I am teaching a gifted and talented class of high school freshmen on a university campus. Class meets MWF for 50 minutes and on TTh for 75 minutes. I am having trouble with the structure of the class. It is an English literature course and is year long. How can I fit everything in without feeling like I am checking things off of a list?
I think that you need to stop worrying about the WORKS covered and start thinking about the SKILLS you want to make sure that the students are working on. Once you know "what you want them to be able to do" you will have a better idea of which pieces of literature to study and what kinds of assignments are needed.
You might also try varying the way you present the material. I found it helpful to look long term rather than day to day as well. I would make a list of what needed to be covered and how I was going to cover it. For instance, we spent a lot of time on Romeo and Juliet and the students completed several projects rather than a standard test assessment. The next novel I spent less time on and gave a standard assessment. Then, I might let the students pick a novel from a list and allow each student (or a group of students) to teach the class about that novel through a structured project and presentation. Changing things up like that helped up get through all the material but not feel like we were just slogging through it.
I agree with #2. It is much better with such a class to do less more thoroughly rather than rush through a large number of texts superficially. One of my big frustrations is the lack of time I have to devote to teaching incredible classics that I could very easily spend all somester on. Having a class such as yours should be a great opportunity to teach a small number of key texts in great depth.
Once you have determined the essentials about which previous posters have mentioned, you may wish to center the assignments around a central theme. Often gifted students who are logical and analytical prefer a thematic curriculum that allows for comparisons and extension of ideas. [e.g. novels from different periods that deal with the same theme can be used and comparison/contrast of approaches]
At any rate, give them assignments with depth--let them dissect thought to relieve the inane tedium of all the bureaucratic dictates of the state and federal governments.
As others have suggested, first step is to determine the essentials - what are you required by state mandates and/or Core Curriculum guidelines to include in your course? Determine a very broad timeline for covering this material during the course of the year, allowing this longer range planning to help you escape from feeling day-to-day pressure concerning what needs to be done next. Please find methods and time to allow your students to go deeply into the content that you do cover - the suggestion of implementing Socratic seminar approach with some of your long blocks of time would be tremendous.
Another point to consider is that every state has standards which must be taught. It's the law, no matter how talented or challenged the students are. In fact, the Common Core Standards are the new nationalized standards that are going into effect with next school year. If you plan to teach this class for very long, your planning will benefit greatly from knowing these standards:
If you go to this page, scroll until you see GRADES 6-12 ELA. Click inside each one of these links. I like these new standards because they are broad, but specific.
You may also consider that your 75 minute periods will fit nicely for Socratic seminar. You might give the students a text to prepare for the first 30 minutes, then dialogue for 30, and then debrief for 15. That is a very effective amount of time for a task like that with that age.
If possible, rather than locking yourself into a day-by-day syllabus, try to formulate a list of "works to be covered" in the order in which you hope to cover them. Working this way will allow you to pause and linger over works that seem especially interesting to students and that provoke the most discussion. You will then not need to feel rushed to shut down discussion and move on to the "next" work on some predetermined and inflexible syllabus. Good luck! It sounds like a great opportunity!
What I do is make a list of the stories/novels/etc. that I want to cover over the course of the year. This gives me a little play in how fast or slow the class works. I am lucky and my district only wants me to insure that I hit the Core. Outside of that, I am allowed to teach what I wish. By doing this, I can pick texts which I believe the students will enjoy and will spark interest.
I agree with the above post. Unless your school district or state mandates certain material that must be covered (as in my state of Florida), then you should pick subject matter that is enjoyable and comfortable to you and will maintain a high interest in the class. If you do have specific materials that must be covered, start breaking them down now so you won't be caught short at the end of the year.
Is your curriculum dictated? That is to say, why do you feel like you need to "fit everything in"? I face the same dilemma in history, as I have to leave things out, but especially with the gifted students, they might benefit much more from depth of material as opposed to breadth. If you have the academic freedom to wander off the reservation (so to speak) a bit, then perhaps narrow your focus to some high interest, high value material that you can spend adequate time on.