School’s Out! Almost. Strategies for the Last Day of Class

School’s Out! Almost. Strategies for the Last Day of Class

The last-day challenge

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?

Invigorating the last day of class

 CTL.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:

  • Can you identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea that you learned while taking this class?
  • Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea is important?
  • Apply what you have learned from this class to some aspect of your life.
  • What question(s) has the class raised for you? What are you still wondering about?

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!  CTL

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:

  • Have students write a letter to next year’s class with advice on how to succeed in the course.
  • For courses where students have produced a body of writing or art, have them give short ‘portfolio presentations’ to explain themes in their work to the rest of the class.
  • Ask students how they could make a difference in the world with the knowledge they’ve gained.
  • Thank students for their contributions to the course and ask them to share what they learned from each other.
  • Hold an ‘open Q&A’ where students can ask any questions they’d like (possibly excepting questions about the final exam, religion, or politics).
  • With any activity, it never hurts to bring snacks!

What are your techniques for the last day of class? Share them here!

References:

http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/prompts-that-get-students-to-analyze-reflect-relate-and-question/

http://teaching.berkeley.edu/what-do-last-day-class

http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/

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.