Simpatico Syllabus

Some progressive educators go all in and have their classes collaboratively develop the reading list for a course. Traditionalists usually hand out the syllabus, ask if there are any questions, and then find themselves saying “It’s on the syllabus!” many times throughout the semester. I’m always aiming for a dynamic that responds to most of my students’ requests for clear structure, while also framing the process as a discourse-based exchange rather than a top-down transmission of ironclad facts.


This year, I greeted students with a very built-out syllabus. I did not read it to them in the rushed pace of a pharmaceutical warning. Instead, they took 15 minutes to read through it with a neighbor with the following prompts in mind:

  1. What do you like the most?
  2. What do you dislike the most (or have questions about)?
  3. What do you think is missing?

How did students feel about being asked to critique their professor on the first day of class? Fine! It seemed to create an atmosphere the students and I both felt comfortable with. They were vocal about the positives (always a good feeling) and I was able to clarify certain details (like that the workload description wasn’t the only description of assignments they’d be getting).

I’ll keep making space for check-ins about learning goals, assignment schedules, and reading load throughout the semester. My hope is that, having had this initial conversation, students will feel more comfortable being open about how things are going as we chug along into the chills of October and November’s inevitable craze.

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