The constantly-updating syllabus

From the Header of Our Class Blog

I have written a bit on the idea of the Backward Syllabus on this site, and how I believe that a syllabus is something that evolves over the course of a semester vs being cast in stone at the start of a term.

To that end, I thought people might be interested in seeing that yes indeed, this semester, GASP!, I seem to have a syllabus (el programa de estudios) for my course. It seems to have a structure and an order to it. In fact, aside from a lot of blank spaces it seems to be quite traditional and teacher-centric.

Until you look at the back-end.

Here is a snapshot just a few of the changes I have made to el programa page since the course began. Many of these changes stem from eruptions in current events, the unexpected arrival of guest speakers, and the need to speed up or slow down the pace of the course based upon the students’ interests.

So yes, it is possible to have a road map, to have a guide… In fact it is quite necessary to know where you want to end up at the end of any course. But that doesn’t mean you have to take the 4 lane super highways to get to your destination. Being open to the possibility of taking an off road adventure now and again, or stopping altogether and checking out the scenic overlooks, I believe, makes for more interesting excursions. And better classroom teaching.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


  1. Dispersemos · March 28, 2011 Reply

    I agree completely. Mapping out each day of the term before it starts is a lost cause and fails to acknowledge the needs of our students as they emerge and change from week to week. Wiggins and McTighes’ book on backward design is very useful for planning courses this way. Also Dee Fink’s book.

    • Barbara · April 2, 2011 Reply

      Sorry for the delayed response. And thank you for the book references. Yes, indeed, this is an idea that has been around for a while, and yet it is met with resistance at every turn. The response I often get is “you just can’t do that” or “the students will think of you are a less than credible teacher if you do that.” Those thoughts presume, of course, that the syllabus is the ONLY means of planning out the term, and that the construction of that plan is top down, unilateral, and only at the beginning of the term. By including students’ interests, experiences, questions, concerns in the planning of the term, their learning improves. The classroom is about their learning, and not just about our teaching.

  2. Sharing, Curating, Updating | Language Lab Unleashed · April 7, 2014 Reply

    […] of LLU know that I have  posted many times – here and here and here  and here – about my belief in the flexible, evolving syllabus. I […]

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