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The course syllabus is often considered to be the most important document in a college course, because it lays down foundational information for your students on the first day of class. As such, the syllabus is the first “College Course Week 1” element discussed in the “Successful Start” workbook and series. [Here’s more information on the series, and here’s the link to the workbook.] Since the workbook covers brainstorming and drafting what elements you need and want in your course syllabus, in today’s post, I’ve provided examples of syllabus elements that I’ve used, along with my commentary on these elements. In today’s video (embedded at the end of this post), I focus on how my students have influenced my syllabus creation process.Since the workbook covers brainstorming and drafting what elements you need and want in your syllabus, in today's post, I've provided examples of syllabus elements that I've used, along with my commentary on these elements. #phdlife Click To Tweet
Course Syllabus Example Elements: Standard and Nonstandard
You might just use the standard title in the course catalog, or you can add your own specific title for your section of the course. Here are a few of my own course titles:
- ENG 170: “Foundation in Literature for Children”
- a standard title (from the catalog), since it’s a prerequisite course for English education majors
- ENG 125: “Literary Narrative: Young Adult Literature”
- “Literary Narrative” is the standard course title in the catalog; “YA Literature” is my addition, to make clear the theme of our specific section of this general education course
- I’ve also used “Children’s and Young Adult Literary Adaptations” as a subtitle for this course
- ENG 101: “Composition as Critical Inquiry”
- Another standard course catalog title
- This past semester, I add “[Multimodal]” to the start of the title, to help contextualize the focus of our section of the course for my students
- ENG 128: “Gender in the Humanities”
- I just used the standard catalog title, then explained our class focus in the course description. [For those interested, we focused on fantasy and sci-fi YA literature, then juxtaposed them with a realism novel and its adaptations (Dumplin‘).]
Instructor & Class Information:
I have always seen this information placed immediately after the title on the syllabus. Definitely key information that you want on the first page, at the very least (if you’re going creative with the course syllabus design, for example, and you have a lot of visual elements taking up space on the page, make sure this information is easy to spot).
Here’s an example:
Instructor: Erika Romero
[Full name, title if you want; include preferred name, if it’s not what you have there already (like “Dr.R” or “You can call me Erika”)]
Course: ENG 170/05
[Course catalog identification, including section number]
Class Times: TR 9:35-10:50
[“R” is commonly used to represent “Thursday”]
Classroom: Hume 225
[Building Name and Room Number (and potentially letter after the number, like 223B)]
Email: [university email address]
Office: Hume 321A
[Building Name and Room Number (and potentially letter after the number, like 242H)]
Office Hours: T 1:30-2:25, R 10:50-12:00, and by appt.
[FYI, different institutions have different requirements for how many office hours you need to have each week.]
Email Hours: 9-10 AM M-F; 7-8 PM M-R
I’d keep this to a paragraph in length. Two at the most. At ISU, the ENG 101 course comes with a standard description to include, so I just use that one.
Here are two that didn’t come via the university:
ENG 170: Foundations in Literature for Children serves as an introduction to various genres of children’s texts for pre-readers and young readers, including picture books, chapter books, series books, novels, poetry, folklore, mythologies, information books, and films at the K-8th grade level. This course includes the study of both canonical and noncanonical texts, with particular focus on both classics and contemporary texts for children.
[The above example is a great one for my point in the workbook about asking others for help in creating your course syllabus. The semester before I was to teach my first ENG 170 course, I asked a fellow PhD student who was further along if I could see her syllabus for this course and potentially a couple assignment sheets from it. She (shoutout to Dr. Amy Hicks!) said, “Of course! I’ll send some materials right away. Use whatever you’d like.” She sent it. I used the course description above and just tweaked it a bit. As I mentioned earlier, this is a required course for education majors. I saw no reason to create a unique one for my first time teaching it when we were all working with the same learning outcomes.]
ENG 128: Gender in the Humanities is described in the course catalog as: “Examination of gender roles, norms, and stereotypes from a broad range of perspectives within humanities across centuries and cultures.” In this section of ENG 128, we will focus on examining gender roles, norms, and stereotypes as they are fictionalized in fantasy and science fiction novels for children and young adults. We will then juxtapose these portrayals of gender ideologies by analyzing a young adult novel and its adaptation that take place in our “real world.”
Through formal and creative projects, we will investigate how gender ideologies (belief and value systems) are portrayed in these fictional works, how these ideologies affect the characters and societies in these novels, and how these novels in turn affect the gender ideologies of the readers and their (our) worlds. To help connect this general education course content to your own studies more closely, each of you will also consider how our class texts can connect to your majors.
[Notice how I start by using the (very short) course catalog description and then veer into one I wrote myself that’s section specific? This move can be a great way of getting you started when drafting the description. Use what’s already there for you and build off of it.]
These aren’t always included in syllabi, but I feel they are a great way to emphasize the main points in your course description. Or, to bring up new points that you didn’t include when keeping the description short.
For my ENG 170 course:
The cumulative emphases of this course include the following goals:
• Cultivate critical thinking and analysis skills through reading and writing about children’s literature
• Examine socio-cultural contexts to analyze children’s literature
• Make critical connections between text and self, text and text, and text and world
• Consider how children’s literature informs and shapes our ideologies about children and childhood
[Again, thank you, Amy Hicks. I just tweaked these a bit, and kept the rest exactly as I had received them.]
From my ENG 128 course:
The cumulative emphases of this course include the following goals:
• Cultivate critical thinking and analysis skills through reading and analyzing children’s and young adult literature
• Learn to examine socio-cultural contexts of fictional texts
• Make critical and creative connections between text and self, text and text, and text and world
• Consider how children’s and young adult literature informs and shapes our ideologies about gender roles, norms, and stereotypes
[Notice the similarities to the last set of goals… 😉 Don’t mess with what already works well.
Also, you might be required to include a section of “learning outcomes” for your courses. In my ENG 101 syllabus, for example, I have a bullet point list of the nine Writing Program learning outcomes right after this section of the syllabus. I don’t include specific learning outcomes in my literature courses, since I include course goals already.]I'm also a big believer in getting students invested in our class by giving them the power to make a lot of choices in our classroom. #edutwitter Click To Tweet
This is easy to write, since it’s just the titles (and potentially authors’ names) of your required texts.
From one section of my ENG 170 course:
The Butter Battle Book
The Secret Garden
Winnie the Pooh
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, 1963
Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust
[Notice I didn’t include author names here. Each of these books will easily pop up correctly when the title is entered into a search engine or Amazon. When I taught Feed, though, I included “MT Anderson” alongside it. Students can see the authors of each required text in their student portal on the ISU website, too. But, for me, it’s easier to just make it convenient for students by including authors in either the course syllabus or on the LMS site.
Side Note: I don’t include the required fairy tales, myths, legends, fables, poems, etc. in this list, because all of those texts are linked to our LMS class page rather than purchased by the students. These digital texts are why I include “internet access” as a requirement in the next section.]
Children’s Movie (we’ll vote on it)
Access to the internet (for HW and assignment submissions)
Access to a library (Milner is enough)
A one-subject notebook and pen
[I use my LMS (learning management system, in case you’re confused by that abbreviation) site every day when teaching. As such, I emphasize the importance of the internet on my syllabus, so students know they need to stay connected with my course online. As for the children’s movie, I’m a big believer that new media texts should be analyzed alongside print texts (hence, a large portion of my dissertation). I’m also a big believer in getting students invested in our class by giving them the power to make a lot of choices in our classroom. See my group project assignment for more on this topic.]
Optional Text and Tools:
This section can be very short or much longer. Or, not exist at all. Mine would only be one line, so I include it in my “Other Requirements” section instead of making it a separate section. I just write:
“Optional: Laptop or Tablet”
[But, this section can also be filled with supplementary readings or other texts and tools that can help students excel in your course. It’s up to you.]
In this section, include the name of the assignment and the amount of the overall course grade it equates to. You can also include a description of the assignment, if you want. [Or, if it’s necessary, like when I teach ENG 101. It’s department policy to include a short description of each assignment in the course syllabus.]
From my ENG 128 course:
Gender Autobiography – 10%
Discussion Leadership Group Project – 20%
Major Connections Presentation – 15%
Literary Analysis Posts – 15%
Creative Project – 20%
Participation – 20%
[As you notice, I keep it pretty vague. This works well if you haven’t fully planned out an assignment that takes place later in the semester. Or, if you just don’t feel the need to get so specific in the title, in case small tweaks are made to your assignments down the line.]
Here’s an example of an assignment description from my ENG 101.10 syllabus, in case you’re wondering how in depth to potentially go with a syllabus assignment description:
Introductory Activity – Writer Autobiography (10%)
For this short assignment, you’ll simply need to answer the question, “What kinds of writing have you done up to this point in your life and how have they influenced who you are as a person and as a student?” This activity is intended as a way for me to get to know your individual experiences and perspectives on writing before we begin diving into our major course units.
[I have a whole blog post about this assignment and how I use it across my courses. But, as you can see here, I kept the description short. Find out if you’re required to include a description. If you do, keep it short. Most students will spend their time reading the assignment sheets (hopefully) rather than the syllabus when looking for information on major assignments.]
This one is simple, since it comes from your college or university. At ISU, there are no +/- grades. So, in my syllabus, this section looks something like this:
- A = 100-90
- B = 89-80
- C = 79-70
- D = 69-60
- F = 59-0
[The only non-standard element I add to the grade breakdown is a short note about whether or not I round up grades. So, something along these lines:
Since I offer multiple extra credit options in this class, I do not round-up grades at the end of the semester.
Once all grades have been entered into the gradebook at the end of the semester, I will round up borderline grades. As such, an 89.5 or higher will round up to a 90, a 79.5 or higher will round up to an 80, etc.
While this notice isn’t required by any means, I like having it explicitly stated in the syllabus for later reference, if necessary.]I added the section about the optional online discussion forums to this policy because I like to give my more introverted students a chance to share their thoughts in a less nerve-wracking way. #teaching Click To Tweet
Side Note: If reading this blog post is giving you tons of ideas and you’re looking for one digital place to put all of them, here are some inexpensive digital journal options that can serve as a great home for all your ideas and plans. [Want to try a free sample?]
As I pointed out in the workbook, these will range in number, form, and content. The next section in the post is about boilerplate policies (ones that you are required to include, using the exact language from the college/university or your department). But for more general policies, you decide what to include. So, here are a few examples of my own, some of which also came from Amy’s syllabus. [I’m telling you, other instructors should be your go-to resources when teaching a specific course for the first time.]
From my ENG 170 course:
This class will be based on discussion with some lecture to supplement and build our foundational knowledge; as such its success will come principally from you. Therefore, participation is an integral element of this class. Come to class each day prepared to discuss the assigned reading. I do not have a formal attendance policy, but not attending class will negatively impact your participation grade. If you aren’t in class, you will be unable to participate in the activities and discussions of the day, which will heavily affect your participation grade.
For those of you who are uncomfortable speaking in class, you should take advantage of the “Discussion Additions” forum on Reggienet [our LMS site]. Posting entries in this forum gives you the opportunity to share the thoughts you had during class discussions with your fellow classmates. For those who wish to continue a thread of discussion from class, this forum is the place to do so. Read through the other entries before posting one of your own, in case another student has brought up a topic that you’d like to consider in more detail.
Note: If you cannot make it to class, you can use the Discussion Additions forum to share your thoughts on that day’s reading(s) with your classmates. Doing this will not completely make up for missing class, in terms of how it will affect your participation grade, but it will help.
[I added the section about the optional online discussion forums to this policy because I like to give my more introverted students a chance to share their thoughts in a less nerve-wracking way. While few students take me up on this option, I still get a few posts a semester via this route, especially when students are absent.]
Through literary analysis, we will discuss topics like politics, gender, race, class, ethnicity, (dis)ability, sexuality, religion, and more. Since we will be doing a fair amount of communal work/discussion in this class, it is imperative that we treat each other with respect. If you do not do so, I will ask you to leave. If I have to ask you to leave, it will negatively affect your participation grade.
Note: Not respecting your classmates and instructor includes using technology, i.e., your smartphone/laptop/whatever, inappropriately.
[My literature courses are always discussion-based. As such, a “respect others” policy is key in my syllabus.]
I do accept late work. However, you will be penalized for turning in work late. Half a letter grade will be deducted for every day the assignment is late. Once 9 days have passed, any late work turned in will receive an automatic 50% (unless further deductions are necessary). If an emergency occurs and you will be unable to turn in an assignment, you should contact me as soon as possible so we can discuss the situation. If you know you will not be in attendance the day something is due, make sure you still turn in the assignment before the deadline. Almost all assignments will be turned in via Reggienet.
Note: Losing a USB drive, or any other technological issue, is not an excuse for late work. If you do not already use a cloud service, I recommend using the Drop Box feature on Reggienet. The Drop Box features guarantees you access to your work as long as Reggienet is working.
[Almost all my assignments are designed to be turned in online. As such, absences aren’t really a big deal when it comes to turning in work. However, I do make sure to add the Drop Box tool to my LMS class sites, so students don’t have to depend on USB drives that can easily lost or forgotten.]
[As I mentioned before, these policies aren’t required for your course syllabus. These also aren’t all the ones I’ve used. A policy about offering feedback on assignment drafts, for example, is another more recent addition to my syllabi.]
Boilerplate Policies and Information:
These policies/statements you will need to ask for from someone in your department. You definitely want to include what’s required of you in the syllabus. Some of the ones I list below might not be required of you, but I still suggest looking up if your college/university has similar policies.
Any student needing to arrange a reasonable accommodation for a documented disability and/or medical/mental health condition should contact Student Access and Accommodation Services at [location], [phone number], or visit the [URL].
Plagiarism is a serious offense, and any act of plagiarism will be treated according to the academic policy of ISU. Please consult ISU’s policy for information about academic honesty at [URL here].
Student Counseling Services at ISU provides students with a variety of support systems to manage everyday life issues. Students can receive help from trained professionals on topics such as individual and group counseling, self-help and assessment, career and life choices, sexual assault, outreach workshops, and help for friends and family. Emergency walk-in service is available at [insert here]. They may also be contacted via phone [number here] or online via [URL].
The Julia N. Visor Academic Center is a division of University College that provides services and programs designed to assist students in their pursuit of academic excellence at Illinois State University. Services and programs include group tutoring in general education courses, one-on-one writing assistance, workshops designed to enhance student study techniques and academic skills, one-on-one academic coaching, a computer lab that provides a quiet and supportive environment for study and the Mary F. English Technology Award program, which provides a new laptop computer and professional development opportunities for selected teacher education majors. Located at [insert here]. Phone [insert], Website [insert].
Diversity Advocacy helps multicultural and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students find their way at Illinois State University through a variety of resources, programs, activities and advising. Diversity Advocacy also works to facilitate a supportive campus environment in which multicultural and LGBT students can flourish academically and socially.
To contact Diversity Advocacy visit [insert here], phone [insert] or email [insert].
The Office of the Dean of Students can provide notification to instructors when students have been/will be absent from class(es) for three or more consecutive days or for absence in the event of a death of a spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, grandparents, grandchild or sibling, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, first cousin, in-law, or step-relative. Call [insert here] if you would like to make use of either of these services.
Sexual Assault Survivor Resources:
All university faculty and staff are mandated by Federal law to report acts of sexual violence/assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual harassment so the University can respond and investigate. Only Student Counseling Services staff and the university psychiatrist are not required to report. Victims of such incidents are free to choose their level of involvement in University and/or police investigations. There is an extensive network of support resources for survivors of such incidents; talking with someone about what happened aids recovery and adjustment. Reporting options: ISU Police 911 or [insert number here]. Non-criminal reporting options: Equal Opportunity Office [phone number here]. Or, [URL]
Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services (Student Counseling Services): [Phone number] or [URL] (free and confidential).
[As I said before, I didn’t write any of these. Look to your college/university for these boilerplate policies and information.]
A Final Note:
This last element was also inspired by Amy’s syllabus example. It’s a quick and potentially powerful addition to the end of your course syllabus. One last signal to your students that you’re there to help, if they just let us know they need or want it.
If you find that you are falling behind or are having difficulty understanding course concepts, talk to me (either during my office hours, by making an appointment to see me, or via email). Keep in mind that face-to-face interactions tend to more quickly resolve issues, but any communication with me about these kinds of issues is better than none.
[As you noticed in this post, Amy provided me with a lot of helpful resources when I was first starting out in teaching at ISU. Feel free to use the examples I include in this post for your own syllabi (though not the boilerplate information, because that should come from your institution). Including a source credit in a footnote or something similar in your syllabus or LMS site would be lovely. But, I’m just happy to share with others who are working on their syllabi. I have a whole blog category of assignment examples, so check that out if you want some more ideas. I also have a full page devoted to each course I’ve taught, too, and you can find those via my “Teach” page]
More about Creating Your Own Course Syllabus:
Here’s today’s video, where I discuss some more specifics about my syllabus example elements and discuss how my students have influenced certain elements.
Here’s another blog post ALL about creating a course syllabus and sharing it with your students: Cult of Pedagogy’s “How to Write a Syllabus.”
Next time, on “Successful Start”…
If you haven’t watched the syllabus video yet (it’s right there!), make sure to find some time to do so. Then, go ahead and start working on creating your syllabi by going through that section of the workbook (if you haven’t already completed it). When the next post and video goes live (Friday, July 12th), we’ll move on to discussing the course schedule. But, I’ll still keep up with any comments left on the syllabus post and video. So, definitely let me know if you have any questions.
And, if you post about your progress using social media, use the hashtag #SSDYFWC so I can follow along and cheer you on!