By Lee Binz
Lee's homeschooled children earned four year, full-tuition scholarships to their first choice university. Lee has put her experience to work helping other homeschool parents create high quality transcripts for college admissions.
Some people just aren’t textbook people! What do you do if your homeschooler learns by living, instead of studying textbooks? What if your child soaks up knowledge like a sponge, without being directed in any way? Can you still create a serious-looking high school transcript?
My son Alex was a self-motivated extreme learner. If only it were an Olympic event, like extreme sports! He learned novel writing for fun, and wanted to take a third year of French even though I didn’t have a curriculum for him. He asked for an American Government curriculum for Christmas, and read every economics book he could get his hands on. Although his “love language” is reading, he was still a delight-directed learner. When it was time to make his transcript, I still had to figure out how to translate his experiences onto a piece of paper.
For our family, the problem seemed huge. What should I do with all the experiences that cover a wide range of subject? Was that report on Jean Baptiste Say (the French Economist) a paper on history, economics, or foreign language? Was my son Kevin’s enjoyment of Russian History just part of World History, or could it be a course by itself? We had SO many papers that my children wrote, but I didn’t know what subject I should attribute them to! Where should I file each of them?
I eventually found a system that could help me sort out all their delight directed learning, using my understanding of traditional grades and credits. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it. Before I go further, please make sure you have read the section on grades and credits first. Think about any textbooks that you happen to use. Once you understand how to calculate grades and credits with a book it’s easier to understand how to do it with delight-directed learning.
The "Sticky Note" Strategy
Once I figured out how to do it, I realized that my system would work for ALL delight-directed learners, not just “book learners.” I also realized that it could help parents who are themselves kinesthetic learners. My strategy is simple, fun, and only requires one small purchase. Sticky notes. Yup. Those small square notes save the day again! You can determine what to do with each experience using a simple sticky note.
For each activity your student is involved in, there are five pieces of information you need to remember. Write those five things on the sticky note, and save it with your homeschool records. At the end of each year, group those sticky notes together, and combine them to create high school courses.
I recognize that it’s hard to determine where each experience will fall on a transcript, so keep each sticky note very simple. Here is what I suggest. On each note paper, indicate each of the following items:
Name the Experience. In the middle, write the experience. What did you do? “Perform Nutcracker.” Do you have any course title ideas? Like “Theatrical performance” or “economics?” Just guess – and feel free to guess many times on each sticky note!
Note the year. What school year did you do this? Sometimes it will be a school year, like 2010-1011, and other times it will be for a short duration, like a play in November of 2012.
Grade the experience. Did your student complete the project to your expectations? Were they successful, did they receive positive feedback, or learn something? Review the chapter on grading, if you need help. Remember that you don’t have to test in order to give a grade. Instead, you can evaluate them in other ways.
Note credits earned or hours spent. Count or estimate the number of hours you spent on the project. A total of 75-90 hours could be recorded as “1/2 credit” when you are done with the experience. If you have more than 180 hours, you could consider it a very full credit, or you might choose to divide up your experiences into smaller bite-sized pieces and then regroup them into other courses with 180 hours apiece. If you have less than 75 hours, you will be grouping the sticky notes together, and I’ll describe that in a moment. Keep sticky notes even when the activity required very few hours. You can use those experiences no matter how many hours they spend.
Suggest possible subject areas. You may not know which subjects you will use for each experience, but it’s good to record the possibilities. With all our reports and papers, I would often put several ideas on each note. One paper might be regarded as English or history or economics or French. By making a note of it, I could decide later which course needed that experience to make up a full credit. If history was already packed, then perhaps I would use another subject area.
Spread them out and group them together. Once you have your sticky notes, don’t review them until you are actually working on the transcript. Checking them too often can cause frustration and insecurity, so only review them when you update your transcript. This will help you keep the big picture in mind. When you are ready to work on your transcript, spread all the sticky notes on the table or floor. Then put them into “affinity groups,” or groups of similar things. As you combine these activities, work to combine them into groups that ultimately add up to 1 credit or ½ credit subjects.
Once you have made a decision, put the course on your transcript.
You can make a note of the experiences you included on the transcript, if you want to. This will really help you if you decide later to add course descriptions to your homeschool record. But once you’ve decided on a credit, try not to stress about it again. It’s easy enough to change when you need to, but just putting those experiences into groups is a success in itself. You have successfully grouped your delight-directed learning into high school level courses!
This whole process of spreading notes out on the floor and manually grouping and regrouping experiences is a great technique for any parent who is a kinesthetic learner. Even if you don’t use a hands-on curriculum, this hands-on transcript process can help kinesthetic parents understand the nuances of their child’s transcript, and the process can ultimately help you remember what was included in what course – and even help you write your course descriptions! Make sure you keep the information with your homeschool records.
The “Testing” Strategy
Another way to quantify delight-directed learning is to give subject tests. This doesn’t work for every subject or every child, but it’s an option to consider. Instead of testing your children as they are learning, you allow them to learn a subject naturally. When they are done, you can give them a sample test from a major test provider. If they pass the sample test at home or at the testing center, you will know how much they have learned, and will have a grade to put on their transcript. There are three tests available that will help you with this strategy: SAT Subject Tests, Advanced Placement AP Exams, and CLEP Tests from the College Level Exam Program.
Parents don’t always know what their children are learning. There is so much life that goes on – and so many books! It’s amazing what children will learn when we aren’t looking! Using CLEP exams, I found out just how true that could be! I told my students to look over the exams “just to see what they were like.” One son was able to pass an exam in Business Law, even though I had never seen a Law book in my home. He passed the Principles of Marketing test, even though I had never seen a Marketing book in my home. He passed both Microeconomics AND Macroeconomics, even though I still don’t know exactly what those two words mean. By testing them, I was able to put some courses on the transcript that were a surprise even to me!
When using tests to document delight-directed learning, be sure to avoid failure. Purchase a book with sample tests in it, and give the exam at home first. Only take your student to an official test if you are reasonably sure they can pass the test. Your goal is to find out what they have learned, not demonstrate what they have NOT learned. For more information on SAT 2 Subject Tests, AP exams, or the CLEP test, please see CollegeBoard.com.
To homeschool high school effectively, include as much delight-directed learning as possible. A fun learning environment does not make school easy, it makes it interesting and applicable. When school is interesting, children will learn more and they will LOVE learning more.
Parents need to find a balance, however. College preparation means parents must cover the core classes and at the same time capture delight directed learning. Cover Core and Capture is not difficult.
When planning your week, first be sure to COVER the core classes of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Each family will have classes they consider non-negotiable core classes. Within those core classes, try to teach them in an interesting way. It's possible to teach many core subjects with delight-directed classes, but make sure you cover the core one way or another.
Once the core is covered, CAPTURE the delights of your child. Translate them into courses on your transcript. You don't have to plan, or direct, or evaluate that learning with tests or quizzes. Simply capture learning.
©2010 Lee Binz
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's 5 part mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." You can find her at www.TheHomeScholar.com.
This article is an excerpt taken from Chapter 10 of Lee's book, “Setting the Records Straight: How to Craft Homeschool Transcripts and Course Descriptions for College Admission and Scholarships” available on Amazon.