Goals for a Great Last Week
At any point in the semester, we know that the more content we try to race through, the less students actually learn. To learn deeply, they need opportunities to think, to analyze, to apply concepts, and to develop skills through practice and feedback. Now, when (mysteriously–how did this happen?) the semester is almost over, we may be tempted to cram in content if we feel behind. At this point students are inundated with projects and exams, so their capacity for processing new material is extremely limited. Our last hours with them are better used helping them synthesize—encouraging them to take stock of how much they’ve learned—and providing some closure by helping them to part ways both with the course and with the classroom community.
It’s important to return to our priorities in the last days of the term. What were the most important learning goals? How did you hope students would grow intellectually, professionally, and personally because they took your course? A good closing activity can remind students of these goals and help them see how much they’ve developed. They can reflect on how their understanding has changed; since learning must build upon prior knowledge, they need to solidify the connections they’ve made between old ideas and new. How do they see things differently than they did in August? What can they do now that they couldn’t do before?
To emphasize the social element of class closure, some faculty thank their students for their effort and openness in the course. Some find ways to congratulate and connect with each student individually. Some classes make mementos of their learning or their community. Kevin Dougherty at Baylor creates a celebration of his students’ learning. Depending on class size and discipline, each student might have a few minutes to talk about or share some of their work.
The closing of a course is also an opportunity for students to self-assess, which can be good preparation for final exams. When students are reflecting on what they’ve learned, they can also identify a few areas they still want to practice, clarify, or review in preparation for finals week. An activity in which they take inventory of what they know well and what they still want to study can be followed by a reminder that some study strategies work much better than others. If you spend the last class session on an exam review, save a few minutes at the end to congratulate your students on how far they’ve come.
We wish you the best for the last week of classes!