Friday, December 09, 2005

A Better Way to End the Semester?

From a post by Barbara Ganley, a professor at Middlebury College:

Classes wrap up this week, and judging by the sleep-deprived faces floating about the library, the end can come none too soon. Across the country, on campus after campus it's happening- the exam-period zombie dance. Assessment and evaluation, assessment and evaluation, assessment and evaluation: it's about making it through those last papers, those three-hour exams, and out the door for break. Freedom!

Isn't there something odd about this? Shouldn't they leave craving the next course, the next opportunity to hang around a bunch of motivated fellow thinkers and work through some relevant, interesting problems together? There's got to be a better way to end a semester, a more creative, satisfying, rewarding way to move out of a course (if we have to teach/learn in a course system at all).

Even if you think finals are the bees knees, I think there is a conversation to be had here regarding why students (and teachers!) are so happy to be "done" with the course.

And later in that same post:

Notes for the Next Time Out ~~Pull in a high school or elementary-school classroom for a collaboration between grades. Let the younger students help loosen up the college kids and reconnect them with the fun while the younger kids benefit from having a writing buddy who will also be a terrific source of information about college.

Okay, Language Arts 21c folks, here's an opportunity for writing collaboration with college students. Any takers? I'll help . . .


  1. What an interesting question. MMM...During the daily routine and monotony of the end of the year I think a lot of it has to do with time and convenience. However, I think you pose an interesting idea and that we can do something more to enhance the duldrums of the end of a course. I know that I don't do it with all of my classes, but I'm doing something different in American Literature class where the students have to connect themselves to ideals of transcendental philosophy. Instead of giving them a final test, they have to go out and explore varius facets of this movement in their own world and then they must discern ideas for themsleves, draw conclusions, think about how it affects their lives, and think about how these real-world scenarios tie into the many entities of this movement. They have to collect data and then present their findings-I thought if they could make it real to their own lives and see practical application then it would enhance their learning, and they don't just regurgitate facts back to me for a test. Many students liked the project and that they could search for their own answers and let those define what they take away individually. I do want them to be excited to continue the course next semester and I love what I teach next year, so I show a lot of enthusiasm; but, they think I'm crazy. Also, I think we are so hurried and stressed to finish everything we must do and we have been programed that this is the next step in the progression of the school year. We have finals and then it's over, and then we feel relief. Maybe, we need to rethink this, but I'll be honest-I am starting to break down and I am happy that we get a break and are alomst done because my brain hurts. I think it's natural to feel that way and to be glad that it's "done." Maybe we just need to rethink how we finish things and try something new.

  2. I personally don't really mind finals that much. Of course, I may still complain occassionally about a certain hard test or something, but the concept makes sense. It makes us actually remember everything we learned again instead of forgetting it immediately.

    Also, I really like the idea of collaboration between grades. Working with the same people over and over again can only be so useful. It limits us to be in the same class of the same people semester after semester. Talking to people of different ages expands our horizons and introduces new ideas. Plus, as said, it can give good insight into college situations.

  3. What about working with different sets of peers? Is there value in asking questions and working with people who are the same age outside of AHS? I like the idea of working along side of other students. Outside of these walls, students will have to work with a wide assortment of people and this seems like a good way to start.

    Karl, would you be willing to work with people outside of the LA department? What possibilities does this hold in the sciences and math? Sometimes people learn the most when they have to make the material meaningful to others, not just themselves.

    As for finals, I think they have their place but he type of exam should be different for different situations. I like the variety that the different courses bring to AHS and even the different sections of the same course. That being said, I also like to see different faces in the class and that keeps me coming back for more. There are finals that attempt to measure an individuals level of knowledge, problem soving ability and application of material. I think that there are reasons that teachers use these formats but I think time is the biggest factor. I know that at the "end" of the term I do not want any additional heavy grading and am looking for the easiest documents to score. However, in astronomy I want to see the students apply some of the material to real problem that they will have to deal with. This takes the form of a paper that shows they understand the bigger context of material and I learn a lot about the student's thought process. This I think is what keeps me coming back to this course.

    Do finals have a significant impact on every student? Of course not. But I think Karl is on to something in the fact that we need to find a way to keep the students wanting more. The question is how do we do that? Are we looking for that answer with this class?