Originally Sent: 10/3/2013
October 3, 2013
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Creating a Course Description
Now that September has come and gone, has your school year started off with a bang or a whimper? We can remember both kinds of beginnings! Know that the Lord has plans and purposes for this coming year. Perhaps it would encourage you to note the glimpses of the Lord’s faithfulness, answers to prayer, and blessings as they occur throughout the year. These will become your personal “stones of remembrance.” (Joshua 4:1-7)
In addition to noting the Lord’s faithfulness, academic recordkeeping is also important and not to be neglected. Since a past newsletter covered this subject in general and The Guide to Homeschooling through High School gives further tips and resources, we’ll focus this newsletter on explaining how to write course descriptions for the classes you are teaching your teens.
What is a course description?
Course descriptions provide details of the course and usually include a list of materials used, scope and sequence, method of grading, and evaluation of credit. You are the one to decide how detailed your course description will be.
The list of course materials can include texts, DVDs, websites, and other teaching aids. Don’t forget to also note the authors, publishers, and date of publication. If you are using a textbook, the scope and sequence (what concepts were covered and in what order) are easily recorded by making a copy of the book’s table of contents. For unit studies you are creating or for integrated approaches, simply record the major concepts of the course.
The scope and sequence will briefly summarize your goals or objectives for the course. For example: “Concepts, theories, and relevant information will be reinforced through assigning the student a variety of compositions to include a research paper and persuasive, narrative, and comparative essays.”
The method of evaluation outlines the tools you use to determine your teen’s final course grade. You the teacher have much leeway to determine how to assess your teen’s skills and knowledge in each course. Grading guideline tips and resources are provided on our website.
The credit you award to the course will also be included in the course description. Three methods of evaluation include using the publisher’s determination of credit, logging hours, or converting college credit earned through dual enrollment into high school credit. All three methods are explained in detail in the high school section of HSLDA’s website.
When are course descriptions needed?
As your teen’s official record keeper, you may be asked to supply supporting documentation for the courses shown on your teen’s high school transcript.
Writing course descriptions at the beginning of each school year will insure that the necessary information is readily available when requested. Some colleges, including the service academies, desire course descriptions from homeschoolers as part of the application process. Employers may desire a brief recap of the courses completed. Scholarship sponsors may ask for these descriptions. Many of you may never be asked for these records; however, they are still beneficial to track your teen’s progress through the high school years and to review with your teen prior to college or job interviews.
Ready for the nitty gritty details?
With all of this background in place, let’s look at simple course descriptions for a variety of teaching approaches.
The course description when using textbooks almost writes itself! Most publishers state the number of credits to assign to the course and provide a summary of the course content that you may elect to use in your description. Sometimes homeschool catalogs or websites give a succinct summary of the concepts covered in the text. As indicated previously, the scope and sequence for these courses flows directly out of the table of contents. Most pre-packaged curriculum will also include evaluation tools such as tests, quizzes, and suggestions for writing activities.
Before writing a course description for a unit study course, you’ll want to first determine the concepts you will cover. Encyclopedias, resource books, and a quick look at a textbook scope and sequence can provide you with ideas for the major areas of study to include. Once an outline is in place, writing the description will entail summarizing the goals and concepts of the course along with listing the materials used such as books, DVDs, internet, or encyclopedias. In addition, you will include the method of grading, maybe implementing projects, presentations, and oral or written assignments. Logging hours is most often used to determine credit when using a unit study approach.
Some of you may use an integrated approach to learning in which subject materials covering English and history, and sometimes Bible, overlap. Curricula such as Tapestry of Grace, Veritas Press, Beautiful Feet, and others use this method. The curriculum publisher usually provides an overview of the concepts covered, supplies a list of reading/teaching materials, and suggests methods of grading as well as credit information. (Check with the publisher to determine if these items are available to you.) Because some parents using the integrated approach may desire to “custom design” the courses, the publisher’s course description may need to be revised to include only the reading materials, assignments, and evaluation tools actually used. Logging hours can then be used to determine credit in each subject area rather than using the publisher’s credit evaluations.
Using course enhancements
Homeschooling your teen provides the opportunity to augment your courses with related field trips, musical performances, visits to museums, and much more. Be sure to include these “extras” in your course description. For example, if you design a career development elective and arrange for your teen to job shadow people in different careers, include a brief summary of the opportunities such as: “Student will have opportunities to job shadow with professionals in three careers (real estate, financial planning, and nursing) and will submit a written report describing her experience.”
Examples of Course Descriptions
We’ve created several course description samples that can be used as guidelines when designing your own. Additional examples may be found in resources such as Homeschooling High School: Planning Ahead for College Admission by Jeanne Gowen Dennis, The High School Handbook: Junior and Senior High School at Home by Mary Schofield, or Homeschooled & Headed for College by Denise Boiko.
Writing a course description offers you an opportunity to organize your thoughts regarding course objectives, materials, and other details. It will also provide additional documentation for courses shown on the transcript. If such information is requested by others, it will be readily accessible. We hope you will now be equipped to design course descriptions with ease.
Join us next month when we share ideas on including hands-on education in your teen’s high school program.
Falling into autumn,
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
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