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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.