Monday, April 11, 2011

Detailed Calendar versus Order of Events?

Some instructors at the beginning of the semester produce a detailed calendar for the semester that says what students can expect to be doing for just about every day of the semester. Others offer an order of events (order of readings, assignments) but no exact days from the outset. There are other options as well. I am seeking input on what works best.

I have always taught Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes for 50 minutes each. I've always done the order of events approach, in part because I think that if I produced a detailed calendar, we would soon deviate from it (due to philosophical interesting diversions that'd arise, because some topics need to be discussed more than I originally expected, etc.). But I wonder if a detailed calendar has worked well for anyone on a 3 day a week schedule; I can see how it'd work on a 2 day a week schedule, but I don't envision it working well for me, but am wondering if I'm mistaken. Thanks!


  1. Hi Nathan, interesting question. When I'm running a new class the first couple times, I'll tend to be very general when outlining the course schedule.

    It depends on the readings, mostly, though. Chapters & articles I'll explicitly schedule, smaller primary source (Meditations, Plato) materials I'll sometimes list the book itself, and specify chapters in class, as we proceed.

    I tend to like a more detailed schedule; it keeps things moving along. However, I'll always schedule a "tba" day or "catch up" day somewhere between the middle the two/thirds mark. I'll tend to fill that in with anything we couldn't get to before.

    Historically, I've been scheduled for mostly 2/week and 1/week classes. Only once did I teach a 3/week class, which I did not like (since I had to drive 10 miles across town to get there).

  2. This seems to be something best determined by your teaching strengths and the needs of the students.

    Some courses, especially intro level or "prereq" courses have material that is easy to grind through or has to be presented for the next course. These might work will with detailed schedule of events as it helps students learn to pace themselves. Upper level courses, or courses where you have the freedom to adjust the depth of material may benefit from a more vague schedule.

    I prefer a more open schedule, but work in places that demand every minute of every-day be accounted for.

  3. On the Syllabus I give a schedule by week of the reading assignments, papers, and exams, but indicate that it is subject to change based on needs. I have found that the schedule does need to be changed at least once per semester, but I try not to change within a two week window, unless it is the result of an unavoidable incident occurring.

  4. I am obsessively organized, so I have everything scheduled out by the first day of class. I would lose my mind if I didn't. I also think that it sets a tone of accountability and personal responsibility. If students can look ahead and see potential conflicts or times when they will have a harder time doing the work, I am more than happy to be flexible. This encourages time management and puts the responsibility for scheduling firmly in their hands.

    That being said, you can't let your unrealistic summertime visions of what you can accomplish dictate your classroom. I often have to rearrange the schedule at least once. Interesting tangents and interruptions need to be given time and cultivation.

  5. I'm closer to Becko, largely because of my student body, many of whom have jobs and families they're trying to fit their education around. I think I owe it to them to have a well worked out and fairly inflexible calendar for my courses. And if we're encouraging good time management, we shouldn't reserve to ourselves the liberty to do what (in effect) undermines conscientious students' efforts to manage their time.

  6. I'm definitely closer to the type-A syllabus that Michael and Becko discuss.

    That said, I think one of the main reasons I have such a syllabus is this: it's easy to go from structure to creative adaptation. Students welcome it. It's not so easy to go in the other direction - they often can see it as a violation of some kind of unsaid agreement.

    Seen at least from that perspective, there's a lot to say good about structure!

  7. OK, I think next time I will try the detailed schedule. I do think it'd work better in various ways. Scheduling 45 or so class meetings in advance is daunting for me though. Thanks.

  8. Can you say more about why it is so daunting? Maybe we can help.

  9. Nathan,

    I guess I do not yet see why you would need (or perhaps why you ought to have) a detailed daily schedule. To be sure, it might just be worth trying one out in one of your intro-level courses to see how it works. (You might be surpirsed how well it works for you, after all.) However, if you presently tend to just list the order of events without reference to time, why not try sticking to a weekly schedule with which you will be relativey inflexible? Seems a reasonable middle ground.

    This seems to have several virtues while also being attentive to the concerns which a number of others have posted. (Psychological note: I am decidedly not type-A.) Students should know the readings for which they are responsible, week-by-week. So the default assumption is that one has to read all of those articles that week. This allows you some flexibility in class on a three day a week schedule, but keeps you moving along. And you can note major assignments and exams by the day within that general weekly schedule.

    I've done this in my introductory courses, and it works well for me. I am trying to move towards a more daily schedule for logic, but it hasn't quite worked yet. I still cling to my weeks, precisely because it allows me the flexibility I (think I) need.

    That said, my upper-level schedules are more coarse. At my residential college (with small classes), I dont see the value of making them more fine-grained with respect to time.

  10. I used to teach 3 sections of the same class, two sections on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, and one on Tuesday/Thursday (or vice versa). I had to think in terms of weekly goals. I assumed that most students would do most of their reading on the weekend - so on the last class of the week, I'd give them an idea what they should aim to have read by the next class.


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