Too often course selection process fails to adequately inform students

April 1, 2020 — by Jonathan Li
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When it comes time for students to fill out the course selection form, many do so feeling terribly under equipped with information and stressed by the approaching deadline. With so many options for classes, students can’t help but worry over the lasting effects of selecting certain courses over others. 

The school attempts to address this problem in its course selection orientations in the McAfee Center and the MAP Annex, but students often leave feeling more confused and conflicted than before. As such, most students tend to rely on rumors, opinions and feedback from upperclassmen to paint an image of the teacher, course load and environment of a class.

These problems exist due to the lack of information regarding prospective courses. Addressing such a lack of accurate and applicable information requires the cooperation of administration and educators.

To gauge elective options, rising freshmen and their parents attend Electives Night in late January, an event in which each elective presents their respective course as best as they can in a booth-to-booth setup or through performance demonstrations. 

While better than nothing, this system doesn’t properly inform students about the commitment required of certain courses, and is especially inefficient for programs like the Media Arts Program (MAP) or the music program, programs that require students to set aside other extracurriculars and free time to a great extent. MAP directly affects the type of social studies and English education students receive, and occupies an elective. It is great for some students and a mistake for others. Such monumental decisions cannot possibly be communicated by a short booth-to-booth event. 

In this regard, the music program provides a model in the kind of outreach the rest of the school could do. Middle school students are given plenty of opportunities to meet and socialize with current high school students and music directors. Moreover, they’re given the opportunity to perform with the high school music students through the MESH program. Of course, there are still improvements to make, such as  ensuring that students who are completely new to the music program can receive the same exposure as those who were part of the middle school program. 

Nonetheless, the music program sets a great example for all electives. Incoming students will benefit much more if they are given the opportunity to explore and work with current high school students and teachers in any elective program. 

In addition, students would be able to make better informed decisions in course selection if a detailed syllabus were offered. While students can approach teachers to request an overview of that teacher’s curriculum, it requires extra effort from both the student and teacher. Standard course descriptions should be provided for incoming students regardless of whether or not a student asks. 

That can mean sending emails or providing an annual physical compilation of new course descriptions and syllabi for all possible classes and programs. Several classes have already adopted such a process, like English 11 Honors. 

Departments should also set aside time for prospective students to schedule appointments with future teachers. Furthermore, the school should try to encourage teachers to videotape at least one or two of their lessons and make them available for viewing. Releasing such videos can be extremely helpful in dispelling negative rumors that have circulated regarding teaching styles and courses.

Another viable option in providing sufficient information would be to give mock tests or quizzes to students. Providing prospective students the chance to see what these assessments look like helps them grasp an idea of what the course will require of them. The Chinese program does this every year to categorize its incoming freshmen into different levels of proficiency. 

Through these and other changes, course selection for students between all grades can lead to much more informed decisions. It should be in the school’s interest to ensure that students feel knowledgeable and at ease while filling out course selection forms. Students should not feel rushed or stressed, and while it is impossible to create a system that is perfect, it is the school’s duty to try to do better to remove any conflict or confusion students may feel in selecting courses.