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Structuring your syllabus

By the time this first edition of the Teacher is out, most readers will be battling to get the syllabus under way.

A common problem for teachers is how to pace their lessons to ensure that the syllabus is covered in the space of a year – without rushing through sections that require reflection for learners to assimilate knowledge and skills.

If you can plan your progress through the syllabus accurately then even unexpected delays, such as last year’s strike, can be contained and your progress controlled. We don’t want panicky “accelerated” learning in that last term because we all know only the brightest and most motivated kids can handle the pace.

Planning ahead and keeping track of your progress early in the year are key, so the focus should be on creating a personalised planning and recording sheet. As you would expect from this column we are going to use information communication technology to create the grid – a word processor and printer. It might sound fancy, but in reality it’s no more than a time-table grid with each period allocated a large editable cell in which you can identify your classes and insert your planned lesson objectives, content and activities.

Once the lesson is complete you replace your plan with a record of what was actually covered. If nothing else this will eliminate that very unprofessional question we all ask our classes from time to time: “Now where were we?”

If you have not used MS Word before and need to know how to create a table, use the basic online tutorial available on Thutong (www.thutong.org.za), the department of education’s portal. Use the link in the tutorial resources box alongside to access it. If you would prefer to adapt the template, download this first and edit the document to reflect your school’s set up. Again access the template from the box alongside.

Step 1: Call up a blank document in MS Word.
Step 2: Make the margins as small as possible, for example, 0,8cm.
Step 3: Create a table that has 10 columns and as many rows as you have periods at your school. Add an extra row for headings and another one for extracurricula activities. For example, in my school I had seven periods of 45 minutes, but I included extra rows so that I could record information about registration, meetings at break and sport after school.
Step 4: Resize the first and all the odd-numbered columns so that they are tiny. Here you will insert the time and duration of each period. Rotate the text so that it runs vertically. This way it will take up even less space. Make the font size eight point.
Step 5: In the five even-numbered columns insert the days of the week – Monday, Tuesday and so on.
Step 6: Resize the vertical height of all the cells from the second row down, so that your table stretches down and the table fills the entire page.
Step 7: Work through the grid and insert the grade and learning area or subject of each of the periods you teach.
Step 7: Once you have inserted all the teaching periods and other school activities, print out one copy of the template for each week of the term. If, however, you have access to a computer on a daily basis you can save paper and toner by copying this table as many times as there are weeks in the term and inserting them in the same document. Save the document where you can easily access it.

The thinking now is that you should plan your term’s work by inserting comments into each of the period cells. I initially used the template in a paper format and so used a pencil to change the planning comments after the lesson was complete.

What I had planned was not always what happened and so I would change the entry to reflect the lesson’s progress. This way the same template was both a planning tool and a record. Later I started to use the template on the computer. It is a lot easier to edit the entries.

One issue that does arise is that often the cell is too small to insert really detailed notes. In the early days I kept the template pages in a ring file and simply used the back of the preceding page to add my special notes. Later when I did everything on the computer I could easily add comments to the electronic file.

So okay, it’s back to school, but at least this year you can keep a handle on your syllabus’ pacing and keep a record of what actually transpires in each lesson.

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