Writing a Syllabus

This semester I am teaching an intermediate low to intermediate mid Writing and Grammar class for the first time. Although I have been a writing tutor on the main campus, I am new to the experience of having 33 students to teach this skill to simultaneously. I will admit that the task seemed a bit daunting at first.

However, I was quickly reminded by my peer teachers that I am not starting from scratch. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by a community of teachers who are always more than willing to share their materials and experience. I cannot fully express what a relief it is to see an example syllabi and calendars from teachers I respect so much.

As I was working to develop my own plan for the class based on what others had offered me, I was reminded of a comment made in our beginning of semester faculty orientation. In our meeting, an analogy was given of flying a kite. The string of the kite was related to the institution’s expectations, course outcomes, and rules. The wind was paralleled with learner and teacher autonomy. Later in the day, one of the teachers said that he felt that the “wind of autonomy” included personal teaching style variations. He said that, while the course outcomes are firm like the string, our ability to adjust the wind by making the class our own and deciding how we approach those goals is what will make our kite fly higher. That image of the kite and those words have been fluttering around in the back of my mind as I tackled setting up my courses.

I’m also grateful for the supportive network of teachers who were working on their own courses yesterday afternoon in the same office and for their answers to all of my questions. And, more importantly, their critiques of my suggestions. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to hear someone ask, “What is the purpose of that assignment?” or “How do you plan on grading that?” That immediate feedback stopped me in my tracks many times and made me consider how I would tell my students the answers to those questions.

In the end, I came up with something that I think will work for me and my students, although the latter will really be determined after I meet them this coming week. I’m excited to hear their goals and hear their unique perspectives. I am looking forward to continually making changes to my plan in order to help them write better and understand the target grammar for this course.

Simple* Tips for Writing a Syllabus:

  • Don’t Panic. I recently read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and now I feel like every new textbook and syllabus should be accompanied by those words. You will make it work.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Ask around for examples of how others have taught the course. Even if you can’t find things from teachers you know, there are many teaching resources online and one might just work as a starting point.
  • Be critical. Really think through what you add. Just because it worked for someone else does not mean it fits your teaching style. And that is ok. On the same note, just because it was your idea doesn’t mean it is ready to be included on the syllabus. Think about the purpose, process, and implications. It will be a stronger idea because of it.
  • Keep it flexible. Remember that a completed syllabus is still a work in progress. Recognize when things are not working and reevaluate. Your students will respect you for adjusting for their sake, especially if you explain to them why changes are taking place.
  • Remember the students. It can be hard for me to keep my students in mind because I don’t meet them until after writing my syllabus. However, imagining myself in that first week as I read through the syllabus with them is always helpful for me. Is the language clear enough for beginning level students? Can I offer them examples? Is the presentation of the syllabus motivating or overwhelming?
  • Share with others. Be the teacher who is willing to share and collaborate with others. I was asked after my first semester of teaching by a teacher with many more years of experience for a copy of my syllabus and some materials. I was terrified of sending her what I had, but extremely flattered that she would request them. That moment made me realize that sharing was part of the teaching process, not demonstration of weakness or pride.

*Simple as in not particularly original or difficult to understand, but apparently still surprisingly easy to forget