Crafting a syllabus ain’t easy. Help me!

Having taught high school english for two years, I understand that pedagogy is a craft that takes years and years to hone.  Fall 2018 will be my second semester teaching on the undergraduate level and while I have more experience than my peers when it comes to teaching in general, I am still in the very nascent stages of figuring out what it means to be a quality lecturer and hopefully full professor.  At this level, you have the added freedoms and stress of picking your own content and designing your own learning objectives.  I love the freedom of not being confined by dry curriculum, but I surely feel the pressure to select materials that are equally interesting and intellectually engaging for a group of 40 people that I’ve never met.

I’m currently revamping my entire syllabus from Spring 2018, and I am reminded of how much of a quality course depends on the planning that comes before the semester even begins.

Crafting a syllabus ain’t easy.

Last semester, I got overall really good feedback from my student reviews (good energy” “teaches like a tenured professor” ” a bit of a perfectionists”), so I’m not exactly starting from scratch.  The biggest issues that they brought up were:

  • Not enough time to complete readings–>Instead of having students read chapters in their entirety, I’ve gone through each reading to pinpoint which sections are most important.  My course is on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I’m also trying to be mindful of assigning longer texts for over the weekend.
  • Too much writing–>Instead of six reading reflections, a midterm and final essay, I’m having students write four reflections, short answer/multiple choice for the midterm and then a full essay for the final.
  • Boring and hard to understand readings–>Ok, my fault for not picking better readings.  As a corrective, I’m working to incorporate podcasts to break up the monotony of readings.  Educate, Miseducation and NPR all have 30 minute or less content that connects directly to the ethnographies I’m teaching. I figure that podcasts provide more flexibility as to when and where students can engage the course material (on the train, lunch break, etc.), so hopefully they’ll be more inclined to attempt the assignment–we shall see.  I also selected texts by asking: is this something that excites me and do I think students would get excited about the same thing–I figured out a way to watch “This is America” by Childish Gambino–during a discussion of citizenship and nationalism.

As I am most definitely a work in progress, how do you judge a quality syllabus?  Any suggestions from courses you’ve loved or hated?

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