Finals Week Tips

Some semesters you just want collect their final assignments, send them away, and get back to your office and collapse. Occasionally the last class feels like more like saying goodbye to those cool friends you met on vacation when you made that intense trek up the mountain together and nearly died in the avalanche but it was worth it because you got to hear the monks chanting at sunrise while you shared pots of smoky tea and watched the peaks emerge from the clouds. Okay, maybe not quite like that. But surely some significant connections have been made as this group has worked together over the past 15 weeks. The last couple of class sessions offer a chance to help students crystallize what was really meaningful about that experience, which in turn can help us see our teaching work more clearly.

Here are four things you might try this last week:

  1. Ask students to write a note of advice to the students who will take the course next semester.  What should they look forward to, watch out for, or prepare for to get the most out of the course? These can be turned into a how-to-succeed guide for your next group of students, with the benefit of having been crowd-source by experienced authorities.
  2. Take five minutes to discuss or have students write about questions or problemsthe course leaves them with. What piqued their interest but needs more investigation? What turned out to be more complicated than they suspected? Especially if these problems can be linked with further coursework they will do in their program, this is a great way for students to see your course as part of a larger field of inquiry.
  3. Here’s my favorite:  For years a magazine I sometimes read ran a guest-authored column called “How My Mind Has Changed.” When I first started teaching I stole the idea and on the last day of class asked my students to write a one-paragraph response to that prompt in relation to our course. They could reflect on new information they had assimilated, new opinions on a topic we had explored, even revised attitudes toward learning itself. The exercise allows the students to look up from study guides and exam schedules to glimpse the bigger picture of their growth as educated people.  Sort of the point, right?
  4. Make sure the people who formed the temporary community that was your class have a chance to say goodbye to each other. Maybe it’s two minutes set aside for classmates to swap contact info; maybe it’s just a full eye-contact handshake when they give you their final exam. Ceremony is powerful. With or without chanting monks.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

 

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Assessing Participation

Many of us list a category called “class participation” in the grading systems on our syllabi. In this era of carefully articulated SLOs and grading rubrics, that heading might be code for “I need to protect a little subjectivity in determining final grades.”  It’s natural to want to put a finger on the scale to help the student who made the extra effort to revise the assignment she botched that week when her grandmother died (it happens!), or to reign in the student who has accumulated a thousand extra credit points but only phones in the regular assignments.  If the touch is light enough, I would defend that practice.  But fairness and good pedagogy oblige us to think about what we really mean by class participation, and how we measure it.

Not surprisingly, there are rubrics available; check out this one from a recent post at The Scholarly Teacher. But you can develop your own system for assessing student participation pretty simply, once you think though what types of involvement are really important to student learning in your course.  Coming to class regularly? Smiling and nodding during lecture? Connecting reading with issues raised in class? Engaging others’ ideas? Once you inventory what you really want students to do (and why), you can develop a simple three- or-four-point scale that can be multiplied to reflect the appropriate weight in your grading scheme.  Maybe regular attendance and not being disruptive gets you a one, while a four requires evidence of preparation, regular contributions, and demonstrated listening skills.

And thinking about how to assess participation might prompt us to think about how to enhanceparticipation. For instance, must participation be verbal? Cultural and personality traits can make jumping into a lively class discussion extremely difficult for some students, who might nonetheless be completely intellectually engaged and have good ideas to contribute. Frequent mid-class quick-writes or anonymous index card responses—which you can read selections from or have them swap and respond to—can offer quiet students an opportunity to engage the material and each other without saying a word. (For easy assessment, you can collect any of these that you have asked them to put names on, stick them in a folder, and then simply count them at the end of the semester as one measure of participation. Very helpful for grading class participation when you haven’t learned all 85 names.)

However you measure student participation, it’s good practice to let them in on it.  Share the rubric or set of criteria you’ll be using, and explain why it matters.

 

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.