Monday, October 17, 2016

From the High School Lesson Book - Course Descriptions

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From the High School Lesson Book - Course Descriptions on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - some tips on how and why to write high school course descriptions

A couple of questions that often come up when homeschooling through high school is "do I need to write a course description?" and "How do I write a course description?" Whether you'll need to write course descriptions will depend on your student's coursework, future plans, and the requirements of the college they plan to attend. The how-to of actually writing the course description isn't all that difficult.

Will you need course descriptions?
Chances are - you won't! The short answer is that often colleges will not ask to see a course description, especially if the course titles on the transcript give a pretty clear indication of the content. For example, "Marine Biology" is pretty descriptive. "Bible" is less clear all on its own, which may prompt some colleges to inquire what was studied. My experience is pretty limited, but from all I've read and heard, you generally won't need a course description unless the college asks for it. Most colleges will state somewhere in the admissions information on their website whether course descriptions are required.

Then why write a course description?
Why not? I write up very brief descriptions for my own personal records for most courses, which I could easily flesh out with more details if needed. But doing a simple description takes very little time, and also serves as a plan for what the student should accomplish in the coming year, and a goal-setting exercise. This is especially useful for courses that don't come from just one standard textbook.

How do you write a course description?
For a course that comes primarily from a high school level textbook, you'll almost always be able to find the information you need in the text or teacher's edition. Or try the publisher's website.

From the High School Lesson Book - Course Descriptions on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - some tips on how and why to write high school course descriptions

For the Notgrass Exploring World History course my kids have all done, there is a guide for parents and teachers booklet which includes a Course Description designed for you to use in your records or transcript. That's the easiest kind, because the publisher provides it and gives you permission to quote it.

Kennady is doing The Power in Your Hands for Composition this year. There is not a Course Description in the Teacher's Guide, but there is a two-page spread outlining all the course objectives under three general headings: The Course; Attitudes; and Skills. To write this course description, I chose some specific items from The Course and Skills to highlight. So my course description might start something like this:

In this 1.0 credit high school course, the student will develop competence in nonfiction writing, including persuasive essays, exposition, description, and narration. The student will practice persuasive techniques; develop organization skills; learn to communicate clearly and be aware of their audience; and will practice and strengthen skills needed for real-life writing.
And for a course that we develop ourselves, using a variety of resources, I'd write the course description using the same technique, but choosing the highlights from the table of contents of the books we use. So for a course in History of Western Music using several different textbooks, I would look at the contents of the books, and then choose what to highlight from the subject matter covered. I would state the starting point, which might be Medieval plainsong and the endpoint, which might be Composers of the Early 20th Century; and mention that the course includes study of the music and influence of major composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. That course description should also briefly state how the student will learn the material - perhaps through a combination of reading the textbooks, independent research, and "the student will write three research papers" during the course. You'll probably want the description to include a list of the resources used, or novels read for a Lit course.

When giving credit for something like music - for example, Kennady's Guitar lessons - the course description can be quite brief. A course description for our Guitar credit would state that the one-credit course consists of daily practice, a weekly lesson with a private instructor, bi-weekly practices and performances with a band, and other performances throughout the year.

From the High School Lesson Book - Course Descriptions on Homeschool Coffee Break @ - some tips on how and why to write high school course descriptions

It doesn't hurt to have a Course Description!
Even if you don't need to submit the course description with your student's transcript, in my opinion, it doesn't hurt to sketch out at least a brief description for your own records. For any Course Descriptions that I write myself rather than just rely on what the publisher provides, I keep it short and sweet. Really, just two or three sentences stating the general objectives of the course. Then I've got something to work with should a more detailed description be needed; and I've quickly set out the goals that we'll be aiming for as we study.

I keep a record of the Course Descriptions, whether provided by a publisher, or scribbled out by me, in my Homeschool Tracker Online. This makes it ever so simple to save them from one year to the next, and to print it out should it ever be needed.

Homeschool Tracker Online - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review on

For more detailed information and examples on writing a Course Description, I found this article on Annie & Everything awhile ago: The Complete Guide to High School Course Descriptions for Homeschoolers - with lotsa examples!

Have you written your own course descriptions? Have you ever needed to submit them? I'd be interested in learning from others' experiences, so leave a comment and let me know! Then please link your posts about homeschooling high school here - I'd love to see what you are working on! Also, please visit your neighbors and leave some encouraging comments!

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Carol said...

That is a good reminder to look in the Teacher's Guide for help with course descriptions.

Annette Vellenga said...

can't say I've ever written a course description before. But at least now I know where to begin. :)

At Home where life happens said...

What a helpful and well-written description. I have not even thought about this aspect of high school so thank you! It is now on my radar for next year. - Lori

Cassandra Holdeman said...

Great info to keep for next year when we start navigating the high school world.

FlyMama Di said...

I have two who graduated and went to college. One college wanted to know every book my child had read in our massive courses by a curriculum they'd never heard of (Tapestry of Grace 15 years ago!). Lesson: also wise to keep a reading or book list for each subject in classes where they read a lot of different books.

Kym Thorpe said...

yes, I should have mentioned keeping a book list! That's pretty important for a Lit course.

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