Maybe it being in the syllabus is not enough?

A common complaint from those involved in English education in Korean universities is that students just don’t read the syllabus. Instructors complain, “Every term it is the same thing. These kids, fresh out of high school, first time not having their hands held, have no idea how to learn and no idea what education is all about. They are too lazy or too stupid to read the fucking syllabus.” The thing that most catches my eye here, even more than denigrating students or the complete lack of responsibility, is the “every time” bit. If it happens every time maybe their is something the instructor can do? Maybe there is something the instructor can learn from this biannual stressfest. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” right?


I like to think if something so incensed me I’d take some measures to prevent it. I think spending 10-20 minutes on the most important points in the syllabus (whilst being leery of too much telling time) is better than continually bitching about how students just don’t get it. I think giving students a chance and a reason to see what is on the syllabus is better than unbunching my panties every time students miss or forget something that is on the syllabus.

Rather than just looking down on people for getting angry about the wrong things I will share a few ideas to prevent what is now known as the ‘It’s in the fucking syllabus headache.” I am not suggesting any of these ideas are groundbreaking but they might be helpful for those at wit’s end. I want to emphasize there is something you can do. What can you do?

go ahead and read the syllabus

  1. Let it go
    We cannot control everything. Our time on this earth is limited. It is not worth losing sleep or pulling your hair out. Students missing something in the syllabus is not an indictment of your character or a referendum on Ss’ respect for you. It is a thing that happens sometimes, so let it go.
  2. Write and negotiate the syllabus as you go
    Probably the most controversial on the list and perhaps not possible in many contexts. Geoff Jordan shares some thoughts on the negotiated syllabus here. I think teachers often feel pressured to lay out everything well in advance (perhaps to show how professional and organized they are?) but I wonder how much of this pressure really exists. I also wonder if it is easy enough in most situations to call the schedule “tentative” or “subject to change” and roll with it from there. I honestly don’t know how much latitude most teachers have with this. I sometimes get the impression teachers think the syllabus is a legally binding contract and something they cannot deviate from. I do again realize that depending on the context there might be no wiggle room.

    why do i even write a syllabus

  3. Work with true or false statements about the details of the course
    This is something I have done many times. I just make a series of statements about the course and how it will be run. Students have to decide if the statement are true or false. Ss can discuss with a partner before the big reveal from the teacher. An additional wrinkle is to print out these statements on slips of paper and have students place the statements in piles for true of false. I might just give the answers or I might add some more details. I might give time for questions or emphasize that all the additional relevant information is, in fact, in the syllabus. The thing I like about this T/F business is that I can highlight the points I want Ss to see. I also think the chance to get it wrong and then find the right answer makes it more memorable.
  4. Assess syllabus knowledge
    Give a quiz in the second (or some other early) week of class. Ask SS about information found in the syllabus. You can tell students in advance you will do this. You can even count the score as part of Ss’ overall score. You don’t have to. Again, this is a way to focus students’ attention on what the instructor thinks is important and add a little more encouragement to engage with the syllabus.
  5. Ss create tasks for each other based on info in the syllabus
    This is a variation on .the above. They key point is that the syllabus (or parts of it) is in students’ hands and they are doing stuff with it. One nice move i have seen before involved teachers dividing the syllabus into sections and having students create worksheets for their classmates based on their section. An idea along the same lines is to simply jigsaw the syllabus and have students  explain their sections to each other. Of course you could mix and match with the above ideas, too.

You might be saying, “These are all ok, if not terribly new or exciting, ideas but I just don’t have time for this crap. I have things to cover and content to go over and I just can’t invest them time!” To this I’d say, “Fair enough, but surely if students not checking the syllabus is annoying enough you will want to do something!” I wonder if readers have any suggestions to make it more clear that the syllabus is a resource while helping students get the information they need about the course.


    • mikecorea

      Hey Mura,
      Thanks very much for sharing the shadow syllabus. Wow that was great. Really worth reading. I am also flattered you think I could attempt something like that! Maybe I will give it a try. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and sharing this.

  1. wafamiqdad

    this issue of not reading the syllabus or rather not reading anything, for that matter,prevails all around the world. Be it in UK, US or UAE, the students never read the syllabus or assignments kept asking questions over and over again. Our lecturers and professors are used to this kind of a behavior that they would usually write up the points and reminders on the whiteboard. Some of us who actually read felt annoyed but there was noting we could if the majority of the students refused to open their books and read. We would just sit at the back and enjoy!!

    • mikecorea

      Hello and thanks for the comments. I think you make a good points about students about students around the world. It is always easy to think that this is just a problem in our own context.
      I think your make an interesting point about teachers potentially annoying the students who paid attention the first time when they have to repeat things or go slowly. I am glad you were able to enjoy it because I am not sure if I would as a student. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Godzilla or Spock? The First Day of Class - DreamreaderDreamreader
  3. Georgeanna

    What if the teacher made a video of the syllabus [and then did something with that]? (Using, say, a really nicely designed slideshow with background music and perhaps a little narration?). By “a really nicely designed slideshow,” I don’t mean one with lots of bullet points, but with images..sort of like a Pecha Kucha, perhaps.

  4. JeroenRoot

    Thanks for sharing! #4 – A quiz would certainly encourage ‘noticing’ the syllabus, but I would keep the number of items down to the most important things you would like to highlight. I’m also concerned it could be perceived as patronising to adult learners. Perhaps a non-threatening pair activity where students go through the syllabus together while taking turns prompting each other, “What’s this about?” would help?

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