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?
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?