William Germano and Kit Nicholls

Oct 7, 2020


The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document that Changes Everything

Princeton University Press 2020

purchase at bookshop.org Do you teach, or do you care about education? Then you have to read this book. At turns radical in the interventions it proposes in educational practice, at turns perspicacious in the views it opens on the act of teaching, at turns inspirational in the words it drops in the teacher's ear, Syllabus: The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document that Changes Everything (Princeton UP, 2020) belongs in every teacher's hand, as well as in the hands of many an administrator and policymaker. William Germano's and Kit Nicholls's idea to tag an entire pedagogy to one single document is brilliant, and it's brilliant because the document deserves the attention. As any college instructor and also many high school teachers will know, the syllabus kicks off the academic season, fills in as the rulebook and the referee, and presents that scoreboard of disciplinary knowledge called the reading list. Germano and Nicholls have much to say about all these functions of one remarkable and unremarkable document, much that is new and much that was already there but has now been put in new light; and more importantly, William Germano and Kit Nicholls say much, much more. In fact, every line of the syllabus becomes for them an opportunity to consider and discuss just what teachers want and (more to the point) just what their students want. Aligning these two in the interests of learners is one of the books many achievements. The book is not a how-to guide because, like all good books about such essentially human activities as parenting or writing or (as here) teaching and learning, Syllabus takes the wide view and Syllabus covers all the details: collaboration and community, schedules and heightened moments of learning, the citizen of the classroom, the optimal assignment, and the studied improvisation required to the teacher who would learn together with a classroom of students. These are just a few of William Germano's and Kit Nicholls's concerns in their book Syllabus, a book about what teaching looks like when teaching turns into learning.
Daniel Shea heads Scholarly Communication, a Special Series on the New Books Network. Daniel is Director of the Writing Program at Heidelberg University, Germany. Just write writingprogram@zsl.uni-heidelberg.de

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