Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is This Working?

After working on my syllabus for my summer class yesterday, I realized there's a question I ultimately ask myself when I encounter a problem with something I'm doing: Is this working? 

Semester after semester, we teachers complain that students don't pay much attention to our syllabus. So much important information is there! How could they just ignore it? Students never seem to know when things are due, how their grades are calculated, what the policy is on late work, or how absences might affect their grades. 

Well, I ignored my teachers' syllabi in college. Why would I expect my students to react differently? It's not defeatist to assume that students are going to continue ignoring this very important document; it's a reasonable prediction to say that if all conditions are the same, then the outcome will be the same. 

Question: Is the way I'm creating, distributing, and discussing our courses' expectations, policies, and content working? 

Answer: No.

Resolution: If I want students to react differently to their syllabus, then I must significantly alter the conditions. I believe the best solution is to create a more memorable document. I don't know if having a more visually-oriented syllabus will have a drastic effect, but it won't hurt to try. By the way, the real solution might be to do away with the syllabus altogether, but I have to have one.

It's still in progress, but I'm happy to report that repositioning my usual syllabus material made me question a lot of the stuff I usually put in there, and I made a lot of edits. In fact, I'm changing other things about my course as well all because I took some time to ask a simple question.

Is this working? It's a question I've often asked, whether I realized it or not, and sadly, it's a question that sometimes I wait too long to ask. But once I do ask it, the situation usually comes into focus. 

Facebook friend who openly opposes same-sex marriage. 
Is this relationship working? 
Do not reason with this person. Do not insult this person. Unfriend.

Cable TV costs $50+ a month so I can watch three channels I like.
Is this service working for me?
Use low-cost Netflix and HD antenna instead. 

Sometimes the resolutions are difficult to work out. It might take some trial and error, but continuing to act and improve is what's important. You cannot expect different results if you keep the conditions the same. 

Sometimes I feel like a pessimist because I don't believe that other people or systems will change, but the empowering part of this is that I can change. If there's one thing I've learned as an adult, it's that people will change but only when they see the need. If I see a need for change, I start with what I can do about it. 

Have a you ever had a lightbulb moment about something that wasn't working? 


Mom said...

Maybe treat your syllabus like other things you want them to learn (at least the most important parts). Let them know they need to know that stuff and you will be quizing them on it.

Domestic Kate said...

I know it seems like common sense--the teacher says something is important and the students go home and diligently study for an imminent quiz--but the reality is that it doesn't work. Most students won't bother, and a failed quiz grade really won't affect their overall grade in the course, so it's not likely they'll get the message.

Anonymous said...

Turn the syllabus into a Mad Lib. Each student fills it out. Class votes on funniest version. Might not help any but it would be fun.

Laura said...

I took a course in college where the maximum you could earn was 96 instead of 100. If you wanted an A (100), you had to take an extra one day weekend class (worth the other 4 points). This was all spelled out in the syllabus, but of course no one read it. A few weeks in when the professor was talking about how to sign up for one of the weekend classes, one of the students flipped out and started saying she (the professor) couldn't do that. Well, actually she could. It was all there in the syllabus, in black and white.

I think your idea to make a more visually-oriented syllabus is great, and I like the work you've done. It looks really good.

Domestic Kate said...

Yes, that's a good example. I know I have a right to uphold anything that's on the syllabus, even if I don't explicitly say anything about it, but it's not in anybody's best interest for students to be unaware of the expectations. We want to teach students valuable lessons about reading contracts, but the reality is that people don't read contracts either.

Laura said...

I know after that class I always read the syllabus really carefully instead of skimming it. It was a good lesson, but I agree with you that it's not good for students to be unaware of the expectations. This is a tough one.