I like to alter my syllabus every semester. Even when I am teaching the same course as in the previous semester, I try to change the syllabus to reflect the success or failure of assignments and lesson plans from the previous semester. I hope to plan more of whatever felt like it was working, and do away with any of the assignments or activities that did not go over so well. Additionally, when I build my courses around book excerpts rather than textbooks, which I was inspired to do by Dr. Karen Miller, part of my syllabus planning involves skimming dozens of books that I have been wanting to read and am considering assigning. This semester, I am teaching a course designated as writing-intensive for the first time, which means that I can give in to all of my natural inclinations to assign papers and writing assignments instead of exams. In other words, I think planning a writing intensive course presents particular opportunities and challenges.
I built on my syllabus from last semester by adding and modifying writing assignments to craft a course that hopefully provides students opportunities to practice different types of writing techniques while also engaging with gender and women’s history. I added an extra summary assignment because I felt that last semester students struggled with differentiating between descriptive and analytical writing. I felt that assigning a paper that was exclusively one would help them better understand this difference. I also wanted a short writing assignment that I could front-load in the course so that students would have some of the work already completed before the midterm. This structure will also provide me with a chance to engage with them about their writing before a major graded assignment. I noticed in my last course that the discussions that felt most dynamic were those in which students chimed in at the very beginning with general thoughts and impressions of the piece before I had a chance to ask formal questions. In order to manufacture this dynamic, I have replaced the blog post assignments that I used last semester with reading responses that include a short, informal presentation. Students will sign up for reading responses on the first day of class and then deliver them throughout the course of the semester. They will write answers to 4 questions about the reading at home and then in class at the start of the discussion they will either read these answers or tell us about the reading in a more informal way. They will then turn in the written assignment and receive a grade on both that and the presentation. This exercise will hopefully produce the discussion dynamic that I liked last semester while also modeling for students the type of active reading with which I recommend they approach all texts, both inside and outside of my class.
I also saved parts of my syllabus and course structure that I felt worked well last semester. I liked giving students the option to rewrite their midterm paper and submit it again for regrading. I also felt that the individualized research paper that I assigned was very successful. Students also expressed appreciation for both these assignments in their course evaluations. Grading a number of different writing assignments over the course of the semester is always a challenge, but I am hoping that the diversity and organization of my assignments will set my students up for successful engagement with both writing and history this semester.