The semester is nearing its end, and it is easy to just grind out the last few weeks before finals, like the last mile of a long race. Just like in a race, though, it is often that final stretch that really counts, both for your performance and how you feel about it, so it is important to finish strongly. For me, finishing a race strongly means focusing on my running form and smiling for the camera–really, smiling helps remind me that I really do love what I’m doing.
So what can you do to finish your semester strongly? Here are a few ideas to consider in the last stretch through finals, along with some potential questions to ask:
Get students to do the synthesis and guide any final review before the final exams. Whether that involves them generating (and answering!) sample exam questions, or a fun game-like review activity, get your students involved in determining what was important from the semester. I’ll take “Piaget Applied” for 200, Alex.
Have students reflect individually and collectively on their learning, especially if you can help them connect back to the learning outcomes you laid out at the start of the semester. Help students realize what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown over the course of the semester. Such bookending activities can affirm their learning and leave them with a sense of accomplishment. How’d we do with accomplishing outcome number 1? How about number 2?
Help students look forward and think about what possible impacts their learning might have for both future coursework and careers. Good reflection isn’t just about looking back, but about locking in that learning by seeing its potential application down the road. How have you changed, and what are you going to do next with your new knowledge and skills? What are you taking with you into your next semester?
Celebrate their success and community, which is particularly useful in classes where students do final presentations or a poster session. I was honored last year to visit Michael Hamburger’s class as they presented their posters about natural disasters and sustainability. The students did wonderful work, were proud of of their accomplishments, and were excited to see how their classmates did. It was a true learning community, a real pleasure to observe. Which classmate’s project really captured the essence of this course for you, and why?
Get them to help your next batch of students by writing letters to your next class on how to succeed in the course. Nudge them away from simple advice (Study early!) or comments on you as a teacher (He likes when you cite primary sources.), and encourage students to capture what it took to really understand and engage with the course material. What did you do that helped you learn more deeply in this course? What made a difference?
Ask for feedback on the course, and make it extend beyond the standard questions in the Online Course Questionnaire (OCQ). What did you really work at to accomplish this year, and how did the students think that went? This one works best if you’ve previously mentioned trying something new, but there is always room for a genuine question at the end, as long as students sense you really are going to do something with their feedback. So, I really worked hard at doing X this semester. How did that work out for you, and how could I do it differently in the future?
The end of the semester is almost here, and there are many ways you can make that final stretch meaningful to you and your students. Just like in racing, remember to focus on your form–what mattered most in week (or mile) two is what will get you and your students to the finish line with a camera-ready smile on your face.
Oh, and when you finally cross the finish line, remember to breathe.