Feed on

Spring semester always seems to pass quickly, and this year’s late start has added further stress to an already hectic and nerve-wracking time. This can be especially stressful as instructors attempt to keep students engaged and motivated and plan meaningful end of course experiences. However, the end of the semester is also the perfect time to engage metacognition and bring learning full circle. As we sprint toward the end of courses, there are a few small interventions that can make the final weeks more productive and positive. 

Provide structured opportunities for organization and scheduling

When feeling overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated with the amount of work we have to do, we often procrastinate or feel hopeless. Routines have been shown to manage stress and anxiety, but they are often thrown off by end of semester cramming and large projects. Creating schedules and to-do lists can help instructors and students establish routines and prioritize their commitments, but they also combat procrastination, break large projects into smaller goals, and establish a healthy routine with wellbeing practices like exercise, rest, and restoration. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Scheduling, Prioritizing, and Goal-setting (15 minutes)
    List activities, responsibilities, and deadlines that are draining your energy right now. Review your list and consider what things you can let go of, minimize or set boundaries around. Break the larger task for this course into smaller components and set deadlines for yourself. Incorporate these into your schedule along with breaks for meals, rest, and sleep. Consider doing this for other courses and incorporate them into your new schedule. 

    This can be a low-stakes 1-point component to a research paper or group project, but it can also serve as an exercise to complete during a meeting in office hours or student consultations. Make sure to incorporate transparent design by clearly explaining the activity to students and showing why this activity is important. 

Facilitate review and reflection 

To help students recall what they’ve already learned (and make it easier to draw on this knowledge in future classes), encourage them to think critically about the course, question concepts, draw conclusions, and synthesize by providing them with guided opportunities to review course material, reflect on their progress, and self-evaluate. Research shows that active review sessions can advance student learning and they help instructors to plan the final days of the course in effective and meaningful ways. These reviews can take the form of study guides, concept maps, journals, and more. Consider the way that these metacognitive strategies can facilitate planning, monitoring, and evaluation. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Journal-based self-assessment – monitoring (10 minutes)
    Reflect on your learning during this unit and respond to the following prompt: In what ways is the teaching in this course supportive of my learning? How could I maximize this? In what ways is the teaching in this course not supportive of my learning? How could I compensate for this? How interested am I in this course? How confident am I in my learning? What could I do to increase my interest and confidence? What can the instructor do to support my learning?

    As with scheduling, writing can serve as a kind of rehearsal for the things we need to do. Guided and free journaling can reduce stress and help students to process learning more efficiently by activating their prior knowledge; practicing and applying new strategies; reflecting on their strengths and challenges; and articulating goals.

Plan for an effective bookend for your course 

We can think about the first and last day of the course as bookends. They perform the important function of containing all the vital course content, and what we do with them matters. You probably spent some time on the first day of class setting the tone and facilitating students’ connection to the course content. By revisiting the big questions that you may have highlighted on the first day of class, you can create a narrative arc for students to follow. The final class can reinforce long-term learning and make large-scale connections, which will reinforce all of the excellent lessons instructors and students shared. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Maps and stories – How did we get here? (20 minutes)
    In a large group identify major concepts, important ideas, and a few supporting details from the course. Divide students into smaller groups to collaboratively construct mind maps or narratives (this can be a short activity or longer and broken up over a couple of classes). Students should present and discuss their maps with the rest of the class (making adjustments as necessary).  Alternatively, begin by reviewing the course objectives and ask students to map these with reference to course content and discussions.

Make space for authentic connection 

Encourage students to Make room for moments, people and activities (cultural, spiritual, creative, community-based) that bring them energy. Remember to celebrate and reinforce the connections they made in the course. The course has become a community with a shared history. It’s important to acknowledge all the time spent together in pursuit of a shared goal. This is a great opportunity to practice gratitude to increase wellbeing. Instructors also benefit from implementing gratitude practices.

  • Sample Activity for students: Gratitude (10-15 minutes)
    Provide students with sample prompts for writing: What are students glad to have learned? What did they appreciate about someone else in the class? What authors of course materials would they like to thank for their work? Share in small or large groups or you can allow students to submit them to you for posting anonymously. If time is a concern, it’s not necessary to read students’ ideas aloud for the gratitude effect to take place; it’s the moment of being grateful that seems to have the impact.

Concluding the semester in a meaningful way is important for student learning and teaching success. These strategies will help students to make clear and meaningful connections between course content and learning, but they also ease the stress on students preparing for the end of your course by promoting wellbeing. Planning purposeful activities can make the last class meaningful and memorable for our students and ourselves. 

6 Teaching strategies for the Last Week of Class – Graduate School, UNL
The Beginning and End of Class – Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale
It’s a Wrap! Making the Last Class Memorable – Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Kennesaw State University
Better Endings – Center for Teaching and Learning, Trinity College
Subverting End of Semester Exhaustion – Inside Higher Ed 
Christopher Uhl (2005) “The Last Class,” College Teaching, 53:4, 165-166, DOI: 10.3200/CTCH.53.4.165-166

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