The first day of class usually gets all the attention, and the last day of class is often neglected. By the end of a semester, the energy of most students and instructors has waned, and both have settled into comfortable routines. Too often, activities (if there are any) for the last day of class are cobbled together the night before, or the instructor gives a bland ‘wrap-up’ lecture summarizing the previous weeks. This is the challenge: how to create a last day of class that leaves students thinking about what a great course they took, and leaves you wanting to teach it again next year.
How can you make the last day substantive, engaging, and meaningful?
One way is through metacognitive reflection exercises, or those that promote “thinking about one’s thinking.” While reflection is most useful when incorporated throughout a course, if that isn’t possible, the last day of class presents a great opportunity for student reflection. Reflection exercises can reinforce students’ sense of the value of the class and can also give you useful feedback about what concepts might need better explanation next year.
A straightforward technique is to have students write down their answers to a short series of questions, and then discuss them as a class. Dietz-Uhler & Lanter (2009, p.38) developed four versatile questions that encourage students to “analyze, reflect, relate, and question” material they’ve learned. Modified for the last day of class, these are:
Dietz-Uhler and Lanter’s research showed that these questions can actually enhance students’ retention of concepts and enable them to think about course material in more complex ways. What a great use for the last day of class!
Reflection activities can take less structured forms as well. In smaller classes, why not have a lively discussion of what worked and what recommendations students would make for next year’s class? In large lectures, give students some time to brainstorm, then have small groups of volunteers come to the front to outline some ‘best uses’ of the knowledge they’ve gained in the course. Then have the volunteers lead a discussion with the whole class.
Other good activities for the last day of class might include:
What are your techniques for the last day of class? Share them here!
Alexander, M. E., Commander, N., Greenberg, D., and Ward, T. (2010) Using the four-questions technique to enhance critical thinking in online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6 (2), 409-415.
Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning. Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.
Grossman, Robert. “Structures for Facilitating Student Reflection.” College Teaching 57, no. 1 (2009): 15–22. doi:10.3200/CTCH.57.1.15-22.