Creating a Neurodiverse Syllabus

Creating a syllabus is more than just outlining a semester’s plan; it’s a strategic tool that enhances learning and comprehension for all students, especially those who have diverse learning needs. A well-constructed syllabus acts as a roadmap to guide students through course content, learning objectives, and any other logistical details of your class. Students may have a lot of information available, but it’s often scattered and overwhelming. A clear and accessible syllabus can have a positive, significant impact on students’ academic success and engagement.

Why Revise Your Syllabus?

Updating your syllabus is essential to meet the evolving needs of a generation adept at navigating digital landscapes. A clear and detailed syllabus minimizes confusion over course requirements, reduces the frequency of basic inquiry emails from students and parents, promotes active participation, and supports better organizational skills among students. This particularly benefits students with executive function challenges or neurodiverse conditions, providing a consistent and reliable framework for managing their assignments and class expectations.

Tips for Creating an Inclusive Syllabus:

1. One, Thorough Document: Maintain one comprehensive document for the syllabus that includes: communication protocols, consistent due dates, assignment rubrics, and a detailed list of accommodations for students with learning differences. This unified approach ensures that students can easily reference any course-related information. Consider making this easy to access in digital format, allowing you to go a step further by hyperlinking all relevant other documents straight to the syllabus. This helps students navigate resources in a clear and organized way and limits the need for student inquiry when all documents and descriptions are in one place.

2. Checkpoint Inclusion: One consistent and relevant challenge students face regarding larger projects or assignments is time management. Oftentimes, students with executive dysfunction struggle to understand how long an assignment may take and, therefore, have trouble planning the appropriate amount of time to complete it. Incorporating checkpoints for major assignments and projects helps students manage their time by modeling how to pace the work effectively. This approach also works for exams. Consider accommodating students throughout a test by building in time checks to assist pacing, especially if they will not have the ability to complete the test at a later time.

3. Explicit Expectations and Accommodations: Clearly articulate your expectations for student behavior and class participation in the syllabus. Include a section on available accommodations and support services, ensuring all students feel included and capable of meeting course requirements.

4. Contact and Communication Guidelines: Provide detailed contact information and preferred communication protocols. Consider including email templates or examples to enhance the clarity and professionalism of student-instructor interactions. This guidance is particularly helpful for students who may find formal communication challenging and serves as a teaching opportunity for developing self-advocacy skills.

Building Accountability and Advocacy:

A syllabus that fosters a sense of accountability and encourages self-advocacy is crucial. By detailing how and when students should reach out for assistance and what they can expect in terms of response and support, educators empower students to take an active role in their learning journey. This is especially important in creating an inclusive environment where neurodiverse students feel confident and equipped to succeed.

A comprehensive, detailed, and student-centered syllabus is a powerful tool in the educational arsenal. It sets the tone for the course and significantly enhances the learning experience for all students, especially those with neurodiverse needs. As educators, dedicating time to creating or revising your syllabus can lead to a more engaged, organized, and successful student body. Embrace the opportunity to provide clarity, support, and direction through your syllabus, and watch as it transforms the educational experience for you and your students.

For More:

How schools can support neurodiverse students

Compassionate teaching

Reframing accommodations on your syllabus

Syllabus accessibility statements 

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