How we bowl (academically) with bumpers

As many of us encroach on the final weeks of the academic term, finding opportunities for balance becomes increasingly difficult. This post allows us to reflect on our preparation for the end-of-term grind.

What is more common than the senior slide? The end-of-semester/trimester/quarter slump. And that slump emerges in many different ways in ourselves and our students. Foundationally, this post is about thinking about the guardrails we’ve put in place in our class that help students to charge forward, even when speed bumps will undoubtedly occur. While it may seem to be a childish allusion, this may be the time to think about how have you put bumpers up in your class to help your students learn to hit a strike? Some may need those bumpers once, others often, and some not at all, but what matters is they are there just in case.

The thing that I always struggle with at the end of the term is that this “slump” attaches itself to any and all students. And how it manifests is also incredibly unique. For some, it ends up meaning disappearing off the radar. For others, it results in feeling overwhelmed or overburdened, or both. Addressing this can (and arguably should) be difficult. Here are three strategies I use to hopefully help mitigate some of that mental, emotional, and academic pain.

Be Transparent

I am always a fan of being transparent in our teaching. From the design of our syllabi and course outcomes to assignments and rubrics, I believe we should be more explicit about what we are doing. I will even use commenting features to talk through my process on assessments and rubrics so that students have that when they aren’t in my classroom. But I also think transparency helps address the slump.

This strategy can be used throughout the term but will become increasingly important as the term concludes. I begin each class explicitly outlining the class and the time stamps for it. I then spend the final five to seven minutes doing the same for the class ahead. Not only does it help me be accountable to my schedule, but it gives students a much-needed structure for the coming weeks.

I will also build brief slides for the final four or five weeks of class that students can use to see what’s coming in a little more detail than the syllabus provides, but also helps to show the impending deadlines encroaching (oftentimes quickly!).

Give Time

If part of our job as faculty is to prepare students for jobs after higher education, why would we rob them of engaging in workplace scenarios and practices? I’m fortunate to be in the discipline I am where much of the summative assessments of our courses are project-based. As a result, I utilize the final weeks of the semester to give students in-class, structured work time on those assignments. The word structured matters because giving time can also devolve into misused time.

Part of this also builds from that transparency strategy. Heading into a work session (or a workshop), students know the clear rules and outcomes of the day. They also are aware of what they need to participate in the workshop. For example, if we are working on a long-form journalistic story, then students may need to have two interviews transcribed when they come to class so they can participate in the activity for the day. Or maybe students are working on a group project (which is far more difficult to do outside of class than we acknowledge). Giving them structured time will help foster their communication and productivity. My students are usually incredibly grateful for the time, especially with group work.

I always like to have students use the last five minutes of these work days to fill out exit slips that explain what they’ve accomplished. It is also nice to utilize shared documents to monitor progress, not surveil but enhance accountability.

Reward Personal Narratives

Our world has changed drastically in the last few years; education has also been deeply impacted. There are ideas, strategies, or philosophies that we took for granted or that we identified as a gold standard. We must consider what it means to reward students for their presence, and I don’t mean it to be like a participation ribbon in a sport. Rather, it means acknowledging that we should meet students where they are and using the concluding weeks to reward students for their personal engagement.

This is where metacognitive reflections should be the most useful. Allow the academic labor in class to be on students’ ability to think critically about the process of their end-of-term summative assessments. For example, ask students to put together a planner for the last weeks that encourage them to explain how they would study or break an assessment up over multiple weeks. It wouldn’t just be the planner, but it also is about how the students provide commentary for how and why they designed the planner in that way.

Additionally, this is a time when instructors can bring formative and unit-summative assessments back for students to review feedback. We’re tempted to add, add, add up till the final week of the term. Yet, is what we’re adding actually value-added? Is it necessary reading, or is it the time in the term that you are looking to explore your own topic of interest? Instead of adding new material, use this time to add new skills. Teach students to deeply revise and think critically about previous assessments so that they can apply that knowledge to their end-of-term summative.

Personal narratives, metacognitive thinking, and critical thinking are critical in the workplace. Why not encourage it by rewarding it with points and time. Giving the space in your class to do it shows that it is a valuable activity for students. It also helps them to take the weight of MORE CONTENT off their plates.

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