Finals Week Tips

Some semesters you just want collect their final assignments, send them away, and get back to your office and collapse. Occasionally the last class feels like more like saying goodbye to those cool friends you met on vacation when you made that intense trek up the mountain together and nearly died in the avalanche but it was worth it because you got to hear the monks chanting at sunrise while you shared pots of smoky tea and watched the peaks emerge from the clouds. Okay, maybe not quite like that. But surely some significant connections have been made as this group has worked together over the past 15 weeks. The last couple of class sessions offer a chance to help students crystallize what was really meaningful about that experience, which in turn can help us see our teaching work more clearly.

Here are four things you might try this last week:

  1. Ask students to write a note of advice to the students who will take the course next semester.  What should they look forward to, watch out for, or prepare for to get the most out of the course? These can be turned into a how-to-succeed guide for your next group of students, with the benefit of having been crowd-source by experienced authorities.
  2. Take five minutes to discuss or have students write about questions or problemsthe course leaves them with. What piqued their interest but needs more investigation? What turned out to be more complicated than they suspected? Especially if these problems can be linked with further coursework they will do in their program, this is a great way for students to see your course as part of a larger field of inquiry.
  3. Here’s my favorite:  For years a magazine I sometimes read ran a guest-authored column called “How My Mind Has Changed.” When I first started teaching I stole the idea and on the last day of class asked my students to write a one-paragraph response to that prompt in relation to our course. They could reflect on new information they had assimilated, new opinions on a topic we had explored, even revised attitudes toward learning itself. The exercise allows the students to look up from study guides and exam schedules to glimpse the bigger picture of their growth as educated people.  Sort of the point, right?
  4. Make sure the people who formed the temporary community that was your class have a chance to say goodbye to each other. Maybe it’s two minutes set aside for classmates to swap contact info; maybe it’s just a full eye-contact handshake when they give you their final exam. Ceremony is powerful. With or without chanting monks.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.


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