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Ask an Educator: How Do I End the Semester Successfully?

  • 5 Min Read

The end of a semester can be stressful for both students and faculty. Sometimes it results in a rush to get through the last parts of the course material; sometimes it’s a blur of papers and grading; sometimes it’s a high-stress cramming session for final exams. Ending in a frenzy can leave a bad taste in the mouths of both students and faculty and contribute to the stress and anxiety that can unnecessarily permeate a campus through the final weeks of the term.

So, what can faculty do to create a positive, low-stress, educational and even fun end of the semester for their students? This blog will provide a few last-class or last-week activities that faculty can consider.

Go Back to the Beginning

Revisit the course syllabus and course goals with your students. Ask them to reflect upon the ways in which they feel they’ve achieved the goals of the course, what they struggled with, and what they feel confident in. Ask them to consider what they thought the class would be about, what they expected at the beginning of the term, and how that has changed. This can be done through a full-class discussion, reflection papers, short “minute” papers or small group discussion.

By revisiting the course objectives, you close the loop for the students, helping them identify the overall goals of the course and setting them up to transfer that knowledge to future courses and related concepts. This activity also allows students to reflect on how much they learned and grew during the term, instead of just what they achieved for a grade.

Bonus: Complete a similar activity at the beginning of the term. Have students predict what the course will be about, what they expect to learn and what they already know. Revisit this on the last day and ask students to expand on it and reflect upon their predictions considering the actual course.

Celebrate Accomplishments

Remind students of all they have accomplished throughout the term. Talk about the improvements you’ve seen in them as a group and reflect upon the impact they’ve had on your growth as an instructor. For example:

  • did they struggle with something that forced you to re-imagine or restructure the learning environment to improve their understanding of a concept?
  • did student contributions or questions in class alter your understanding of how students grapple with or interpret course material?
  • were you surprised by how well a teaching strategy worked with a struggling student?
  • did you determine ways you want to alter your teaching practices based on the environment in the class over the term?

It can be easy for students to focus on grades or ways that they didn’t succeed when nearing the end of a course. Reminding them of all they’ve accomplished can boost morale and confidence leading up to finals. Additionally, allowing students to see you grow and change as a teacher shows them that you care about them as students and want to create the best learning environment possible for them.

Prep the Next Class for What’s to Come

A fun and interesting twist on asking students to reflect upon their learning is to have them write a letter to students who will take the course next year.

Letters can include tips for success, strategies that worked or didn’t work, or things that surprised them.

Writing a letter to a future student forces your current students to think critically about their experience in the course. They will need to consider what they learned and what strategies they used to study and engage in the course activities. Specific prompts for the letter can keep students on track and ensure that they consider certain important components (such as concepts that are most important and need additional effort to master).

Bonus: You can provide these (anonymized and either as-is or as a consolidated list) to your new students the next time you teach the course.

Try to Stump the Teacher

Create a fun competition for students to use the knowledge gained over the semester to ask deep and complex questions. Provide students the opportunity to try to “stump” you with questions about the field of study. Students can work individually or together to come up with questions and fact-check your answers.

This is a great opportunity to show students that even the expert doesn’t always know all the answers, while also verbalizing the way you think through problems, issues or concepts in your field. It will allow them to see how you contextualize and connect concepts when you are unsure of an answer. And it will force students to think outside the box to find questions that will stump the teacher.

Game On

Review games can be a fun and engaging way to end class time while preparing for final exams. If you’re creative with PowerPoint, you could create a Jeopardy!-style game (there are also templates available in a quick online search), or you can create online quizzes to complete in class. If you prefer, go low-tech and provide colored and/or numbered index cards that students can use to answer questions. The fastest flash of blue wins! The game atmosphere releases stress, and the act of playing reinforces learning.

Whatever activities you choose, the last day of class can be a time to celebrate, reflect upon or wrap up the learning that took place over the term. You and your students worked hard to get here. Use this time to acknowledge the effort involved.

A special guest to the Teaching and Learning Studio, Dr. Amy Simolo is a senior customer success manager at D2L who works with higher education clients. Previously, Amy spent over 10 years as a faculty development professional, training faculty who teach in both face-to-face and online environments.

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The Teaching and Learning Studio

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