In Praise of Difficult High School Classes
I almost quit my major on the 2nd day of college. I walked into my first college history class sooo excited. Until my professor told us he would try to keep it to 2,000 pages of reading. Two thousand. I almost fell out of my chair. Though the class was for freshmen with AP credit, most of the students were actually (super smart) junior and senior history majors. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to cut it.
My mother convinced me to stay in the class AND my major AND college. And you know what – I earned an A in that class! More importantly, I learned that I could cut it, I was capable of reading 2,000 pages in a semester, and that I could hold my own with my older classmates. In fact, that course was one of the best courses that I’ve ever taken.
Though I had this experience in college, I highly recommend that it happen even earlier. Many high schools offer AP and IB courses. While I do not think that teens should take all AP or IB classes, taking some, especially in subjects they already enjoy, is a good way to stretch, find out what they are capable of, and prepare for college-level coursework.
In praise of difficult classes
Learn time management
Higher level classes usually come with a larger workload. That means more reading, writing, and studying. To be successful, teens need to learn how to balance school work, family, and extracurriculars or a job.
If your teen has been able to skate by without a planner before, it can all fall apart at this point. Especially if he is taking more than 1 AP or IB course. If you or your teen happen to be looking for a planner, I love this one!
Exposure to new skills and ideas
Most college-level courses include skills and ideas or concepts that aren’t used much at the high school level. AP History classes use primary source analysis on a regular basis, much more than in standard level courses. In AP Government, students learn how to analyze quantitative and qualitative data and use those skills on an almost daily basis. Working on higher level skills is great practice for college and keep teens engaged!
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REALLY learn how to study
Many kids get through middle and high school without actually having to study. But at some point, she will encounter a course that kicks her butt. And forces her to actually learn how to study. Students will have to ask for help, often for the first time. But learning how to ask for help and how to study are life skills that everyone needs.
Many kids (and adults) fall into a fixed mindset – that our intelligence is fixed at birth and cannot be changed. But science tells us that is simply not true. The brain is like a muscle – the more you use it the stronger it gets. That means that we become smart. For more on growth mindset, read my post here.
Higher level courses are a chance for teens to spread their wings and find out what they are capable of. It might require getting some extra help from the teacher, a study group, or even a tutor – but students are amazed at what they can actually do. And the pride when they finish the course!
I highly recommend that teens take higher level courses in subjects they actually enjoy. And learning about that topic, whatever it may be, at a higher level often is exciting and fun. I knew which students loved politics and which ones were just taking the course because they felt they had to. The ones who were into politics LOVED the class and got so much more out of it. Many stayed active in the field, studying political science or history in college.
Interestingly, the course often got parents involved. In US Government, we discuss all the hot-button issues (guns, abortion, health care, LGBTQ issues) and we track news events. Parents often told me at parent conferences how THEY became more interested in the topics because of their child’s interest.
Practice high stakes exams
If you want to prepare a kid for college, give him the types of assignments and tests he will have in college. That means exams that cover a whole LOT of content. AP and IB exams are perfect practice for that, without the worry of taking the grade. (Exam scores come in the summer, too late to be part of the course grade.)
Studies have shown that students who took an AP exam did better in college than their peers who didn’t take an AP test. Why? Because they had practice.
So, if you’re on the fence about your teen taking a “difficult class”, take the leap and watch where it goes! And I’m always here to help if you need it!