Planning for Course Endings – Looking Back, Moving Forward

3 Dec

Back in August I made a plan for the start of the semester, how to introduce students to one another, to active learning, and to course concepts.  Now, at the end of the term, my students, like me, are counting the days – not weeks – remaining in the semester.

Now, I find myself with another planning question to resolve:  What will I plan for the closing days of the semester?  I want my students to end the term by synthesize what they’ve learned so that when they think back on our classes, they think more than “Oh yeah, I took that class.  I don’t remember much about it though.”

Parting at semester’s end is important: closure, synthesis, reinforcing new field-specific learning or highlighting new practices for life learning. So before you cross another day off your calendar, make room for a brief 30 minutes to consider how you can plan for the parting and help students synthesize what they’ve learned.  Here are a variety of activities to prompt your planning:

3-2-1: A personal favorite of mine, have your students write down three key concepts they’ll remember, two ways they can apply what they’ve learned, and one burning question they still have.  If you do this with a week or two to go, you can try and work in the answers to those burning questions.  You can see what students thought were the most salient aspects of your course and how they might use them.   Summarizing all of these for the class can also serve as a review if you are giving a cumulative final.

Headline:  Ask your students to write a headline, using just six to eight words, to summarize what they’ll remember most from your course.  Collect these to see what themes emerge and to frame a final discussion. These can also be used to verify that your main message for the course was on track.

Letter to future students: James Lang asked readers of The Chronicle for suggested activities.  One contributor recommended having students write a letter to future students, giving them advice on how they can do well in your course.   This can give your students a chance to reflect on what they’ve learned and you a chance to see what they think is important.  With permission, you could share these letters with future students.  You could also consider, as Stephen Brookfield does, asking current students if they would be willing to come back at the beginning of the next semester to share these thoughts personally with your new class. Brookfield notes that former students, especially those who were initially resistant, often have more credibility with their peers and that current students will buy into what they have to say with much greater ease.

Fortunes:   Eggleston and Smith suggest giving students fortunes at the end of the course, each with a summary of a key lesson from the class or a quote that reflects the course content.  I’m betting students would all want to know what each other’s fortunes say, with the result being an expanded review of course content.   It also allows you to restate the key lessons you hope students take home.

Class closure cards:  In their article “Building Community in the Classroom through Ice Breakers and Parting Ways”, Eggleston and Smith suggest having students get into small groups.  Each group draws a card and has 10 minutes to discuss and then each group reports back to the larger class.  Questions on the cards could include:

  • What was the big picture of this course?
  • What information was most surprising?
  • What areas need further research?
  • How did your view of the subject change over the course of the class?
  • Have you changed your opinion of the course topic as a result of this course?  If so, how?  If not, why?

This is an activity that could also be done via an online discussion board.  Reviewing these as a class, with follow-up discussion, can serve as a gauge for what was learned, what was missed, and what captured student attention.

Carousel-Style Review:  Post sheets of paper around the room, with a key concept or topic written on each.  Have small groups of students spend a few minutes at each paper, writing down what they remember.   Students can question or even challenge each other over what has been written and a class discussion of what has been written can supplement the review.   Pictures or summaries of the posters could then be posted on the course website.   In the short term, this activity allows students to review and synthesize what they’ve learned as well as fill in any gaps.  You can review the posters later on to reflect on what students “got” and what they didn’t quite grasp. 

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2 Responses to “Planning for Course Endings – Looking Back, Moving Forward”

  1. Matthew Venesky 3 December 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Nice idea. I like the concept of the “3-2-1” activity and will actually use this in an integrative genetics-development-evolution course I am co-teaching this semester. We actually have a “free” last lecture (safety net for when we get behind) and are not going to be behind. Thanks for the post!

  2. Kit Hansen 10 December 2013 at 6:24 am #

    These are all great ideas! I wish I hadn’t been too busy wrapping up (as suggested early in the article) so that I could have accomodated one of them. But there’s always next semester, right?

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