Beginnings and Endings

Note: With the end of the semester nearing, I thought I’d share this post from December 2014 which discusses different ways to end a class. Enjoy.

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

-Herman Melville

Most people probably don’t recognize that line but it’s the last sentence from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I’ve included the sentence to demonstrate a point. While many people can recite the beginning to that book, few recognize the ending.  I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings and endings over the last few weeks.  We’re nearing the end of another semester at the institution in which I teach.  Since my institution also has a winter term, like me, many instructors are also thinking about starting a new class in just a few days.  This overlap creates an interesting confluence of emotions and provides fodder for reflection.  In many cases, students enter the last day of class to take a final exam and then leave expressionless and withdrawn after rehearsing and rehashing a semester’s worth of content.  I wonder how memorable these moments will be for students.  Like the ending of Melville’s tome, I wonder whether those moments will be as easily forgotten.

In this week’s post, I thought I’d share some of the ways I’ve ended some of my classes.  While I often struggle to create effective closures to manuscripts, lessons and activities, I thought these might provide some ideas for people who are considering how to end the semester.

1.  Celebrate!  In quite a few classes, I’ve held a semester-end celebration.  While these are often paired with some curricular activity that wraps up the content from the course, I find that the celebration acts to provide a distinct closure to the semester and a way to effectively rejoice from the semester long journey.

2.  I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter.  In some classes, I have brought paper and envelopes and asked the students to write letters to their future selves. I directed the students to consider how the content from the course would translate to their future careers.  In one of the first graduate classes I taught, I held onto the letters for almost a year before sending them out.  Quite a few students contacted me after receiving their letters to explain how meaningful the experience was.

3.  Share the stage.  I’m not a big believer of final exams as closing activities.  Often, I’ll build a culminating student presentation as the last activity in the course.  For instance, in one of final classes tomorrow, the students will be giving formal presentations to teachers from a neighboring district to report on the collaborative projects we completed in their classrooms.  A final presentation can serve as an effective celebration and academic closure without all the fanfare.

4. Collect data. I try to be evidence-based with my decision-making as I plan new iterations for courses.  To do this, I’ll use the last class to administer a survey to examine how the course content and instruction impacts student learning.  For instance, in my instructional technology courses, I’ll use a short survey based on a larger TPACK survey.  I’ll give the survey at the start of the semester and again at the end of the semester.  After a class ends, I’ll review the anonymous scores from the students and examine how the course impacted their development.  While student evaluation data can be useful, using a survey that examines other developmental areas can be tremendously insightful.

5.  Post a reflection.  In my online classes, I typically post a long rambling reflection that reviews some of the highlights from the course.  I identify specific posts from students that were memorable or things I learned from some of the projects that students had created.   In addition to reviewing the course activities, I invite students to reach out in the future if they need assistance.

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