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All Places > The English Community > Bedford Bits > Blog > 2015 > July > 02

How many times have you said or written “It’s on the syllabus”? I’m tempted to dismiss those exchanges with a frustrated laugh. Those darned kids, right? But I’m a writer, so I can’t just ignore that implicit feedback from my readers. When students ask these questions, they are either letting me know that


  1. they didn’t read the syllabus.
  2. they can’t find information on the syllabus.


Those are both rhetorical problems. I’m not communicating with my audience. I never hear them say it, but I am pretty sure that when they see the wall of text that is my course website, they think, “tl;dr.” That’s “too long; didn’t read,” for those of you not up on textspeak.


In response, I am rethinking the site and adding more visual cues. I already had lots of headings, bulleted lists, and the like. That’s not enough. Students are still stumbling around, unable to find the information. I decided to try more of an infographic-style, with charts, framed pull-outs, and related images.


Here’s a before-and-after version of the page I have put the most time into so far. This is the design for the Assignments overview page from Spring semester:


This is the new design for the Assignments overview page for my Summer II section:

Kind of a big difference, huh? I am still struggling a bit with the design and layout. I am working with HTML and CSS to make the layout, so what might be a simple layout arrangement in Word or InDesign is a bit more challenging to pull off in a WordPress post. Beyond that, there’s the time requirement. I have spent at least a day reworking that page, tweaking things and trying different options. I think it’s worth it, but I am not sure I will have time to revise the entire site before classes start on July 7. I’m working on it though, and I’ll keep you posted on student response.


I would love to hear some feedback from you as well. Do you have suggestions for improving the site? What strategies do you try for making you syllabus and course information more reader-friendly? Share some ideas by leaving me a comment or dropping by my page on Facebook or Google+.

Now that my grandnieces Audrey (11) and Lila (7) are out of school for the summer, they are engaged in all manner of activities: Camp (the sleepover kind!), hip hop and tap, volleyball, and, of course, reading. Their school has a voluntary summer reading program, and for the last few years, Audrey has been one of the top readers, gaining mysterious points for every book read. This year, Lila will be joining her, and she’s reading up a storm too. As near as I can tell, their public school offers suggestions, but pretty much lets them read whatever they want. They both love the Dork Diaries books, and Audrey is deeply into The Babysitter volumes while Lila any books about animals.

Such programs are going on all over the country in elementary schools. But there are also dozens (if not hundreds) of beyond-school programs to get kids reading. It seems like everyone—from public libraries, to Barnes & Noble and Half Price Books, to Chuck E. Cheese, Pizza Hut, and Pottery Barn—is offering some kind of activity (online or in-person) for kids who want to read—or who can be cajoled to read. My little girlies are at camp right now but have promised to send me their summer reading lists when they get home. In the meantime, I’m wondering how much writing they are going to be doing along with their reading—and I wonder too if writing is involved in the programs listed above. I hope a lot. I have found some programs that focus on writing as well as reading, such as Scholastic, on whose site teachers offer writing activities, including the use of Kidblog, daily writing prompts, and writing journals. The Summer Reading at New York Public Libraries offers “Reading and Writing Fun,” where kids are invited to become storytellers, reporters, and more; and Start with a Book balances the focus on reading with writing activities like Create a Poetree, Review It, Explain It, and Write to Your Favorite Author.

Perhaps schools across the country are inviting and encouraging young students to write as well as to read over the summer. If so, I’m very glad, since we all know that writing muscles atrophy just like any others if they’re not used. If Audrey and Lila don’t seem to be writing a lot, I plan to cook up some fun writing activities and games for them. So if you have any to recommend, or any information about outstanding summer reading AND writing programs, please let me know.