Many of us know from life experiences (and any good story) that the ending matters just as much as the beginning. For college faculty, few things can probably cause such simultaneous joy and sense of overwhelm as the end of a semester. On the one hand, the end of the semester brings into focus the hard work of the past 16 weeks, along with culminations in student projects and the sense of closure that comes with ending a semester well. On the other hand, it also often brings an avalanche of grading, rising student anxieties with the realization that time has run out and there really is no extra credit, and time-pressure to finish material and cover everything on the syllabus. How many of us at one time or another have crossed that finish line throwing our hands up in defeat and exhaustion, crumpled into balls of stress only to be revived by summer sunshine and the knowledge that we get to do it all over again, and make it better, next time around?
Teaching resources often spend a great deal of time and attention focusing on how to start the semester well, and no doubt faculty invest an enormous amount of time and energy in creating lively, meaningful, and engaging beginnings to their course. It has also been acknowledged by many teaching and learning centers that the endings don’t seem to get the same amount of attention. In Eggelston and Smith’s (2002) article, numerous reasons are cited related to the lack of attention to class endings such as practical time constraints, attempts to “cover” as much material as possible, and even our own discomfort with saying good-bye or dealing with endings.
We hope this blog can support faculty in considering how to end class in a meaningful way, both for ourselves and our students. Eggelston and Smith (2002) surveyed faculty members and students from two different institutions, and they reported that the majority of faculty in their sample ended class by focusing on finals, projects, or review sessions. A smaller percentage did more to end to class, like offering parting words of wisdom and making an official good-bye to the class. It may be surprising to note that of their student sample, 90% reported they would like more closure from their courses.
As with any teaching tool, it’s important that faculty do something that fits within the scope of their course and own personal style. We hope this blog can inspire all of us to make sure we end our courses in a meaningful way. Because after all, you and your course matters in the educational lives of our students. Make it count!
Here are Longview faculty voices on the topic of ending class in a meaningful way:
Aisha Sharif, English
Professor Sharif structures her class, so that small writing reflections throughout the semester are then used in a cumulative fashion to help create a meaningful end-of-semester final essay. For each unit, Prof. Sharif has students complete a reflection essay in which they self-evaluate their writing skills in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and goals for improvement. In each successive reflection, students are able to track their progress and skill development. At the end of the semester, Prof. Sharif then has students use their self-reflective writing to write a final persuasive essay regarding their own progress and final grade in the class. In this way, Prof. Sharif allows students to reflect upon their writing journey for the semester, while also developing and using skills for their final essay.
Michael Connelly, Philosophy
Professor Connelly celebrates the end of class by holding what he calls a “Truth Day.” Students can ask any philosophical question, and Prof. Connelly does his best to answer while creating engaging discussions in class. Philosophical questioning that is student driven also allows Prof. Connelly to review key concepts and theories in preparation for the final. Finally, Prof. Connelly uses this activity to highlight lifelong learning, noting that questioning and critical thinking doesn’t end just because class is ending in order to encourage students to take philosophical skills into their everyday lives.
Robyn McGee, English
Professor Robyn McGee teaches an African-American literature survey course every spring, and students cover a broad range of material over different historical periods and genres. Realizing that students can often get “lost” historically without proper context, she introduces them to a timeline at the beginning of the semester. This timeline incorporates the authors and titles, along with important historical events, so that students can situate themselves and their readings in the proper historical context. At the end of the semester, Dr. McGee revisits this timeline, asking students to make connections between the works of literature that they previously knew very little or nothing about. For example, she asks them to reflect upon the connection that Ida B. Wells-Barnett has with the era of lynching in which she found herself writing. Or students might be asked to reflect upon the many ways that W.E.B. DuBois influenced the many writers who came after him. Seeing all the authors, titles, and historical events they have covered over the 16-week period, students feel great accomplishment at being able to connect them all and see the progression—to understand that none of them existed in a vacuum and, perhaps even more importantly, to see how all of the topics they’ve covered affects our world today, particularly in terms of race relations. All of the writers they discovered and studied were reacting to something socially, politically, and culturally, and it’s wonderful to see the students make these kinds of connections at the end of a long semester.
How do you provide academic and emotional closing to your course?
For additional tips and inspiration on ending courses:
Eggelston, T. J, and Smith, G.E. (2002). Parting ways: ending your course. APS Observer, v 15, 3. Retrieved http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2002/march-02/parting-ways-ending-your-course.html
Image credit: Global Women Connected