Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Natural Learning, Intentionally: High School- Part II- Course Descriptions

              Intentionality has paid off in the high school years. 

The transcript provides a one-page snapshot of a young adult's high school course, grade, and credit summary. Course descriptions offer short synopses of the learning chapters in your student's story. Ideally, those course descriptions should complement--add value and give clarity--to the transcript document.

Why course descriptions? For students graduating from a public entity, course catalogs (also called course guides or curriculum guides) are available online (used to be paper and had to be requested from the guidance department) and follow the requirements (standards) of that state (or now in many cases, Common Core). Colleges know the set criteria and standards met in the classroom are standard for each course at every school in that state. So, there is no need for each school to write individual course descriptions for every class for every student.

Home education is different. A sculpture class in one home is likely to look entirely different than a sculpture class in another home. One student may enroll in a sculpture class at a local art studio. Another may have been invited to join an artist for weekly mentoring in a private studio. Yet another student may dual enroll a sculpture class at the local college. The same distinctiveness can be applied to a literature course (each home can choose their own literature selections) or a science course (where the student might be invited to take part in a research project at a local university). There is no standard way to meet course requirements (unless your state dictates differently--this post assumes parents have researched and know the home education statute for their state). Hence, some colleges use course descriptions to assess the depth and rigor of a home education course.

Some colleges ask for parents to write course descriptions.

It is part of their verification process.

Not all colleges ask for course descriptions. Some don't know they could, should or would even benefit from them. Others do not care because they have come to understand and prefer the quality students home education affords, and prefer to meet the student in person rather than on paper. However, with the eclectic mix of methods and means home educators utilize, the course descriptions do bring out the extraordinary opportunities homeschoolers have embraced.

I remember when I encountered the first college requesting course descriptions. Thankfully, we were still early in our high school journey so we could easily remember all the exceptional experiences our young adult benefited from in his courses, some variations of more traditionally taught classes (like the 10 dissections he completed in an Honors Biology class he took at a local co-op) as well as courses we designed based on independent study, research, and personal reading. The reading list he compiled on the computer helped tremendously as we reflected on all what was involved in each course.

From the first high schooler on down, I have diligently kept course descriptions current--with the exception of the year a baby was born in MAY! 

I have learned to:

Write course descriptions when the young adult begins the course (even if just the bare minimum is known: textbook, reading materials, anticipated experiential opportunities) and add significant educational highlights throughout the year. When I waited until the end of the year to write the whole description, I forgot some of the most beneficial learning blessings he experienced, no to mention getting my head above the project was monumental, or at least it seemed so when I felt I was drowning.

             Keeping current has saved me time and headache. 

I have to remind myself course descriptions tell the stories of the courses detailed on the transcript. It is the document college admissions personnel will reference as they consider offering admission and need more information to differentiate one student from another. A course description is not an outline of the course and will be less likely to read if lengthy. Course descriptions are chapter summaries, hitting the highlights, offering the concepts learned, the teaching methods and resources used, and exceptional experiences in which the student participated.

To capture the most significant, record keeping is essential.

Course descriptions are especially important if the parent and young adult are designing unique courses, courses not typically offered on local school campuses or courses not generally taught in high schools, for example Introduction to Equine Science, Survey of the Building Construction Industry, or Care and Concerns of the Elderly.

When I don't record regularly, I forget valuable additions. In our busy years, I found it helpful to open the course description document and add bullet points which I can revisit later and edit into cohesive sentences. Tackling course descriptions in this manner helps me remember important details and keeps me excited about what my young adult is accomplishing. When it is not in front of me, I tend to forget. 

I constantly must remind myself there are many ways to accomplish learning (this is true even of the state standards- the standard can be met with very different and unique methods). For example, think about American History. If two of the many learning goals for a high school level American History class are to understand the causes and consequences of the Civil War and the effects on the American people, and to understand the causes and consequences of World War II in the United States and abroad, the learning possibilities of how a student will understand those concepts is vast and plenty. Chapters in a text could be read and summary questions answered. On a family vacation up the East Coast of the United States, the family could visit and tour eight Civil War battlefields and National Parks and compare what actions were taken and who was involved at each location. The student could attend a local WWII veteran's meeting and listen to the stories shared by the members. Perhaps the local library hosts a presentation by surviving Tuskegee Airmen who share their wartime experiences from the perspective of African Americans serving during WWII (actual event we attended and it was AMAZING!). And then there are the plethora of primary source documents and biographical materials which could be read. Not only can the same learning goals be accomplished, but learning with this type of diversity allows young adults of different learning styles to retain information they might not otherwise remember. It is these exceptional and unique opportunities which can be highlighted in course descriptions, should a high schooling family choose to prepare this document or a college require it for admission. 

Being intentional about writing course descriptions proved most valuable for courses we designed or courses developed from internships and shadowing experiences. When designing a course, I felt it was important to keep a running log of educational experiences, online resources, and learning resources, just as I would if I were compiling a course as a traditional classroom teacher. 

As we progressed through high school and began researching colleges, I was thankful I had records of courses my student had completed. 

There are blessings to writing course descriptions. For us, the original course descriptions from my first high schooler could easily be cut, pasted, and edited to the unique experiences and opportunities of the high schoolers who followed. Second, though not all colleges asked for the description document, I sent them anyway. It was done and I wanted officials to have the document should they have questions. I know some parents feel this is a controversial and dangerous precedence for future home educated applicants, but in at least one situation those descriptions placed our young adult in a better position of acceptance in an honors college (because we couldn't document any of his courses as Honors or IB, which most of the applicants had earned). When the descriptions (which included reading materials) were read, the depth and expanse at which our young adult studied most of his courses could be realized. Our homeschool high school experience was just as rigorous as those students who had completed accredited IB programs. Note: Realizing that our student had the ability and desire to qualify for an IB or similar program, I researched the contents and reading materials utilized by these programs and then wove them into our studies. Again, this is our experience, not something I am advocating for every home schooled high schooler. 

Being intentional with writing course descriptions has served us well, in many cases. The work was done as we studied, and saved on the computer, should we need it. We did need it for our first applicant. With our second, because of dual enrollment and then an easy transition to the state college (and eventually a four-year university), the course descriptions were not necessary. On a side note, had our first and second grads followed their aspirations to play competitive collegiate sports (hence registering with the NCAA) having the course descriptions complete would have saved me a huge amount of time filling out their Core-Course Worksheets. Keep in mind as you consider NCAA and course titles, they prefer specific titles. Be aware.

This information (and more) is included in Celebrate High School. which is currently undergoing revision and update with an intended release date of late summer 2015. The revised edition will contain every thing in the original publication as well as some new features (including middle school sections) parents will find helpful as they celebrate high school.

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Integrating Literature and World History in High School

I am often asked how I design classes for our high school young adults. 

Actually, I don't design all their classes, only ones where there is a special interest, an intrinsically motivated independent study, a travel experience which sparks a study, or in a case where we can't find a traditional curriculum fitting our learning goals.

We have used several approaches to formulating classes based on strengths, interests, and the future plans of the young adult. 

Our oldest son had a great interest and gift for learning history. This was, by my understanding, his favorite subject in school. He read constantly, checking out books at the library and spending saved monies at museum and historical landmark book shoppes. He outsourced his dad, a public school history teacher very early. By the time he reached high school, there really wasn't a curriculum available to challenge him. I had to research accelerated reading lists, college course syllabi, and talk with historians to find resources for him. It was a challenge, but a privilege to help him grow yet further in his learning.

With his interest in history, we divided American History into Early American (to 1850) and Modern (from 1850 to present), and World History into Ancient (to the Reformation) and Modern (from the Reformation to present) so we could allow time for him to dig deeper into his interest. I developed literature selection lists for each course, providing him reading suggestions to get him started. His desire to learn history prompted him to seek out additional titles. My motto became, "you read it, I will find a place to give you credit".

For readers interested in the detail of what we constituted Ancient World History/Survey of Ancient Literature, our reading list (remember it was a springboard from which he could jump in for more) is below. Please keep in mind as you read through the list, he was a self-motivated reader with an interest in the subject. Not all young adults will share this interest or learning preference. In addition to his independent reading, we used a textbook as a spine of topics. Though he started the year reading some of the text, by the end of the year he was reading more primary source documents, living history selections, and biographical pieces than text. He also had the amazing opportunity to travel to Rome, including tours of several sites inside the ancient city wall. Though I could be discouraged that my other children may not have the same opportunity, I await the provision He has for each of them as they walk through their lives.

The path above worked for us and that young adult. Don't use what is written here as a comparison for what your student should or shouldn't be doing. Comparing ourselves or our children to others leads to discouragement and discontent, neither of which are valuable.

Our examples are only intended as encouragement, to give an idea of what worked for us, and what you might be able to create for your high schooler. Our young adult was (and still is) a reader, but your young adult may have an opportunity to intern with a local businessman or a museum curator. Use what God provides for you and pray about how he is preparing your young adult for the future plans He has, not for the ones we best intention.

Our Ancient History/Literature list:

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Oedipus Rex, Sophocles
  • Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
  • Antigone, Sophocles
  • Mysteries of Ancient China, Rawson
  • Mythology, Hamilton
  • The Roman Way, Hamilton
  • The Greek Way, Hamilton
  • The Death of Socrates, Plato
  • Ben Hur, Lew Wallace
  • For the Temple, Henty
  • The Young Cathaginan, Henty
  • The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone, Giblin
  • In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, Wood
  • The Republic, Plato
  • The Histories by Herodotus
  • The Eagle of the Ninth, Sutcliff
  • Anna of Byzantium, Barrett
  • The City of God, Augustine
  • I, Claudius, Graves
  • Claudius the God, Graves
  • Don Quixote, Cervantes
  • Julius Caesar, Shakespeare
This post is edited and updated from the original posted September 1, 2009 at

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Intentional High School Years- Part I- Transcripts

Intentionality has paid off in the high school years. 

Before I began the high school journey with my oldest, I was determined to start it off "right". I attended everything from panel discussions with home school grads and moms to transcript seminars with guidance and educational professionals...before my first son ever started checking off credits. I know, perhaps a bit intense.

There were many reasons for my jump start before the high school years

Perhaps the first reason was my interest and passion for all things education. Even with my confidence in what I knew about education there was, down inside my mind, a nagging voice: "you will mess up your first-born, home-educated guinea pig". Regardless the main reason for my jump start, the varied motivations (right or wrong) along the journey made me seek answers.

Empowerment: one of the greatest gifts I have given myself as a mama of high schoolers

This remains true today as I journey with my third high school young adult. Yes, some information remains relevant, however, legislation, college admission trends, unique interests of each student, change. So, even after two home graduates, I still seek answers.

Most of what I learned in 2003 when I began the high school journey (wow, has it really been 12 years on the high school journey?) about the layout and contents of transcripts has remained constant. I haven't had to adjust my approach to transcript design and development, thankfully. (Though I will admit, I changed layout a bit for the current student to highlight specific strengths.)

The challenge today, however, is not a lack of information or empowerment. 

Instead, I now fight full days and the looming end of a semester...and it's time to update my current high schooler's transcript! WHEW!

This week, I need to pull up my boot straps and make room in my schedule for what I have learned-- and now advise others to do when I teach workshops or do individual consults. Sometimes it is hard to follow our own advice...ugh!

What have  I learned (and still intentionally apply) regarding keeping transcripts up-to-date? 

After my high schooler and I map out a four-year plan in pencil, I create a template for that young adult's transcript (a snapshot of the high school years) as soon as my student begins high school level classes, if possible. I add courses as they are started and fill in credits and grades as they are earned (or at least try to keep up as best I can- you never know who will ask for this important document)

With one of my high schoolers, due to the birth of a new baby, I got behind on recording, and oh my, it was hard to catch up. Catching up, however, is still easier than starting from square one when the local sports team or auto insurance company request a copy. YIKES! Been there, too!

As our first eighth grader enrolled in high school level courses, I began the process of researching transcript formats and contents. Once I had compiled a list of "transcript essentials" colleges were requiring, I typed anticipated courses into the document in progress. This intentional preparation was a great help as the semester and the year ticked on. I was tired and spring baseball season was in full force. The last thing I had time and energy to do was to sit, research, and create with a clear mind. After all, in the spring of that year I was already planning for the next school year.

When summer break arrived, I finished adding grades and credits to the document. As we discussed courses for the upcoming year, I added those anticipated courses to the document, later deleting and reformatting as the semester progressed. This was a valuable lesson for me to learn, especially when I had littles learning to read or middle schoolers who needed a paragraph edited. The little work up front paid dividends in the end. 

I have learned the transcript is gold when applying to colleges. It is typically the first document in the college application pile and sets the tone for the entire stack of paperwork. If admission officials like what they see, or are curious about those out-of-the box courses no other applying student has completed, the college application stands a better chance at a second read. With that weight of importance, my intentional efforts are worth the early start and purposeful additions each semester. 

Creating a professional, concise, clear snapshot of your young adult's high school years is worth the time and energy of research and document design. When I speak to parents about transcript creation, some of the least common questions relate to the intentional steps of keeping the document current. Most parents want to know the nuts and bolts of the "must haves" which we cover in my workshops. However, when time comes to sit in front of the computer and get it on paper, fear resurfaces and often causes procrastination. 

Empower yourself! Go to workshops. Search online for example templates. However, also be intentional to take time to add, delete, and making necessary, timely changes. This document deserves your attention, and you will be thankful for your intentional steps forward. You can develop a transcript of home learning that catches the attention of future college officials and employers. It is possible and you are able!

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education.