Crafting a Syllabus, Part Two: Pacing and Assignments

Putting it all together, pacing, and assignments

In an earlier post, I discussed how I go about choosing the materials I am going to teach for a literature syllabus. This post deals with how I decide to pace a course, how I choose and set assignments into the schedule, and how I go about completing the schedule. In a third post, I’ll handle putting the entire syllabus together as a unified document.

Pacing. This is probably the trickiest aspect of putting together a course schedule, especially if you are fairly new at teaching. How much time should you devote to discussing a given text? How much in-class time will be needed to complete activities? How much thinking time do you need to give the students? Unfortunately, the only way you can really learn to navigate classroom pacing is through trial-and-error, and even when you think you have it down, each group of students is slightly different – some will need more time, and some less, to complete the same activities. Your job as the instructor is to make sure you have planned your classes and can adjust them as needed to meet the students’ needs. Although you can’t really determine how much time you need for each activity/ text until you have tried it for yourself, below I offer the time I allot to certain common classroom activities and reading assignments and discussions, to give you an idea of how I pace things; this is based on 15 years of classroom experience teaching foreign language, Art History, and literature, so I can say that from my experience and based on my teaching style, these approximate times work well:

  1. Anticipatory set – you put a question or prompt on the board and ask students to think and make notes on it prior to class discussion: 10 minutes (5 minutes if you’re just asking them to think and not planning on collecting the written results of that thinking.) You can use this time to take attendance, pass back graded work, or pull up anything you intend to use on the Internet, or to skim through the day’s reading to keep it fresh.
  2. Short (2-4 pages) reading assignment prior to discussion: 10 – 15 minutes.
  3. Short (2-4 pages) reading assignment while taking notes or answering questions: 20 – 25 minutes.
  4. Small group activity, no writing involved: 15 minutes.
  5. Small group activity, writing or taking notes involved: 25-30 minutes.
  6. Lecture: 15-20 minutes, maximum. If you need more time than that to lecture, break it up with question-and-answer sessions or student writing of some sort; you can’t expect anyone to pay attention longer than 15-20 minutes at a stretch – that’s why conference papers are a maximum of 20 minutes long! I like to give information, check for student understanding, and then move on – about 5-10 minute chunks of information, unless I’m doing an introductory lecture on the class or a particular text that requires some advance knowledge from the students.
  7. 10 question reading quiz, fill in the blank, multiple choice, true or false – 10 minutes.
  8. 5 question reading quiz, short answer – 10 minutes.
  9. Test/ Midterm/Final exam – one full class session.
  10. In-class timed essays: 25 minutes
  11. Peer review/ looking over roughdrafts: give each student in a group 20 minutes to read aloud, review, and get feedback from group members on his or her draft; I usually have groups of 3, so I allot 1 hour to this activity.
  12. Short writing activities, worksheets, summaries – 15 minutes
  13. Student presentations, individual – 10-15 minutes
  14. Student presentations, group – 15-20 minutes
  15. Class discussion – as long as the students actively engage with it. Sometimes these go the whole period, sometimes I end it and turn to writing or reflection when it’s clear students aren’t prepared and/or have tapped out their thinking on a text.

And, how many class sessions should I devote to each text? It really depends on what you are doing with them, but the general rule of thumb I go by is as follows:

M-W-F courses: 1 week for a play, 2 weeks for a novel, 1 work of short prose per session, 1-2 poems per session, dependent upon the poem’s length and complexity.

T-R courses: 2-3 sessions for a play, 4 sessions for a novel; 1-2 works of short prose per session, dependent upon whether I want to consider them individually or in comparison with one another; 3-4 poems per session, dependent upon the poem’s length and complexity.

Since I’m currently putting together my Introduction to Literature course, I’m going to use that as my example for this post. In the first syllabus post, I came up with a list of texts and authors I was interested in working with. Now I’ll create a mock-up of the term, broken down by weeks. Using the University Academic Calendar, I begin by writing in any and all university deadlines/holidays/scheduling information that might impact my lessons or course enrollments. These go in bold print so I can easily see how much time I have left for instruction. If I know I am going to miss a class or two for the purposes of attending an academic conference, I also go ahead and add those in. Then, I add in the texts to check pacing. It turns out looking a little like this:

WEEK ONE: January 13-17

Shakespeare, The Tempest

F 17 Last day to add/drop courses without special permission; last day to drop courses for tuition and fees refund

WEEK TWO: January 20-24

Shakespeare, The Tempest; Jonson, The Alchemyst

WEEK THREE: January 27-31

Jonson, The Alchemyst; Goethe, Faust

WEEK FOUR: February 3-7

Goethe, Faust

WEEK FIVE: February 10-14

Jonson, “Love’s Alchemy”; Blake, “Jerusalem”; “A Song of Liberty”; P.B. Shelley, “Mutability”; W.B. Yeats, “The White Birds”, “The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland”

WEEK SIX: February 17-21

Chaucer, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”; Malory, “Sankgraal”

WEEK SEVEN: February 24-28

Malory, “Sankgraal”; H.P. Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”

WEEK EIGHT: March 3-7

Borges, “The Tale of Two Dreamers”; Le Guin, “Schroedinger’s Cat”

F 7 Last day to drop a course without academic penalty

WEEK NINE: March 10-14

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

SPRING BREAK – NO CLASSES

WEEK TEN: March 17-21

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

WEEK ELEVEN: March 24-28

Shelley, Frankenstein; Coehlo, The Alchemist

WEEK TWELVE: March 31- April4

Coehlo, The Alchemist; Sedia, Alchemy of Stone

WEEK THIRTEEN: April 7-11

Sedia, Alchemy of Stone

WEEK FOURTEEN: April 14-18

Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist

WEEK FIFTEEN: April 21-25

Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist

R 24 FINAL CLASS SESSION—EXAM REVIEW

WEEK SIXTEEN: April 28 – May 2

Follow Friday schedule (no class April 28); FINAL EXAM Friday, May 2, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

I ended up pulling one full text from the original text list (Muriel Spark’s Ballad of Peckham Rye) and condensing the poetry in favor of more coverage of short prose; this works because I can teach many poetic concepts while I’m going over Shakespeare, and I can always add more poems into the mix over the course of the term as classwork, while longer texts really need to be on the syllabus, in fairness to the students. If I need to pull anything because we are getting cramped for time, I can yank either one of the plays (Goethe, likely) or one of the novels (probably Coehlo), and I can condense discussion of Full Metal Alchemist into 2 sessions rather than 4, if needed – but I think overall this is a doable reading schedule, particularly when I give them Shelley’s Frankenstein to read over spring break, which takes some pressure off of the students when class is in session (assuming they do the reading during break, of course.)

Each of those class sessions, in turn, will comprise some combination of the assignments listed above – I usually do anticipatory sets pretty much each day, and then alternate between individual, low-stakes reading and writing assignments, student-led discussion, lecture, and my own discussion leading dependent upon where we are in a text. If we’re just starting, I’ll give a brief overview or short lecture, then ask leading questions based on specific passages, giving them 5-10 minutes to find and consider the passage before answering; if we’ve already been working with a text, they can do more independent kinds of assignments. BUT – that’s for individual class session pacing, which I can discuss in a different post or set of posts. Back to syllabus writing….

So, with pacing taken care of, let’s have a look at assignments. I tend to be pretty regular in terms of the major assignments in my classes – one short, 2-3 page character or thematic analysis, one longer, 5-6 page research essay, every-other-week reading quizzes, a stint as a student discussion leader, 3 reading responses, a midterm, and a final. However, because this is an introduction to literature class, I need to check for understanding in four different areas – drama, short prose, long prose, and poetry – and to this, I have added graphic novels as well. So, I need five, shortish assignments that can help me gauge student understanding of the concepts I am working with – but I also need to make sure I am not overwhelming either myself or the students with too much work. What I’ll do in this case, is to expand the reading response number to 5, and then also include 5, in-class timed essays, which will each be passage-based. That means I’ll give them a short poem or a section from the text(s) we are reading, and have them analyze that passage using the literary terms we are working with. This will give me a working knowledge of where my students are, but it will also limit how much I have to read and grade. In order to facilitate this, I’ll swap out some of the reading quizzes for these timed essays. I also have a fun assignment on language that I will be doing with the Chaucer text, and a fun assignment on graphic/ visual narratives for the Arakawa. Finally, my students are expected to complete online Blackboard discussions in small groups each week, and can use these as the basis for their student led discussion materials.

Before I schedule anything with a due date into my syllabus, I take into consideration the University schedule, and my own schedule. I don’t assign major papers when I have papers due for my own courses; I don’t give tests or exams when it will be cumbersome for me to get them graded in timely fashion; I make sure final essays are due at least a week before the final class session so I can hand them back before the final exam; and I never assign a big project or graded assignment to be handed in the day after a long break because in my experience, although it seems counter-intuitive, you tend to get last-minute work rather than carefully thought-out work because the students don’t do a lot during break. You may disagree, and feel that giving the students the break to work on the assignment is fairer; you may prefer to give them the entire term and collect the final essays on the last day of the class or even during the final exam session; or some other arrangement. This is a purely individual instructor’s preference situation. But always, ALWAYS take your own workload into account, because when you have student assignments due the same week, or the week before, your own major papers and graded efforts are due, you can’t give them full and fair consideration or you end up putting them off and letting your workload pile up. One good way around this is to have their major assignments due before your break week – because you are much more likely to work over break than they are, and it will mean getting to grade at a more leisurely pace than is otherwise the case.

You also want to take into consideration where in your syllabus you see natural breaks and pauses, because these are good spaces for major assignments to be due; for example, it would be silly to give a midterm when you are halfway through covering a particular text or form: better to finish up a section and then give the midterm at a fresh point, even if that means giving one slightly before or after the actual date of mid-term.

SO, here’s what my syllabus looks like when I add in the assignments:

WEEK ONE: January 13-17

T 14 Shakespeare, The Tempest

R 16 Shakespeare, The Tempest

F 17 Last day to add/drop courses without special permission; last day to drop courses for tuition and fees refund; Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWO: January 20-24

T 21 Shakespeare, The Tempest; Jonson, The Alchemyst; Reading Quiz #1

R 23 Jonson, The Alchemyst; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THREE: January 27-31

T 28 Jonson, The Alchemyst; Goethe, Faust

R 30 Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FOUR: February 3-7

T 4 Goethe, Faust; In-class timed essay #1

R 6 Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FIVE: February 10-14

T 11 Jonson, “Love’s Alchemy”; Blake, “Jerusalem”; “A Song of Liberty”

R 13 P.B. Shelley, “Mutability”; W.B. Yeats, “The White Birds”, “The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland”; Reading Quiz #2

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIX: February 17-21

T 18 Chaucer, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”; Chaucer Language Activity

R 20 Malory, “Sankgraal”; In-class timed essay #2

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SEVEN: February 24-28

T 25 Malory, “Sankgraal”; H.P. Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; Individual Student-led Discussions

R 27 Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; ESSAY ONE DUE: character, thematic, or poetic analysis (2-3 pages; refer to assignment sheet for details)

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK EIGHT: March 3-7

T 4 Borges, “The Tale of Two Dreamers”; Le Guin, “Schroedinger’s Cat”; reading quiz #3

R 6 MIDTERM EXAMINATION

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

F 7 Last day to drop a course without academic penalty

WEEK NINE: March 10-14

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein – read the novel in its entirety over break

SPRING BREAK – NO CLASSES

WEEK TEN: March 17-21

T 18 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; in-class timed essay #3

R 20 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK ELEVEN: March 24-28

T 25 Shelley, Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 27 Coehlo, The Alchemist; reading quiz #4

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWELVE: March 31- April4

T 1 Coehlo, The Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 3 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; in-class timed essay #4

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THIRTEEN: April 7-11

T 8 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; reading quiz #5; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 10 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; WORKSHOP FINAL RESEARCH ESSAY DRAFTS

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FOURTEEN: April 14-18

T 15 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; reading quiz #6

R 17 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; FINAL RESEARCH ESSAYS DUE (refer to assignment sheet for details); Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FIFTEEN: April 21-25

T 22 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; in-class timed essay #5; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 24 FINAL CLASS SESSION—EXAM REVIEW

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIXTEEN: April 28 – May 2

Follow Friday schedule (no class April 28); FINAL EXAM Friday, May 2, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

SO – looking at this draft, I see some big problems for me as an instructor. There are far too many graded assignments, and there’s no good way to space them far enough apart that I’m not going to have overlap, especially since I’m also teaching an English 101 course which requires that I evaluate multiple drafts. I’m also missing a library orientation session I need to have scheduled, and I’m not seriously going to grade that much Blackboard activity, especially not when big assignments are due. Something needs to go. Which of the assignments am I least invested in, are my students least likely to be invested in, and will give me the least return on my investment in creating, administering, and grading them? The reading quizzes. I’m therefore going to pull those out entirely. If I need to re-introduce them as pop-quizzes to check for reading, I will; otherwise oral questioning during class can provide me with ample evidence of whether or not the students are reading and understanding what they are doing. I’m also removing several Blackboard requirements. The new draft therefore looks like this:

WEEK ONE: January 13-17

T 14 Introduction to the course; drama terms; Shakespeare, The Tempest

R 16 Shakespeare, The Tempest

F 17 Last day to add/drop courses without special permission; last day to drop courses for tuition and fees refund; Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWO: January 20-24

T 21 Shakespeare, The Tempest; Jonson, The Alchemyst

R 23 Jonson, The Alchemyst; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THREE: January 27-31

T 28 Jonson, The Alchemyst; Goethe, Faust

R 30 Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FOUR: February 3-7

T 4 Goethe, Faust; In-class timed essay #1

R 6 Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FIVE: February 10-14

T 11 Introductory lecture: poetry forms and poetry terms; Jonson, “Love’s Alchemy”; Blake, “Jerusalem”; “A Song of Liberty”

R 13 P.B. Shelley, “Mutability”; W.B. Yeats, “The White Birds”, “The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland”

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIX: February 17-21

T 18 Chaucer, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”; Chaucer Language Activity

R 20 Introductory lecture, short prose and prose terms; Malory, “Sankgraal”; In-class timed essay #2

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SEVEN: February 24-28

T 25 Malory, “Sankgraal”; H.P. Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; Individual Student-led Discussions

R 27 Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; ESSAY ONE DUE: character, thematic, or poetic analysis (2-3 pages; refer to assignment sheet for details)

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK EIGHT: March 3-7

T 4 Borges, “The Tale of Two Dreamers”; Le Guin, “Schroedinger’s Cat”

R 6 MIDTERM EXAMINATION

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Focus on midterms!

F 7 Last day to drop a course without academic penalty

WEEK NINE: March 10-14

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein – read the novel in its entirety over break

SPRING BREAK – NO CLASSES

WEEK TEN: March 17-21

T 18 Introductory lecture, novels Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; in-class timed essay #3

R 20 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK ELEVEN: March 24-28

T 25 Shelley, Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 27 Coehlo, The Alchemist

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWELVE: March 31- April4

T 1 Coehlo, The Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 3 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; in-class timed essay #4

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THIRTEEN: April 7-11

T 8 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 10 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; WORKSHOP FINAL RESEARCH ESSAY DRAFTS

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK FOURTEEN: April 14-18

T 15 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 17 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; FINAL RESEARCH ESSAYS DUE (refer to assignment sheet for details)

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK FIFTEEN: April 21-25

T 22 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; in-class timed essay #5; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 24 FINAL CLASS SESSION—EXAM REVIEW

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIXTEEN: April 28 – May 2

Follow Friday schedule (no class April 28); FINAL EXAM Friday, May 2, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

I still think this looks cramped, both for me and for the students. So I’m pulling that 5th in-class timed essay. Again, if I find there is enough time to administer it after all, I can always do it as an unannounced in-class assignment, but I would rather give all of us the wiggle-room, particularly at the end of the term. That brings us to this:

WEEK ONE: January 13-17

T 14 Introduction to the course; drama terms; Shakespeare, The Tempest

R 16 Shakespeare, The Tempest

F 17 Last day to add/drop courses without special permission; last day to drop courses for tuition and fees refund; Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWO: January 20-24

T 21 Shakespeare, The Tempest; Jonson, The Alchemyst

R 23 Jonson, The Alchemyst; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THREE: January 27-31

T 28 Jonson, The Alchemyst; brief introduction to Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 30 Goethe, Faust; In-class timed essay #1

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FOUR: February 3-7

T 4 Goethe, Faust; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 6 LIBRARY RESEARCH ORIENTATION

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK FIVE: February 10-14

T 11 Introductory lecture: poetry forms and poetry terms; Jonson, “Love’s Alchemy”; Blake, “Jerusalem”; “A Song of Liberty”

R 13 P.B. Shelley, “Mutability”; W.B. Yeats, “The White Birds”, “The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland”; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIX: February 17-21

T 18 Chaucer, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”; Chaucer Language Activity

R 20 Introductory lecture, short prose and prose terms; Malory, “Sankgraal”; In-class timed essay #2

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SEVEN: February 24-28

T 25 Malory, “Sankgraal”; H.P. Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; Individual Student-led Discussions

R 27 Lovecraft, “The Alchemist”; ESSAY ONE DUE: character, thematic, or poetic analysis (2-3 pages; refer to assignment sheet for details)

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK EIGHT: March 3-7

T 4 Borges, “The Tale of Two Dreamers”; Le Guin, “Schroedinger’s Cat”

R 6 MIDTERM EXAMINATION

F 7 Last day to drop a course without academic penalty

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Focus on midterms!

WEEK NINE: March 10-14

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein – read the novel in its entirety over break

SPRING BREAK – NO CLASSES & NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSIONS

WEEK TEN: March 17-21

T 18 Introductory lecture, novels Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; in-class timed essay #3

R 20 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK ELEVEN: March 24-28

T 25 Shelley, Frankenstein; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 27 Coehlo, The Alchemist

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK TWELVE: March 31- April4

T 1 Coehlo, The Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 3 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; in-class timed essay #4

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK THIRTEEN: April 7-11

T 8 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 10 Sedia, Alchemy of Stone; WORKSHOP FINAL RESEARCH ESSAY DRAFTS

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK FOURTEEN: April 14-18

T 15 Introductory lecture, graphic novels & terms; Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 17 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; FINAL RESEARCH ESSAYS DUE (refer to assignment sheet for details)

NO BLACKBOARD DISCUSSION THIS WEEK – Work on essays!

WEEK FIFTEEN: April 21-25

T 22 Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist; Individual Student-Led Discussions

R 24 FINAL CLASS SESSION—EXAM REVIEW

Blackboard posts due by Wednesday, 9 p.m. and Friday, 5 p.m.

WEEK SIXTEEN: April 28 – May 2

Follow Friday schedule (no class April 28); FINAL EXAM Friday, May 2, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

There – I think that is much better. I may still pull that final Blackboard discussion on FMA, but for now I’m keeping it there. We have plenty of room between major assignments, I will still have continuous feedback on how the students are doing with the materials, and I even got the library research orientation in there, which our department requires if we are assigning a research essay in our courses. You can see how much thinking goes into this part of the syllabus – this is the crucial moment, when you set in stone the workload both for yourself and for your students. While you CAN change it over the course of the term, what you really can’t do is add to it. Better to have a little too much and drop something, than to have too little and try to add – but also best not to overwhelm everyone with a syllabus that looks so completely crammed full of work that no one gets to breathe.

I’m also giving my students plenty of heads-up – by assigning the first in-class timed essay several weeks ahead of their first formal essay, I’ve allowed them time to get that feedback so they know more or less what I’m looking for in terms of quality of writing and thinking before turning in the essay; I’ve also allowed them enough room to recover between the first essay and the midterm, and ample time between their library orientation and the first draft of their research essay. With their final essays due on Thursday of Week Fourteen and having lost that fifth in-class timed essay, I can have those graded and back to them on exam review day, so they go into the exam knowing where they stand in the course. If things get hairy, I can still drop one or two of those in-class essays (and look like a hero for doing it). Overall, I’m happy with this pacing and I’m ready to send this along to my supervisor for review.

In the third and final post on writing syllabi, I’ll put the whole thing together so you can see how it all works out to a final, unified document. Then, I’ll send it in to my supervisor and let you know the feedback I receive on it.

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About Melissa Ridley Elmes

I am a medievalist, wife and mother of two who spends her days researching, writing, teaching, painting, singing, dancing, acting and trying to find more hours in a day.
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One Response to Crafting a Syllabus, Part Two: Pacing and Assignments

  1. Pingback: Crafting a Syllabus, Part Three: Putting it all together | Melissa Ridley Elmes

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