Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sprucing up the syllabus

original by Steven Depolo via Flickr license
The first day of school can be so rough on kids. Too often we teachers spend all day doing administrivia--syllabus reading, folder organization, seat assignments, tech setups--which is why, for years, I've spread out those tasks over the first couple of weeks. I cringe when I think about my first day as a baby teacher -- I read the syllabus aloud to every class for 5 periods! It was a four-page document full of text! How terrible is that? Thankfully that was ages ago, and I've learned from my mistakes. But one thing seemed not to have changed since then: that four-page, text-heavy syllabus, full of rules and procedures and explanations. It was time for the syllabus to get a makeover.

I wrote a post in August about using Piktochart to create images for my class rules. I like Piktochart so much that I decided to do my syllabi with it too, though I had considered Canva as well. (By the way, I owe original inspiration for the infographic syllabus to @SraSpanglish, who has posted about infographic syllabi recently.)

My one critique of Piktochart is that the learning curve is a little steep. It took a decent amount of time to create my first infographic. To be fair, some of that was figuring out what I was going to put on it, since I started at a new school this fall and am teaching all new classes. But once I created my first syllabus, I could just save a copy and adapt the copy for a different course.

Here are my three syllabi (although, come to think of it, they're more like course overviews than actual syllabi, since they don't explain in detail the topics covered in each course). You can click on the links below to see them on the Piktochart website.

On the first day of class, after we'd done a variety of communicative activities, I projected the image for the class on the screen or TV or whiteboard (depending on the room -- ahhh, the joys of having multiple classrooms) and the students took a little time to read through it. I gave mini-explanations when needed. These images are on my website, too, with additional information to elaborate on some of the components of the course overview (the grading system and classroom culture in particular). I also had the students complete a checklist of tasks as they explored my website, so that I could be sure that they could navigate it and find whatever they need. 

My school seems to have a routine of handing out a "prospectus" (which is just another word for course overview, I think) on paper and having all students sign it, so, being a newbie, I did that too, but honestly it seemed like overkill. Plus, I left out a page when I was copying, and none of the kids even told me! Further proof that they don't really read those things at all. My brainwave for the next trimester, when my classes change and I have to write new overviews, is to have ALL of the information found in the prospectus available on my website, and then have kids explore the website and sign off that they've read and understood it all. 

How do you make back-to-school administrivia more student-friendly? 


  1. That's a major improvement from the syllabi (syllabuses is more fun to say though) I was given in school! These are awesome Katherine.

    1. Thanks, Jared! Both for reading and for the positive feedback :)