How do you organize your course syllabus?

Video created by Elizabeth Uva Employee on Oct 16, 2015

    Sommers: On the first day of class, I want students to forget that it's a required writing course.  They're all coming in, it's a required course, they're, you know, shuffling in, and I need to create the fiction for that one hour that this is not a required course.  This is a course they wanted to take more than any other course that they could take that semester.  So I want to do that, and I also want very much to in some way give them a preview of what's going to happen in the semester.


    Bartholomae: I've learned over time that it's a prudent teacher who organizes a course so that at the end of 14 weeks, people feel pretty good about their writing.  So that you work, you know, if there's a unit where you're really working pretty hard to make their writing fall apart, let's say, because much of my teaching is to students who want the writing to be tidy, and I want it to not be so tidy.  So I'm very much working at making writing much harder and more problematic for them.  So that even the revisions in that first third of the course, let's say, are opening things up. I mean, I'm most happy when they're really making more mistakes than they've ever made because they're trying to do things that they can't yet control.  Then I know that something's happening in this course.  And if there's a second third, I want to continue to do that, but I want them to feel the power now in their ability to think beyond what are the sort of convenient and comfortable limits of their sentences and essays and paragraphs.  And at the end I want them to feel their achievement, so the last part of the course I really am having them now work to produce something they can take as a statement, something that they can be pretty pleased to show somebody else, that has some length, that's far from where they ever would have begun.


    Powell: When I think about designing a particular course or a syllabus, I have to have a metaphor for it.  I have to have an image in my mind of what the shape of it looks like.  For me, it's hardly ever a straight line.  It's weird things, like flower petals or quilts or boxes inside boxes.  And when I talk to students about that, finding that metaphor for me is finding a center to the course.  Sometimes it's the course title.  Where I teach the courses are themed courses in American Studies and in writing, so the title helps you get to a center.  Sometimes it's a local event, a local history project, work in the community, a topic we're going to investigate together, and that center, then, becomes a way for me to sort of layer in assignments and events and activities and open space for us to reflect.  And then that sort of gets overlain with outcomes.  I do think of it as sort of putting something together that's like a collage and leaving enough space in it for students to be able to direct it as we're inside it.  But I have to have the metaphor.  I can't just sort of lay things out on a calendar grid and think of them developmentally.  I like to think about the relationship.