Opinions Strategies

Swine and syllabuses

"Hey, Pig Feeder" by Paul Stevenson on Flickr

I was feeling pretty good about myself last fall. I had used Adobe Photoshop to whittle my six-page syllabus down to an eye-catching, colorful one-pager. I posted my creation on Twitter and immediately received several retweets from other teachers expressing their compliments and desires to revise their own. 135 photocopies later and I was ready to share it with my students. I knew they would be just as impressed. After all, this was something different!

Turns out, it was lipstick on a pig.

I should have known. I mean, what had really changed? My syllabus may have looked fancy, but I was still delivering the information in the same way, i.e. in a class-long lecture about policies, procedures, and course content. In other words, I continued to provide my students with an opportunity to tune out while I talked. Granted, I worked in a couple discussion activities to develop our class norms, but that was it. One month later and I was answering student questions about class policies that were clearly stated in my syllabus.

This is when I realized that the traditional class syllabus–you know, the one created by the teacher–is pointless.

So next year, I’m trying something different: my students are going to make their own.


I’ve realized that my students should be brainstorming the questions they should be asking whenever they walk into a new class. They should be curious how a class will build upon the skills they practiced the previous year. They should wonder how my policies might differ from those of other teachers and why that is important. I’ll happily answer these questions, and they will be responsible for putting that information in their own words–typed in a mostly-blank Google Drawing–where they can bold, italicize, and highlight what is most important to them. As an added bonus, this will serve as a great GAFE refresher and lead my students into some of the other creative tasks they will complete throughout the year.

It’s important to keep in mind that I haven’t tried this before, so I may find myself rethinking this activity in another blog post next year. But it seems logical: we want our students to think, and the traditional teacher-created syllabus does little to encourage that. Regardless of how sexy it looks, it still stinks.

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    • Hi, Robin! I felt that my students were MUCH more prepared to use Google Apps once we finished with the project, which made for a much easier launch into the “English-side” of the curriculum (although I would argue it’s all relevant and authentic). Things I would change? My students didn’t go as deep with asking questions about the class as I hoped they would, so I’d probably do some more planning, group discussion, and writing out the “syllabus blurbs” before assembling the final product. I think they got too wrapped up in the tech challenges when I tried doing it all at the same time.