Handling Snow Days

ProfHacker 2013-03-16

Lockheed Martin HQ as  "Snowquester" beginsDepending on where you live, last week’s blizzard might have brought you major snow, a lot of rain and hype, or nothing at all. My town fell somewhere in-between snowstorm and non-event but it was still enough to close my university for a day and in doing so interrupt class (and life!) schedules.

How can we handle the complications caused by snow days? Natalie recommends including a catch-up day as the ultimate syllabus hack. Of course, that requires advance planning–and can still go awry if a major blizzard or other unexpected event cancels multiple days of class. I’m a big fan of catch-up days (which usually sit near the end of my syllabus schedule with readings to-be-announced, and can be easily turned into opportunities for discussion of topics that arise throughout the course if they aren’t needed for make-up classes.)

However, catch-up days alone might not cover everything, Amy has written in the past about the challenges and rewards of sticking to or abandoning a syllabus. The needs of dependent topics, guest speakers and events, collaborative classes and assignment schedules are all impacted by these interruptions, and ultimately changes to the syllabus might be necessary. Here are a few things I kept in mind while reorganizing post-storm:

  • Changing methods of delivery. Can a complicated in-class exercise become a take-home collaborative project? Can an in-person peer review session be instead conducted through group editing on Google docs? Sometimes the results of the new methods might be better than the original plan.
  • Combining related topics. Condensing material is never fun, and we all have topics that we wish we had many more hours of class time to devote to already. But sometimes we do lose face time, and topics that were previously separate need to be fit into one class period. That’s a great time to ask what pulls those topics together, and perhaps create a new lesson or experiment.
  • Prioritizing understanding. Mark wrote about teaching for uncoverage rather than coverage, reminding us that something is always left out of a broad course, and being intentional about those omissions is as important as what we choose to include. Need to cut something? Try choosing based on what contributes to enduring understanding rather than any arbitrary markers of “completion.”

I’m hoping that the start of spring will allow me to avoid any further scrambling to reschedule events and reorganize my syllabus. Of course, we never know what’s coming next to wreak havoc on carefully-laid plans!

How do you handle snow days and other unexpected interruptions? Share your strategies in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User Matthew Straubmuller]