Crafting a Syllabus, Part Three: Putting it all together

As you’ll recall, in the first post in this series I went over the elements of a course syllabus, which are:

  1. Course Description, aims and goals, materials, and policies
  2. A description of major assignments and grading rubric
  3. A schedule of readings and assignments

In the second post in the series, I went through how I consider the pacing of readings and major assignments to draft a schedule. This post covers how to think through course policies, assignments descriptions, and grading scale and percentages for assignments.

Course description, aims and goals, materials, and policies

This is the “front matter” of a syllabus – where you lay out, as succinctly, explicitly, and thoroughly as possible, what the course is, why students should take it, what the students need for the course, and what you as the professor expect from the students by way of behavior, attendance, participation, and the like. Think of it as a contract between you and the students in your class: you will deliver instruction and assessment leading to their acquiring of the stated aims and goals, in fulfillment of your part of the bargain, and they will adhere to the behaviors and attitudes that make their success possible, in fulfillment of their roles in the course.

The basic class information (course section and title, meeting dates and times, and location) and your contact information should be placed right at the top of the first page. How you choose to format it is up to you; I like to present it in two columns, bold-printed, as follows:

English 104-11: Introduction to Literature

Literary Alchemy: Texts of Transformation and Becoming

Instructor: Melissa “Melle” Ridley Elmes                Office: MHRA 3112 G

T/R 12:30-1:45 p.m.                                   Office Hours: T/R 11:00-12:00
                                                                     (or by appointment)

Building/Room: Bryan 204                                Email:

The next section should be the course description, followed by the general goals and student learning outcomes for the course. You can use the basic catalog description of the class, but it is better if you develop a description that gives the students a better understanding of what you are doing in the course. For example, the general catalog describes my class as follows:

“Critical reading and analysis of American and British novels, short stories, and narrative poems. Attention to historical, cultural, and literary backgrounds as appropriate.”

That’s the bare minimum I should include in my course description, but it doesn’t sound very interesting to me, and if I were a student I would definitely consider this class as described to be just checking off a required class on my to-do list toward the degree, because there’s nothing to invest in. Here’s the description I came up with based on how I see my class unfolding:

C.S. Lewis famously said: “we read to know we are not alone.” Each new text we engage with as readers presents an opportunity for transformation. When we read — every time we read, and whether we are aware of it or not — we also experience a personal change that can be either profound or infinitesimal, but always results in a shift in our thinking and how we see the world, so that over time, our reading becomes an integral part of our identity. As readers, we are always becoming – becoming better readers, becoming better thinkers, becoming more informed, and finally, becoming part of the literary tradition we are studying as its audience. By seeking to understand literature not only on its own merits, but also through consideration of the historical, cultural, and literary traditions that produce it, we are also in no small part seeking to understand ourselves and the world around us. In this course, we will consider a variety of texts written from the medieval era to the present day, including plays, short stories, poems, and novels, that deal on many levels with this idea of transformation and becoming as a road to understanding, through a lens of “literary alchemy” – a theory of physical and metaphysical change and transformation that includes the examination of such themes as birth, life, death, and regeneration; nature, science, and the supernatural; nurture and becoming; the Self and the Other; the individual and the collective; and isolation and relationships. By the end of the course, we will have acquired a vocabulary for discussing the various forms of literature… and we will also have undergone our own transformation as readers of literature. You may find that you never again look at reading, or yourself as a reader, in quite the same way.

Which of these classes sounds more interesting to you?

The course description offered from the catalog tells us in the most basic terms imaginable what the class is. In my description, I personalize this information, mapping out for the students the thinking that has gone into structuring this class so they know where I am coming from. I suggest to them that investing in this class is worthwhile, that there can be immediate payoff in the work they will be doing, and that the work is going to be personally meaningful and interesting to them. I don’t make grand sweeping claims about what I or the class can do for them, but I do lay out what we will be doing, why we will be doing it, and what they might get out of it. It sounds like a class I would want to take and more importantly, it sounds like a class I want to teach.

So, with the course description handled, I now need to include the student learning outcomes. Generally, universities determine these, and in my case this is so. I just cut-and-paste them directly from the catalog:

GLT Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs): Upon successful completion of this course, the student will:

1. Demonstrate the reading skill required for the student of literary texts. (LG3)

2. Identify and/or describe some of the varied characteristics of literary texts. (LG3)

3. Demonstrate orally, in writing, or by some other means, a fundamental ability to use some of the techniques and/or methods of literary analysis. (LG 1 and LG 3)

4. Identify and/or describe some of the various social, historical, cultural, and/or theoretical contexts in which literary texts have been written and interpreted. (LG3)

Those SLOs labeled (LG3) relate to UNCG’s Learning Goal #3 for General Education, which says students will “Describe, interpret, and evaluate the ideas, events, and expressive traditions that have shaped collective and individual human experience through inquiry and analysis in the diverse disciplines of the humanities, religions, languages, histories, and the arts.”

Those SLOs labeled (LG1) relate to UNCG’s Learning Goal #1 for General Education, which says students will “think critically, communicate effectively, and develop appropriate fundamental skills in quantitative and information literacies.” (

The next section should include the required materials. I used to list all of the readings for my classes here, but I found that for some students this was confusing because they thought they had to buy everything I had listed. Now I just include the texts they need to buy, alongside a generic statement to the effect that anything not listed there will be available on Blackboard. For this class, here’s what the Required Materials list looks like:

Required Materials

The following texts must be purchased and are available at the University Bookstore:

Scott Thomas Gibson, Tammy Lancaster & Summar Sparks, Lenses: Perspectives on Literature

ISBN: 978-073805105-5

Paolo Coehlo, The Alchemist  ISBN: 9780061122415

Hiromu Arakawa, Full Metal Alchemist, Volume One    ISBN: 9781421540184

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein ISBN: 9780393927931

William Shakespeare, The Tempest. ISBN: 9780743482837

Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone. ISBN: 9781607012153

All other course texts will be available on Blackboard and should be printed out and brought to class on the dates on which we are discussing them. On the days when we are discussing Ben Jonson’s Alchemyst and Johann von Goethe’s Faust, you may bring your laptop or other electronic reader to class to access the online text rather than printing the document out.

You’ll notice I’m not requiring them to buy Jonson’s The Alchemyst and Goethe’s Faust. This is because since they are plays, the page number(s) are irrelevant because we can cite by act and line numbers, and also because I’m not 100% sure I’m keeping Faust — it depends on how the pacing in the course is working out — and don’t want to saddle the students with buying a text they won’t use. Instead, I’ll pull Jonson from a drama anthology and let them use an open-access, online edition of Faust. In an upper-division course, I would insist they purchase scholarly editions of both, but this is a general literature course – all I really want is for them to read the texts, and it doesn’t matter for our purposes which edition they use. They’re buying The Tempest because we will be looking at some specific language and other elements and doing a group activity, so they need a good common edition. The other texts are all short enough that they can be placed on Blackboard under fair use policies.

I always try to consider student budgets when choosing texts; for general literature or introductory courses, it’s kind to try to keep the purchase price under a hundred dollars (this one can be much lower, especially if they choose to purchase used copies via Amazon Student or some other bargain venue.) I will never forget the Physics 176 course I took as an undergraduate in which the professor required us to buy a $170.00 textbook…. That we couldn’t sell back because it was going into new edition. Also, we never really used the textbook, because he lectured from notes, had his own problem sets for us to complete, and used the book as a reference, only – we could have just checked it out of the library on reserve, for the amount of reading that was actually required out of it. I resented that professor SO MUCH. Try to balance your needs as an instructor for common editions with the students’ finances, make sure you have thought carefully about why you want this text in the course and how much you are going to do with it, and try to be reasonable.

In addition to the texts, you may have other materials you expect the students to have with them in class; make sure you tell them what these are. Never assume the students will automatically come prepared to take notes – if you want pen and paper, or the laptop, or anything else, with them in class, you need to tell them so explicitly. Here’s my language for this:

Other materials:

Please bring paper, pen and/or pencil, highlighter, your textbooks, essay drafts and writings done for class, and print outs of assigned readings posted to Blackboard with you to each class session. Failure to come to class prepared with these materials will result in the loss of participation points. Multiple infractions concerning your preparedness for class will result in your being asked to leave and counted absent for the day.

Grading policies

Whether you use a traditional, weighted percentage system or a points system, ultimately you are going to calculate the students’ final grades according to a finite set of assessed criteria and assignments. Think long and hard about your expectations, your assignments, your class objectives, and how you plan to assess them before you assign weights to your graded assignments. This is essential, because through your grading policy you are conveying to the students what you privilege in terms of their participation in the class. What is important to you, as an instructor? Is it more important to you that your students participate in class discussions and activities, or that they do very well on exams? Are exams as important to you as essays? Are essays more or less important than regular in-class writings or timed essays? Do you value their ability to work in small groups on projects more than their ability to do well on the midterm?

Assigning equal weight to everything suggests that you find everything important – which you do, right? – But, it can also confuse students by not suggesting where to concentrate their efforts. Assigning substantially more weight to exams than to class participation suggests that as long as they do well on the tests, you’re not concerned with their day-to-day efforts. Assigning more weight to a group project than to an individual assignment suggests you value collaborative efforts over those of the individual. Assigning more weight to online activities such as blogs or Blackboard discussion posts suggests that you value the work they are doing outside of class hours more than what they are doing during class meetings. Every choice you make as an instructor concerning how to weight a graded assignment against the total final grade in the course, makes a statement about your values as an instructor.

I tend to shift my grading focus dependent upon the course level and objectives. For this general literature class, for example, I am going to calculate grades as follows:


My grading system is in keeping with university grading policies. UNCG defines an A as excellent; a B as good; a C as average; a D as lowest passing grade; and an F as failure. In adherence to this scale, you should understand that a C means you successfully met the requirements of the course, not that you did poorly, which would be indicated by either a D or an F. Likewise, an A or B indicate that you met and exceeded course requirements. A basic standards sheet is included at the end of this syllabus for your general awareness.

Your final course grade is calculated as follows:

Class Participation: 20% of your final course grade

This class is predicated on the notion that in order to become better readers and writers, students must read, think and write about what they read, and discuss and analyze texts both individually and in the company of others. As such, while there will be some lecturing, the majority of class time will be spent actively engaged in these activities, and all students are required to participate both in individual and group endeavors. Class participation will be gauged through attendance, completion of assigned reading and writing prior to class, quizzes, informal in-class writings, timed essays, workshopping papers, involvement in class discussions and quality postings to Blackboard discussions. It is necessary to participate actively in class in order to meet the stated student learning outcomes for the course.

Blackboard Discussions: You will be divided into discussion groups to facilitate online discussions. Every week after class on Monday a discussion question germane to the topics being covered that week will be posted to Blackboard. You are required to respond to this question by 5 p.m. Wednesday, and then to have responded to and/or elaborated on the postings of at least two of your classmates by 5 p.m. Friday. Blackboard discussions count towards your class participation grade, so be sure your postings are meaningful and consist of more than simple agree/disagree statements or superficial comments. You should aim for between 4 and 6 well-crafted sentences in each posting.

Reading Responses: You are required to write 500-700 word responses (approximately one single-spaced, typewritten page) for your choice of any three of our course readings throughout the term. These responses can consist of personal reflection, elaboration on a discussion thread, or be analytical in nature, but should reflect your own, original thinking on the texts, not simply regurgitation of what we discussed in class. They will be collected, read, and commented on, but not assigned grades. All responses must be completed prior to Week Fourteen (i.e. the last day on which a response can be turned in is Thursday, November 14.) These reading responses may be used as the foundation for your formal essays.

Workshopping Papers: The week before each of your two formal papers for this class are due, we will be workshopping your roughdrafts in class. You are required to bring 3 printed copies of your completed roughdraft  to class on these days. If your roughdraft is not complete, 10% will be deducted from the final grade on your final draft. If you do not participate in workshopping, you can earn no higher than a grade of “C” on the final paper.

Reading Quizzes and In-Class Timed Essays: 15% of your final course grade. Reading quizzes are a measure of whether or not you read; as such, they will comprise basic questions concerning character, plot, author, genre, dates, and the like. The lowest reading quiz grade will be dropped. There will be an in-class timed essay for each of the major literary forms we are covering in this course. This essay is intended to demonstrate your understanding of the form and its conventions through their application to a sample text.

Student-led discussion: 10% of your final grade in the course. You will each sign up to lead class discussion once during the term. On the day for which you sign up, you should come to class prepared with four questions designed to generate discussion. Examples of acceptable student-generated discussion questions will be provided. I encourage you to come see me during my office hours prior to leading class discussion to go over your questions if you are concerned as to whether or not they will meet expectations.

Essay One: 2-3 pages, 15% of your final course grade Subject: thematic or character analysis, text of choice. Refer to assignment sheet for further instructions.

Essay Two: 5 pages, 20% of your final course grade. Open Topic; research component. Refer to assignment sheet for further details.

Failure to turn in any final essay will count against your participation grade as well as the essay grade.

Midterm examination: 10% of your final course grade

Final Examination: 10% of your final course grade

As you can see from my weighted totals, I privilege the day-to-day activities and ongoing assessments over the major tests. A student could do poorly on the midterm and final exam and still do well in the course, but a student who doesn’t participate regularly will have trouble doing well in the course. I also privilege the essays over the examinations, because I value good writing more than I do the ability to retain information long enough to answer test questions (and because I think good writing leads to better information retention, anyway.)

Determining and Writing Up Your Policies

The syllabus is the document you, your students, their parents, the department head, and anyone else will turn to whenever there is a question concerning student expectations, and it is a fairly binding contract of sorts, because if you don’t have language about something on your syllabus, then disputes become harder to navigate. Because of this, you really need to think through what matters to you as an instructor in terms of student engagement with the class and the work you are doing in it, as well as ensuring that you adhere to your department’s policy requirements (for example, in our department the attendance policy for the 100-level classes is pre-determined, and we are required to include the university-wide general student learning outcomes that our course satisfies, as well as language about the Office of Disability Services and the observance of religious holidays, on our syllabi.) At the very least, the policies section of your syllabus should include language outlining your expectations for student preparation for class, student attendance, student behavior in class, the use of technology, your policy on late work, and how students should go about asking questions or disputing grades.

I pretty much copy-and-paste my policies section to each syllabus, each term, for the purposes of continuity. Tweaking it too much or too often, or having different policies for different classes, can become confusing and lead to unnecessary disputes and hassle, and that isn’t where I want to put my energies. I’d rather have one, set standard I always adhere to. This is mine:


My basic expectation of you as university students is that you will be in class on time and prepared, that you will participate actively, that you will conduct yourselves responsibly and with respect for everyone in class, and that you will give me your best effort. Beyond that:

Academic Integrity: “Academic integrity is founded upon and encompasses the following five values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. Violations include, for example, cheating, plagiarism, misuse of academic resources, falsification, and facilitating academic dishonesty. If knowledge is to be gained and properly evaluated, it must be pursued under conditions free from dishonesty. Deceit and misrepresentations are incompatible with the fundamental activity of this academic institution and shall not be tolerated” (from UNCG’s Academic Integrity Policy). To ensure that you understand the university’s policy on academic integrity, review the guidelines and list of violations at

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the most common violation of academic integrity. In its most blatant form, you are plagiarizing when you download a paper off of the Internet, turn in a paper someone else wrote for another class, or have someone else write your essays for you. You are also plagiarizing when you engage in verbatim copying OR paraphrasing from a source without proper acknowledgement, and when you use someone else’s ideas without acknowledgement. Per UNCG regulations, penalties for plagiarism range from the minimum of an F on the assignment in question to expulsion from the university. Please familiarize yourself with the university policies on plagiarism at the following web address: I will be going over proper techniques for citing and documenting sources, you have access to the MLA handbook and your textbook for examples, and you can also look up proper citation on the Internet – there is simply no excuse for plagiarism at the college level. It is better to err on the side of over-documenting; when in doubt, ask!

All papers for this class are to follow the MLA citation guidelines and format.

In my course, a first violation of the academic integrity and/or plagiarism policies as laid forth by the University will result in a grade of “F” on the assignment in question, while two violations will constitute automatic failure of the class.

Accommodations: Students with documentation of special needs should see me about accommodations as soon as possible. If you believe you could benefit from such accommodations, you must first register with the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services on campus before such accommodations can be made. The office is located on the second floor of the Elliott University Center (EUC) in Suite 215, and the office is open 8am to 5pm, Monday – Friday. Telephone: 334-5440; e-mail:

Attendance: Class attendance is mandatory, and I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. Because “life happens,” you are permitted three (3) absences with no penalty. A fourth and fifth absence will result in a half letter grade deduction each from your final grade, while six absences will result in a non-negotiable failure of the course for the term. Student athletes are not exempt from the attendance policy; if you are an athlete, you are strongly encouraged to check your schedule to determine whether there will be too many conflicts to support your continued enrollment in this section. When absent, you are responsible for all materials missed and for turning in any due assignments before you miss class. ALWAYS check blackboard for updates on assignments and due dates when you are absent from class.

Tardiness: I take attendance at the beginning of class, and we will not hold off on the day’s planned activities for latecomers. If you are tardy to class you run the risk of being counted absent for the day. Three tardies constitute an absence. Anything you miss as a result of being tardy cannot be made up and will count against your grade. Leaving early without prior agreement will be marked as an absence as well, and anything you miss as a result of leaving class early also cannot be made up.

Religious Observances: You are by state law allowed two excused absences due to religious holidays. These absences do not count toward the total maximum allowed above. If you plan to miss class due to a religious holiday, you must notify me by email at least 48 hours prior to the absence. You are still responsible for all of the materials you miss and for turning in due assignments before missing class.

Electronic Devices: This is not a technology course. Laptops, cell phones, Ipads, Ipods, MP3 players – whatever electronic devices you possess, don’t bring them to class. If you do bring them to class, don’t turn them on. Print out hard copies of reading assignments and essay drafts to bring to class with you. In-class writings will be done by hand unless you have a registered disability requiring you to use a laptop. Students who willfully choose to ignore this policy will be called out publicly for disrupting the class; repeat offenders will be asked to leave and counted as absent.

Assignments and Due Dates: Assignments are due on or before their due date, regardless of circumstances. Technological problems, malfunctions, or misunderstandings, are not grounds for excuse or exemption from this policy. If you are absent the day an assignment is due, you must have it in to me before or on that day and by our normal meeting time or it will not be counted. If you are in class the day an assignment is due, it is due at the beginning of class. I do not accept late work. Assignments may be handed in early. If you are struggling, come see me before, not after, an assignment is due.

Discussing/Disputing a Grade: You are required to wait 24 hours from the time you receive a graded paper before discussing it with me.  I will not discuss your grades during class time or in front of other students.  If you have questions or concerns about your performance in the class, please stop by during my office hours or make an appointment to see me individually.

Need More Help? The University Writing Center, located in MHRA room 3211, is a resource funded by your university activity fee and available to all UNCG students. Bring your writing assignment at any stage of its completion, paper, and pen or pencil, and a staff member will hold a one-on-one consultation with you to help you develop your work. No appointment is necessary; the writing center works on a first-come, first-serve basis. For assignments five pages or fewer in length, you can also use the online writing center via Meebo Chat on the Writing Center’s website or by messaging through your iSpartan account.

Writing Center Hours: M-R 9am – 8pm, Friday 9am – 3pm, Sunday 5pm – 8pm

Additionally, the Learning Assistance Center is located in McIver Hall, rooms 101-104, and 150. Telephone: 334-3878. E-mail:

Contacting Me: Aside from my regular office hours or setting up an appointment, the best way to reach me is by email: It is reasonable to expect a response within 24 hours; if you do not hear back from me after 24 hours have passed, please re-send the message. For all communication related to this course, please do me the courtesy of putting your last name and English 101 or Writing I in the subject line, so I know what this is in reference to; using your UNCG email account will best prevent me from accidentally deleting your message in the mistaken belief that anything from must be spam.

In any situation not expressly covered in this syllabus my word… is the last word.

That last statement, or something like it, is indispensable, because it retains your authority as the instructor. Trust me, if something’s not covered on the syllabus and you haven’t retained your right to decide on it, students are going to find and exploit the loophole(s).

The course schedule comes next, and I always include language allowing for changes as needed at the beginning of this section. I went over scheduling and pacing in the second post in this series, so here’s that in its final form:

Course Schedule

Please note that every effort will be made to adhere to the schedule as presented here. In the instance that the schedule must be altered you will be verbally informed in class (when possible) and an announcement will be posted on Blackboard. Any changes are intended to benefit or accommodate students, i.e. I will not move the due date of an assignment up or add more reading, but I may move a due date back or drop a reading. It is your responsibility to keep up with any changes made to the syllabus.

Major assignments/due dates are highlighted in Bold Print

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


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)


WEEK EIGHT: March 3-7

T 4 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 – read the novel in its entirety over break


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.


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



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)


WEEK FIFTEEN: April 21-25

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


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.

Finally, I like to give them an idea of how they are going to be graded in my classes, so I include a general rubric; this is tweaked for each major assignment, but overall they can expect to be scored along the following guidelines:

Grading Standards

In general, everything being graded in this course, from your performance in class writings and discussion to your formal essays, is being considered against the following basic rubric:











Clearly exceeds expectations

Exceeds/attempts more or less successfully to go beyond basic expectations

Meets basic expectations

Falls short of basic expectations

Does not meet expectations

Demonstrates mastery of the skill

Demonstrates emerging mastery of the skill

Demonstrates competence in the skill

Demonstrates developing competence in the skill

Does not demonstrate evidence of competence

Polished; very few errors or lapses in grammar, vocabulary, or syntax

Polished; minor errors in word choice, grammar or syntax

Sufficient; several errors in word choice, grammar or syntax that do not interfere with overall coherence

Deficient; errors in vocabulary, grammar, or syntax are of such extent that they interfere with overall coherence

Severely deficient; errors in vocabulary, grammar and syntax preclude comprehension

Words you might associate with each letter grade:

A – superior, demonstrates mastery, skillful and facile use of language and the writing process, polished, coherent, consistent, complex, sophisticated, fluent

B – competent, very good, strong, emerging skillfulness, few errors, demonstrates clear understanding

C – average, adequate, meets expectations, completes assignment, sufficient, generally fine, meets minimum standards, room for improvement

D – below average, weak, insufficient, needs improvement, incomplete, lacking in some essential or major way, does not demonstrate understanding or demonstrates flawed understanding

F – no evidence of understanding or effort, very weak, inconsistent, severely flawed, severely lacking, not done, does not have a clear point or purpose, plagiarized(in the case of an essay)

And – that’s it. That’s my full draft syllabus for English 104-11. Now I compile it into one document and send it along to my supervisor for review. There will likely be changes requested, but in general this is a solid document that clearly lists 1. what we are doing; 2. why we are doing it; 3. what students can expect from me; 4. what I expect from them; 5. what they need; 6. when everything is due; and 7. how they are being graded. As you can see, much more thought and planning goes into writing a syllabus than is evident in the final product. It generally takes me several weeks to craft a draft syllabus. From deciding the focus of the class, to aligning your aims and goals with the course objectives and catalog description, to choosing texts and assessments, to considering course pacing and a reading schedule, to determining how to handle myriad situations that arise, and finally, to how to physically structure the document, writing a well-developed, carefully-organized, and structured syllabus is the first and most important step to creating a strong and effective course offering.


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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