Inclusive Classroom Recap: Make Your Syllabus Matter

As we prepare for the spring 2023 semester, we wanted to remind you of the work we accomplished this past fall with the ISU Annual Inclusive Classroom Training (AY22-23) focus, “Supporting our students through a mindful and learner-centered syllabus.” One activity from the Training was how to “make your syllabus matter,” where we discussed in small groups what works overall and what works from page 2 in CELT’s Mindful and learner-centered syllabus toolkit (PDF). The overarching takeaway is not only to talk about the syllabus on the first day but continually refer to it as a guide for students to succeed in your course.

One faculty member shared this insight, “To make the syllabus a living document,” in their post-workshop reflection.

Here are a few key highlights from our discussions:

Before teaching the course:

  • Flexibility with “guardrails.” Design the course with structure and policies that allow room for unexpected circumstances without ruining a student’s chance of success.
  • Consider the workload. Estimate the amount of preparation required for the course, keeping in mind that students are often enrolled in several courses and have out-of-class responsibilities. Use the Wake Forest Course Workload Estimator tool to assist.
  • Record a syllabus video (3-5 minutes) highlighting the essentials students want to know.

On the first day: 

  • Connect your students with the syllabus by engaging in active learning, a group discussion, a scavenger hunt, a Top Hat quiz, etc. Example syllabus questions:
    • Why is logging into Canvas regularly and reading announcements helpful to succeed in this course?
    • When is the first reading assignment due? What is included in the assignment?
  • Use a questionnaire (open-ended or adapted to a scale) to discover individual students’ academic goals, concerns, or information that could help you plan relevant and inclusive learning opportunities. See CELT’s Who’s in the class resource for examples, such as:
    • How does this course fit into your academic plans?  
    • Identify at least three strategies you plan to do to ensure your success in this course. 

During the semester:

  • Refer to your syllabus often, modeling to students its importance as a source of information:
    • At the beginning of class, project the syllabus page to show the class plan for the day.
    • At the end of class, project the syllabus page to review, preview future topics, and remind students of upcoming assessments to solicit questions.
  • After each class session, write notes on your syllabus: What went well? What didn’t seem to go well? What questions or requests did students ask? What can you improve to help your students? Use these notes to improve your syllabus and assess the implementation of making changes. Consider using these notes as a source to document the progression of your teaching.