As instructors, the first week of classes becomes very mechanical for us. We have the students print the syllabus, read the syllabus and sign the syllabus. During one of those monotonous classes, I decided to ask the students to define the word syllabus and I was surprised that not one student really knew what a syllabus was.
Now, I have the students look up the word syllabus and write a definition. I spend time in class discussing that a syllabus is contract between the instructor and the student. We talk about expectations students can have of the instructor and what expectations the instructor has of the students. I also emphasis that they should never sign a contract without reading it in its entirety.
By taking the time up front to discuss what a syllabus is, I have found that I am answering less questions about what is due and when. Students are prepared for class and I have fewer attendance issues.