Crossing The Finish Line: Some Suggestions for Ending the Term

Last days of class are perhaps just a short hop behind the first days in the big scheme of stressful days of teaching. This itself may come as a surprise. A last class needs close examination. Not enough educators pay enough attention to the last day. Many of us cannot wait to be done with grading and move on to break. Break is great but tarry a moment. Try extra hard to make sure the day is cohesive but even more so, ensure students the big picture. End strong.

I like to link to many elements of the course, and most importantly, I have a summary statement.  This is not a day where if I run out early I just stop. I have three main elements to the day.

First of course, is finishing content. Some years/semesters I leave more for the last day than others. During the term, when I go short, I can always go slower on the next component. If I go long, I can go faster on the next. At term’s end, if you have fallen behind, it is sometimes better to not stress students by cramming in all that is left. Be judicious and make the call on what material you can leave out. Your students will probably remember what you DO cover better. Remember, you the instructor writes the final exam. If you did not cover something, you may not need to test on it.

Second, a review for the exam. I think that students are more comfortable when the instructor does at least some review in class. I do not do in class reviews for all exams as it is not always the best use of class time (I opt for optional sessions or online office hours), but for the first and last exams – the ones with most student stress — taking some class time to review is key.  I like the reviews to be upbeat and fun and use some game-show format AND try and do a little group competition and work for a prize. MUCH harder to do in a 350-member class than in a 120- or 25- member class, but it still works. Always a pleasant surprise when many students know the answers.

Third, the course summary. THIS is KEY. I spend time thinking of the main ideas students should leave class with. What are the big themes? What are the skills they can use in daily life? With 10 weeks of content it is easy for the students to miss the big picture. The summary spans the entire term and is designed to be a reminder of the scope of the class and its applicability to life. A capstone experience to even an Intro class is key.

Optimally you review the course learning outcomes, the assignments that you used to assess them, and the utility of the material. For me this takes the form of going over the syllabus–yes again on the last day of class, to show students the map of the journey we have taken together.

One of the biggest benefits to orchestrating a great last day, is that you not only give your students the big picture and reasons to process the material in a deep fashion, but it also provided you with a time to reflect on the course. Before you DO ride off into the break, set aside time to assess how YOU liked the course. What worked? Which assignment generated the most student confusion? What can you do about it?

Endings are the best time to set the stage for better next beginnings.

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