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Tips for Starting a Successful AP Studio Art Program

by Joann Winkler
Clinton High School
Clinton, Iowa

The challenges of starting an AP Studio Art program can seem daunting and intimidating. There is no prescribed procedural plan or specific curriculum set up by the College Board, so start by understanding there is no right or wrong way to begin an AP Studio Art program. Trust in your own ability to teach art and to teach all students. Plan to challenge yourself and your students and to raise the bar of academic achievement in your program as you alter the expectations of the students, parents, and the school community. Remember to remain patient. Now let's get started.

The first step is to understand AP Studio Art as written by the College Board. I suggest you gather information by attending a College Board-endorsed institute or workshop. There you will find other professionals in your field who may be starting a program or be in the throes of running a successful program of their own. Keep an open mind, take notes, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The people in attendance can become your network as you begin developing your own program.

Course Audit
All schools wishing to label a course "AP" must be authorized to do so through participation in the AP Course Audit. For new AP courses, a subject-specific AP Course Audit form and the course syllabus must be submitted online by each teacher of the AP course. It is the school's responsibility to ensure the AP courses listed on students' transcripts, course catalogs, and the school's Web site are authorized and annually renewed through the AP Course Audit process. The deadline to submit materials for the Course Audit is January 31. For more information about the Course Audit, visit  AP Course Audit Information.

Within 60 days of submitting AP Course Audit materials, schools will receive authorization for qualifying courses to use the "AP" designation on student transcripts. In the event that additional information is requested in the syllabus prior to the course's authorization, feedback from the review will be sent directly to the teacher within 60 days of submission.

Institutes and Workshops
Attending an AP Studio Art summer institute is a valuable professional development tool for anyone starting the program as well as those who have been in the trenches for a while. The weeklong institutes are generally offered in various locations around the country and provide an opportunity to delve into lesson development as well as learn some of the trade secrets and tips to running a successful program. The three different AP Studio Art portfolios will be explained and the adjudication process of the portfolios will be covered. Participants may have an opportunity to view artwork of former AP students, create work of their own, or even go through a mock Reading, all led by College Board-endorsed consultants.

If you are unable to attend an institute, a one-day workshop is a place to gather a wealth of information, meet AP Studio Art teachers with a range of experiences and from a variety of different teaching situations, and become familiar with the program. The workshop is a great professional development opportunity where you will be able to ask questions and gather information about the AP Studio Art program. These sessions run throughout the school year in various locations around the country and are designed to create an environment where teachers can learn and share. AP workshops are course specific, so be sure to find a location that offers AP Studio Art. To learn more about AP Studio Art workshops, visit Institutes & Workshops.

The Basics
Each of the three AP Studio Art offerings are called "portfolios," and each portfolio has its own focus and requirements, which are summarized below. At the end of the school year, students' portfolios can be evaluated and graded by the College Board.
  • Drawing: For this portfolio, students address all the traditional drawing issues and mark-making concerns. They can submit not only work in traditional drawing media -- such as pencils, ink, and pastels -- but also many kinds of painting, printmaking, and other forms of expression.
  • 2-D Design: Students focus on the principles of design. This portfolio can include photography and digital work. It can also contain drawings, paintings, prints, and any other two-dimensional art form.
  • 3-D Design: For this portfolio, students explore depth and space -- that is, the issues of working in three dimensions.
A program may offer one of these three portfolios, two, or all three. Another possibility is to allow students to generate the required work over two years.

Within each portfolio are three equally weighted sections:
  • Quality promotes the development of a sense of excellence in art.
  • Concentration shows the student's in-depth sustained study to an idea in art that is personally fascinating.
  • Breadth shows the range of experimentation and experience as they relate to artistic concerns.
College Board Resources
The AP Central Web site offers many resources to all teachers. Any teacher is invited to log in and establish personal preferences, listing one or all three AP Studio Art portfolios. There are sample syllabi for each portfolio, sample images for each section of each portfolio with score and justifications, and a registration process for joining an electronic discussion group. The AP Studio Art poster, the AP® Studio Art Teacher's Guide, AP Vertical Teams® Guide for Studio Art, and samples for each portfolio (Drawing, 2-D Design, and 3-D Design) are available and can be ordered from the College Board store via the AP Central Web site. In addition, the AP® Studio Art Course Description is available as a PDF file on this site. An additional source of information is the AP Annual Conference, held each July at a different location around the country.

Administration and/or Guidance Support
The next step is to formulate the implementation of AP Studio Art within your existing program. There are many different models for the portfolios, and the decisions to be made at this time will depend on the support of your administration and guidance departments as well as the format of the school day. Some schools operate on a traditional schedule, others may have one of a wide variety of block schedules, and other schools run year-round classes. All of these will affect the method of delivery for AP Studio Art. The program might begin with one or several students working independently in a classroom after taking the same introductory course, or it may be developed into a self-contained program. My suggestion is to start by offering only one portfolio until you have mastered the format of Quality, Concentration, and Breadth.

Your state and individual school district's course requirements will come into play and may create challenges to the formation of the program. The length of time the class meets will be one of many decisions to address, along with the philosophy of honors or weighted grading. If your school already has AP courses in place, the format of the other courses may factor into the AP Studio Art program. If your school already offers a variety of AP courses, ask the AP Coordinator for help with policies for student selection, deadlines for communication with the national office, fees, submission requirements, and other administrative aspects of the portfolios.

There are many questions to be resolved. Are all student participants required to submit the portfolio (the portfolio is the exam for AP Studio Art)? Do students pay the fee for the portfolio evaluation, or does the school or your department cover this cost? What is the policy for fee reductions? Does your school offer weighted grades? Do AP courses carry weighted grades? Does the student have to submit the portfolio in order to earn weighted grades? Do the AP courses have extended class times? Do all AP students meet for the entire year? Can a student complete a different portfolio another year? The exams for all courses are given the first two weeks in May, and the AP Studio Art submission deadline is in that same time period, no matter what your school schedule may be.

Students in regular art classes can meet the criteria for one of the portfolios without ever being enrolled in AP Studio Art. Many teachers offer one or two portfolios until they get the program developed. Don't work alone. Utilize the entire staff at your school and work with the art specialists at the middle school level to build the visual art program through the Vertical Teams format.

A large budget is great, but don't let the perceived lack of funding deter the program. The AP Studio Art program can run with the basic materials found in any existing secondary school visual art program -- do not let it intimidate you. Suggested materials required beyond the basic department supplies are a dependable digital camera (two or more sections of each portfolio need to be submitted in digital file format) and a computer with an Internet connection, as portions of each portfolio are submitted online through a digital, Web-based submission process. Be sure to familiarize yourself and your students with the technical requirements for digital image files required for the portfolios. To view these specifications, visit AP Studio Art Digital Submission.

As students complete artworks for their portfolio, the work will need to be photographed for submission -- a digital camera is necessary to get quality image files of the work.

Since I live in Iowa, I have found that several important keys to my students' success are the ability to look at "real" art and to meet "real" artists. Field trips to Chicago offer the opportunity to look at art in museums, galleries, and studios. The inspiration to the AP student is invaluable. In addition, I try to bring in fellow AP Readers, photography experts, and local guest artists. If you live in a rural area, art school admission counselors are great. If you live in a suburban setting, you may be inundated with representatives trying to woo your students. I ask all my students at the beginning of each trimester if they know local artists or collectors or if they have artists in the family who could come into the classroom.

What Is It Worth?
Any existing high school program will benefit by offering intensive AP study. The students will benefit by participating in a challenging and rigorous educational experience for which they may gain credit or advanced placement when they attend college. Many AP teachers derive enormous satisfaction from working in greater depth with a group of motivated students, and they appreciate the open dialogue and exchange of ideas with the diverse members of the AP community, which includes college faculty, school administrators, and other high school teachers.

Don't sell yourself short. Promote your work and the success of the students through community and parental support. Create an environment where parents are active members of the educational group. By becoming an AP teacher, you will face the challenge of improving as a professional while feeling the importance of your job as an educator.

When you tackle this new experience, remember a few important tips: read all the information, then reread the information, ask questions on the electronic discussion group, ask your support base group, and then read the information again. In all cases, be sure to maintain your patience.

Joann Winkler is the chairperson of the visual arts department at Clinton High School in Clinton, Iowa. As a consultant for the College Board, she has led AP Studio Art workshops and summer institutes around the U.S. Winkler has also served as a Reader and Table Leader for the AP Studio Art portfolios.

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