Creating a Course Calendar that Aligns to the Rhythms of the Semester

course design and planning
Do you have a system or standard process for prepping a course you’ve taught before? Where do you start? Early in my career, “one chapter per week” described my course outline. It wasn’t an effective system. Poor planning left my students and me burnt out at the end of most terms. For some, planning revolves around syllabus revision, closing loopholes, and adjusting dates. When time’s abundant, some teachers read books like Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, a thoughtful, research-based system. I highly recommend their work. But as I write this article in mid-December, the reality is there are papers and projects to grade, events to attend, holidays to celebrate, and a short break before spring courses commence. Few of us will be able to work through a comprehensive system at this time of year.

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Do you have a system or standard process for prepping a course you’ve taught before? Where do you start? Early in my career, “one chapter per week” described my course outline. It wasn’t an effective system. Poor planning left my students and me burnt out at the end of most terms. For some, planning revolves around syllabus revision, closing loopholes, and adjusting dates. When time’s abundant, some teachers read books like Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, a thoughtful, research-based system. I highly recommend their work. But as I write this article in mid-December, the reality is there are papers and projects to grade, events to attend, holidays to celebrate, and a short break before spring courses commence. Few of us will be able to work through a comprehensive system at this time of year. What most of us need is a strategic, instructionally sound set of action items to help guide our decision making and provide a framework for our course.  My approach focuses on the calendar.  This may not sound particularly innovative, especially since many teachers provide a calendar in the syllabus.  But I’m not talking about a list of chapters or exams and papers with their due dates.  I’m referring to a planning calendar, one that takes into account Duffy and Jones’ (1995) rhythms of the semester.  Briefly, there are five points I try to address each time I prepare to teach a course:
  1.        ListIdentify each class meeting by day of the week and date. Enter calendar items like holidays/breaks; important registrar deadlines (drop/add, late drop); any planned teacher absences; significant campus events like homecoming, etc.
  2.        Purpose. Specify what’s supposed to happen and what students will learn: content, student prep work, instructional materials and resources, in-class activities, and follow-up assignment(s). Tentatively set major assessment dates.
  3.        Pace. Designate time periods for the learning, based on content difficulty and importance. Build in “cushions” to minimize the crush that so often occurs at the end of a semester. Assume there will be a few delays.
  4.        Chunk. This can be done around content theme, not just chapters or major assessments. Identify content that should be looped forward/backward to reinforce long-term retention.
  5.        View. Examine the course as a whole. Use special care in planning the periods immediately prior to and after Fall/Spring breaks.
Creating your course calendar The calendar provides all the information needed to update the LMS and will save you time. Color-coding provides a visual measure of the flow of assignments throughout the term. Here’s an excerpt from an accounting calendar prepared in Excel. This approach adapts easily to Word or any system (even index cards) that allows items to be shifted around easily, incorporates color, and fosters viewing the course as a whole.
FEB 22-24 WED-TO-FRI

DISCUSS INTERNAL CONTROL CASE

First Post by Wed 2/22; discussion closes Friday 2/24
No class meeting on Thursday, 2/23
28-Feb Tuesday READ Chapter 8, page 344-360 & 362-367 ONLY
WATCH: Asset Cost tutorial
WATCH: Depreciation Methods tutorial
WATCH: Sale of Fixed Asset tutorial
WARM-UP DUE: Problem 8-2A & 8-6A, pages 380-381
2-Mar Thursday Finish Chapter 8
HOMEWORK DUE: Problem 8-5B & 8-6B, pages 371-372
HOMEWORK: Depreciation Application Questions
March 7 & 9 SPRING BREAK!
Because accounting is sequential, there isn’t much opportunity to change the order of content at first. But by mid-semester, I’m able to schedule Chapter 8’s easier content before Chapter 7’s more conceptually challenging material. Notice also that we’ll be in the middle of a unit before spring break. While many of my colleagues administer tests immediately before break, I schedule the third exam three weeks later. This intentional delay affords students an opportunity to get back into their learning routine. It also allows students to devote more time and attention toward accounting because it’s less likely there will be other exams at that time.
14-Mar Tuesday READ Chapter 7
WATCH: Worthless Receivables tutorial
WATCH: Allowance Method- Aging of A/R tutorial
WATCH: Allowance Method- Percentage of A/R tutorial
WATCH: Allowance Method- Percentage of Sales tutorial
WATCH: Notes Receivable tutorial
    WARMUP: Exercises 7-4, 7-5, 7-6, & 7-7 on page 334
16-Mar Thursday Finish Chapter 7
HOMEWORK DUE: Allowance for DA & Notes Receivable HANDOUTS
21-Mar Tuesday READ: Chapter 10, pages 434-447
WATCH: Debt v Equity tutorial
READ: Chapter 11
WATCH: Issue Common Stock tutorial
WATCH: Preferred Stock tutorial
    WATCH: Recording dividends tutorial
WATCH: Treasury Stock tutorial
    WARMUP DUE: Problem 11-2A, pages 516-517
WARMUP DUE: Problem 11-4A, page 517-518
23-Mar Thursday Finish Stockholders' Equity
HOMEWORK: Owner's Equity Questions
28-Mar Tuesday Review / Catch Up Day
30-Mar Thursday EXAM #3: Chapters 6-8, & 10-11
Sometimes bad weather slows progress, other times a class needs more time to achieve mastery. After you’ve taught the course a few times, you can usually anticipate which concepts students will find most difficult, but every cohort is different. That’s why review/catch up days are valuable. Note that some chapters are omitted from the exam and some textbook pages are skipped entirely. Thus, class time is devoted to the most important concepts. Not all content is equally important. Although not shown here, the planning calendar includes the last date students can add the course and the late-drop deadline. This reminds me to address the needs of students who add the course after the first session. Similarly, students contemplating a late-drop need an accurate picture of their current grade in order to make an informed decision. An exam right after late-drop is unhelpful for these students. I strive to have the entire course prepared in the LMS before the first class meeting. Doing so frees up my time and attention to focus on students and their learning as the semester progresses, instead of administrative minutiae. Avoiding the mad dash No matter how many times we teach a course, the end of the semester always seems to end in a whirlwind of activity that has teachers and students struggling to keep pace. Too much content, too many projects, and too much pressure to make it to the finish line in one piece.

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? - Dr. Seuss

 Careful planning minimizes this stress for the teacher and students. It reduces the chances of “content crush” and panicky “night before it’s afternoon” feelings often experienced at the end of the term. Beyond the practical benefits, the planning calendar’s greatest strength lies in its holistic view. Utilizing the planning calendar shifts the teaching mindset to consider these rhythms, taking advantage of the highs and mitigating the lows.

Realistically, there may not be time to devote to all five points between terms or for every course. I recommend starting with a basic calendar and important institutional dates. Whenever possible, consider how content cadence or sequence might be adjusted. As you gain experience with the planning calendar, integrating and adapting instruction to the rhythm of your course, the process will evolve into a streamlined practice that reduces course prep time and enhances learning. Finally, it also helps to keep a running commentary of how things are going as the course unfolds. I call my document simply “Course Notes” and in it I enter brief comments to myself on what’s working well and what could be handled differently next time. You’ll want to keep the planning calendar and course notes with your teaching materials for easy reference. To get started on planning your course calendar to the rhythms of the semester, download this checklist. course planning checklist Download the checklist. References Duffy, D.K. & Jones, J.W. (1995). Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester. Jossey Bass Inc., San Francisco, CA. Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, 2nd ed. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Alexandria, VA. Lolita Paff is an associate professor of business economics at Penn State Berks.