What if we taught AP Studio Art like a “real” college class?

This is my presentation from MAEA in blog form, so if you missed it or didn’t even know about it, here it is! 


Be aware, this might challenge what you currently believe or practice if you do teach AP Studio Art (or any other AP class…or any “high level” class) – and I’m all for challenging folks to rethink their current practices!

I also realize that everyone has different conditions they work under, different pressures from administration, and different expectations – but after you read this, maybe think about changing some of the things in place right now?

So I often hear from other educators that AP is only for students who are “talented” or “committed” or “serious” and I put those words in quotes because I really struggle with those things, especially before forming a relationship with a kid. I also hear that students should be on a pathway to art before taking AP Studio Art, meaning they’ve taken at least one if not more than one Art class. Another thing I hear is to have pre-requisite classes, portfolio reviews, or even a test.

I propose that any student, with any level of experience, can take AP Studio Art and grow as an artist AND get a qualifying score.

High level art schools – RISD and MassArt – require portfolios for acceptance, while Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) only use the portfolio for scholarship consideration, and within state schools you can just sign up for an entry level class. I feel like AP Studio Art is an entry level state school equivalent (and honestly, I’m not sure it’s even that). At a state school, you just sign up – you pay your tuition, get your supplies, and show up. If you’ve never had any experience or it’s been a long time, you’re going to work your tail off and you’ll probably get a C if you don’t work your tail off.

So why do we make kids jump through hoops or make it seem like Art is this exclusive club only a select few can do? My belief is truly – the more the merrier and with a larger group of students, they work harder, they get more and better feedback.

So, how does one do this in practice? Of course I can go around spouting this philosophy – but how do I support students in this quest?

I’m not going to go through each and every assignment as I did at the conference – but if you’re interested in that, let me know and I can share all of that with you!

Right From the Start

I tell students I believe in them and let them know they will be supported by me in their learning. Check this out. and it’s not just me who thinks this is important – research is showing more and more that a teacher’s belief in students and their expression of it actually can change student outcomes. I start the year with specific themes to create from (i.e., create an image of something crumpled/crushed/folded/twisted) and then slowly open them up through their first part of their portfolio creation. I gradually am demonstrating techniques, materials and methods. Students are encouraged to practice and try new things – even when results aren’t super successful. Deadlines are tight – they have an assignment due each week – which is insane but when students come in with nothing they need to create create create.


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When students don’t have experience with art (or any subject) they need lots of information. It can be overwhelming to think about filling the vessel instead of just lighting the fire.

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I use a platform called Haiku (Powerlearning) to create a website – this has a page for each Unit that has how-to videos, how-to sheets, technique help, the powerpoint I share in class, and the rubric that they will be assessed with. 

Also within the website are Artist pages, this year I’m doing “Artists” differently, but these are still visible. The pages have videos, resources, articles and the image of the Scholastic Art magazine we have in class for them.

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Also within this platform, students use a discussion board to look at exemplary portfolios and find patterns and similarities. I’m constantly trying to embed multiple ways for students to assess their own understanding as well as give them experience with as many methods of artmaking and responding to art.

Feedback and Motivation

I did a whole blog post on understanding the rubric- but if you missed it or don’t want to read it (you should go read it!). The gist is – we have to look at exemplary portfolios, we have to understand what College Board is really looking for – so we can make work that can be successful.

If you don’t know who Dan Pink is – please check him out. This video is a great shortened version of his tedtalk and his book Drive. I just substitute manager for teacher and employees for students – not that I think of myself as a manager or students as employees – but the ideas can be translated that way.


Using his ideas of motivation and autonomy and the “why” – using feedback is so vital. Every week we have a “Feedback Friday” – so kids put their work on the board and initially I lead and model the conversation using these three questions:

1) How did this go?

2) What do you see?

3) What could we improve on?

Eventually, students lead this conversation – last year it took longer for students to lead it, but this year students are leading already.


Students get LOTS of assignments therefore they get loads of practice. Compared to my Foundations of Art class, AP Studio Art completes 24-26 units while FOA completes 10 units. Units don’t mean works of art because most students complete double or triple that number (in both courses!) but there’s just an intensity in AP in order to complete the requirements for the Portfolio. When students have the opportunity to practice – skills, techniques, methods, materials, ideas and experiments – they grow and they grow fast.


I know everyone wants to know my results and honestly I don’t want to publicly share them because they have to do with my students privacy. But I can say that the percentage that grew in my class was 100%. AND 4 students are taking the class again but doing a different portfolio!

Between the submission time and seniors graduating – AP Studio students created Survival Kits for the next year’s class. They had to demonstrate what they had learned and where someone else might need help. They shared these with the group and they were amazing – there was such a range of answers to the Kits: videos, books, containers, and images.

Here’s the Google folder that has all the resources I shared during my Presentation. If there’s something you want but don’t see, let me know!

What is your current philosophy or practice with AP Students? How do you provide access to a variety of students? How do you embed feedback? What sort of practice do you encourage in your classroom? How do you encourage students to reflect on challenging experiences? 

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