Shifting The Days of Your Syllabus

At the beginning of the Fall semester, ProfHacker authors provided a number of tips for how to quickly improve, set expectations or learning goals, include catch-up days, or even perform an extreme makeover on syllabi. Now, as we are nearing the Spring semester–or perhaps have already started, as I did yesterday–the young ProfHacker’s thoughts turn to preparing syllabi for a new round of courses. My preparation time this semester was radically lessened by having the opportunity to reteach a couple of courses. But I hit a real snag in that one of the courses was originally taught on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday (MWF) schedule and this semester I’m teaching it on Tuesdays and Thursdays (TR).

In theory, this shouldn’t really create too many problems. Since my MWF class had 50-minute sessions, I had the students for 150 minutes per week. My TR classes meet for 75 minutes, so I get them for the same amount of time: 150 minutes. Supposedly I should be able to assign the same amount of reading and cover all the same materials in the course of a semester which has the same number of weeks from year to year.

Yet the very real division of days makes for a very different class. While I suppose I could try to do half of Wednesday’s class material on Tuesday and half on Thursday, that will make for very odd transitions and unsatisfactory endings to many class periods. (I’m big on endings. One of the best things that I learned from a mentor in graduate school was to use class sessions–and the class as a whole–as stories. I’ve found that it helps the students retain the information better as they can slot it into the schema of whatever story I’ve decided to use.) What’s more, I’ve discovered that it’s not all that much more difficult for me to lead a discussion about a group of poems or a short story for 50 minutes as it is for 75. So using all the time productively in class sessions is not a problem.

The only answer for me seemed to be to cut material from the course. (I know, I know. Even ProfHackers can be slow at times.) The problem of how to use the time more effectively was complicated by this being a survey course, one in which it’s important for the students to get adequate coverage of the major movement, themes, and authors of American literature from 1865 to the present. While the syllabus is still getting worked on, I thought I could share some of what I learned in the process, as well as tips from other ProfHacker authors:

  • Consider if it would be possible to teach 3 topics in 2 days (or 2 topics in 3 days when moving from TR to MWF). While this didn’t work for my particular situation, there’s nothing to say that it won’t for yours.
  • If it’s not possible to do so, try to let it go. You’ve taught the course before and it went wonderfully well. You can certainly be expected to have mixed feelings about cutting out topics that you had decided were necessary and that the students responded to. But you almost certainly had to leave off some things you thought were essential when you first designed the syllabus. This is no different.
  • Recognize that you probably do know which things can be cut away from the course. After all, you designed the first one. As you’re cutting, don’t be afraid to leave off “canonical” things so that you can teach something you know you teach well. Both you and the students will be happier with the end results.
  • Consider using an Extreme Makeover approach to your syllabus. If you start with a blank slate rather than simply updating last year’s document, it might be easier for you to think about what is really necessary for this particular course.
  • Try to avoid teaching different sections of the same class on MWF and TR. But if doing so becomes necessary, treat each section as if they are completely different classes. They will certainly feel that way.

What tips do you have for shifting a syllabus from one teaching schedule to another? Do you have to do anything differently when moving from a TR schedule to MWF?

cc licensed flickr photo by davidsilver

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