Dec 08 2010
The Last Day of Class
The last day of class rapidly approaches (at least on the New York campuses)! The way students feel about a class greatly influences their retention of the material and whether they will ever take another, similar class. Make the last day of class one that leaves students with good memories of your discipline.
Here are some things to avoid:
Above all, resist the temptation to cover that last little bit of material! Students will not retain it past the final exam, almost guaranteed. Also, rushing to cover a few more items demonstrates that a professor did not plan very well, since closure, review, and reflection are key activities for learning.
Don't end class with those dreary student evaluation forms! Don't plan student presentations for the last day (may be too late for this semester) – it's high-pressure for the students, and frankly, sitting through one presentation after another can be pretty dull especially when they're more worried about their finals. Don't cancel class, but do make it worthwhile to attend.
Here are some things to try:
Use the last day to help students reflect on their semester, to consider how what they learned in your class fit in with everything else they did. For example:
Use the syllabus as a tool for overall course review. Or, give a “simulated” exam and have students work in groups to answer the questions (be careful with this, because students may expect the real exam to be exactly like the review one). Ask students to share some ideas about how they prepare for final exams and handle the stress of exam week.
Ask students to create a flow chart or concept map to describe relationships among the concepts in your class and to identify some outside ideas that also relate.
Ask students to write a letter to someone who will take the course next year. They should provide an introduction and describe good learning strategies for the course. Seal the letters and don't look at them until grades are in. Deliver the best ones to students at the start of the next class.
Ask students to work together to write a concise and complete response to the question: “What is __________?” Fill in the name of your discipline, the class, or another relevant concept.
Have a discussion on what worked and what didn't work in the class. This will need to be handled carefully since grades are still to come. Make sure to focus the discussion on learning, not on what people “liked” or didn't like.
Talk about yourself and how the class has fit into your research interests or other aspects of your professional life. If you have carefully maintained neutrality on hot-button issues all quarter long, this is a very good way to leave the students with a sense of where you stand and why you do what you do. One good example is an astronomer who, on the last day, told stories about his country's traditional religious beliefs about the origins of the universe and then talked about his personal journey to science.
Congratulate students who are graduating and if they're comfortable, have them talk briefly about their plans. Congratulate everyone on having completed the semester successfully.
And of course, food is always a good send-off. If you're up to it…provide cookies. Or better yet, ask the students to bring in a favorite dessert to share.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted, with permission, from a similar post at Cal Poly Pomona.
Faculty Center for Professional Development
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona