380 | How to High School Your Homeschooler (Jennifer Cabrera)
"Dear Hifalutin… High School Approaches…Help!" In this episode I'll share the details of tackling high school with confidence and discernment. It's a Hifalutin how-to on choosing courses, assigning grades, keeping records, and keeping it purpose driven and individualized. We just graduated twins from high school and junior college in the same month, and though we didn't know how we would do it when we started, God provided.
Jennifer Cabrera, the Hifalutin Homeschooler, is the writer of homeschool truth, humor, and inspiration. Jennifer lives in Salado, Texas with her husband and three brilliant boys. She is a licensed Physician Assistant/MPH, but set aside that career for her ultimate life's work. She is also the author of Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook and Revolting Writing, a hilarious writing, vocabulary, and illustration journal for reluctant writers. She is a featured speaker with Great Homeschool Conventions and her memes and witty insights are widely shared on social media.
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Jennifer Cabrera Hello and welcome to another Hifalutin Homeschooler episode of The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jennifer Cabrera and I am one of many hosts here on the podcast. Each week, we bring you an encouraging conversation, inspiration, tips, tricks, and or humor from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home.
Now, while the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we do not pretend to have the answer to every question related to homeschooling, but we do hope to keep it real through lessons we've learned and urge you toward Jesus Christ and prayer with him as the greatest parent-teacher conference available.
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Hey there. I just love getting emails from readers and listeners of the Hifalutin Homeschool Hints, Helps, Inspirations and Overshares that I send out to those willing to consider it. And recently I got a great request for the hifalutin high school 411. Basically, the email said this: Dear Hifalutin, High school approaches. Help. Okay, well, here's how it mostly really read: Hi Jennifer, I recently discovered your website and binge listened to all your podcasts. I'm a homeschool mom of a girl who has never seen the inside of a public school. We have used a collection of curricula over the years, basically a unit study program, plus other supplemental curriculum to round things out. We have not graded anything but instead taken a mastery approach. But I am starting to think about high school. I no longer want to use unit studies and I think I will need to provide grades for a transcript. Knowing that every kid is different, how do you go about the curriculum selection process for high school? I think I'll use the state requirements as a starting point, and then I'll fill in with curriculum that meets the requirements, but also their interests. How did you approach grading in the high school years? By assignment, overall grade by course only, using subjective tests and rubrics? I'm not looking for a personal reply, as I'm sure you have your hands full. Staying weird. Signed, An Overachieving, Excited-to-Plan, Worried-to-Fail but Hopeful-to-Soar Homeschool Mom. Well, you aren't getting a personal response, but you are getting a long-winded Highfalutin podcast episode entitled How We Highschooled: Choosing Courses, Assigning Grades and Keeping Records.
And yes, a good starting point is meeting your state's requirements with courses geared towards your child's interests and goals. I couldn't have said it better myself. Nothing shows us what we need to focus on in homeschooling better than our own kids needs, strengths, interests and weaknesses. Anything else would just be an arbitrary checklist and goal posts or Frisbee golf baskets that we're tossing discs of effort at and earning participation trophies for to make the public happy. It's pointless. HSLDA and a slew of other state websites probably offer a basic list of required courses to graduate high school students in your state. Start there. Now most are generalized compilations of courses to produce a well-rounded, informed and able adult. So much cynicism and sarcasm over what constitutes a well-informed adult comes to mind at this point, but I'll save that for later. There is a basic outline of courses for graduates in each state. For instance, here in Texas, the basic requirements roughly include, and they are likely similar across the country, 22 to 26 total credits. Now, this isn't exact because there are different levels of graduates and honors within the public school system. And as homeschoolers are considered a private school unto themselves here in Texas, the specific number of credits are flexible. But if your kid wants to go further in their education or vocational training, there are some basic courses that they will likely be expected to take.
And here in Texas, it's broken down roughly as the following: three to four credits of math. Now, usually within the levels of pre-algebra, algebra 1 and 2, geometry, pre-cal, calculus, or you can go nuts like one of mine and go all the way to calculus 2 and then statistics and be sad when it's over. Nerd. Okay. Also, three to four credits of science. Now the most common courses being physical science, biology, chemistry. These are what are usually seen in area high schools, but they may also go into physics or earth science, anatomy, marine biology, astronomy, etc.. There's lots of science courses out there. You also need four English or literature writing credits covering grammar, essay writing and reading good books in some combination in each year, and including some compilation of American and British authors for those often expected literature requirements. Three to four credits of social studies. Personally, I prefer history as opposed to social studies, as it's the most neutral version of what happened and facts presented for discussion and interpretation as opposed to social studies which often take on political preferences and beliefs and persuasions of the curricula's author, but also social studies includes credits in things like government, economics and political science.
One credit PE. No, you don't have to paint X's on your driveway and blow a whistle and count jumping jacks or get one of those rainbow tarps and all stand around in a circle and keep the ball from hitting the floor to call it PE. Chasing your runaway school mascot down the street totally counts as PE, but also having your three sons set up a bro weight training schedule or jogging together three times a week or hiking with dad or co-op basketball or the dance class you've already been paying for for five years all counts as PE. Anything goes. Also, another required credit, half a credit actually in public speaking or half of credit in fine arts. Just like with dance class, a fine arts credit can be filled with something your child has already been involved in for years. Things like choir, piano, guitar lessons. Or spend a semester studying types of music, learn to play the flutophone and read basic notes. They may play around with sculpting, painting, drawing, take a trip to a few museums or review famous works and their composers and artists. It's simple, really, to get that half a credit. The public speaking may be a little bit harder for homeschoolers to obtain. However, it is possible. There are group classes out there with co-ops and other organizations, but you could count public speaking if they get up and give maybe a lecture at a Bible study at their church or lead a homeschool group in something. There's lots of ways to acquire that public speaking credit if it is required in your state.
One to two credits in a second language. Now, I believe the homeschool go to foreign language course favorite is ASL, American Sign Language, which is awesome. Just beware the requirement for whatever plan your child has after high school. Maybe some colleges will not accept American Sign Language for this credit. Some will, just make sure. And lastly, the credit requirement for graduation in Texas is four to five credits in electives. Now, the TEA, or Texas Education Agency, goes further to break down these credit compilations into different "endorsements". Now, I'm making air quotes for those who can't see me, like my dog Kent who's here looking at me like I need more coffee. "Endorsements" from what I gather are kind of like choosing a major or a concentration in high school, like focusing more on STEM versus the arts and humanities. Parents can get bogged down and overwhelmed by the jargon, the decimal credited differences and the micromanaged verbiage of it all. I'm glad I didn't really look at it in detail until I decided on the topic of this podcast and a few days after I just graduated my twins. Sheesh. It really doesn't matter, to homeschoolers especially, but I'm not sure that it even really matters to the public school kids who all just graduated. They have a high school diploma.
But let's get back to electives. This is where homeschooling allows kids to get a leg up on their publicly schooled peers. All those who worry about what they can't provide their kids outside of the school. You know, things like Bunsen burner field science labs and pep rallies and carpet walled band halls and intramural academic competitions. Listen up. Those certain schools do offer an array of electives for kids to choose from. They are limited to only their own selection and the school walls, the staff, the hours and scheduling parameters within that system. So if your kid wants to learn in-depth about the life and care of reptiles to one day become a herpetologist or be the go-to expert called on when Godzilla attacks, well, they're probably out of luck at most schools. Unless they are homeschooled and mom and dad can provide them with the time and library books and field trips to the zoo and pets to play with to get their hands on some lizards. And the elective credit can be intro to herpetology or reptilian biology. Side note, don't get too creative on the titles of courses you create and list on a homeschool transcript. More on that in a minute. Suffice to say, homeschool electives are where crazy specific ideas like underwater basket weaving or the care of bearded dragons can make a list of courses quite unique for a homeschooler. Or electives such as extra fine arts courses or sports can fine-tune a skill. Or electives in theology, Bible study, worldview, current events, debate, apologetics can grow character, moral fortitude, and defense of faith. Or career prep can begin with electives in things like flight training, agricultural studies, beginning electrician courses, culinary skills, first aid and CPR, engineering, debate, auto mechanics, farming, animal breeding and training, courses in business and finance, computer coding and cybersecurity, and a host of others really fine tune a homeschoolers education with purpose. And all of these electives I've mentioned and thousands more can be provided with the personalized educational option of homeschooling. They are not limited to what your district provides, but what you and your kid are willing to seek out.
Now what we did. Grades, transcripts, the 411. We graduated our twins this year. Their transcripts are each bursting with individualism, and yet are clearly and simply stated in acceptable mainstream terms. Still, the essence of homeschooling wafts from the page. I created our transcripts through HSLDA's transcript service. I bought a family subscription the twin's freshman year and have kept it updated as we go and even added our youngest son to the system this year. Each year I have added what courses they completed and a letter grade for each. I decided on a letter instead of a number grade for simplification, because that's what colleges do. And because what really is the difference in a 92 and a 97 when calculating a GPA on a non-weighted 4.0 scale? Nothing. It's an A. I did not weight any courses, even the ones I knew would clearly be considered honor courses in public school. I didn't even weight the dual credit courses they were taking in an honors program at community college. Why? Because trying to pass them off as honors on a homeschool transcript is a subjective task that can bring extra scrutiny and/or paperwork onto the backs of homeschoolers already bogged down with applications and all kinds of events in their senior year. It's just unnecessary. Keeping it a simple 4.0 scale and letting the 32 high school credits, not the 26 max required, but that 32 high school credits and 60 college credits and an Associates of Science degree, well, I let them speak for themselves. It was simple and effective.
It's tempting to want to use a weighted scale to show proof that your child has actually done what we know to be honors work, and really put forth the extra effort above and beyond what is expected of the high school course that they have just completed. However, it is more effective to stay humble and less grandiose and let the record speak for themselves where you have documentation and lists of activities and proof of completion of things. It will come out in the wash without extra scrutiny and questions and having to list all of the activities that you did and all of the assignments that you did and really having to prove that, yes, this was honors work. Unless you're willing to document all that and back it up, and even then, a lot of schools will actually come back and say, Unweight it. I've heard that from a lot of homeschoolers that have weighted their GPAs. They've been actually asked to go back and unweight the courses and resubmit. So just to save some hassle there, it worked well for us to use an unweighted 4.0 GPA.
Next, as I mentioned earlier, keep the title of courses clear and concise and recognizable on the transcript. Admissions counselors are going to scan this document for certain items they should easily identify. If they studied exotic plants and animals for a semester, your kid is great and awesome, but call it biology or botany. Don't create an enticing book title or movie title like Venus Fly Trapping for Beginning Jungle Adventurers. This is confusing and not seen as creative or advanced, but rather a dinky summer camp trying to be passed off as a high school science credit. Just don't. Now also prepare to leave them with options in high school. Because my guys knew they wanted to go to college, and let's be honest, we knew we wanted them to have the option to go even if they didn't back at the age of 14, and they didn't think too much about it or care if they could fit it in between meals, snacks and gaming sessions. So when deciding what we were going to do for high school, we looked at the requirements of a few schools that our boys might want to attend, and we read their lists of academic requirements and suggestions for standing out amongst a pool of applicants, then we combine that with the basics of the Texas high school credit list, electives pertaining to what they want to do with their life and we went from there. Now, not all kids are going to go to college, but just after 8th grade is not the time to make that decision so you want to do your best to make it a possibility when mapping out your course of action for homeschool planning. Always keeping...evaluating their interests, strengths, abilities and career options and tweaking as you go so that their options for success remain open and within reach.
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Now, my next bit of advice is to stack the first two years. I'm so glad that we hit the ground running hard through the freshman and sophomore years, getting in lots of the requirements and extra electives early because by the end of junior year the prep for graduation and what comes next begins and focus changes and distractions increase monthly. Well, until senioritis sets in around Christmas break their senior year and that last semester is spent making memories and making them finish the last straggling assignments. So don't put off until senior year what you want them to really pay attention to. Plus, if they will be taking anything like the SAT or ACT or other entrance exams, you'll want that out of the way early by junior year and prep for that should happen during the freshman and sophomore years. Also of note, we discovered that there were several high school course requirements that we had already covered prior to officially beginning the high school years. And you better believe those went on their transcripts, even though they were taken in their middle school years. Why would we repeat them? High school credits begin when we say. Just don't go so far as to list the color by number math workbook as high school fine arts or papers your kid wrote in the seventh grade as high school English 1 on their transcript. You're only cheating your kid with shortcuts like that. Unless, of course, they were reading and writing book reports and allegories over a Tale of Two Cities in the seventh grade, well then, by all means, add honors English 1-3.
And now about grading. This is a hard topic to cover, especially for subjects where you create your own curriculum. I chose to assign a daily work grade and a test grade in most subject courses. This worked best for subjects like math and science and other courses where daily questions and answers were completed. I decided at the beginning of a course what percentage each part would be worth. Like 50% of the grade would come from daily work and 50% from tests, or 25% and 75%, or 25% lab work, 25% daily essay answers and 50% tests. You can break each course down as you see fit. Stick with it for the course and explain it early to your child. Not all assignments though, need grading, of course, and many were handed back for corrections until perfection was reached. And that's where the learning is, right? But after a forewarning and adequate time to prepare, I gave tests and recorded those grades to put toward a final average in the course. For more subjective assignments, such as writing assignments in English and literature, or even history or science grade for content, grammar and structure as it pertains to the course subject or the specific assignment. If the assignment was to gather their understanding of a novel or a historical event that you studied, lean more toward the content for the grade, but still point out corrections needed in grammar and structure. Remember, all of these different courses can overlap and the learning happens with all of them. And vice versa, if you're testing for grammar and their ability to write clearly with a good thesis and structure, don't worry so much about the content, but more so about those things. Remember, high school teachers are grading these things subjectively as well. Be as honest in your grading as you hope them to be honestly graded later on.
Finally, there is more than one way to skin a pig for dissection. You should do it on the back porch because you'll never get that stink out of your house, by the way. And there are a thousand ways to homeschool high school. But this was a look at how we got our twins through and a flexible structure for how our youngest will proceed starting this coming year as a freshman and a half, because he's already got some stuff on his transcript that he aced in the middle school years. But we know that we'll be tweaking things and making it flexible to his style of learning and his interests and his career aspirations. So use this as a rough draft to start, or don't start and create your own, but make it your own by molding things to each of your kids individually and you'll be amazed at what awesome, competent, prepared graduates you will send out into the world in four years or less. Feel free to email me at [email protected] with any other questions about how we did things or other questions about curriculum or anything you'd like to ask me that I may be able to help you out with or at least make you laugh about. Feel free to email and ask. And know this: I know we didn't do everything just right, but I know homeschooling was the best decision we ever made for our family. So stay confident, stay flexible in your homeschool, but grounded in your faith that God will provide. And until next time, stay weird and homeschool on.
Thank you for joining me here on the Homeschool Solutions Show again. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share for healthcare you can trust. To learn more about why over 400,000 Christians have chosen Medi-share, go to greathomeschoolconventions.com/medishare.
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Lastly, have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling event of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit hall in the United States. Find out more at greathomeschoolconventions.com. I hope to see you in Texas.
Also, if you'd like to connect with me, you can find me at Facebook at Hifalutin Homeschooler and on Instagram @hifalutinhomeschooler. That's H-I-F-A-L-U-T-I-N Homeschooler. Also, you can email me directly with any questions, concerns, anecdotes. I love to hear stories from other homeschoolers. That's [email protected]. Until next time, stay weird and homeschool on.