End of Course Closure

todolistMany 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:

http://cms.bsu.edu/about/administrativeoffices/educationalexcellence/resources/teachingtips/ending

http://languages.oberlin.edu/blogs/ctie/2014/04/27/closing-time-managing-the-end-of-the-semester/

http://teaching.colostate.edu/tips/tip.cfm?tipid=154

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

Hope Theory in the Classroom

shanelopez
Shane Lopez Ph.D.

For the last few years, MCC-Longview faculty have been exploring the question of what internal and external factors inspire our students to become motivated to do well not only in our classrooms but outside our campus walls. By asking this overarching question, several Longview faculty then explored Shane Lopez’s Hope Theory as explained in his popular book Making Hope Happen:  Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others. According to Lopez, Hope Theory involves the ability to consistently seek agency in life, create focused and specific goals, and to overcome various obstacles. Yet, this theory is not simply just a helpful mindset to have. Hope Theory dramatically alters the academic lives of our students when it is fully adopted by students, and, as Lopez explains, the ability to hope has been found to be a better predictor of success than previous grades, IQ, and/or standardized exams.

IHE_June2012_hopeStudentsGradRatesV1

Given this compelling evidence, Longview faculty have sought to implement strategies, assignments and discussions in their classrooms which encourage their students to actively utilize Hope Theory inside and outside of the classroom. In fact, thanks to Connie Flick-Hruska who led efforts to form the StrengthsQuest/Hope Committee, faculty now have access to a considerable amount of research and material to help them transform their classrooms’ design.

Here are a few stories from faculty about the influence Hope Theory has had on their teaching methods as well as their students’ academic journeys.

Angela Bahner: As a strong advocate for simple but effective teaching strategies based on Hope Theory, Angela Bahner has said the following:  “I have really enjoyed implementing Hope Theory into the classroom. Using Hope Theory allows me to bring active learning into the classroom and help students think about applying research in their own lives. The Hope Project provides excellent discussion prompts for students to identify past challenges and successes in their own lives, and through discussion they often identify some key aspects of hope like meaningful goals and motivation to overcome barriers.  The clear lesson on Hope Theory provides an academic definition and description of theory, along with research from Dr. Shane Lopez and the Gallup organization. Students then work on applying Hope Theory to our particular class, setting goals, and most importantly brainstorming and identifying clear pathways and behaviors that would allow students to meet those goals.  One important part of the learning process is  monitoring progress, and so the classroom check-ins provide opportunities for students to monitor their goals, and discuss with peers what successes and barriers they are encountering through the early stages of the semester. I’ve found that using Hope Theory allows me to set a positive and growth-oriented tone in my class, while at the same time setting high standards and clear expectations for what kinds of student behaviors lead to success in the classroom (i.e. appropriate and specific pathways for success in my class).” Thus, by guiding her students to proactively anticipate the inevitable struggles which come with academic learning, Angela has been able to “create a mindset for dealing with failure and challenges by focusing on identifying alternate pathways and using supports on campus to recover and improve.”

 Cindy Herbert: When first learning about Hope Theory and then utilizing it in her classroom, Cindy’s immediate reaction was that she could see it benefiting the class due to creating a stronger sense of connection and community amongst the students. Thus, for the past few semesters, Cindy has infused Hope Theory into her computer science classrooms by creating interventions or “check ins” with her students through a variety of short writing-based assignments. More specifically, these check-ins ask students to evaluate their ability to hope and current grades as well as their current academic and life obstacles. Yet, during class time, Cindy takes just a short segment of the class to distribute these assignments and then allow students to openly respond to what they learn about themselves with her. By using this strategy, Cindy found that she experienced a much more open channel of communication with her students which allowed for early alerts of academic trouble. In fact, she has had several students find that they were wrong about the grades they thought they had in her class; yet, by doing an early check-in, they have been able to problem how to change potentially their standing in her classroom before it is too late.

Burke Maxted: This semester, Burke has looked to Hope Theory to not only engage his students but to also solve obstacles for many of his students are currently struggling with passing the class. As he points out, “Certainly, motivation for some members of my class is an issue.” Despite a more challenging semester with his College 100 students, Burke has not given up on them and has been currently working on various creative tactics to engage his classroom. In a candid response to his current class obstacles, he explains that “[Currently] my students are meeting with either me or a Peer Leader as an assignment for class points to “check in.” […] I have followed the traditional implementation schedule and we’ve discussed the definition and importance of Pathways and Agency. We’ve viewed the PowerPoint Connie put together, identified campus resources, discussed Caleb’s story, and I continue to use the words ‘Pathways’ and ‘Agency’ in my lectures where possible and transfer this learning into each topic of the College 100 curriculum. […] While most of the Hope Scores were high, it is not translating into College 100 class success for some; perhaps, the issue is they don’t see their failing College 100 grade or their lack of interest in assignments as an obstacle.  I have attempted to suggest this in class indicating that ‘a current failing grade is an obstacle.’  As we move through the class, we might discuss the obstacles students have overcome and bring light to their success stories.  We might do this in an anonymous way and then post the success stories around the room and have everyone get up and read them.” Clearly, Burke’s response indicates he is willing to do whatever it takes to drive home the best and most effective parts of Hope Theory in order to encourage the most successful outcomes for his students.

What do you do to help students navigate challenges and make necessary changes?

Additional Resources:

Article – Researchers Apply Hope Theory to Boost College Success

Article – Hope Theory and First Year Learning

Article – Hope and Academic Success in College

PowerPoint – Hope Theory and Academic Success

Website – Shane Lopez

Buy on Amazon –  Making Hope Happen