Priorities for High School: Making Electives Manageable

My perspective on high school is that I want to give our students as much diversity in learning as possible. How do you do that with a small group? Well, there’s only one way, and that is through students being able to choose elective courses that likely aren’t taught, and so they’re working on them on their own. Or, if they are taught, they’re only partially taught, or it’s not like it’s five days a week instruction.

We have structured our high school where we offer taught courses, and I’m speaking specifically of grade 11 and 12 here. We offer core taught courses. These are your math classes. These are your Bible, your English. We teach an accounting class. We teach a speech class. These are core subjects we’ve determined that are part of our core curriculum.

From that though, our students have the option of choosing electives. Some of those classes are taught electives. For example, we try to offer a taught class in second semester. When our co-op students are gone, we want to offer the students that are still here a subject that is in a classroom environment, so we alternate between a world history and a world geography class in grade 11 and 12. That’s a taught class.

We have enough students taking sciences that we have a very structured science class. From there, we bridge out into our elective classes. Those elective classes range from—We have a student taking Greek this year, Biblical Greek. We do offer a media program where they would do desktop publishing, photo editing, movie making—video editing, those kinds of things. We have a course that is not taught, but we’ve self-developed that course for students to work through on their own.

We offer languages, higher levels of Spanish. We have a number of students taking French here, primarily delivered through Rosetta Stone, so there’s some balancing in that. I’ve offered computer programming classes. A number of students have taken programming. Computer service and repair, a class in that. We have a number of students—It’s very popular—take a photography class, which is actually a class that’s delivered online through a teacher from California.

I do have a number of students coming out of our shop classes who have an interest in drafting and design, so we give them a first-year AutoCAD class. It’s a full-credit course where they learn the program. They have to do both architectural and mechanical drafting.

If you are a small school—We have a student population in our high school of 40 students, 45 students. I know a lot of schools are much smaller than that. They maybe would have 20. We do a lot of rotating in class delivery where we can. So grade 9 and 10 is together. One year we’ll teach Canadian geography. The next year we’ll teach Canadian history. One’s a grade 9 course. One’s a grade 10 course, but we’ll alternate it. That saves teaching resources and also helps combine the classes to keep them together.

Doing duplication like that, I think, can work. You could easily do Bible classes that way, possibly. Your music can obviously happen in that kind of a way. We do some of that with English as well, just cutting down on teaching and hours that need to be used.

Don’t disregard resources that are available for the homeschool environment. We have utilized a number of homeschool courses. The computer programming course I talked about, that’s a homeschool-focused course. It provides enough structure that it’s manageable to administer, but it also gives a decent level of guidance for the student. It’s not the same as if it would be a teacher-led course five days a week. It’s not the same, but I also don’t have a resident computer programmer on staff here. Some schools might. That’s great. Run with it. But using curriculums like that, I think, can be of a real benefit. Our grade 9—Actually, our grade 11 and 12 art class is also homeschool curriculum that we use. Then the teacher responsible for it, she does the marking. She will do the evaluations on the student work, but it’s mostly delivered that way.

We’ve explored various online course delivery formats as well. I have mixed views on the online classes. They keep improving. They keep offering a better product. I felt initially though they were lacking in substance, even to some of the homeschool curriculums that were developed. Until you have a student’s feedback from going through a class, you don’t really know if it’s worthwhile.

The other thing that’s been an issue for us on the online classroom delivery is the cost. They tend to be fairly expensive. We try to manage course costs as well. We kind of have a budget amount that a student is allotted for elective classes.

There is still a requirement on teachers to give oversight of those elective courses, so a school has to weigh the pros and cons of that kind of a focus. It would be very simple to offer a high school that we offered you every single subject taught, and that’s what you got. You didn’t have any choice in subject area. In some ways, that would be very simple to offer. I think there’s a balance to be found between offering too many options for students. We’ve been finding our way in this.

The other side of that though is, and you’ll hear this coming through me, is I am delighted when students find something different to study that takes them totally in a different area than just a standardized, cookie-cutter high school program would. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just it’s not going to be for all students. I would actually venture to say that part of the appeal of our high school program has been the diversification. Not solely, but part of it has been that. Does it bring its frustrations? Yes. It’s not a streamlined solution, but it does offer diversity. It gives students options to customize their learning.

To those who are university bound or college bound, yes, a streamlined program is all that they necessarily—they really need, maybe one or two electives along the way. Our student who’s going into trade school, or our student who knows they’re done after grade 12, they’re looking for more diversity.

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More from this series: Small and Diverse: Programs at Countryside Christian High School

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