High School Planning #2: Course Descriptions

Jun 11, 2020 | Education

Hey, Educated People! Welcome back to my series, High School Planning where we are discussing course descriptions. Please remember that this a blog and vlog series. You will read here first and then be routed to my vlog for Step Two’s video lesson. If you haven’t read Step One yet, do that first.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

I have been waiting for this year – the year where my oldest son approaches high school. In all of K-12 education, the high school years and my favorite to teach and plan. As a former graduation coach, it thoroughly EXCITES me to help students build and map their four-year academic plan for both high school graduation and college entrance. I personally feel that each student should have their own graduation coach advocating for their success and preference in course selection, course sequence, and their course workload.

Teach Your Student How to Plan

In my case, I am both coach and mama so I gladly assume the position in mapping my son’s plan AND teaching him how to do this so he is equipped to self-advocate as an undergraduate. Once a student turns 18 years old, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents the sharing of academic records to me, his mother. (There are some exceptions.) However, at that stage in his life I would rather he able to plan his his own content in a way that best works for his success as opposed to me asking him to sign a paper that gives a school permission to speak with me. Lots of the prep and plan for high school and beyond is me not doing the work for my son, but teaching him how to do it for himself.

As a degree program coordinator for a major university and it baffles me how many students (especially freshmen) have no clue on how to design the courses across the 3-5 years they will likely be in school. Understanding how to be the master of your own education saves a student money, time, frustration, failure, and missed opportunities. At minimum, all it takes is an adult to teach the student how to plan and at maximum (which I can afford to my son) it takes teaching the student how to plan and implement strategy for course navigation and degree completion in the most optimal way for that student. Lots of the work is generalized – what any student would need to know and have to do; but about a quarter of it is personalized (which is where schools often drop the ball) – what this student should know and must do. And depending on the student’s academic goals and professional aspirations, the personalization could be a larger piece of this pie.

“Other Language” & Vocabulary

Even though we are the United States, all states do not approach education the same way which also means that all states do not have the same graduation requirements. I cannot list each state’s requirements, so do your homework and contact me if you need assistance. However, I address graduation requirements in the first post of this series.

My goal in this post is teach you about planning as it relates to course descriptions (regardless of your educational choice) so you have line of sight into this process and to ask me any questions it has inspired. I will use one subject area, Science, to teach you how to approach and deliver planning, and explain some language nuances.

In addition to your state/school’s requirements, there may be some language centered around course title, course, type, course quantity, and/or course sequence. Notwithstanding those specific nuances, you and your student should decide which courses he will take. Before I give an example, let’s define these terms:

  • course title – the name of the course, e.g. Biology
  • course type – e.g. lab, intro, college prep, career placement, etc.
  • course quantity – the number of courses you need for a certain subject
  • course sequence – when you can take a course or the series of courses you must follow
  • community service – voluntary work intended to give exposure and teach skills

In my first post I mentioned that the requirements are not limited to the chart and credits as they also include the bulleted list above. It also includes other language that must be considered:

  • One (1) of the three (3) lab science units shall be a course in Biology.
  • At least two (2) of the twenty four (24) Carnegie Units for graduation must include a College Level or Career Preparatory. The course may fulfill subject matter or elective unit requirements. {I assign a symbol (*) to note these courses on the master highlight-ed list.}
  • All students must enroll in Algebra I no later than tenth (10th) grade.
  • All students must complete 100 hours of community service to receive a high school diploma.

Understanding in Context

Let’s consider an example in science using my “state’s” other language.

My son is required to take 4 units of Science – course quantity. Of those 4 units, three must be lab sciences and at least one of the units must be Biology. In this subject, he cannot just take any four science classes. One course has to be Biology, so there is no flexibility in course title. Three units must be earned in lab sciences which means he has flexibility in course titles (excluding Biology), but not course type. He can choose any lab science he wants (up to three units), but not any science. My son and I have reviewed the course catalog and decided on the sciences he will take.

Course Descriptions as a Homeschooler

If you are a homeschooler, this responsibility and right is yours but if you have a shadow school, become familiar with the “other language” and decide how you to define your requirements. As you are flagging course titles, read the course descriptions to decide if you want to copy, modify, or re-write your own. Course descriptions can be a simple or detailed as you like. In my experience as a homeschooler, the more detailed the better. Schools and other organizations (including the State) can distill any extra information they are not interested in. It is better to have too much than no enough. If you do not want to be detailed in each course, chose brevity in the elective courses and reserve the details for core courses. For each class you are requiring your student to take, have a course description. Many times, your curriculum provider will already have this done for you. Copy it to build your own running course descriptions list. (It is good to have your own documents with the information in one place.)

This step is complete for you when you and your student understand any “other language” and have accounted for it on the master highlighted list (from the state or shadow school (if applicable), you have a course description for each course (and your student has read them), and you have noted when your student will likely take the course. For this final step, I simply write 1, 2, 3, 4 for the first, second, third, and fourth year respectively while reviewing the graduation requirements, considering the “other language”, and reading the course descriptions.

A state’s or school’s course descriptions lists are important because not only tell what the course is about, but also includes if the course meets any graduation requirement (and in which category), any prerequisites (which helps you map sequence), and the type and/or level of the course.

More Info for Non-Homeschoolers

If you are a non-homeschooler, do not allow someone else to completely decide this for your child. Accept counsel and advice in your areas of challenge and/or ignorance, but the choice is yours to make with your child. For this step, teach your student how to read the “other language” in graduation requirements, course codes, and course descriptions for the sake of understanding it comprehensively and for his ability to select courses (and later, design a plan) that will work for him specifically.

*Later, I will address the personalization. For now, he needs a general comprehensive understanding.

At this point, you will return to your highlighted list. Have your students read the course descriptions for each highlight-ed class. He cannot change the required courses, but it is good for him to understand what he will be learning. For the specific and elective courses, have him decide if still wants to keep the courses he has highlighted understanding the course descriptions. Student can change their minds because they are no longer interested, they decide they do not want to take the prerequisite (or do not have time for it), or more. As you go through this process, there are several things to consider at once and there could be a variety of reasons as to why the initial highlight-ed list has undergone some changes. Allow your students to process and make decisions within the requirement (yours and the school).

This step is complete for you when you and your student understand any “other language” and have accounted for it on the master highlight-ed list, has read the course description for each course, and you have noted when your student will likely take the course. For this final step, my son and I together are writing 1, 2, 3, 4 for the first, second, third, and fourth year respectively while reviewing the graduation requirements, considering the “other language”, and reading the course descriptions. I already know the course frequency (from the step previous) and I call it out to him if needed. I will continue this example in a video demonstration. See below.

Download a Freebie!

I created this High School Planning: Reflection download for your student to reflect on his or her course interests.

Video Lesson

Love, Light, & High School


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