Teaching Tip #11: The End Is Near

Spring is here; final classes and exams can’t be far behind.   Planning for the end of a course often gets left until, well, the end.  In Tools for Teaching, Barbara Gross Davis discusses three tasks you may want to think about as your classes wind down:  helping students prepare for final exams; giving students a sense of closure; and conducting an end-of-course rating.

Not everyone who requires an in-class final exam holds review sessions, nor does Davis suggest that you should.  She points out that review sessions can help students reduce their anxiety, practice skills and gauge the amount of studying they need to do to prepare effectively.   If you do decide to hold a review session, here are some questions to consider:

  • Will the session be required?  If so, you will probably need to conduct it during a class period, although you could schedule two sessions and require students to attend one of them. Davis’ research indicates that scheduling a review two or three days before the final seems to be particularly helpful since students will have done some preliminary studying already, but our exam schedule may preclude this.
  • How will you structure the review?  Obviously you don’t want it to be a 75 minute summary of the course.  Options include giving a short simulated test with discussion, a game show format, or asking students to create a study guide or questions.   The more actively engaged the students are in the session, the more helpful it is likely to be both as a learning experience and as preparation for the exam.
  • Be sure to provide the basic information about the exam e.g. need for bluebooks, pencils, open-vs. closed book  as well as any advice you can give about the best way to prepare.

Whether or not you conduct a review session, think about ways to give your class a sense of closure. Many faculty members have some type of celebration, but there are other options as well.  Davis suggests asking students to write to each other or to you.  These notes could be about what they learned, what they think they will remember most, or what they liked and disliked.  Or you might ask students what they will regret not saying or doing in/for your class, or recommendations they would give to someone taking the class in the future.  Discussing what students have learned and how they will apply it in other classes or in their lives engages students effectively as well.  These types of reflection can give you and your students a sense of accomplishment and closure.

Closure is not just for students.  Particularly if it’s been a tough semester or a tough class, you may want to talk with a colleague or reflect in writing about what you learned and what you will do differently next time.  Challenging experiences can be the stimulus we need to make positive change, if we are willing to reflect on the experience and then let it go.  Of course, reflecting on those classes that went well (and why) also helps you improve your teaching and your attitude.

End of course student evaluations can go beyond the MU online variety.  The University evaluations are important, and research suggests that students are more likely to fill them out in a thoughtful manner if you stress their importance in class.  However, if you also use your own assessment, you can ask more specific questions that will help you evaluate changes you need to make.  If you give a pre-assessment survey of student knowledge at the beginning of class, it’s easy to re-administer the same survey to see how much students feel they have learned.  They are often surprised and pleased to see how much they have done in your class.

What are your end-of-course rituals?  Please share them with us!

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