I'm posting this somewhat late, but I wanted to wait until I was "done" with my syllabus (as if I ever will truly be finished with such a "living" document) before taking a moment to stop and really reflect on what this process has meant to me.
Even though this syllabus is for an as yet fictional course, it has been one of the most rewarding and helpful projects that I've worked on as a graduate student and would-be professor. Workshopping it with my peer review group and the class has made it infinitely better and so I thank you all for your extremely helpful comments--I took a lot of the comments that you made in class in our more general discussion to heart as well, so you've all had a part in this process.
Because I can sense others' presence in my syllabus, your voices, my voice, Berenice Hausman's voice, Sara's voice, I got to thinking about syllabi created for co-taught courses and how that process might differ from this one. Even though we're all in this course together because we are all interested in feminist pegagogies, I doubt that any of us have identical teaching philsophies. Mine is really centered around the body as a site of knowledge formation, but I don't think I've really articulated my position on this all that well in my syllabus.
And so even though I'm at the end of this project for this course, I continue to wonder if my syllabus is a true reflection of myself, my course, and my teaching philosophy. Accepting that this might be an unattainable goal has been a good thing though, because it's freed me to be able to think about creative ways that I can incorporate others' voices into my document. One helpful suggestion that I received both from my group and from Sara was to allow for student-created assignments. In my own pedagogical statement, I emphasize student responsibility in the process of knowledge acquisition. And so for my second written assignment, I've decided to give the students the choice to chose between my prompt and a topic of their own choosing. This might be a minor change to my syllabus, but I feel like it takes large steps in bringing me closer to my own teaching philosophy.
Syllabus Reflection #2
I really appreciated the opportunity to workshop my syllabus with Ani and Michelle, and felt further enriched by our large-group workshop too! What a productive use of time....I only wish all professors had the chance to do this before every new course! Having so much prep time, and getting the chance to hear others feedback will inevitably shape the teaching all of us perform if and when we conduct these courses, and I think that makes us and our future students really lucky! (Side note: Because this was such a positive experience, I am considering committing myself to developing some sort of support group for profs who want to do this sort of thing before courses. Maybe inter-departmentally, or not. I'm in the process of creating a "Socially Engaged Scholarship" group with another Comm student, so maybe this could be part of it. Let me know if you're interested!)
Because we're supposed to keep these entries short, I'll list the top three most helpful things I took away from the workshop:
1) Remember that I am a *worker* and that I should not exploit myself with an unnecessary work load, as it will ultimately also be a disservice to the student (in terms of quality of my feedback, etc).
2) remember to invite guest speakers into the course! Another great way to de-center hierarchical structures and learn awesome things from different voices!
3) give specific writing guidelines/expectations in advance of any written assignment to avoid really terribly structured (but perhaps good content-oriented) papers
Sharing this class with all of you was wonderful! Looking forward to our last session!
Thanks to my group and everyone's inciteful comments last Wednesday. I was scribbling notes to myself during class to be sure to pay attention to other great ideas and considerations for my syllabus. And as I began to make some of the changes/modifications to it, I started to realize that some of the changes I was making had actually been there before, and then removed at some stage of editing. Hmmmm... I feel like my syllabus will never be "finished". I realize that it is a working document for the semester, anyway. But, now I'm thinking that I'll need to really "live" this class with the changes I've made to know more clearly how well they are suited to the class, and how best to change it.
1. I've added more student-driven content, but not too much more. Hurray for more vulnerability.
2. I've changed the font 4 times.... not certain on a final "favorite". My Times New Roman is to formal, you're right Sara. It's got to go.
3. I've reconsidered readings AGAIN, and hope to have some closure on that by Wed. However, this is where the chance to teach with these pieces will be much more informative than merely thinking I like them.
4. I've considered adding some images, but test tubes can be boring. I used to do that for all of my high school assignments, syllabi, worksheets, tests. The tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders seemed to appreciate that, I hadn't considered it for grad school, I'm not sure why.
You get the idea.
What I'm trying to say, is that what I plan to turn in on Wednesday, will still be a work in progress. Does anyone else feel this way?
cheers - bb
As I was reading the hooks book Teaching Community for next week I realized thta it is one of those books where I may just underline the whole thing. I had to modify my underline/highlight system so that I could distinguish why I highlighted one rather than another. I also thought that the chapter on "Democratic Education" would be a fantastic addition to my syllabus (Introductory Social Studies Methods). Democratic classroom communities and citizenship is what social studies is all about, and I think that this chapter adds another perspective for the students to interact with. The problem is this: I think I underlined the whole thing. I HATE it when instructors make me buy a course packet and their notes are all over the readings (which were presumably copied from their personal copies). I get the practicality of using a book that one already has for the packet, but it drives me nuts that I cannot read the material without the instructor's thoughts all over the page. I have to think that his/her voice is influencing how I read the material, and I do not want to do that to my students. I think this means that I will have to buy a "clean" copy of everything that I would want to use (provided it is not online) - practical? economical? I don't know.
Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Am I overreacting to reading previously marked-up passages or does providing students with my thoughts and reactions really change how they read the material? Should I even worry about these things in planning a syllabus?
p.s. Is anyone else loving this book? I am going to make my partner read it when I am done (he is an elementary math teacher and I think he could get a lot out of it, too.)
Last night our group was discussing the university required additions to a syllabus. Specifically, were we should put them in the overall document, before course-specific material or after. I was wondering what your feelings were about this?
Also, we discussed why this information was required and how it was used both by students and the instructor. Is it a passive thing that is added to "protect" ourselves and/or the institution? Do those students who need it, see it? How many instructors actually go over the information in their classes? And, how would this type of activity fit into the nature/practice of feminist pedagogy?
Sara was talking about an idea to create a quiz of sorts about this information, what other ideas do you have about using it in a class?
What has really changed about my syllabus is the organization. I moved the official U requirements to the end. Other than that, I added the professional ethics for school administrators and an activity that I had completely forgotten about! In my principal preparation program we used case studies as a way in which to discuss current events, problem solving, and personal experience. I think an activity such as this fits very nicely into a feminist pedagogical framework and enhances critical thinking for both the instructor and the students.
As I work more on the syllabus for my 'dream course' ('Perverse Modernity: Gendering Caste in Postcolonial India'), I seem to run into problems and blocks with things that would seem really simple issues at first sight: dividing up the course readings for two classes a week, for instance (in the first draft I shirked this task by just assigning readings on a weekly basis). Given that I intend this to be a 5000-level course, two classes per week would be the norm, one supposes. But the problem that poses itself in dividing up readings for two classes would essentially be evident even if there were but one class in a week: How would one structure readings vis-à-vis the lecture component (if any) and discussion time such that students have enough resources to draw upon at every stage and don't feel lost/confused on one hand, and yet have enough room to formulate their own ideas and make their own links without feeling like they are only supposed to spew forth readymade theories on social justice issues, on the other? Does one make the first class of the week heavy on readings to have them all set out for the second class? Or does evenly dividing them help in creating sane workloads (especially with assigning books) as well as continuing space for discussion? Perhaps the underlying problem is that a syllabus requires a formal layout to be set out for the whole semester in advance, whereas these negotiations might be made much better on a weekly or even class-by-class basis, depending on the precise classroom dynamics, the level of engagement, etc. In at least one aspect then, this seems to be an inherent issue with syllabus making - setting out a plan for what remains unpredictable.
But this brings me to another issue that has been bugging me while working on the syllabus specifically, but also more generally regarding pedagogy in the metropolitan academia itself: the imperative of productivity, and a measurable productivity at that. By this, I mean the institutional culture that poses a pressure to have lots of activities in my course (thus in the syllabus) that can somehow calibrate and demonstrate 'how much' of something has been learnt. This demand for efficiency within a meritocratic culture proves problematic when thinking of courses that are in their very nature motivated by concerns of social justice. How far can one measure ethical engagement or interest, even as one plans concrete activities to both to direct the course 'productively' and to gauge how productive individuals have been? Of course, in graduate or advanced undergraduate courses the standard solution is to use qualitative rather than quantitative means, such as term projects and essays, response papers, this blog post, and the like. But such means are still individualized (even for formally collaborative assignments) and contingent on following through certain procedures that may say little about ethical and political investments and growth; and even less about the creativity (or otherwise) of spontaneous collaboration and dialogue during discussions and pedagogical interaction between and among students and teachers. Perhaps one way of thinking about it is to conceptualize graded assignments and activities as spurs for the process, rather than necessarily as ends to be 'achieved' by it? And maybe to accept that for some people they will remain ends-in-themselves rather than having any further significance beyond the course, whereas for some others they hopefully might. Radical pedagogy, as long as it seeks institutional space and legitimization along which come grades and assorted meritocratic paraphernalia, would seem to have to be framed by such possibility of failure in its very conceptualization. Making a syllabus might seem an unlikely occasion for such pessimistic reflections, but somehow seemed to manifest these problems even more explicitly and in a concrete manner for me.