From the Director - May 2013

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Dr. Ann Johnson, director Faculty Development

The wrap-up: Ideas for the last day of class

When I was younger I recall having many good intentions about using the last day of class to reflect on and integrate what had happened during the semester.  Students would think about and share their Meaningful Learning Experiences, there would be significant bonding, perhaps a few tears shed, and we would all leave on a high note – in my imagination. In reality, I often use that day to catch up, students are exhausted and cranky, and they’re glad when I let them go early.

This semester I’ve scheduled an entire class session for nothing but integration exercises. I’ve been collecting ideas from experts about wrapping up a class and thought I’d share them with you. I’m excited about trying some of these – but, honestly, I’ll probably let students out a little early, too.

By the way, if you’re using the last day for course evaluations – experts advise against it, as do all experienced teachers. Students are in a better framework for meaningful evaluation a few weeks prior to the end of class. Next semester, work it into your schedule earlier.

Some ideas for the last day of class

Letters to future students:

 Have students each write a letter to a fictional student enrolled in your class next semester. Have them describe what to expect, what they will learn, and how they can get the most out of your class. Have them identify something that they got out of your class they were not expecting, and provide advice and encouragement. Students can discuss their letters in pairs and/or read out loud (from Dakin Burdick and others, see below). Read more about this technique in Found Wisdom.

Portfolios: If students have been keeping a portfolio in your course, have them select two pieces of work that demonstrate personal growth over the semester and share with the class. If possible, discuss how the examples relate to your course objectives.
Two most important things: Have them write down (on a piece of paper you can collect) the two most important things they’ve learned in your course, whether a new skill, some new knowledge or how to use a resource. Have each member share at least one thing. I have used this successfully (with classes of 20-25); I also collect the papers and summarize what students get out of the class on my syllabus for the next semester.
Create a ritual for your course: Think about something creative that fits your course content and size – a set of awards, a gratitude exercise, or having students create “toasts” to honor ideas, theories, historical figures, etc., drawn from your course materials and topics.
Modeling life-long learning: Describe for your students what you have learned from them over the semester. It might relate to the success or failure of a new teaching strategy you tried out, or a new angle on the subject matter provided by students’ questions and interests. Explain how you’ll use this new knowledge when you teach the class next semester.
 Here are a couple that require advance planning; you may want to think about using them next year.
Letter to the future: Dakin Burdick from Endicott College recommends this one. At the beginning of the course, have students think about and list the skills they want to develop or strengthen during your course. You may want to use these during the semester to link your activities and content, if feasible, to student goals. On the last day, hand these lists back to students and discuss whether they’ve been able to reach their goals.
Pre-test, Post-test: If you assess student knowledge (or skills or values) at the beginning of your course, use the same assessment again on the last day. Students will gain awareness of how far they’ve come over the semester, and you can identify areas you might want to address differently next time you teach the course. You can also use this data to document your teaching effectiveness in your year-end report – you need not rely solely on IDEA feedback.

Do you have favorite last-day-of-class activities or rituals? Please send them to me. Adequate closure creates a sense of satisfaction for all involved and can reinforce the meaningful connections we’ve made with our students – connections that sometimes get lost or strained with end-of-semester stress. I wish each of you a calm and satisfying end to your semester and look forward to hearing your ideas for effective wrap-ups.

Additional resources:

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