Best of 2015 #2: The five things I must have in my syllabus
In the twelfth year of designing syllabi, you may not have “the syllabus to end them all” – of course not! We’re always changing based on successes and challenges, right? But by this time I knew the five ingredients I had to have in a syllabus, and you wanted to hear about them. This August post was the second most popular of the year.
(I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas!)
The 5 things I must have in my syllabus
Stressed about creating your class syllabi this year?
There are a lot of really great syllabi flying around the internet. There are even competitions to see who can do the (best? most creative?) one. I have to tell you, it’s stressful. I don’t at all think it’s intended this way, but I think it feels like really heavy peer pressure – including for those creating and posting their syllabi.
Whoa. Infographic syllabus, I didn’t know about those. I’ve got to do an infographic syllabus too! Otherwise, how will my students know how cool my class is going to be?
Oh my. Infographic isn’t enough. That interactive, infographic syllabus is amazing. If I’m going to be amazing, I have to do one too.
I am not mocking. I’m telling you honestly, these are the thoughts in my head, and so I’m guessing they’re in other teachers’ heads too.
I saw a few tweets last week that helped me realize I’m not alone in feeling this pressure (whew), and as I happened to be developing my syllabus for this year at the time, I decided to mull over what I thought were the essential items on my syllabi, and blog about it. And so, in order of importance:
5. Content overview
I think this is the most-often-skipped element in a syllabus. Because of the syllabi I received in college (since I was homeschooled, that was my introduction to the concept), I assumed that a syllabus always gives students an overview of what the semester’s content entails. But when I got a teaching job I quickly found out that many teachers don’t include this, and the reason is usually that they haven’t mapped it out.
If all you can get done before school starts is determine 1) what units/chapters you’re going to teach (you don’t have to teach them all!), 2) how long they will last (probably) and 3) where they fit in the calendar, you’ll feel more prepared for your school year and your students (and their parents) will greatly appreciate the bird’s-eye view.
4. Assessment policies
My students need to know this: how are they going to be assessed, and how often, and how will grades be calculated?
What tools will help students succeed in my class? I include both what resources will help them at home (Word Reference and Forvo are at the top of my list) and what they need every time they come into class.
I believe that creating a target-language classroom culture centered in respect and mutual success begins on the syllabus. I outline brief guidelines for how we interact with each other and why.
And the top thing I must have in my syllabus:
This is what keeps me from trying out some new ways to create syllabi. I know myself, and I don’t want to get so distracted by trying to be fancy that I muddy the waters. If my students start the year finding my syllabus confusing, will they be slow to believe they’ll comprehend what’s going on in class?
Please notice that I didn’t call this post the five things you must have in your syllabus. I do believe the one essential ingredient is clarity, but how that looks for you and your students, well, it could be a whole lot different than mine. So if you need permission to do a plain-Jane syllabus with clarity in your expectations and plans, here you go! I give you permission.
Have fun creating something that works for your classes!
Oh- and if you came to this post thinking I was going to post my syllabus, here’s the PDF, and here’s the .docx for you. The included images are royalty-free. Don’t feel like you need to use anything on mine, but I do want you to know that it includes (finally) a novice (no measurable proficiency) adaptation of the homework choice options.