I am teaching a class for the first time and was assigned pretty close to the start of the semester. I started with the previous instructors syllabus and asked my students “What would you like to change on the syllabus?” I was saddened by the scared response of the students to even suggest that something should be changed. Even if it was my syllabus, which it was not, why would students feel afraid to give suggestions?
My Syllabus, My Rules
Pretty much every class I have taken has given out the syllabus. There it is. Take it. Memorize it. Be prepared to hear “It was in the syllabus” if I do anything wrong. Heaven forbid I ask a question that was covered on the syllabus.
Handing out the syllabus us authoritarian.
Student Centered or Teacher Centered Classroom?
Definitely in my early years of teaching I had a teacher centered model. First day of school I talk about myself. I talked about the class rules. It was me outlining the class expectations. I definitely gave the impression the first day of school that this is MY classroom.
Take Responsibly For Your Learning
Here is a phrase I have heard a lot:
“Students should take responsibility for their own learning.”
I’ve always thought that was weird. They have very little control over their learning beyond following directions. “You get out of it what you put into it.” I hate that phrase. It assumes a high level of self discipline that most adults do not have, let alone children. I’d love to take responsibility for my learning, but true motivation for learning does not come from wanting to get a good grade. Wanting to get a good grade results in a high level of compliance.
If we want students to take risks and really take responsibility for their learning then they need to have some level of autonomy.
Do Not Dare Deviate From the Directions
I have off and on been an adjunct for college students. I always find it strange that ADULTS are TERRIFIED to advocate for their own learning. Hardly any adult students in my classes have felt brave enough to speak up for what works for them. Or to tell me what does not work for them.
I intentionally give assignments with a certain level of “vague” in an attempt to allow students to make a decision and be creative critical thinkers. This really freaks them out. “What do YOU want?” I want… you to feel like it’s okay to deviate from the directions. That I have stated the learning objective and if you have another way to show me that to think it’s okay to go for it. Worst case scenario, I give you feedback to give me something that helps me to assess your understanding of the objective.
My personal opinion… getting the same thing from every student is boring. I need a little more variety when I sit down to evaluate student work. If every student follows the exact same directions the exact same way… I probably am not going to get lot of creativity or variety.
After Talking With the Students What Changed?
My goal moving forward is to intentionally make CHANGES to the syllabus, even if it is a small one, after presenting it to the students. What helps you learn? What would make you feel successful? If you could change one thing, what would it be?
I will make at LEAST one change in response to student input. If you’re going to ask for their input you better take some of the input.
Student Centered Syllabus
Consider if you are creating a student centered syllabus. If it is student centered, who had input on the syllabus? Consider making changes after soliciting student input. What in the syllabus allows students to truly take responsibility for their own learning?