Planning for Course Endings: Closure Activities

27 Apr 91

Closure is an act, a process that brings a course to its conclusion and when done well, sends our students out the door with something more than a final grade.  Eggleston and Smith note that effective end of the course activities can:

  • provide students with a memento of the course, something they may enjoy looking back on,
  • provide an opportunity for closure, especially in a class where a sense of community has been developed,
  • provide a feeling of achievement and culmination.

What do we, the instructors, get?  The same things.  A feeling that we’ve ending ended on a note that’s as strong as the one we began on, that we’ve achieved our learning goals for the course, and that, hopefully, we’ve gotten our students to think more deeply about whatever it is we covered in the course.

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Class Closure Activities to Consider

3-2-1: A personal favorite of mine, have your students write down three key concepts they’ll remember, two ways they can apply what they’ve learned, and one burning question they still have.  If you do this with a week or two to go, you can try and work in the answers to those burning questions.  You can see what students thought were the most salient aspects of your course and how they might use them.   Summarizing all of these for the class can also serve as a review if you are giving a cumulative final.

Headline:  Ask you students to write a headline, using just six to eight words, to summarize what they’ll remember most from your course.  Collect these to see what themes emerge and to frame a final discussion. These can also be used to verify that your main message for the course was on track.

Letter to future students: James Lang asked readers of The Chronicle for suggested activities.  One contributor recommended having students write a letter to future students, giving them advice on how they can do well in your course.   This can give your students a chance to reflect on what they’ve learned and you a chance to see what they think is important.  With permission, you could share these letters with future students.  You could also consider, as Stephen Brookfield does, asking current students if they would be willing to come back at the beginning of the next semester to share these thoughts personally with your new class. Brookfield notes that former students, especially those who were initially resistant, often have more credibility with their peers and that current students will buy into what they have to say with much greater ease.

Fortunes:   Eggleston and Smith suggest giving students fortunes at the end of the course, each with a summary of a key lesson from the class or a quote that reflects the course content.  I’m betting students would all want to know what each other’s fortunes say, with the result being an expanded review of course content.   It also allows you to restate the key lessons you hope students take home.

Class closure cards:  In their article “Building Community in the Classroom through Ice Breakers and Parting Ways,” Eggleston and Smith suggest having students get into small groups.  Each group draws a card and has 10 minutes to discuss and then each group reports back to the larger class.  Questions could include:

  • What was the big picture of this course?
  • What information was most surprising?
  • What areas need further research?
  • How did your view of the subject change over the course of the class?
  • Have you changed your opinion of the course topic as a result of this course?  If so, how?  If not, why?

This is an activity that could also be done via an online discussion board.  Reviewing these as a class, with follow-up discussion, can serve as a gauge for what was learned, what was missed, and what captured student attention.

Carousel-Style Review:  Post sheets of paper around the room, with a key concept or topic written on each.  Have small groups of students spend a few minutes at each paper, writing down what they remember.   Students can question or even challenge each other over what has been written and a class discussion of what has been written can supplement the review.   Pictures or summaries of the posters could then be posted on the course website.   In the short term, this activity allows students to review and synthesize what they’ve learned as well as fill in any gaps.  The posters can be used by you later on to reflect on what students got and what they didn’t. So before you cross another day off your calendar,  go to your calendar to schedule in 30 minutes to come up with a plan for your own courses.  Take these few moments and consider how you can plan for the parting and help students synthesize what they’ve learned.  Then give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

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Team-Based Wrapping Up

 In finishing a team-based project, team members will work to dissolve the current project as a task-related set of interactions; the team members can also work to uncover how they will continue to draw on this learning experience – related to course content, and to interpersonal, intercultural team communication and process skills.

To support this finishing or adjourning stage, we share five activities designed for engaging students in reflecting on what they accomplished while working on a team-based project, and considering how they will use what they have learned in their learning lives going forward.

Review team accomplishments 

Show students just how far they have come during the semester by reviewing what they accomplished with their team projects, tying them specifically to the course outcomes. If students took a background knowledge probe or pre-test at the beginning of the semester, have them take the same test at the end of the semester to quantitatively demonstrate their improvement. Be sure to share these results with students. When you enumerate and describe the skills students have learned in the class, inform them how these skills will benefit them in the future.

Reflect on lessons learned 

Ask students to reflect individually on what they have learned during the semester and share their insights. This can be done publicly or privately. One way to do this publicly if the class is small enough, is to have each student choose the most valuable or important thing they learned in the semester. Students can speak briefly, one at a time, taking turns. You may want to allow any students who are uncomfortable with this public reporting to opt out if they choose. Be sure to share your own example with your students.

To do this privately, or with a large class, have students reflect on this question with a brief writing assignment. The act of articulating what was most important to them can help solidify their experiences in the course and bring a sense of closure. It is also rewarding as the instructor to read these pieces after a semester of hard work.

Create take-away mementos 

Have students create documents or wikis to identify and categorise best-practices for your subject. For instance in an education course, students might create a shared document with ideas and approaches for leading an effective discussion, grounded in the course literature and their own experience. Frame these documents as resources that they can use in the future.

Celebrate the success of the process 

The dissolution of teams may be bittersweet for students. There may be happiness and pride at finishing the course, but sadness at no longer regularly seeing and interacting with ones team mates. A small in-class party might be a fun way to bring closure to the teams. You could ask each student to bring an item of food or drink, thus creating a communal, celebratory atmosphere. This also provides the opportunity for students to make plans to get together with classmates in the future, perhaps even forming collaborations that last beyond the course.

Acknowledge peer support

Provide a few moments in class for students to stand up and approach 2 – 3 classmates to thank them for any help or insight they may have provided for their progress and learning in the class. This social experience is a nice way to end the class period, and the semester, on a positive note.

Resources

 

 

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