Tip 1: Keep Notes on Your Syllabus

Keep one copy of your syllabus for your use. Write notes on it as you go along. Write down what worked or didn’t. Write how long X took, if it turned out to be longer or shorter than you expected. If you think of a way to present something that you hadn’t thought of before, write that down. If a website comes up that is useful, or a student asks a good question, write those down.

Do this throughout the semester.

At the end of the semester, copy the notes into a version of the syllabus for next year or next semester.

Summer of 2006 I began my course with the research paper, thinking it would be best to get it done and let the rest of the summer session be easier. Instead it was frustrating to the students because there was so much they didn’t know about what I expected out of their writing and how I graded. So I wrote that down and the next summer we started class with a narrative paper.

Homework: Write a narration of an important event in your life, the turning point of your life, or the most exciting/unusual experience you’ve ever had. This should be one and a half to two and a half pages long, no longer please. (For help in writing this, read McCuen-Metherell and Winkler 195-99. For an example, read McCuen-Metherell and Winkler 199-204.)
The purpose of this paper is to help me to get to know you better and to help you transition from high school, which is usually focused on narrative papers like this one, into college level writing.

Another example:
Students kept asking how I determined their grade. I have a formula for that, so I told them. Then they wanted to know how much each error counted. Those differ. Eventually I started keeping a record (in fiction writing called a bible) of what errors were worth what points and, conversely, which things I gave extra points on. When I had graded about three sets of papers, I was able to take this and compile a grading rubric. It is way too detailed for most people’s interest, but it does make absolutely clear what I look for in terms of grammar and content.

A final example:
After reviewing the “model teacher” syllabus from one of my colleges, I added journaling to my course. I did not think through this idea as well as I should have and my students ended up writing an additional twenty not-quite-full-length essays. I noted which journals got the most thoughtful answers and which I thought were extraneous and I dropped the journal requirements significantly. (I also dropped the lowest journal grade and added three points to everyone’s final average, because they really did a lot more work than anyone else.)

Additional advantage:
If you keep the written on syllabi in one place, you will have a record of your evolving teaching style and you can write this up for your teaching portfolio. This can be a strong section and shows that you have a long term investment in upgrading your teaching quality.

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