Friday, August 31, 2012


Your syllabus will be one of the most important documents you will create and use throughout the year.  Because of this, it should also take a great deal of your time to consider because it will last the whole year and set the tone for your class.  Whether it's the first time a syllabus is written or the 10th time, a lot has to be considered.  To this end there are things that are good to consider and have in your own syllabus.

First, the syllabus is the location that your students will come to understand what your class is all about.  Because of this, having a brief description of the course and outcomes of the course help at students to look through the window and see a glimpse into the future.  Another thing to keep in mind for the students is that they like to use the syllabus as a FAQ location for your class.  Therefore, covering the basic questions that they may have helps answer questions the students may have.  Some of these things to consider having in your class:
  • How you will grade the course?
  • What types of assignments they may have?
  • How frequent are assignments?
  • What are the units in this class?
  • What skills do they need?
  • What materials do they need?
  • How should they organize their materials?
  • How much effort will this class take?
  • What types of procedures will they need to know ( entering the classroom, end of class, silencing the class, if need to go to the bathroom, etc)?
There are a lot of questions.  Depending on your school, you may even need to include a specific format or certain items so you will need to keep that in mind as well such as including your e-mail, classroom number, website, and more.

Before delving in and answering all of these questions, you need to consider a few rules that are non-negotiable for you in your classroom such as  students needing to hand in homework at the very beginning of class or no food.  This is because while there may be many things you want in the classroom, your rules are the items that students will have to do or receive the consequences.  Also, sometimes there is something that you as a teacher would like the students to do but which is more of a procedure than a rule such as how a student should go to the bathroom (ie. a sign out sheet).  Another important thing to consider is that these rules will last the whole year and will be equally enforced to all students at all times so you should feel comfortable with them and be able to enforce them.  Take some time therefore and consider what you really deem to be important in the classroom and then organize into various categories so you can include them in an ordered way for the students to follow in the syllabus.

One way that I have done this in my syllabus has been to have a classroom conduct section where I lay out the behavior expectations I have for the class along with the consequences for behavior that is not appropriate for the classroom.  During the first day of classes I try to emphasize that everyone can make mistakes but it's important to learn from them and that with any choice there is a consequence for that choice.  Then I have a separate section for the procedures where I lay out what students can expect when entering my classroom (for me it's a Do Now activity), when leaving my classroom, how they can go to the bathroom, whether food and beverages are allowed or not, and more about how the class is run like handing out and turning in papers.

Once you have created your syllabus, a second thing to consider is how to determine how much information the students have processed from it.  A way that I am determining this is to have a quiz on the syllabus either the next class or the one after depending on the class.  By doing this it emphasizes how important it is to read the syllabus, not just sign the sheet, for the students.  It also highlights the parts of the syllabus that you believe are the most important.  If you don't feel comfortable with doing this then determine your own way of assessment such as reaffirming parts of the syllabus every class or week, having it posted openly in your classroom, or other reasons.

After doing all of the above, you are now prepared to make your syllabus and share it with your students.  If you are still unsure with ways to organize your syllabus or points that might be particular to your school with procedures or grading, one way to solve this is to look at your colleague's syllabi for different classes, levels, and grades.  These will give you a feel for the environment at the school.  These can typically be found from the school website or separate teacher pages  Good luck!

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