by Steve Hansen, Director of Faculty Development at Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence
Many courses end with a fizzle. Frank Heppner (2007) aptly says, “In most classes, The Last Lecture was about as memorable as the rest of the class had been – that is, not very.” The final class should bring the course to an appropriate conclusion or finale.
“For many. . , the last day of class comes and goes without ceremony, yet it provides an opportunity to bring the student-teacher experience to a close in a way that students appreciate and enjoy” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).
How can you make the final day into a finale?
Summarize the course content
“Ask students to create concept maps illustrating major aspects of course content and showing how they are interrelated” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).
Give a Memento
Mementos do not need to be expensive to be meaningful. An instructor of Ecclesiastical Latin distributed postcard-size copies of da Vinci’s Last Supper to her students. I still have the memento on a bookshelf in my home.
Pass the Torch
Invite your current students to pass on advice about the course by writing brief letters to students who will take the course in the future. Instructors can use the letters to improve their teaching or excerpt the best advice into a section for future syllabi about “Succeeding in the Course: Advice from Former Students”
Make Emotional Connections
Christopher Uhl (2005) ends his large (400 students) Environmental Science course by inviting students to explore the emotions that they have encountered over the semester. He organizes reflection around four ideas: acceptance, gratitude, integrity and hope. In exploring acceptance, Uhl asks his students to be truthful about their performance during the semester and to think about how they will change their study habits for future classes. “I invite my students to reflect on their disappointments. Specifically, I ask: How did you let yourself down? When did you hand in ‘BS’ instead of honest work? In what ways did you fail to honor your own potential?” Uhl then asks students to reflect on “what new action they might take in future courses to enhance their learning, given what they acknowledge as their shortfall in my class.” Next, Uhl asks students to explore their feelings of gratitude. He invites students to talk about what they might be thankful for because of the class. After exploring acceptance and gratitude, Uhl invites his students to explore integrity. He asks students to consider how taking the class will impact their future thinking, actions and behaviors. Finally, Uhl concludes class by expressing his hopes for the students and asking them to share “their hopes for themselves and for each other.”
Encourage and Inspire
Frank Heppner (2007) describes Richard Eakin’s final lecture for a course in embryology: “Eakin’s Last Lecture was legendary, and students who had taken his course in previous years would come back to hear it again and be inspired. The lecture was a reminiscence of a life in science and the joy and thrill of having the opportunity, as a young man, to work in laboratories where discoveries about the fundamental nature of life were being made. He made a point of the fact that he had not been some sort of geeky super-genius as a youngster, but had instead been blessed with a strong sense of curiosity. I can still recall being amazed by that – surely such a man must have been an exceptional student? Why, that might mean that I might do such things some day.”
Celebrate Students’ Work
In writing-intensive courses, end the semester by celebrating the writing of your students. Before the last day, assign students to select a piece of their work to read aloud in 2-3 minutes. On the final day of class, each student reads the selection, and the class responds to each reading with applause. (http://teaching.berkeley.edu/newsletters0607/newsletter13.html)
Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching the large class: a guidebook for instructors with multitudes. San Francisco: Joosey-Bass, 2007.
Lucas, S. and Bernstein, D. (2005). Teaching Psychology: a step by step guide. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Uhl, C. (2005). The last class. College Teaching 53(4): 165-166.
What do you do to end your course with a flourish? Leave a comment telling us what you do to make your last class of the semester something to remember. The Flourishing Academic and your colleagues would love to hear from you!