What Will They Remember?

Bringing the Semester to a Close

After the flurry of deadlines, students often forget much of what we—and they—thought they learned in college courses, especially when they mostly memorize material and“parrot it back” for exams. Rather than trying to rush through additional material at the end of the term, it will be more useful, in the long run, to bring each course to a meaningful close. We can help students consolidate and strengthen their memories with wrap-up activities that prompt them to reflect on and make meaning of their learning. An effectiveclosing activity will help students recognize how much they’ve learned this fall and consider what they want to keep on learning; it can reinforce the value and relevance of the material they’ve studied; it can also acknowledge the sense of loss they (and we) may feel when our time together comes to an end.

The closing of a course is a time for synthesis. Students need to reflect on how their understanding has changed because they took the course; since learning must build upon prior knowledge, they need to solidify the connections they’ve made between old ideas and new. August probably seems like a lifetime ago to most of our students, so it may be useful to revisit the syllabus, asking them to evaluate their attainment of the learning goals, or summarize the central concepts of the course. You might encourage them to speculate on future questions or challenges related to what they’ve learned. You can ask them to write course cover letters explaining how they’ve grown. They might compose letters of advice to future students of the class, reflecting on the course, how they studied, and theeffectiveness of their methods. (Some faculty actually share these letters with the next semester’s students.)

As Boettcher (2012) points out, “a well-designed ending of a course provides opportunities for reflection and integration of useful knowledge. It is also a time to wrap up positive social and cognitive experiences.” To emphasize the social element of class closure, some faculty thank their students for their effort and openness in the course; some shake hands with each student. Some classes make mementos of their learning or their community. Kevin Dougherty at Baylor creates a celebration of his students’ learning. We deserve to celebrate our own work this semester, and we can encourage our students to take pride in how they’ve learned and grown.

Thank you for all you do!