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Creating a syllabus is an essential step in preparing for the first week of teaching a college class. But once you know what topics, activities, and texts you WANT to include in your college course, the next step is to figure out if you have the TIME to devote to all that material. As such, the second part of my “Successful Start” series focuses on structuring a college course schedule. In the workbook, I go over my step-by-step process of brainstorming what to include in a course and drafting a full course schedule. Drafting a course schedule that actually has enough time allotted for everything that needs to be covered (or that you want to cover) is an essential step in preparing to teach a new course. In today’s post, I provide four examples of course schedules I’ve created. Let’s take a look behind the scenes of designing these documents.So, keep your syllabus as concise as possible, and keep your first week course schedule as just a one page document. #AcademicTwitter Click To Tweet
Basic Design Elements of a College Course Schedule
When creating my course schedules, a key element I focus on is designing a schedule that fits on one page. It’s the first week of class and students are getting thrown a lot of information about all their courses. They are going to need to take a breather and look at the materials again outside of class. I want my documents to be top of mind for them as quick and easy information to review.
I don’t want them to go back to their dorm room and think, “Well Erika’s documents were so long that they’ll take forever to go through. I’ll do that later when I have more time.”
Instead, I want them to think, “Erika’s course schedule was super short. Only one page. Might as well go over that one first. It’ll be quick.”
Now, whether it’s actually a quick process to look through my materials depends on the student. The key here is having them assume my course materials won’t take long to look through, so they feel less inclined to put off reading them on their own time.
Sure, plenty of students won’t bother with reviewing the first week materials on their own time. But, for those who will, you want them to think positively about your course documents. So, keep your syllabus as concise as possible, and keep your first week course schedule as just a one page document. You can create more detailed unit schedules later on, if you’d like, but for day one, simple is best.
What do I include in my course schedule? Here’s a list of essentials:
My Three Column Chart Design:
You can see examples of this design below. But basically, the chart has three columns and seventeen rows. Note: If you’re not on a semester schedule, your row number will differ.
- Weeks/Class Days
- Perhaps you just want to label each row by week number, like “Week 1.” Or, you can include exact class dates, like “August 19, 21, 23,” if you teach a MWF class.
- Class Topics
- You can include very vague information here, or very specific. For example, next to “Week 1” you might just write, “Introductory Activities.” Or, you can write, “Syllabus, Schedule, Icebreakers, & Assessments.”
- Remember, you want the chart to fit on one page, so don’t get too wordy in this second column.
- Due Dates for Major Assignments
- I bold some deadlines, too, to make them really stand out.
- Since some of my assignments include a lot of optional deadlines, I bold the deadlines that are the same for everyone, and keep the other ones in regular font.
- Including times in this section might be necessary, if your assignments aren’t turned in during class time.
- One row for each week, including finals week
This chart is easy to create using Microsoft Word, Excel, Google Spreadsheets, etc. You can also use the blank table I provide in the workbook.
My Short Announcements:
Underneath my course schedule chart, I often include a few bullet points of information for my students. For example, if the time deadline for all my major assignments is midnight (or 11:59 PM to avoid confusion), then I can just add that information underneath the chart, rather than constantly repeating it in the due dates column. I also disclaim that changes might be made to the schedule, but I’ll let them know in class if anything is changing.The key here is having them assume my course materials won't take long to look through, so they feel less inclined to put off reading them on their own time. Click To Tweet
Course Schedule Examples
Okay. Time to give you some actual examples of course schedules I’ve made and used for my various courses. I’m including two literature courses and two writing courses in this portion of the post, since they offer a good variety of the types of courses I’ve taught. The first course is a prerequisite for English Education majors. The second course is a general education course that is taken by students across all types of majors. The final course is the required composition course for Freshman students, which I’ve taught in two very different ways. So, a range of courses, though you’ll notice plenty of similarities between my course schedules.Basically, if something outside the norm is happening on specific days of your class schedule, include that information in your course schedule. #PhDLife Click To Tweet
ENG 170: Foundations in Literature for Children
I used this course as an example quite a few times in my syllabus example elements blog post. You can also see a more detailed description of the course, if you’re interested. In the specific section of the course shown below, I had already started dividing the reading load into two class sessions per novel, rather than having them read a whole novel before discussing it in class.
Take a look at the schedule first, then I’ll offer a few comments on this particular design:
Literary Analysis Posts and Group Projects:
As you can see in my “due dates” column, the literary analysis posts (L.A. Posts) and group projects were due pretty consistently throughout the semester. I didn’t bold those deadlines because students submitted them in a staggered manner. I like taking this approach to major assignment designs in order to decrease how much grading I need to do at any one time (which makes grading much faster). [I also prefer to grade holistically, BTW.] It also gives students the power of choice, which I find gets them more invested in the activities.
In the second column, I include chapter numbers next to the book titles so that whatever edition students use, they know how much they need to read before they enter class on a certain day. I also say “Front Cover” and “Back Cover” rather than starting with chapter one and stopping with the final chapter. That’s because I discuss and analyze paratextual content with my students. It’s not just about the written narrative. It’s about the novel as a physical whole.
If you’re assigning sections of reading material, make sure to verbally go over this element of the schedule in class. For example, I emphasize that they have to read the first section of the novel before arriving in class on the first day of the week. They have to finish the second section before the second class day. While your schedule might seem easy to read to you, your students might feel differently. Even if it’s just one or two students, take the time to go over the schedule in class during week one (or whenever you go over a unit schedule, if that’s your preferred method).
If any of your classes fall on a national holiday, then class is likely cancelled on that day. So, make sure that’s clear on your schedule. I include that information in the first column. If you know you’ll be at a conference during a class day and you’ve decided to cancel class rather than finding a substitute instructor, make that clear in the your chart. If you’re not meeting in class during finals week, make that VERY clear to your students.
Basically, if something outside the norm is happening on specific days of your class, include that information in your course schedule.
ENG 128: Gender in the Humanities
This course is a general education course with a very vague course catalog description. As such, I taught it as a young adult literature course with a focus on gender and gender-related topics. You’ll notice a lot of overlap between this course schedule design and the one I’ve included above. However, there are a couple differences I want to point out.
Literary Analysis Posts:
Just a small difference, but an important one: In the bullet point list underneath the chart, I emphasize that students must complete at least one literary analysis post before spring break. As a gen ed course, students tend to be less interested in the topic of the course. To help mitigate getting all the required posts during the last few weeks of class, I require that students complete at least one before the halfway mark of the semester. Make your grading life less stressful whenever you can. This requirement is one way I help myself.
Symmetry and Asymmetry:
In my ENG 170 course schedule, I didn’t feel the need to add too much detail in the “due dates” column because the assignments were due in a symmetrical fashion. Group 1 presented on the first half of the first novel. L.A. Post 4 was due by class time on that same day. [L.A. Posts 1-3 were about short texts that we read before the novels.] Group 2 presented on the second half of the first novel. L.A. Post 5 was due by class time on that same day. Once we began reading and analyzing the novels, this pattern remained the same. One group project due each class period. One L.A. post due each class period.
But, in my ENG 128 course, I divided the reading into three sections, rather than two. Instead of confusing myself and my students by starting to read new novels midweek, but only during some weeks, I just created a new activity that took place during the fourth day of each novel unit. So, two weeks per novel. The first three days we discussed the novel. The fourth day students presented their major connection project.
I designed this course to be more symmetrical than usually possible for a three session reading structure. Still, I wanted the structure to be clear to students, so I added more details to the “due date” column. By labeling the deadlines with “T” and “R” and giving them their own lines in the chart, the breakdown of these deadlines is much clearer when looking at the course schedule.
Literature Course Schedule Wrap Up:
So, the above two examples are from two very different literature courses that I’ve taught. You likely noticed, though, that the schedules have a lot of similarities. These connections are one reason I like designing my course schedules as charts. I can easily save new copies semester after semester, and just change whatever content needs to be updated for the new course. I don’t have to keep creating a new chart from scratch. I just revise an old one.
ENG 101: Composition as Critical Inquiry
I taught two very different versions of ENG 101 this past academic year. One took the more traditional approach of having three units with different genres that scaffolded on top of one another. The second focused on multimodal composition and included mini units of sub-genres that connected to our umbrella genre. The course schedules of these two different sections, then, had a lot of similarities and differences.
Traditional Course Design:
This section of ENG 101 was actually a section of ENG 101.10. In this version of the required writing course, students opt in for additional assistance with their writing because they don’t feel confident in their writing ability. Along with my two, 75-minute class sessions every week, I had a wonderful M.A. student who acted as a consultant and hosted two additional 50-minute sessions each week. The 18 students in the course were divided into two sections, so that Emad (my consultant) worked with 9 students at a time during each session.
With this demographic of students, I felt a more traditional approach to a writing course would benefit them the most. As such, I scaffolded the major assignments into three units, with each unit providing essential information for the next unit. In each unit, students turned in multiple assignment elements. I talk more about that approach to assignment design and grading in this video. But, basically, we spent a lot of time in class drafting, workshopping, peer reviewing, and self-assessing.
Note: Unlike with my literature courses, the major assignment deadlines are all bolded. Since all my students turned in their assignments at the same time, I made sure to leave as much room as possible between deadlines, so I had more time to grade and students had more time to integrate the feedback into future assignments.
During the eighth week of this course, I cancelled one class session (the Tuesday session) so that students could meet with me one-on-one to discuss their second unit and the class as a whole. If possible, I highly recommend meeting with your students 1-1 at least once during a semester. It’s much easier to learn how well students are understanding the course material by speaking to them one at a time, in private.
Check with your department to see if they have certain rules about canceling class in order to have individual conferences. My conferences are 30 minute sessions, so with 18 students, that’s a lot of the week taken up by conference time. I only cancel one class in exchange because I want students to have as much time in class as possible working on their materials. But, you might cancel two classes in exchange, as even that still leaves a lot of extra time you are devoting to your students.
Multimodal Course Design:
Finally, one last point I want to make about course schedules is how to avoid overbooking your class time with a lot of topics and activities. When I taught this multimodal version of ENG 101, I left three weeks open to go over the process of setting up free, private blogs using WordPress. We had plenty of time to go through the set-up process, troubleshoot, and experiment during those three weeks.
Could we have done it in less time? Yes. But, I had no way of knowing how tech savvy my students would be before the semester began. So, I gave us plenty of time for set up and just made sure that I picked sub-genres that would not take long amounts of time to research, write, and revise.
If you feel very uncertain about what skills and knowledge your students will have when they enter your classroom, leave a little extra room in your schedule for taking more time to explain or practice. If this is your first time teaching a college course, I HIGHLY recommend taking a less-is-more approach to designing your course schedule. You can add small, beneficial activities where necessary. Cutting out a whole major project is much harder.If you feel very uncertain about what skills and knowledge your students will have when they enter your classroom, leave a little extra room in your schedule for taking more time to explain or practice. #teach Click To Tweet
What Happens After You Design the Course Schedule?
To end this post, I want to offer some guidance on what comes after you create your course schedule. [Remember, the workbook has a step-by-step guide for creating the type of schedules seen above.] As you notice in the examples above, the course schedule you include as part of your week one materials can be pretty vague as far as specific class activities and supplementary readings are concerned. Of course, you can create in-depth schedules for week one if you want to, or you can do the reverse and only give students a unit one schedule during the first week.
But, for me, I recommend creating a basic course schedule to start with. Then, move on to creating your schedule for the first month of class (or for your first unit, if that’s the design approach you use). You don’t have to share this detailed schedule with your students, by the way. I actually recommend not doing so, as you will likely tweak it a lot as each day passes and you get a better sense of how much you are able to cover in each class period.
Here’s an example of what I mean. And you can access this template and a few others in this free digital notebook.
Having the first month/unit planned out before I taught my first course really helped calm my nerves about teaching for the first time. Sure, I tweaked this plan often when actually teaching the course (depending on topics that interested students most or skills that they needed extra help with), but having a ready-to-go lesson plan was a great safety net for me. [Here are five ideas for structuring a week of class.]
You might be a “pantser” rather than a “planner” like me. Still, having a basic outline of your class activities sooner rather than later can definitely be helpful for anyone who also stresses about being prepared.
Next Up, on “Successful Start”…
Have you watched the course schedule themed YouTube video yet? If not, here it is. I talk more about how my students have inspired my course designs, especially in regard to reading and grading pacing. I’ve structured the video as a list of students’ likes and dislikes, as they’ve influenced my designs with their positive and more constructive feedback .
Next week, it’s all about icebreakers. I include seven examples in the workbook. But, I’ll talk more about my personal experiences with them and offer a few more ideas in next week’s blog post.
If you post about your course schedule drafting progress using social media, use the hashtag #SSDYFWC so I can follow along and cheer you on!