Well, that went fast: that fifteen-week semester just flew by.
It seems as if you were just taking attendance of this class for the first time and learning students’ names; now it’s time to say good-bye. It’s been a great semester, but you don’t want to just fade off. And actually, that probably won’t happen as there is so much to do in these last weeks that it feels like the frantic beginning of the semester again. What are some ways to get everything done and end your semester leaving students with a lasting and positive impression? This takes some careful planning, but it can be done.
How to Have a Great End of Semester
The key to a good end of semester is actually in the start: it is all of your planning of what to cover, and all of your work in establishing class policies, giving students the opportunity to interact, and providing effective instruction that the groundwork of a strong semester end is laid. The class that is run effectively will generally end effectively.
However, a few addition steps can be taken. First, revisit your syllabus. Can you realistically complete all the material you had planned to cover? Things happen during the course of the semester, such as a class taking longer than expected with a specific unit of instruction, that can change your initial schedule. Maybe it would be best to just skim that last textbook chapter or write one fewer essay than planned. Gauge where you are, and make adjustments as needed, leaving off or shortening final chapters or projects, while making sure you are still covering required material.
Wrap it Up
Any projects not finished—those essays or speeches students are still in the midst of, for example—should be completed, again shortening as necessary while still preserving the integrity of the class and covering all of the necessary learning objectives. No new materials should be assigned at this point if students still have outstanding projects. Instruction of new material should also be limited as students are at this point focusing on completing their final projects or study for exams.
Meet with students. Have them visit you during office hours, or devote class time to individual conferences. Give students some feedback on their progress over the term and what classes you believe they should take next. Remember you might be the only advisor ESL students have on campus because the counselors and other instructors on campus sometimes know little about ESL students and their academic needs, and some students are only taking ESL classes, so your input is critical.
Give some sort of final assessment—it doesn’t have to be a traditional final exam. But students should have the closure of a final assessment, whether it is simply a quiz or project or a more traditional test. This also becomes part of the final conferencing process as results from this can be used to advise where students need to go after this class—the same or higher level ESL class or classes within the mainstream curriculum. It can also be compared to student performance at the beginning of the class to show how much growth has occurred.
Now Students Give Feedback
Students are very used to being tested or evaluated; they should know we also value and can learn from their feedback. While most institutions of higher learning in the U.S. give some end-of-course evaluation, often it is so vague as to be almost useless for making instructional or curriculum changes. I’ve worked at places where items on the evaluation were “The instructor is nice” and “I like this class”; this is of little use because most students simply mark “agree.”And even when the students mark “don’t agree,” there just isn’t enough specificity for the teacher to know what to change.
I like to hand out my own course evaluations, asking that names be left off, and assuring students that their grades will not be affected by the evaluation; it is just for me to get more information about the course and instruction. I ask rather specific questions about methods of instruction, use of group work, the course textbook, and so forth. Often the evaluations still come back marked with “Everything was great!” which is certainly validating, but sometimes I’ll get some constructive feedback like the use of groups made the room too noisy or the textbook layout was confusing. This is valuable information about individual learners and the course materials that can be used to restructure the class.
An end-of-term party is often very valuable for ESL students, as a time to say good-bye to their classmates who might be returning to another country, to practice social English, and to learn American culture related to parties. The teacher can do some final advising here as well as teach an American song, story, or game for parties.
I usually have a last day set aside for students, apart from the final and party, in which to give back each student’s final, last papers, and final grade, and placement of the next semester. This is held more like an office hour in which students can just drop by and pick up the papers and give their farewells. Some are not able to make this last day and so can email to get their final grades and plan to pick up papers the next term.
Keeping an active website is very helpful for instructors so that students can get information about your classes and office hours and can therefore stop by when necessary. If this is not possible, at least posting this information somewhere is important. Past students do frequently get in contact—for advice, for letters of recommendation, to find out about classes for themselves or peers, or just to talk, so being available and keeping the lines of communication open is important.
The groundwork for a successful end of semester is all the preparation and work you put into the beginning and middle of the term.
Saying good-bye is never easy (indeed, I always feel teary at the end of good class), but along with the tears is the satisfaction of completing a well-taught class.