for some to become accustomed to teaching four grade levels (6th, 7th, 8th, and HS Comp) when you are used to teaching three.
Things I had to change/think about:
I have always used sketchbook/journals in the art classroom. One of the differences between the on-level and the HS Comp 8th grade class is the sketchbook assignments given for homework. In the beginning, I was too lenient with due dates and it created a grading nightmare for myself. After the first year, I figured that I had to stick to my due dates regarding sketchbook deliverables.
I had to learn that not every kid that wanted to be in HS Comp was a fit for HS Comp. I love the passion of the students I teach, but by putting kids in HS Comp who are not ready, I set some of my students up for failure.
On the flip side, I had to learn to not get my feelings hurt when students who were ready for HS Comp decided they did not want to take it.
I had to extend my hours for my HS Comp students. I am here every morning, I am here during a few lunch periods each week. I let kids take work home over the weekend. I extend due dates for projects if needed. I talk with kids after school on Edmodo. I email students who need extra help. I let kids know I would stay after school if they needed me. I have a little group of 8th graders who have made my classroom their second home.
I have to dedicate time throughout the year to take kids to the computer lab so that they have the opportunity to type up and post any assessments to their portfolio and to update their digital portfolios with their assignments and sketchbooks.
8th Grade HS VA Comp Work