the last class: whew.

Our hair is all on fire right now, but I wanted to send a quick reflection on the problems and potentiality of the last day of class. It’s so easy to let this day slip through our fingers: we’re tired, the students are tired, c’mon, I ordered donuts, so what else do you want from me?!

I do really believe, though, that the last day can give a sense of closure to the intellectual project of the term and, also importantly, say goodbye in a way that conveys the weird mix of intensity and evanescence that commingle in commuter-campus seminars. Here are some of the things I did yesterday to send my students off. Try any of them that strike you as useful:

  • have each student give a “lightning talk” on their final project. It took me a long time to realize how stupid it is to have all the students give me their work on the last day of class but have no idea what their peers have done. So I go around the room and have each student give an ungraded, no-stakes two minutes on the process or the product of their final paper. I prompt them in advance that it’s great to give a sketch of their argument, but also great to talk about an epiphany they had about an alternative topic, an interesting scrap of research they found, a frustration they experienced in their research, an insight into their time management, and so forth.
  • go around the room and have each student in turn orally “tweet” on something they learned. I never actually type or post anything, but have them utter something like 140 characters on anything that occurs to them that they’ve learned. It’s really fun and usually goes around the room at least two or three times. In the aggregate, it’s a great bit of informal “assessment” of their experience of the form and content of the course.
  • talk about further reading and study: sort of like NPR podcasters, I give shout-outs to colleagues in English who teach in proximate subject areas and urge students to go find them. Especially important at a campus like ours, where students have few good ways to get to know us personally. And yes: I shill for PT faculty as well as my FT colleagues, I promise! I also talk about critical and imaginative works students might read to extend the kinds of questions and thinking that we’ve been doing. If I’m on my game (which I haven’t been this term), I’ll generate a bibliography and post it as a final post.

There are lots of other good ways to spend the last day. If you haven’t seen this video of Paul McPherron’s approach, check it out as well.


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