Special Needs High School-Think Outside the Box: Creative Courses and Materials for Teens Who Struggle by Faith Berens
Do you have a teen who is perhaps a struggling learner or is twice exceptional (gifted with a learning disability) and are unsure of what his high school course work should look like? Maybe you are concerned that while your child is bright, he is “behind” in one or more academic areas and you can’t seem to wrap your head around the thought that his math work is on a high school level, however English and writing-well that is a different story! So, if we’re struggling to get through English grammar, how in the world will he be able to get foreign language credits in high school?
Our Struggling Learner Consultants frequently hear these types of scenarios from homeschooling parents, and in this newsletter, we would like to offer you some creative solutions to consider for working around these challenges, as well as ideas for high school coursework that may be suitable for your student’s unique needs.
When we consider high school coursework, it is important for parents to understand that most states do not mandate specific high school graduation requirements to homeschooled students. In fact, only a few states impose upon homeschoolers specific high school graduation requirements.
*To check your state’s high school graduation requirements, please go to: https://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp
That being said, parents, as the administrators of their schools, set forth the graduation requirements for their individual students based on the students’ functioning levels, capabilities, needs, and post-secondary plans and goals. Then, when the student completes the course content and assignments you have set forth, they are graded and the course is recorded on the high school transcript.
To access Sample Special Needs High School Transcripts (Members Only Resource), please be sure to visit https://www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner/sn_newsletter_1-19-2017.asp
Knowing that high school coursework may take longer than a traditional four years, consider utilizing a transcript by subject, which can be a great option for struggling high school students.
Please know that HSLDA members not only have access to speak with the Special Needs Consultants, but also our High School Consultants, and they offer a free transcript review service as part of your HSLDA membership! Be sure to visit: www.hslda.org/highschool for their many resources. Think of the HSLDA Educational Consultants as your educational guidance counselors!
For struggling high school students, our department recommends that families provide students a high school program that consists of a bare minimum of 18-22 credits, but preferably 24-26 credits over the course of 4-5 years (and possibly longer for students with severe needs!). What, 5 years of high school, you say? We can do that? YES! Many students take a “gap” year to complete coursework, participate in career exploration and job trainings, volunteer work, and travel.
*Be sure to check our website to find out if your state has any particular required courses and required number of high school credits, https://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp
When planning our students’ home high school education, as parents, we tend to rely on our own high school experience, as well as draw upon the high school journeys of our friends’ children and their traditional, public school coursework. As homeschoolers, we have much freedom and flexibility, so we need to realize that high school coursework can truly be creatively customized for students, which can be particularly beneficial for those with special needs. If students are very strong academically and planning on 4-year university, then their high school program may consist of several AP classes and be heavy with math and sciences (with labs). Whereas, a student who plans on going to trade school or community colleges could have more general academic classes, may or may not have language credits, and may possibly pursue more basic math credits.
While a bright student with dyslexia may not be able to handle the reading and writing load of a foreign language, he may opt to take American Sign Language which is accepted as a foreign language by most colleges and universities. Or let’s consider a student with a math disability (dyscalculia) who may not be able to tackle Calculus and Trigonometry but could manage Algebra 1-2 and Geometry in addition to taking an Accounting course. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr. could be utilized for ½ credit of high school math and he also now has a DVD driven Foundations in Personal Finance for Homeschool course. However, for yet another student with more severe disabilities, basic math courses, such as Life Skills Math, Consumer Math, Checkbook Math, or a money management class may be the most appropriate high school math coursework. For instance, for an older student with intellectual disabilities or Down Syndrome, the book Teaching Math to People with Down Syndrome and OTHER Hands On Learners, available at www.woodbinehouse.com, is a wonderful option.
Alternative Math Curricula/Courses to Consider:
Master Books Math Lessons for a Living Education
Life of Fred
Math On the Level
Switched on Schoolhouse Geometry
Catch Up Math
For students who are very strong academically and planning on 4 year university, then their high school program may consist of several AP classes and be heavy with math and sciences (with labs). Whereas a student who plans on going to trade school or community colleges could have more general academic classes, may or may not have language credits, and may possibly pursue more basic math credits.
Now let’s turn to science. Traditionally, we think of high school science coursework of having to be Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and perhaps Geology. Be encouraged that you have the freedom to design high school program of studies based upon your child’s strengths and weaknesses needs, interests and passions, as well as his/her post-secondary endeavors. Perhaps you have a student who is “over the moon” with the idea of space exploration, then consider a high school Astronomy class. Other options are Marine Biology or Paleontology classes. There are science curricula and materials available through Timberdoodle.com that are DVD driven for Biology and Chemistry. Apologia, www.apologia.com, offers on-line classes, in addition to their standard science curricula. A wonderful option for struggling students that Apologia carries is the MP3 versions of their science text. This is great way to make the high school content accessible for students who are not reading independently on grade level. Also be sure to check out Master Books publishers for amazing resources, textbooks, and DVD’s. Other options include Introductory Horticulture or Exploring AgriScience by Christian Light Education who offers many great electives and creative courses.
For a moment, let’s address students who are dyslexic, or for various reasons are not reading on “grade level”. Often parents ask, how can I give my child a high school credit for reading literature or text that is below high school level? We encourage families to help high school students access the material and content via adaptive equipment and assistive technology. Such tools are creative ways to allow students to take in information, output what they know, as well as work more independently.
(To access the HSLDA newsletter on Low Tech Assistive Tech Tools, https://www.hslda.org/elert/archive/elertarchive.aspx?6982
For High School English, while some struggling students or reluctant readers may not be able to (or motivated to) read original Shakespeare, parent-teachers could design a Shakespeare class by having the student watch and discuss some of the Shakespeare plays or obtain children’s picture books/illustrated versions from the library to read and discuss. Perhaps original works of classic literature are provided via audiobook via BookShare or LibriVox. Maybe your student cannot independently read or comprehend Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, but could listen and follow along with an easier version, such as through the Bring the Classics to Life series or a graphic novel version, and then watch a movie version and compare/contrast. You could even create a Literature survey course on Classic Fairy Tales from Around the World. Read them aloud, discuss, and then compare/contrast different versions of the stories, such as the various versions of the Cinderella story from around the world/various cultures.
Consider the following options for English/Literature and Composition:
Essentials in Writing, www.essentialsinwriting.com, is a video based homeschool curricula that is systematic and step by step.
Institute for Excellence in Writing
Classical Academic Press carries the DVD-driven “Art of Poetry” course that is high school level and taught by Christine Perrin
www.highnoonbooks.com carries high interest books written at easier readability levels
Timberdoodle.com, Complete Graphic Shakespeare Collection, other graphic novels and resources
Lightening Literature and Composition, available through Rainbow Resource
The Book Umbrella available through TeachersPayTeachers.com
Must Have Resources:
Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child by Cheryl Swope, available www.memoriapress.com
The Homeschooler’s Guide to Portfolios and Transcript by Loretta Heuer
Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School by Judith Munday
“Teaching the Classics” DVD Seminar and Workbook by Andrew Pudewa
Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization by Andrew Pudewa
In closing, be encouraged that you can give your student an excellent and creative high school education! Please know that in order to help your struggling student through the high school content, you may have to offer him curricula or materials that are modified or written at easier readability levels, books on audio, etc. in order to make the content accessible for him. And that’s okay. Be sure to keep a record in your homeschool file of the type of accommodations he has been afforded in the educational setting as well as testing accommodations, such as extended time. With a little creativity and out-of-the box thinking, you CAN do this!
Faith Berens is a Consultant with HSLDA for special needs. She will be a speaker at the CAPE-NM Homeschool Convention June 21-22. Register at www.cape-nm.org/events-convention/homeschool-convention/