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The Final Class Sessions: Providing Closure

It's often the case that we find we're not as far as we intended to be as our course draws to a close. Far too often we spend the final class periods frantically trying to cover the rest of the content. One experienced faculty member recently told me that the last days of class often feel like "running up hill at full speed and then leaping off a cliff!"

Instead of introducing new content during the final class periods, consider using these days to provide students with opportunities to review where they've been and how far they've come. Final class periods are also a good time to provide students with opportunities to synthesize the information, concepts, and ideas they've been working with throughout the semester and to think about what's next for them in this subject area.

Here are a few strategies for providing closure during the final days of a class:

  • Ask students to create a concept map of the course. Constructing a visual representation of how the major concepts of the course connect to each other helps students understand the connections between the various topics of the course.

    Of course, it isn't necessary to wait until the end of the class to ask students to organize and synthesize the material. One professor reports using concept mapping in his class weekly. First each student is asked to construct a concept map of the day's reading assignment, from memory, and without notes. Then students form groups and together construct a concept map covering the week's assignments AND all previous material in the course — a cumulative concept map.

    The students are encouraged to discuss the maps as they construct them, and their maps are marked for inclusion of concepts and linkages among the concepts. As the course progresses the students review all prior material and integrating the new information with the old.

  • Ask students to create a collage of the themes and topics of the course. During the final class period, students explain their collages to each other.
  • Have students revisit some work they did in the first week of the semester (perhaps an early in-class writing assignment) as a way of looking at their progress in the class. Ask students to describe to a partner how and why their thinking has changed.
  • Discuss questions which remind them of “critical moments” in the course and questions which focus their attention on the future. In small group or whole class discussions, ask questions such as, "What was a highlight/moment of insight/ surprise for you in this class? Why?" "What's one thing you learned that you can apply in .... ?" "What topic introduced in this course would you like to do further reading on? What else would you like to find out about that topic?"
  • Ask students to write one or two final exam questions in a group. Provide model questions for the students and tell them what you're specifically looking for (e.g., synthesis, analysis, application, etc.). After the groups compose the questions, review them and comment on what students need to know. Then ask each group to pass their questions to another group and groups can work on the answers to the questions they receive.
  • Return to the syllabus. Ask students to look at the stated goals and objectives and assess their own progress on these items.
  • Ask students to take a moment before they leave to thank their fellow classmates for their help and support throughout the semester. Class is not only coming to an end, but many relationships formed during the class will be coming to an end as well. Students need a chance to say goodbye and provide closure in this area too.