“Syllabus Day”: The Absolute Worst Way to Start the Semester

I’d rather blog about prepping my fall classes than actually start prepping my classes, so here you go. I don’t spend much time on the syllabus on the first day, though I do show students where key topics are, and I do assign a take-home syllabus quiz. (“If Gus Griffin tells you he’s worried about missing class due to an upcoming surgery, what advice would you give him?”) But there’s more to a successful first class than simply avoiding a dry recitation of the syllabus. On the first day of a literature class, I usually run a poetry-analysis workshop. I can’t say I always get the students writing and peer-reviewing on the first day of a writing class.

imageDon’t treat your first class of the term as Syllabus Day…. There’s a reason that Syllabus Day has become a hallowed tradition and a nearly ironclad rule: So often, that’s all that happens when a class meets for the first time. Whether by accident or design, the pedagogical decisions we collectively make about the first day of our classes have conditioned students to expect nothing more than a syllabus (which they will likely leave unexamined for the rest of the semester), a few perfunctory introductions, a word or two about classroom conduct, and an early exit after about 15 minutes. That’s the absolute worst way to begin a semester. —The Chronicle of Higher Education