Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A well-wrought urn

I don't want to brag or anything, but not only have I completed the most complicated syllabus of my entire life (a ground-up revision of my graduate Donne class, now structured so it's also a sort of methods class and a sort of review of 20th-century literary studies), but I've written all the assignments, too.

This is something I've never done before. I mean, sure: my syllabi always say what the assignments will consist of--a presentation, a close-reading paper, a research paper, a midterm, whatever--and I have a decent idea what they'll probably entail. But write them? No. Usually I do that at the last possible minute, either when a student asks whether they might be getting the assignment sheet soon or when I happen to glance at the syllabus and realize, shit! that thing is due in two weeks! I need to write it immediatamente!

But because this class is so complicated and the assignments build on each other, involve an interlocking set of skills, will overlap in time, and are largely unlike any assignments I've designed before, I felt I had to come up with detailed instructions now, just so I could get everything clear in my own head and make reasonable decisions about how to schedule their component parts. So with my syllabus doc and four other files all open, I moved back and forth among them, composing, revising, changing due dates, and altering the particulars in innumerable ways. Finally I arrived at a sequence that seems doable and makes sense.

Parts will still fail, I'm sure, and I'll undoubtedly have to make at least medium-sized changes between this instantiation of the class and the next one. But for now it all looks like a perfect and beautiful whole, complete, unshakable and enduring.

Now, if only I'd spent half as much energy on my writing projects. . .


Bardiac said...

Good work!

I love having all the assignments in the syllabus, for just the reasons you hint at: students can see how the class works as a whole to some extent, and where the map leads.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I did this for my Shakespeareans this semester. I like having the assignments laid out at the beginning so they can plan ahead, but also, I really like knowing what I'm having them do so that I can tailor what we're doing a bit. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm hoping that having the assignments early will get them to start thinking about them now. Gosh, I'm such an adult... planning is my adult thing. I was never a planner as a college kid.

Belle said...

Wow! Congratulations!

Flavia said...


I'm definitely pleased to have everything laid out for my students (esp. since there are a couple of points where they might want to be working on a couple of projects simultaneously)--but really it's for me!

Generally I figure that I assign similar-enough assignments that it won't take me long to draft a new one for a new class (and it doesn't, even if I curse myself for my belatedness), but these are so different from what I've done before that my own ideas of what I was requiring (and of what might be doable) were too fuzzy without actually having written the damn thing.

(So, impute less virtue to me...)

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

You're saying that you actually did all the shittio writing assignments that you assigned to your students?!?! If so, I have two comments slash questions.

(1) That's fucken looney tunes.

(2) Did you get an A??

Flavia said...


No!!! I mean I wrote up all of the assignments (there are four big ones, and the instructions for each are long and complex).

Maybe if I were I better teacher I would have tried to do each of them myself, or at least the two really weird new ones. . . but the process of mapping out all the stages of each did require a teeny bit of that (running some test searches on some databases; learning the capabilities of some electronic resources), so I guess I still got some of the flava.

Sapience said...

I do this for every class, whenever I can. I'm currently teaching in a program where in the middle of the semester, I'm usually so far behind on everything I don't have time to write up assignments with the kind of clarity and detail they need (and our assignments tend to be pretty complicated). So, now, my students get all the assignments, with all the detail, at the beginning of the semester in a giant assignment guide. The course schedule lists pages of the assignment guide as part of their regularly scheduled reading. It's made my life a *lot* easier as a result, and it tends to scare off the students who don't like to work at the beginning of the semester. ;)

Flavia said...


That's great. And that's a lot of my thinking, too--with classes I've taught before, naturally I have everything already figured out (and I try to upload all the assignments to our class website in advance), and it makes the semester so much less of a frantic, seat-of-the-pants experience. With this one, I still have a ton of things to figure out--lesson plans, etc.--but having a few things nailed down should be a big help.