With so many different types of learners in classrooms, possibly one of the easiest organizational tools a teacher can implement is the class syllabus. It provides a solid communication for students who like to plan ahead in the long-term, and it supports short-term planners when they need to take a quick look at their schedules. And it benefits the teacher, who can at least have a strong estimate of the curriculum plan and expectations for the year. But because it is typically offered at the beginning of a semester or course, it has to have some flexibility built into it whenever there needs to be a fast pivot, due to changing circumstances.
What’s a Syllabus?
A syllabus is simply a communication tool that allows students the opportunity to review classroom curriculum, provides expectations for classroom behavior such as policies and procedures, and provides timelines for assessments. It will often provide a list of required texts, any course materials, and sometimes supplemental readings.
A strong syllabus may even lay out the conceptual framework for the course, ranging from varying philosophies to expert voices in the fields.
Fortunately, when designing a syllabus, there is no dictated model to follow; in other words, an educator can design the syllabus anyway he or she desires. They range from a standard one-page model to an in-depth multiple page color example. Some people get extremely creative while others want to focus on a basic communication of information.
So, what are the syllabus components? And why are they important? To begin, a course description should be included in one’s syllabus. The course description gives a complete picture of the course content. It defines the focus of the semester or year for the learner.
One of the most important aspects of a syllabus deals with the course objectives. These outline the overall learning goals of the course. They should not be the unit-by-unit objectives but more global in their description. Objectives can be formed into essential questions, they can be philosophical in design, or can be naturally pedagogical. Either way, these are a mandatory component in any strongly designed syllabus.
Another element featured in many syllabi focuses on required texts for the course. Some teachers may only include the required readings, while others like to include supplemental readings for students, as well as pre-requisites for a course or those texts that should have been covered prior to the current course. And depending on the nature of the course, some teachers will include the necessary materials to complete the course, ranging from specific types of notebooks to complete sets of art supplies. Labeling these types of texts and materials in a syllabus also enhances the expectations regarding content of the course.
At any level of instruction, rules and regulations are an integral part to designing a syllabus. Educators must be strategic about which rules and regulations are included; every little rule and regulation should not be covered. The instructor should focus on the most important ones to be followed, such as “The Big Three” or “The Famous Five.” Better yet, in some of the more successful designs, allowing students to help create some rules supports the empowerment and accountability of students in their own classrooms (they should not create all of them but can help with one or two that they perceive as important).
Assessment and grading procedures are vital to students who are reviewing the course. Some educators incorporate assessment timelines to highlight not only the types of assessments they will be implementing but how often, which helps learners understand the design of the course and how many chances they will have to be successful. These may include every single assessment broken down into categories of weighting, number of total points, percentages, and sometimes connections to students’ lives, in order to convey the level of attainability for success. This section can also include a schedule of assignments.
Finally, other elements of a syllabus may include participation descriptions (how one plans on evaluating participation in activities), instructor extras (if someone is interested in sharing his or her own connections to the course or background knowledge), tips for studying (anything that helps a student prepare for the course), and other valuables resources as determined by the teacher.
How to Write a Class Syllabus
In order to get started on writing a syllabus, one needs to have a complete curriculum in hand, a calendar, course resources physically available rather than as a list, and anything else deemed important by the educator. One should keep in mind there are templates available for creating syllabi, though designing one’s own is more meaningful and original. As well, determine the digital format, whether it is through Microsoft Word, Google Documents, etc.
- Begin with instructor/classroom details, such as course title, days meeting, times of course, other important details
- Add in course descriptions
- Include objectives of the course
- Required or pre-requisite texts and materials (save the supplemental readings for the end of the document)
- Rules, regulations, policies
- Assessment procedures and content development
- Any other creative elements needed to outline the course
Incorporating a syllabus into one’s classroom is an essential requirement toward building a successful student. It conveys organization and structure, forms a type of “contract” with the student who accepts the challenge of the course, shows educator professionalism, and relieves some stress for both the student and teacher because they have details regarding the upcoming plan. Avoid any chastising or criticizing language and begin the course on an optimistic note. Always keep in mind that what one creates will enhance the first impression of anyone entering the classroom, so the more detailed and creative, the better.