A Failed Experiment

Last week, inspired by our readings and discussions and by the group of students that I am currently teaching, I decided to rebuild my syllabus and completely change what we do with our class time.  I came to class with a new set of requirements and a new outline for our meetings.  I was quite excited about this change as I felt like I was changing the classroom to suit the students and I thought that I was actually using the concept of the “open syllabus” to do this.

But a few days ago I realized that even though I changed the classroom to better meet the needs and realities of my current students, I was still creating the requirements, content and direction.  Even though they have told me that they like the changes and have been staying engaged and productive, I faced the fact that this change was not student generated.

Some of my training in education and, more specifically, an article by the Carnegie Foundation on teaching and learning from which I have built my teaching practice (http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/BasicSkillsforComplexLives.pdf) stated that adults need structure in the classroom.  Also, in order to have lessons that achieve any kind of intended learning, I have to plan them ahead of time.

How do we create an environment of structure, intentional learning, and challenge with an “open syllabus”? What ideas do you have or what have you seen that works?

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2 thoughts on “A Failed Experiment

  1. Hi Guava! My response falls very much under the “ideas you have” option since I have not tried this, but what if one began a course with the first few days or the first week designed and the syllabus expressly stating that that opening would help determine the rest of the schedule? I guess you could do this midstream too. Either way, I would probably have them write a lot and use that writing to determine both content (ala Pari) and method. In other words, if they’re interested in a particular issue or question, we could look for articles, essays, poems, whatever that dealt with that and if they demonstrated particular patterns of writing – an adherence to the 5 paragraph essay, dropped quotations, missing apostrophes, whatever – we could envision and craft assignments as a class that would develop different patterns. I guess my follow up question would be which patterns of interest and need do we privilege if our students demonstrate a variety? How do we ensure that the loudest voices aren’t getting the most cake? (To mix my metaphors because cake sounds delicious right now).

    Those are my thoughts 🙂

    Your students are lucky to have you!

    • Yum, cake…
      It does seem like that would be a challenge, to address the needs of a group that showed a diversity of interests and abilities. Maybe, then, it would be a matter of discussing with the class which ones to address first and hopefully there would be enough interest in each topic to sustain the whole group. By discussing it together you might be more likely to get buy-in from the whole group.
      Building a syllabus for only one week seems soooo scary to me! It is hard for me to give up control and be comfortable in the not knowing.
      Thanks!

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