Strengthening Syllabi for the New Year

I have to thank Marc Sheffner for turning me on to Ed Nuhfer’s excellent Nutshell Notes — a collection of tips for teachers hosted at Idaho State U (earlier copies are also gathered in a big .pdf file by CU Denver, where it used to be published). It’s a wonderful resource!

Since we’re fast approaching the New Year, I thought I’d celebrate by pointing readers to Nuhfer’s article “Toward a New Year: Strengthening Syllabi”. It was written in 2003, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of date: the essay spoke to me because I, too, am revising my syllabi over the Winter Break as I prepare for the new term. The article is brief, but I liked the section where the teacher is encouraged to “Tell something about yourself [on the syllabus] because you will be the most important person in this course to each student.” Simple truth, followed by good advice and what personal things to divulge.

As I browsed through the various issues of Nutshell Notes, I bookmarked another one that really made me sit up and rethink a few things. It was Nuhfer’s “Levels of Thinking and Educational Outcomes” piece, which features a great table of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Domains in relation to the taxonomy of others (even DeBono’s six thinking “hats”). Bloom becomes very dogmatic in educational circles, so it was nice to see this consideration of alternative frameworks for student development. Nuhfer organizes the various tables on his chart by four areas of a learner’s emphasis: content-intensive emphases, process-intensive emphasis, self-reflection, and judgment from experience. The latter is the one least addressed by Bloom’s Taxonomy, which gave me pause. Nuhfer negotiates these differences in terms of William Perry’s treatment of the stages of intellectual growth with an emphasis on Lee Knefelkamp’s discussion on “personalism” — all this is a part of a series of essays spurred by a teacher’s workshop related to Nutshell Notes that focused on Perry’s book, Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. I’d like to read that book. I plan to think about my syllabi in relation to these issues, too, as I revise them. [I’m also updating Pedablogue’s design a bit, particularly by adding tags to entries to ease navigation… if you have a recommended tag you’d like me to add, let me know in a comment.]
Happy New Year!

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Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.