Plot the Semester

Once you have developed the sequence of course’s instructional units and a sense of the major assignments and learning activities of your course, you can begin plotting these into a semester schedule. This is where instructors can often struggle, as it can feel as if there are either too many or not enough days in the semester to fit the course content. In turn, the temptation can be to pack the schedule with as many readings as possible or to de-emphasize assignments in favor of adding more pages of text. However, remember that assignments are a key component of student learning. Structuring the course around assignments can help you develop a more realistic sense of what learning activities need to happen, for how long, and when. 

To this end, an effective approach to plotting a semester schedule can look like this:

  • On graph paper or in a grid of 7×4 boxes, map out the number of classes that you have for the upcoming semester
  • Block out the days where you will not be holding class (holidays, RRR week, etc.)
  • For the remaining days, decide the deadlines for major assignments – for example, the final research essay, or two major essays – keeping in mind that you should give yourself reasonable time to grade and keep space for yourself to uphold other commitments. 
  • Now, plan backwards from these deadlines: what kinds of activities will the students undertake in preparation of these major assignments? For example, if you are assigning a research essay, you may want to assign a first and second draft due date; you may want to hold peer review workshops for these drafts; or you may want to hold a research skills workshop at the library. (As we have covered, this process of breaking a major assignment down into parts is known as “scaffolding” assignments or “process pedagogy.” See “Assignment Design and Sequencing.” 
  • Add in any other assignments and activities. For example, if you plan to hold a campus field-trip or in-class viewing of a film, determine the dates that work best for these other activities.
  • You may also want to add days for in-class “writing studios” where students bring in drafts of their current writing assignment and use class time to work on these projects. This can be a useful way to get students working actively on their particular upcoming assignment (rather than leaving it to the day before the deadline) and to troubleshoot questions in a group setting. Communicate clearly and early that this studio time is for their course assignments, not other class work, as students may be tempted to study for another course during this time.
  • After these assignments are blocked off, you should have a clearer picture of what readings are possible to cover, for both you and your students, within the remaining days. Rather than cram in as many readings as you can, try to be judicious and selective of your texts, choosing the ones that you think would best illustrate the theme of your course and/or yield the best results for your learning objectives.

Gather Your Resources

Finally, begin to collect the resources you and your students will need for class. Resources include the readings, but also handouts, reference works, research exercises, sample student papers, announcements, and electronic or library reserves and films for streaming or screening. If your course features a research assignment, it will be essential to assess the availability of key library or museum holdings for student use.

Following the principles of Universal Design for Learning, it is recommended to distribute resources in multiple, accessible formats. PDFs should be text-searchable. Films should be captioned through DSP for any students needing captioning. If you develop a paper course reader, consider also uploading all the course materials to bCourses for increased student accessibility. 

Be aware that copyright issues apply to photocopying and to uploading other peoples’ work to your course website — even in bCourses. A good place to start informing yourself about the policies that apply here is the UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning page Using Copyright Materials in the Classroom.