High School Course Design
and Record Keeping
by Joy Marie Dunlap
Our home school recently entered a whole new phase: high school at home. Long before our older sons became ready to begin high school courses, I researched my responsibilities: courses, credits, transcripts, and college-entrance requirements.
I looked through supplier catalogs for courses that would best meet our sons' needs and added other courses, taking into consideration what we want our sons to know before high school graduation as well as their own interests. Following are examples of the high school courses I designed and my system of record keeping.
The textbook courses with answer keys, quizzes, and test booklets are simple to grade. I need only decide how much weight to give daily assignments, quizzes, and tests, then average test and quiz results and give points for finished assignments.
I may base the grade on tests and quizzes alone if a teen does well in test taking. However, if he has difficulty taking tests, I may base less of the grade on tests and more on daily assignments.
Our two teenaged sons are using the standard textbook approach in the core subjects. However, in music, literature, art, home economics, P.E., and electives, I am designing our own courses.
When I design a course for our teens, I decide what experiences I want to include. I could use books only or include wood projects in a woodworking course, character projects in a discipleship course, and physical activity in a P.E. course.
Computer. For example, our computer class has 25 skills I feel our teens should master before they can be considered competent computer users. These include setting up the computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem, and printer; using drawing or painting software; typing and editing a manuscript on a word processor; and transferring data from one file to another.
We purchased an adult beginner-level computer book. I am writing a test for each chapter in this book. The reading, the tests, and the 25 skills will form the basis of the grade in this class.
Bicycle Course. Our bicycle course record sheet includes boxes for recording actual time spent bicycling and a place to check off books read and videos viewed on the topic of cycling, including bicycle repair and safety. As the boys learn and/or demonstrate skills, I check them off on the record sheet for that course.
Ten percent of the boys' grades for the bicycle course is for bicycle safety. I grade on a scale of one to ten with ten being an excellent safety record. I have a scale of safety standards worked out, which makes the course easier to grade.
Childcare. The family living course I designed requires specific experiences with a preschooler. Our youngest son falls within the age-range of the course the boys are using on the topic of the preschool child.
I set eight objectives for this course. I require our teens to read to their brother, plan a craft project for him, help him complete it, supervise his playtime, teach him a new chore, apply minor first aid, and help him with bedtime and morning routines.
Manners. Since good manners are important in family life, I included a book on manners with one test for every two chapters. My grading sheet tells me how many points to award for each chapter and test. There are places to check off reading assignments and record test grades.
Scripture Projects. I also have a checklist of Bible verses for our teens to memorize, worksheets to complete, and projects to do based on specific Scripture verses.
One project is based on Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." Our teen must decide on an activity which will demonstrate this principle and then report to me how he has fulfilled the requirement. Then I will check it off on my records.
Family. I also chose a textbook which I feel teaches important principles of family living. I have written a test on each chapter of this book, since each chapter holds so much that I want our teens to remember.
Organic Gardening. Because our teens both enjoy reading, I have included a large number of books in several of our courses. For our organic gardening course, our oldest son read more than eleven thick volumes. I counted these for the course, but chose only one for which to write tests.
Discipleship. Our discipleship class includes a list of 16 books to be read. To get an adequate understanding of what it is to be a disciple, I included biographies and autobiographies of great Christians and books on discipleship. But requiring tests for all these books was unmanageable and unnecessary, since spiritual understanding is not easily tested on paper.
Instead, I made tests for three key books, compiled a checklist of Scripture verses to memorize on the topic of discipleship, and made up a test on the verses. A percentage of the grade is also based on reading the entire New Testament.
Gardening. Sometimes I give a grade for each skill area. Our organic gardening course is based mainly on a combination of reading assignments and applying that reading in a 200 sq. ft. vegetable garden. I felt that the performance of gardening skills and the results in the garden should form a significant part of the boys' grades.
I listed skill areas such as garden planning, shopping, soil preparation, planting, irrigation, weed control, disease and pest management, responsible harvesting, and garden results, and next to each is a place for a score from 1 to 3, showing how well (or poorly) the student did in each area.
Deciding whether our son's gardening efforts deserve an A, B, C, or D is not an easy task. Breaking them down into separate skill areas enables me to be more accurate and objective.
For instance, while our oldest son did a great job overall, he got behind in pest management. With this system, it is easier to reflect this in his grade.
Woodworking. In a course such as woodworking, I make up a list of projects the boys may choose from. I want the projects to include a variety both from kits and from scratch. I have a checklist with a place to record what the project will be, once the boys have made their choices.
I have places for a grade in the categories of completeness, neatness, creativity, technique, and clean up. Again, it is easier to grade objectively when skills and competence are broken down into categories. If our son does a fantastic job on a project but leaves tools all over, spills nails and wood glue and does not clean them up, I think this should be reflected in his grade.
We take color photographs of each completed project in a course and arrange them in a collage, so that pictures of the completed projects are on file.
Photography. In our photography course, a certain number of shots are required and will be graded in each of several categories: landscape, group shots, individual portraits, still life, celebration, action shots, places, and a photo series documenting a special event.
Each student's photo album will be graded on neatness, completeness, and originality. Care of photographs and photography equipment will also be reflected in the grade.
Music. Sometimes I create a course to give our teens credit for family experiences which they would be able to get credit for on a high school transcript.
Our family enjoys listening to a variety of classical music. I realized that our sons had listened to a wider variety of pieces than I had in all the four years of music I took in high school. They were able to identify music styles, composers, instruments, music history facts, and dates.
I felt our boys should get high school credit for this as well as the books and tapes on music history that they had listened to. I created a course and grading sheet on which to check off music-listening experiences. The course includes tapes and books on the lives of the great composers, and tests on each one.
I keep a list of each recording we have listened to and the information from its jacket, including pieces and composers. As soon as we borrow or buy a new recording, I immediately record the information and assign a number. From then on, whenever we listen to that recording again, all I write down on the child's record is the number keyed to my records. With five children, this makes record keeping much easier.
Field Biology. Some high school courses are best approached as a notebook course. Our oldest son will be taking a course in field biology this year. He will be studying field guides, visiting different ecosystems, and identifying wildlife. How does he demonstrate proficiency and earn a grade in a course like this?
Our solution is to require our son to draw, label, and write about each of his findings in a notebook. He will date each entry and write down the location where each sample was sighted.
The grading sheet lists books to be read, biomes to be visited, a place for test grades, and a place for a notebook grade, broken down into skill areas including scientific accuracy, completeness, neatness, artistry, organization, and creativity.
Record Keeping Materials
I make a master copy of the record/grading sheet for each course and then use a photocopy for each student who takes the course. The record sheets also serve as a guideline for our teens as they plan each week's assignments, so I make copies for them to keep in their notebooks.
This system simplifies record keeping and grading for a custom designed high school course. It also enables me to see at a glance what has been completed and what is left to do.
If later I get a great idea or find a particular requirement impractical, I can modify the course as needed. If I find a book, video, or experience which I feel will enhance the course, I write it on a supplementary record sheet designed for this purpose.
I keep the grading sheet masters in a notebook along with masters of my course descriptions. To write a course description, I simply sum up what the student will learn and do by course completion. At the bottom of the page, I add a list of the books and authors required in the course.
I use another notebook for the courses I am still in the process of designing. I jot down ideas, resources, requirements, and revisions until I am ready to finalize the course description and grading sheet.
Importance of Record Keeping
I have learned that organization makes all the difference in the world. I have to discipline myself to create systems that work, and then (here's the challenge) keep up on them.
Putting off record keeping only makes life harder in the long run, but having a notebook full of forms for every course has made record keeping easier for me.
Record keeping is important. If your home school is ever brought into question, you want to have documentation to prove all your hours of hard work and the work of your children.
Good records can give you confidence in—and the means to justify—the grades you give your children should you be called upon to do so. But even if your records are never shown to anyone, you have a priceless memento which will only become more precious as time goes by.