We're taking a break for Thanksgiving, and I thought that I would take the time to share some specifics about the older kids' learning this year, including some issues I've been fiddling with for high school. High school posts tend to be sparse in the blogosphere, maybe for a few reasons.
1) To respect a teenager's privacy.
2) Because many homeschooling families turn to traditional texts, courses, or independent study schools to help them through the high school years.
3)Because teenagers do fewer cute crafts.
4) Some homeschool families choose to send their teens to brick and mortar high schools.
There are probably more reasons, but those are the ones I can come up with on the spur of the moment. While I certainly respect all of them, it does leave those of us who are just starting high school in a bit of a state of uncertainty. I do intend to respect my teen's privacy, but hopefully I'll be able to share a bit about our high school experiences as well.
Gareth turned 14 in October and is "officially" in "8th grade", although we don't have to report him as such to the state and I tend not to think in those terms very often myself. To complicate matters, much of his work is on a high school level... whatever that is, as what is considered "high school level" seems to vary widely, even among packaged programs -- compare Kolbe's high school history to one of Winterpromise's senior high programs, for instance, and you'll see the dilemma facing the parent and teen who attempt to chart their own course. In any case, having reviewed various high school textbooks to get an idea of what "high school earth science" or "high school history" (particularly on a 9th grade level) might be like, I'm pretty sure that he's doing it.
There is some debate over whether or not colleges want to see (or care about) any courses done in 8th grade. (There is an excellent discussion of the matter on Kind Conversation.) From what I have read the answer is: maybe not. On the other hand, I think it is better to have too many records on hand to choose from rather than too few, and so I am keeping track of all books, projects, field trips, papers, videos... etc. If we were the types of homeschoolers who lay out year-long courses of study and complete them every year, I would perhaps be less worried about keeping track of Gareth's history, science, and literature selections this year, but since we are not, I am going more with age than grade. From Alison McKee's book From Homeschool to College and Work: Turning Your Homeschooled Experiences into College and Job Portfolios: : "Since we don't believe that homeschooled children are in traditional 'grades' we prefaced many of the portfolio's dated entries with Christian's age at the time the activity took place." Elsewhere in the book she tells how they began the documentation process with an "academic journal" when her children turned 14. Thinking of "high school" and the documentation process in these terms fits very well with our experience. Since we began homeschooling (when Gareth was 4), I have noticed that I tend to think of him as a grade "higher" every January, even though he may still "officially" have several months to go in the grade in which he began in July or September. This is because his birthday is in October and every fall and winter he experiences a period of both physical and mental growth. By the time January rolls around, he's a different kid.
In any case, since we tend to pursue interests more than timetables, I fully expect most of our home-designed courses (in history and science, say, or literature -- not math or Latin) to spill over into the "official" years of high school. It's my plan to -- as Alison McKee says often in her book -- "sort and resort" those learning experiences into official packages after the fact, and not before.
But "after the fact" reporting has its own pecularities. When activities, books, etc. are written down, they need to be recorded in such a way that they will be easier to "sort and resort" when the time comes. Alison McKee recommends doing this sorting on at least a 6 month or yearly basis. Since her book was written before all the nifty homeschool tracking software was developed, she was simply doing her sorting from a notebook that her kids kept. Also, she did not give grades or credit or write her "narrative transcript" to bear much resemblance to the kinds of transcripts produced by traditional high schools. When her children applied to college, colleges had not seen many homeschoolers. Today many colleges have policies in place to deal with homeschooled applicants, and I want to cover my bases. I am tracking hours in subjects that are not textbook based (like math or Latin). I plan to use the Carnegie Unit of 120 hours to grant credit, after the hours have been collected, sorted, and grouped.
(I want to be clear here that my oldest is just 14. I have absolutely no experience with applying to colleges beyond the train wreck that my own college application process was. I am not an authority on the matter -- just sharing the results of my own research process.)
This is how I have set things up for now.
I'm using Homeschool Tracker Plus. I don't enter assignments ahead of time. Instead, I record as "assignments" activities already done. I try to enter "topics" and "time spent". Entering topics will give me a scope and sequence later on and will help me sort out the resources. The software tabulates hours for me (and grades if anything is graded), and I can tabulate hours over more time than just a school year. It will also generate lists of resources used. When I assign courses I try to either be very broad or else -- in the case of science -- fairly specific. For instance, I have a course titled "High School History" right now to kind of separate what I tend to think as "junior high" stuff from the books I think probably ought to appear on a high school reading list; I'll sort this work into courses like "European History" or "Medieval History" later, when I see what we've got. But I have broken down "science" into courses by discipline -- geology, paleontology, astronomy, evolutionary biology, etc. This is because, depending on the number of hours accumulated, Gareth could end up with a course called "Earth Science" incorporating the fields of geology/paleontology, astronomy, oceanography, and meteorology... or he might end up with courses called simply "Geology" or "Astronomy". At the time of application (assuming he does decide to apply to college, which I think likely), I would sort out and discard any dead ends or topics that just didn't add up or combine with anything else. But until that time I'll keep recording anything I think might be useful.