Fall term has been a lot for students to navigate. While the return to in-person learning for some students has been exciting and joyful, it’s also come with stress, overwhelm, and burnout as the term gets busier, and motivation become challenging. The last few weeks of the term are often a whirlwind of holidays; assignments; work; and moving between different spaces for travel, studying, and finals.
Instructors have likely already planned out class time for the next few weeks, and supervisors and team leads may not have a lot of space left in staff meetings either. However, these three strategies take relatively little time, and can have a big impact on students’ experience of the final weeks of the term.
Help Students Plan Post-Holiday Academics
OSU’s fall term is unique with a holiday before Week 10. The final weeks of the term go by fast, and the Week 9 break can sometimes make students feel they have more time than they do, or that they may be able to accomplish more after the break than is feasible. If students don’t look ahead, they may find themselves surprised when facing Week 10 and Finals.
If you’re an instructor, it can help to take a few minutes in class during Week 8 or 9 to look ahead with students. If you have an assignment due early Week 10, you could post a few prompts during class or on Canvas to help students consider
- How long will this assignment take?
- What day(s) do they hope to complete it on?
- If these days are over the holiday/weekend…
- What time do they want to hold for themselves?
- What times are best for work that will make Week 10 manageable?
For those supporting students in non-class contexts, these questions work well too! Giving students space to plan intentionally can make Week 10 easier to navigate.
Prompt Backward Planning
Particularly when things get busy or feel overwhelming, students often benefit from being prompted to plan around finals.
For instructors, highlighting final due dates in class—whether that’s a final exam, project, or paper—and giving students 10 minutes to plan backwards from that date can be a big help. A calendar and a few prompts can be useful for planning:
- What are smaller steps to accomplishing the larger task?
- E.g., if writing a paper, when will you draft? When will you get feedback, and from whom? When will you revise?
- If studying in advance of a final, how might you distribute your practice over time?
- What support and resources do you have? When will you reach out to them?
In non-class contexts supervising student staff or advising, giving students space to do that same kind of planning can also be helpful. Beyond finals-related questions, you might also prompt students to consider
- How do work hours intersect with studying or finals? Would any adjustments to schedule be needed or helpful?
- What other routine or non-routine events are important to include on your calendar these next three weeks?
The Academic Success Center’s Final Survival Guide has a variety of tools and strategies for planning the end of the term and maintaining well-being. It also includes a small and large calendar you could share with students.
As the term gets hectic, reminding students of the importance of self-care helps students attend to their well-being in addition to the variety of commitments they’re balancing within and outside of academics. Here are a few ways you can encourage self-care:
- Share the DAM Good Self-Care Packet, and create space for students to identify strategies or fill out page 4’s Plan for Self-Care. A few minutes in class, in a staff meeting, or during a conversation can remind students how important their well-being is.
- Encourage breaks. Nearing finals, students often have longer study sessions and may benefit from considering
- How long can you maintain focus before losing attention or energy?
- How long will your breaks be? And with what frequency?
- What will you do during breaks?
- How will you get back on track after a longer break?
- Make space for students to share self-care strategies. Sometimes hearing from other students and from you about approaches to self-care and managing stress can give students a range of strategies and normalize self-care as a part of overall well-being and academic success.
I hope some of these ideas are helpful as you think about supporting students at the end of fall term. If you have additional ideas or strategies you use, please share them in the comments!