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Monday, January 9, 2017

Delight Directed High School English

Your child is approaching high school and suddenly you’ve got the shakes. Credits, transcripts, SATs, oh my? Do we need to put aside his special interests and buckle down into a traditional plan for English? For week 2 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair, I’m going to share how my high schooler is following his interests while earning homeschool English credits.

Our theme this week is: Playing with Words (the language arts)! 

Make sure to check out the links to the other 21 homeschool bloggers participating this week---you will find them at the bottom of this post.

Delight Directed High School English at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds



Note: this post contain affiliate links. You can learn more about affiliate links here.

When my oldest started 9th grade, I had this amazing, colossal English plan for high school.

He would complete a course in literary analysis and composition first and then spend the remaining 3 years immersed in great works of literature and writing brilliant argumentative essays.

It hasn’t worked out quite like I envisioned. All during 9th grade I felt that I was a big, fat homeschooling failure in the language arts department, which is pretty ironic given that I hold a degree in English and Philosophy. That’s right---this is my area of expertise and yet I couldn’t pull off the great plan.

What went wrong? Or did it go wrong?

In hindsight, I realize that the problem was the plan. It was simply a poor fit for us and here’s why (I’ve written about these topics before, so I won’t rehash too much here):

  1. The best homeschool program is the one that gets done---it doesn’t matter how brilliant or superior a plan is if it doesn’t get done.

And what works in one homeschool may be completely different from what works in another.

Back when my son was in 9th grade, my homeschool life was crazy busy between keeping my adventurous preschooler contained, caring for my special needs kid’s special academic needs, being a board member and the webmaster of our local homeschool group, running a club in that homeschool group…

I quickly figured out that if I was going to do detailed literary analysis and writing exercises with my oldest child, it was going to have to happen at night when the other children were in bed and by that time I didn’t have enough active brain cells left to make it happen on a regular enough basis. I would get the reading done and then not have time for the discussion, so we would put it off to the next week and get behind. And so on. 

  1. I need to teach the child I have, not the child I imagine I have.

Turns out it didn’t matter that I didn’t have time to do literary analysis, because my kid wasn’t really ready for it anyway---every time we tried, it sucked the joy out of his reading.  He loved reading literature. He loved sharing what he was doing. But that analysis stuff just flew clear over his head.

Part of this is because he is a different person than I was at his age, but part of it is also because as I get older, it is harder for me to distinguish between things that I was doing when I was 14 and things I was capable of at 18, or even 19-20. The years tend to conflate together. I might also have been guilty of spending too much time on an accelerated homeschool board or two, which tends to skew my perspective.

Remember, homeschooling is a cross-country trek through the wilderness and not a sprint.  What a child is not ready for at 14, he may be ready for a year or more later. Better to do it at the right time.

  1. This is my child’s education, not mine.

As home educators, we try to give our children the very best education we can. We tend to have strong opinions about what exactly that education should look like. But as our children become older and more independent, there is a tension between what they are striving for and what we are striving for. That’s not to say we should skip our ideas and go all in with theirs---we do have many years of experience and hard learned lessons to share with them. But it does mean that we need to find a balance, otherwise we may be facing a daily battle of wills.

My son did not “buy into” the literary analysis program, which made it even harder to get him to do the work.

All during 9th grade, I felt like our high school plan was a disaster…

But here’s the thing---when we reached the summer and my son listed out all the wonderful books he had chosen to read, pondered, and talked about with me, his dad, other adults…when we looked back at all the writing he had done on his own (not assigned---his own creative writing projects) and how much his overall writing skills had improved, I came to realize that while my plan (my awesome plan) hadn’t happened, 9th grade English most assuredly had happened.

My plan may have failed, but my son had not failed.  It is not a fail when your child adds Dostoyevsky to his list of favorite authors. 

Maybe you think I should have entitled this How to Accidentally Do High School English?

Except, it wasn’t really an accident. My son was very intentional in many of the things he did that year, they just didn’t fit my written plan. And I was aware of what he was doing, checking in regularly, making books suggestions, having informal conversations about what he was doing…I just wasn’t orchestrating it at all. 

My son followed his passions in English through interest led studies.  It’s only now that I realize how incredible that is.

Fast-forward to 10th grade when I decided to try something different.

I put aside my fancy plans and book lists. Instead, I sat down and talked with my son about what he wanted to do for English. We decided to do Movies as Literature.  Sitting down in the evening after the other kids are in bed, watching a great movie, and talking about it? Sign me up.

It helped that Dad wanted in on the action. For the first time my husband was taking an active role in our homeschool studies.

English in 10th grade was a total win. We did not stick completely to the suggested movies in the guide---we skipped some and added a few of our own. We did not “finish on time” (we watched movies during the summer, on weekends, and so on). We also added in some of the novels or plays that the movies were adapted from.  Literary analysis and movie analysis happened. Paper writing even happened. And it was fun.

Now we come to our 11th grade English studies.

Over the summer, I decided that writing formal essays would be an important goal for the year and so I made plans accordingly. I admit that I was in a bit of a panic. With only 2 years left of high school, I wanted to be sure he was college ready at the end of it. I also realized that with teaching the 3 younger children, I might not have the time to teach a writing program every day, so I opted for something independent: Essentials in Writing.

It was eh. It gets the job done, but it’s boring, repetitive, and formulaic: all things that drive my son crazy.

Remember #2:  I need to teach the child I have, not the child I imagine I have. I also need to remember #3: This is his education.

He very dutifully did the program anyway, but eventually asked if we could stop. After talking it over  we decided to do that. Does he need to get more practice writing essays? Yes.  Does it need it to be this way? Of course not. So, we will work on essays, but either more organically or using something less structured.  He is a good writer, he just needs more practice in formal writing. EIW was a bit overkill.

For literature this fall, we studied the fiction works of Edgar Allan Poe.

I suggested Poe based upon my son’s interests. He has enjoyed it very much. We just finished and he will be writing an essay as a final project.  We may also watch a couple of movies based upon Poe (it seems we are always looking for excuses to add movies to our high school English studies, now). 

He wants to study some more Victorian literature, so we are thinking about what we will read next. I hate the fact that this is up in the air---I really do. It causes me anxiety! But I’ve learned to accept that not knowing for sure what we will do next is not the end of the world. We will do something, I will record it, and it will be fine.

Studying Poe also sparked a passion in him for writing short stories, so we will be working through John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, a book I used in a college creative writing workshop once upon a time.  I think it’s going to be a great spring semester.

So, to recap:

We started with a mom-driven, mom-planned high school English program that has evolved into a student-driven delight. I think that’s a homeschool success story.

How have your children’s interests influenced their high school English studies?


You might also like my previous Playing with Words posts for the Virtual Curriculum Fair:

3 Reasons to Read to Your Teens

Building a Foundation of Words

Nurturing Novelists = Building Strong Writers

On Learning to Spell

Sign up for updates from Homeschooling Hearts & Minds and get my 2017 personal planner for free:

a year to sparkle

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are writing about Playing with Words this week:

All posts will be live by Monday, January 9th at noon EST.

Delight Directed High School English by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Act Your Part Well- 2017 VCF by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

The Search For Language by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays

Our Top Picks for Language Arts by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Multiple Approaches to Language Arts in 2017 by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

How We Cover the Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Use Your Words by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

The Art of Perfecting Macarons by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Loving Languages Every Day by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind

Speech Therapy & Elementary Latin by Yvie @ Gypsy Road

The Readin' and Writin' Part of Homeschool by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Children Who Love Books by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Customizing High School Language Credits by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

A Poetry Feast by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

I know your pain and it is worth it! by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Language Arts: Our Style by Annette @ A Net in Time

Words! Words! Words! by Lisa M @McClanahan 7

10 Wonderful Word Games (+1) by Lori @ At Home: where life happens

Finding the Right Words by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

What About Reading Comprehension? by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Teaching Grammar and Writing Through Discussion by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

2017 vcf-004

Would you like to join us? Link up your homeschool posts on language arts:


  1. I have learned that it doesn't matter what I want in the homeschool. I can have a general goal, but I have to listen to the kids. That is what makes homeschooling so much fun, letting the kids pick how and what they want to learn!

  2. We are starting high school next year, so I am soaking up all the help I can get!
    I love the idea that they can plan and influence their studies in high school and that they can pick and choose how best to learn the skills they need. Because for me, that's what education is, learning skills. That's why we always work toward mastery and cut out any busy work.

    1. My view of education is a little more holistic---I see skills as just a part of the whole. I agree that busy work is something to be avoided. ;)

  3. Yep, kid driven is always best, but so hard for me to do as well! Sounds like you all done well at succeeding!

  4. Very good points! Teach the child you have, not the child you imagine you have. Been there with my oldest too!

  5. I agree! Every kid is different and one reason we homeschool is to provide them each with the education they need.

  6. How did you record keep and account for the "grade" on the transcript?

    1. Hi Kristine,
      Good question---thank you for asking. I should probably take the time to write a detailed blog post on this topic, but it was beyond the scope of that particular post. ;)

      In a nutshell:
      I document coursework by keeping records of what was done. Or rather, my teen does. He has a log where he records time spent and what he did in that time. So, he records novels read, time spent writing papers, time spent writing stories, time spent discussing things with mom, etc.

      My son has a gridded sheet with slots for him to fill in, but a simple spiral notebook also works (he just likes to see his whole week on one page).

      He emails me his papers/stories, etc. so that I have a copy saved to my computer as well as the paper copy I print out to read and discuss with him. This way I can keep several final writing samples and even rough drafts.

      For English, if your child is reading an average of an hour a day and writing or discussing an hour a day for the school year, you've more than got it covered hour-wise (a credit is 120-180 hours).

      For grading a delight-directed course, honestly---the kid is going to earn an A, because tthis is his passion! But all grades in my homeschool are honest and true---I don't just pull them out of the air. You can develop your own rubric for each course, simply decide what elements will contribute to the grade and what percentage they are of the grade. This rubric can be included in your course descriptions.

      I recommend catching a webinar or reading some articles by Lee Binz for ideas on how to translate delight-directed learning into numbers of transcripts: She has some great ideas for quantifying things that are hard to quantify. :)

      I hope this helps!

      Good luck in your homeschool journey,

    2. Sorry, I meant to add Lee's website for you:


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