5 Ways I’m Changing My Syllabi This Semester

This semester, I’m not teaching any new courses, so with two weeks to go until classes begin, I’m refreshing previous syllabi, but I want to do more than change the dates.The following are five steps I’m taking to continue developing syllabi that focus on improving learning instead of being mere compilations of rules and regulations.

  1. Adding my own brief explanation of each course, focused on its overarching and disciplinary questions, before the required description and outcomes. I plan to have students write their best guesses at the answers to the questions on the first day and then have them revisit those questions at the midterm and the end of the semester. In part this change is based on Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, as he suggests that starting with questions is part of the essential process of creating a “natural critical environment.” It is also influenced by the importance of helping students to see the value of a discipline as part of a general education course, which the students in last semester’s postcolonial studies learning community helped me to see. For Introduction to Literature, I ask:

    How can we think about literature, and why would you want to?

  2. Focusing more on visual design. I have always given my students both printed and digital syllabuses with the latter in a format that allows them to change the font or its size so that students with visual impairments have more options for accessibility. My goal here, however, goes beyond readability. I want the syllabus to be visually appealing and to look friendly. I am playing with the typeface and making sure each printed page has a visual element such as a picture or a chart.
  3. Adding a list of required attitudes and beliefs, such as

    Everyone can improve their writing through consistent practice.

    My hope here is to create a ground for the building of metacognitive skills from day one. I have already been including the outcomes of prerequisite courses and what students should do if they do not feel confident in their ability to do them.

  4. Simplifying the language by sticking to the 1000 most-used English words when feasible. For introductory courses, I am also putting other words that are important to the course itself in bold and using them in a syllabus vocabulary quiz on the second day of class. The goal is to get students in the habit of looking up words they don’t know and to establish some familiarity with the basic language of the discipline.
  5. Noting that if students have excellent attendance, I will round their final grades up, per this Vitae “Dear Forums…” post.


What are you adding to (or removing from) your syllabi this semester?

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