The end of the semester can be a hectic time, causing us to focus on what has not yet been accomplished rather than on what has. The last day of a course offers a powerful opportunity for both instructors and students to reflect on what they have learned together and how it can inform their future. In this sense, the last day of class can also be an important beginning (Halpern, 2010).
In a study on how faculty wrap up their courses, most reported focusing on review sessions and final assignments. Of the students surveyed, 90% said that they would appreciate a greater sense of closure for their courses (Eggleston & Smith, 2001). One of the ways that faculty can create a sense of closure—as well as help students adapt and apply what they have learned in future contexts—is to ask students to reflect on their learning (Bransford et al., 2000).
End-of-semester reflections can elicit different aspects of students’ learning. For example, reflections on the course components and activities (such as concepts and skills) allow students to make connections, prioritize what they have learned, and identify ways they can apply these concepts and skills in the future. This can help students organize their knowledge more like an expert and prime students to make future connections in and beyond the classroom (Ambrose et al., 2010). Reflections can also take a more metacognitive approach, to consider the “what” and “how” of students’ learning more generally. Reviewing and evaluating the strategies that they have used over the course of the semester can increase the likelihood that students will use effective strategies in the future (Pintrich, 2002). Whether students’ reflections are submitted in written form or shared verbally, instructors can learn what aspects of the course have been most impactful. This information will be useful for future iterations of the course.
Reflections can take the form of an individual five-minute writing activity, a full-class discussion, or somewhere in-between. Below is a set of possible prompts that you might use or adapt, based on a four-question reflective learning technique that has been shown to increase students’ retention of material (Boucquey, 2014; Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2009):
- Can you identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea that you learned while taking this class?
- Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea is important?
- Apply what you have learned from this class to some aspect of your life.
- What question(s) has the class raised for you? What are you still wondering about?
Boucquey, N. C. (2014, Nov. 9). School’s out! Almost. Strategies for the last day of class.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Dietz-Uhler, B., & Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning. Teaching of Psychology, 36(1), 38-41.
Eggleston, T. J., & Smith, G. E. (2002, Mar. 4). Parting ways: Ending your course.
Halpern, D. F. (2010). Conclusion: How to meet the challenge of preparing college students for life in the 21st century. In D. F. Halpern (Ed.), Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline (pp. 175-178). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 219-225.