What’s Working for High School Recordkeeping

I am finally done with those course descriptions I mentioned in my last post.  I’ve been working on them here and there in whatever time I could grab, which, in the past crazy three weeks, hasn’t been much.  The good thing about having to re-review the past three years: I could see the pattern of Gareth’s high school emerging beyond the day-to-day juggling and running.  Apparently our modus operandi is for me to introduce a “broad survey” of a subject, and for him to take it and do “independent reading and research into areas that interest him.”  Who knew.  Actually, it’s kind of funny that I have to realize these things backward, by writing about them after the fact and discovering the pattern in all the booklists, etc. that have been accumulated, instead of actually knowing what I was doing in the first place.

I have probably just scandalized a whole lot of people who wonder if I should really be in charge of my children’s education… or if I am in charge of my children’s education.  But, really, the broad survey —–> particular interest road is the one we’ve taken all along, although I’d never thought of it that way until I started having to write course descriptions for “courses” that were never compartmentalized like regular high school “courses”.  We have emphases for the year, sure, but our emphases tend to morph as the year goes on and that “independent reading and research” takes over.  They sprawl out everywhere, like squash plants, swallowing up disciplines with their rambley vines.  History overruns literature and vice versa, and after a while it just looks like “a vegetable patch”.  A productive one, bursting with produce, but… not very neat.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three weeks.  Sorting books and videos and projects into categories, trying to put like with like so I could name them.  I thought I had a decent transcript set up, but alas, it turned out not to be.  I re-sorted until everything made sense, looking for those patterns, the same patterns that have been there since the very beginning of our homeschool adventure: I ask about interests, put in my $.02 (or more) about what ought to be studied, introduce those topics he hasn’t discovered himself or that he didn’t know he was in interested in or thought he wasn’t, he finds one of those topics interesting, and then he runs with it.  It’s a pretty good formula.  It doesn’t always work, but mostly it does.

Now that we’re coming down to the wire and I’ve actually had to get something out the door… I can tell you what resources I’ve found most helpful!  But take this with a grain of salt… my oldest child is finishing up 11th grade.  That means we haven’t done the college application process yet, but we’re starting to be in the thick of it. So I’m still heading up the learning curve!

Transcript Software

I recently caved and bought some transcript software.  I got tired of having to reformat the transcript every time a three year old poured water in my keyboard.  (Ahem.)  I’m using Transcript Pro, which, unfortunately, is only for Windows.  (We’re a dual-use family, with both Macs and PCs, so it works for us.)  The software is easy to use and will keep track of information for up to eight kids.  It automatically computes GPA and tallies total credits.  You can print transcripts by year or by subject, add extracurricular activities, awards, and test scores, and there is lots of help easily accessible from inside the program wherever you are.  There are a couple of little things about it that I wish I could change — you can’t add any classes before 9th grade, which can be a problem if your child has done high school languages, math, or  science in the 7th or 8th grades (like my daughter) and the hours-for-credit help they give is (in my opinion) a little off.  They say you should count 200 hours as one credit, but the majority of sources I’ve looked at — including all the colleges to which Gareth will probably apply — count 120 hours as one credit.  You do not have to enter credit hours into the software in order to get it to convert to credits, though — you’re just entering your “1 credit” or “.5 credit” without doing any math — so it’s just something you need to be aware of.  You know, so that your eyes don’t bug out and you don’t hyperventilate when you see it, because you’ve only been keeping track of 120 hour credits.

(An interesting note here for the more unschoolish of my readers: I thought I would have to sort the transcript by subject because our “courses” often span years, but I found that I liked the yearly format better and because of our yearly “emphases”, the bulk of work in a particular subject often did fit into a year.  Then I didn’t feel so bad about tagging the outlier work — the work that had occurred in other years — to the course because the majority of the work had occurred in say, 9th, or 10th grade.  People have tried to tell me this over the years, but it wasn’t until we had enough time under our belts that I could actually see how it would work.)

Setting the Records Straight

Setting the Records Straight: How to Craft Homeschool Transcripts and Course Descriptions for College Admission and Scholarships by Lee Binz is a book I’ve mentioned before.  But I’m going to mention it again because I think that anyone in the United States who is attempting to DIY high school at home instead of registering with a diploma-granting program (such as Seton or MODG) needs this book.  I mention other books in the post I linked to above, but when I really got into writing and formatting my course descriptions, Lee Binz’s book was still the most helpful.  I think the reason for this is that she includes the entire application package she submitted for one of her boy’s, not just a sample of one or two descriptions.  Also included in an appendix are the course descriptions submitted by an unschooler.  In case you haven’t noticed, I am not a graphic designer. (News flash.)  So it was very helpful to me to see actual formatting.  I didn’t copy her format exactly, but it gave me a place to begin.

(Why am I worrying about this so much, you might ask.  Two words: First. Kid.)


In order to make transcripts and write course descriptions, you have to know what to put in them.  That’s easy if you’re a textbook homeschooler, but it gets harder to figure out where the lines are drawn the more that “education” drifts into “lifestyle”.  I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get my teenagers to record what they’re reading when they’re not reading books that I assign them.  Logbooks, forms stapled to paper lesson plans, planners, crumpled up bits of notebook paper… you name it.  They are teenagers.  They have better things to do than to tell me that they stayed up until midnight reading about Esperanto or platypusses (no, it’s not platypi, even though it ought to be) or Shakespeare or esoteric proto-Indo European grammar when all I think they’re reading is enormous numbers of dystopian young adult novels.  And considering that choice plays a significant role in education around here, it’s important that I collect at least some of these titles.  Or else what happens is that I accuse people of only reading young adult dystopian novels instead of keeping up with their biology and they look at me disdainfully and explain the latest articles about the new discoveries in insect biomechanics in Insert Science Magazine Here.

Anyway, after many failures at inducing my teens to keep track of their own learning, I finally signed both of them up on Goodreads.  They like keeping track of their books on Goodreads, and I can look at their various shelves to write titles down on their reading lists, or include titles in courses.  This doesn’t help with all the magazine reading they do, but I tend just to keep track of subscriptions/subject areas as far as that is concerned, and I don’t worry about writing down every single article… which would be impossible in any case.

The Lesson Plan Blog

I have enjoyed putting the high school lesson plans for history and literature on a blog so much (i.e., it’s worked so well) that I’m planning to make an all-encompassing lesson plan blog for both my highschoolers next year… and possibly my to-be-6th grader as well.  When I was writing course descriptions for this year, I could easily track what we did and what we had planned to do.  Of course, you don’t have to use a blog to have written plans to refer to, but I found that having them right there online (and therefore safe from cup-pouring three year olds) and at my fingertips was really nice.

A File for Major Papers

Mead used to make a hardbound expanding/file portfolio in various patterns that you could buy at Target.  When ours filled up, I went looking to buy another one for each of my teens, but either Mead does not make these anymore or Target is not carrying them.  The closest approximation I could find to these portfolios was one made by Moleskine :

And it was a lot pricier, let me tell you.  But I went ahead and sprang for two of them because these portfolios work so well for us.  For one thing, you can beat them up.  Not that my teens beat them up, but other, smaller people live in this house, too.  Other smaller, male people.  Anything we bring into the house has to be durable.  It’s also something that’s going to be used for four years or more, so I didn’t want anything flimsy.  And I like these portfolios because they can be shelved just like a binder or a real book.  In other words — they have a spine.  I file all the kids’ Charlotte Mason-style exams (like the ones in this post) in these portfolios, as well as research papers, essays, any creative writing they’ve done for me, certificates from various classes, grade reports, math tests, etc.  This is kind of the summary version of high school.  The portfolios sit in the bank of shelves in our dining area that Andy hacked from Ikea bookshelves:

high school recordkeeping

Here you can see the Mead portfolios on the left end of the shelf — the gray and pink floral spines.  (Guess whose is the pink one.)  The Moleskine portfolios — which are both black, a detraction in my mind, because I like to color-code — are stacked on the shelf underneath.  They live on a shelf with my other recordkeeping “stuff” (including the magazine holder that holds coupons and budget notebooks and needs cleaning out!) and my planner, which I am actually using because I am finally being a grown-up.  That way I can find them when I need them, and they don’t get lost up in the attic with the work we’ve stored from other years.

So that’s where I’ve been, and that’s what’s working now!









  1. Angela, I am so happy to read this and know that I too had to realize a lot of what we did for my “first kid” came after the fact. Not that we didn’t know it while she was in the process of doing all her learning, it’s just that when you begin to start filling in all those boxes with “what” they actually accomplished, it’s kind of an Aha moment!

    Glad to be doing the journey with others like you :) Best wishes for Garret’s future, I’m pretty sure you are qualified to be teaching him at home 😉 xxoo
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  2. I love to hear how other people are handling high school record keeping, thanks for writing all that out for us! Right now my oldest is using Seton, but I’m not convinced I want to stick with it next year. I hear ya on the “first kid” thing!
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