6 Strategies for the Last Week of Class

Published: Tues., April 19, 2016

While it’s officially known as “15th Week”, the final week of the semester is affectionately called Dead Week because final exams may not be scheduled during that time, and instructors cannot assign additional projects not already on the syllabus.

That doesn't mean that learning is on hold, though.

The final week of the semester is the perfect time to bring learning full circle. This means making the large scale, meaningful connections between themes from throughout the semester. Here are some strategies to make your dead week productive for learning and end on a positive note.

Provide a Study Guide

Take the edge off your students’ anxieties over finals and put the emphasis on learning by providing  a study guide. Your goal for writing a study guide is to help students review facts and move beyond simple recollection in order to understand how events, reactions, and key theories relate to one another. Helpful ways to structure a study guide are to follow the syllabus or to follow the structure of the exam. Within the guide, relationships between major and minor topics can be shown in a variety of ways: by assigning point values, by using an outline structure with the most important topics as the stems and minor topics sorted below, and by asking questions that require students to compare, contrast, and synthesize key concepts.

Reflect on What They’ve learned

To help students recall what they’ve already learned (and make it easier to draw on this knowledge in future classes), encourage them to “think critically about the course, question concepts, draw conclusions, and synthesize” by following the advice outlined by Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Using the courses’ learning objectives outlined on the syllabus, have students reflect on the following questions:

  • Has your approach to ____ changed during this course? If yes, how has it changed?
  • Have your attitudes about ____ changed?
  • How do you feel you performed in this class? What would you do differently if you took the class again?
  • What suggestions do you have for improving the class?

Revisit the First Day of Class

Often, when students learn over time, it’s hard for them to remember a time they didn’t know something. As a result, they might think they’ve always had their current knowledge set or that they’ve always been able to do something. An activity that bookends the beginning and ending of the course helps students recognize how much they’ve learned.

The first day of class, set the stage by outlining a key question that will guide the semester, or perhaps you had students engage with the content to see what they already know. The Teaching Professor recommends asking questions like “What do you know about ____?” and “Are there skills that you will be needing that you hope to develop in this course?” Another strategy is to hand out a problem set on the first day. Responses are given credit for being completed—regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.

At the end of the course, ask the same questions and grant credit for completion. Then, hand back the responses from the first day and have students compare responses. Students can then have an “aha” moment about what they’ve learned, and recognize how they’ve developed. This exercise gives them confidence about how much they’ve learned over the course of the semester.

A mind map on producing electromagnetic fields
Source: Scott Letwin, Instructor at Red Deer College, Trades & Technology Electrical Department

Create a Concept Map

Have students create a concept map for your course. Like the mind mapping and brainstorming exercises you may remember from grade school, a concept map takes the themes, main ideas, and key concepts from your course and relates them to one another spatially. Freed from the linear syllabus, students can connect topics from the second week to the eighth and rediscover the connections they’ve made throughout the semester.

Focus on the Test

Teachers are familiar with the question “What’s on the test?” The final week of class offers students the chance to answer their own question and learn while doing it. In the article Active review sessions can advance student learning, T.G. Favero outlines two strategies: having students write exam questions, and showing them how to solve complex problems they’ll encounter on the exam.

Have students write exam Questions
Students write exam questions by completing two exercises.

First, Favero has his students work independently to write the five most important facts or theories they recall. Then get together with a partner and compare their lists. Finally, they’ll get into a group of four, share their key items, and pick the top five items. Once they reach consensus, he brings the whole class together and transcribe the lists from the different groups. Through this exercise, Favero can see what his students gleaned from the semester—and address any gaps.

Next, he gives students the reins. They take those concepts and, in small groups, write two to three questions for each item. Wherever students use vague language or aren’t clear about what they’re asking highlights areas for additional review. A Google doc can be used to compile the questions and share information with students.

Have Students Answer Key Exam Questions
Old tests are a great review resource for your students. Favero pulls 8–10 questions that examine higher-level problem-solving skills (rather than simply testing factual recall). Favero teaches students how to solve these sample problems by outlining key concepts they’ll need to draw on, identifying strategies they'll use to solve the problem, and finally, solving the problem. By modeling this process step by step, Favero shows his students how to think critically about their approach. Students get to try the strategy out under his guidance in class with other questions. By the time the exam rolls around, students are confident about what they’ve learned and their ability to apply that information.