Exciting Syllabus Challenge

50

August 1, 2013 by Kara

Summer has been great! I crossed most things off of my to-do list. Now it’s time to return to normal working life. Where do I start?

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I like to start my new school year prep by updating my syllabus. It gives me a chance to review my expectations, goals, topics, and procedures. Here are some things I’ve learned about syllabi over the years:

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1. Most students don’t really care about them

They glance at them once when you make them. I’m sure they dread the first day of classes when teachers read their syllabi to them. Then they take them home for a parent signature, and I’m pretty sure the majority of parents don’t read them. Now I post it on Edmodo to save some trees and we can refer to it when needed. Try not to read it to them, but instead try one quick activity with it: http://creativelanguageclass.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/interactive-syllabus-challenge/

2. They are visually boring

Colored paper and fancy fonts only add a touch of spice. This is what I want to fix on mine this year. I discovered infographics last year and I believe this might be the way to go. I showed Elizabeth Barlow, our biology teacher, a syllabus with a pie chart from Thomas Sauer’s tweets. She ran with it and created the following example. She said the pie chart helped explain the grades better.

Elizabeth Barlow’s Syllabus

Elizabeth Barlow's Syllabus

3. Explain expectations clearly

There are students that want to know exactly what they need to do to get an A and there are others that just want to know how to pass. This year I will include our proficiency rubric that I use for everything.

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4. Keep it simple

Focus on what’s important. My first page is a description of the goal proficiency level. My second page is about grading and procedures. I suggest to keep it to 2 pages or less for high school. In this example, I put 1 chili pepper for level one, 2 for level two, etc. so I could identify it easily. I’d like to change this image to avoid the stereotypical Spanish class images.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 7.16.37 PM

5. Be vague on some parts

The last thing I want to do is to trap myself into a procedure or expectation that I can’t keep up with. Sometimes a broad statement like “Bathroom: Follow the posted procedures by the door.” would allow me to change it as needed.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 7.16.52 PM

6. Don’t forget to change the date

Have you ever updated your syllabus, ran 150 copies, and then, noticed that you didn’t change the school year on the top? I have! After that, I quit putting the year. Now I just put the updated year in the footer as a note to myself.

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Now the fun part! Last year we had a Bulletin Board Challenge to kick off the new year. This year it is an Exciting Syllabus Challenge! Send us screen shots or attachments of your most EXCITING syllabus by August 6, 2013 to creativelanguageclass@gmail.com. We will share them on a post and choose a winner (who will receive a special prize in the mail from us). We are looking for something visually UNIQUE that covers the basics. What about a QR code? Maybe some borders, images, or background? Charts and graphs?

Here are a few for inspiration from the Internet:

2012-2013 Graphics Syllabus_Page_1 Graphic-syllabus_Page_1

Happy creating!! We can’t wait to see what you submit!

While we are waiting for the creativity to roll in…

What information do you include on your syllabus?

And the winner is… http://creativelanguageclass.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/and-the-most-exciting-syllabus-goes-to/

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50 thoughts on “Exciting Syllabus Challenge

  1. Anonymous says:

    From Elizabeth (the biology teacher)– I will definitely be tweaking my syllabus this year. I realize that it doesn’t have a course description, objectives, or space for a signature on it. The one shown above was a sample I was trying out for my last trimester of classes to see how the students responded to the layout, and the students had been with me most of the year and had the other information on a previous syllabus. The big thing I was trying to communicate to them was the breakdown of their grade since our district puts a big emphasis on the proficiency assessments and the state-wide end-of-course exam. The students were not understanding how something worth 40% of their grade could change their grade so drastically, but when they saw the breakdown visually in the pie chart, they seemed to grasp it better.

    • I loved your idea of adding a pie chart Elizabeth! I think it’s such a great way to show how a grade is made up.

      Does your school require the portions you said you were missing (objectives, signature, etc)? I know a lot of teachers have a signature portion but in my experience it’s more problematic than helpful. This could possibly be because it’s never been a school wide policy. I was just curious.

      Nice work and good luck on the 2013 school year!

    • Kara says:

      Your new versions are looking great! Thanks for sharing your first draft with us!

  2. Kim earley says:

    I love this syllabus! There is nothing extraneous on it and I especially love the way it describes what they should be able to do at the end of the first semester and second semester! Thanks for the example!

  3. Karen says:

    I wish I had seen this about 2 weeks ago. :( We start August 8th.

  4. Megan says:

    Oh my, I love your list of to-dos! Play Candy Crush, that’s awesome ( and was my goal, too)!

  5. […] just accepted a challenge from the girls at CreativeLanguageClass to create a more exciting syllabus.  If you don’t follow this blog, go check it out!  They […]

  6. What an awesome post! I loved your challenge, as it was something I was wanting to do as well. I’m kind of a control freak (which is why my previous syllabus was 4 pages!), but I still tried to take all of your advice (especially about the visual aids and keeping it simple) and this is what I ended up with:

    http://sradentlinger.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/syllabus-upgrade-2013-2014/

  7. Megan says:

    We have to follow a specific template for our syllabi in my district. It’s not that it is bad, it is just entirely too much information for the kids. My syllabus is far too long! Anyway, I am thinking of designing it a little differently so that the more important info sticks out a little more.

  8. Megan says:

    Change the date! Ha! I’m going to make mine more visually appealing – maybe divide it up with different text boxes… Thanks for the challenge! (it makes it feel like fun – NOT work!)

    Thanks Elizabeth for inspiring us!

  9. I´m going to change mine by adding your Willy Wonka picture… I laughed out loud in the coffee shop.

  10. Hey guys! Though this is my second year teaching, it is my first year really getting into classroom decor and procedures. Last year I was elementary and travelled to three schools a day. I kept things pretty simple. But I’m teaching Middle/High this year, so I’m trying to step it up a notch.

    I love this blog! I just made up these two syllabi, one for Intro and one for Spanish I. They are both very simple and to the point, I hope they work out okay! If you all have any suggestions I’m up for it! Thanks!

    Spanish I:

    https://magic.piktochart.com/output/17153fe1-3d94-47cd-a705-fb10de975885

    https://magic.piktochart.com/output/d512b572-691c-4013-a0a7-0fc7a3318867

    Intro:

    https://magic.piktochart.com/output/09d6a27b-0462-499c-b1a6-a305d8277afe

  11. Rebecca says:

    I love the idea of making the syllabus more visually appealing because, yes spending a whole day going over routines and what not is not only boring for the students but for me as the teacher as well, especially when you have to repeat it 5-6 more times. What I did last year was a syllabus scavenger hunt. I made a classroom set of syllabi and then a list of the most important questions regarding my syllabus. Some of the questions also made the students get up and walk around the room and look at posters or areas of the room for where to find things. They really seemed to like this activity. Then I just quickly went over the answers at the end to make sure everything was clear.

  12. Logan says:

    Thanks! Very helpful. Could you please explain how the daily points work?

  13. Megan says:

    What programs do you all use to make your syllabi more visually appealing?

    • Piktochart.com. It is not the easiest program in the world to use but they have great layouts and I think in the end it is worth it.

    • Kara says:

      Does anyone know the program that a lot of elementary teachers use to create the super cute “worksheets” with fonts and graphic backgrounds like chevrons and stripes?

      • I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but a lot of them use PowerPoint. It’s much easier to use for that sort of thing than Word. I design most of my stuff in Powerpoint.

    • I do most of my artsy things on my MAC, and I tend to use Publisher. It’s the easiest I’ve found to manipulate where graphics go and when it comes to modifying pictures. I know a lot of people use Powerpoint (especially elementary ed.) but I just can’t figure out how to use it!

  14. Could someone give me suggestions as to what websites you used to create your syllabus?

  15. Sara says:

    I am so excited about this!!!! I am creating a policies handout like the biology example above…in Spanish of course. I will hand that out on the first day and when we start organizing out notebooks on day 2, I will hand out the detailed one I already have (in addition to sharing the Gene Wilder graphic.) Let’s face it, on the first day they only want to know what supplies they need and the grade break-down (as you mentioned in #1.)

  16. Love reading everyone’s ideas for improving their syllabus visually. Very exciting to see examples of creating documents that students might actually want to read or go back and read as opposed to throwing them out after the first day. Wanted to take the opportunity to remind everyone, almost more important than the visual appeal of the syllabus is the message that it is communicating because of the content.

    Your syllabus is your opportunity to communicate with students and parents to let them know what’s important in your class and what do you value.
    – What is the he primary focus in the class?
    – Do you want the students to communicate in the target language?
    – Do your grades reflect what the students are able to do in the target language?

    What would a student say is most important in your classroom after reading your syllabus: communication, performance, grammar, participation, behavior, ….?

    Also think about the language you are using when writing your syllabus. How often are you saying: “I” or “my class” or “don’t” instead of “we” or “our class” or “can do”. As language teachers we know the power of words, so let’s be extra mindful of them in creating our syllabi this year.

  17. I have to thank every person for their great syllabus ideas. I loved the choice of language and how students friendly it becomes, because of it. I took all of your ideas and some of my own and ran with it, and now my syllabi sparkle and pop. Here is what I came up with. By the way, this is the most useful and helpful blog I have found!! DANKE!!!

    http://fhs-trusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1343191602683/1343191518483/5281233826629988926.pdf

    http://fhs-trusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1343191602683/1343191518483/3529696850944160094.pdf

    http://fhs-trusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1343191602683/1343191518483/366813421930924267.pdf

  18. Thank you everyone! I too took many of the ideas presented and modified them for my own purposes. Below is a link to my syllabus for this year. Lots of great ideas.

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B58WiQvpB-UyRGNqbmZZVklKS2c/edit?usp=sharing

  19. Elizabeth Colonna says:

    Love your site!!! Lots of information in creative ways. Thanks/Gracias/Merci

  20. Kara – question on the unit assessment table… I am following the JCPS grading guidelines for performance assessments and it shows that NL for 1B is a D. Do you choose not to show D’s on your syllabi? I am a first year Spanish teacher and trying to create syllabi for Spanish 1, 2 and 3/4 so just wondering how you handle that. I saw on your example of the performance assessment grading you only had A,B,C. Thank you for all of your posts – this blog is amazing!

  21. AM says:

    This is great stuff! I’m trying to make my syllabus more visually appealing, but finding it very difficult using Word. What software or programs did y’all use?

    Thanks for any help

  22. […] teachers take my work and present it as their own.  For example, last summer I competed in the Syllabus challenge by the Creative Language Class and after submitting my syllabus I saw that others submitted had […]

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