Finals week… the good, the bad, and the ugly

One thing that I’ve come to understand now that I’ve become a teacher, and that is why a class final is important.     Retention.   How much of what you taught at the beginning of a class is retained at the end of the class?    What skills will a student take away from your course?    While it would be wonderful if a student retained everything, that is an unrealistic expectation for your students.   The very existence of a comprehensive final exam sets up the expectation of retention.

The good:

There are a few things that you can do throughout your course to help student retention.    First and foremost:  use explicit and consistent problem solving techniques.   When you are doing this, make sure that not just the techniques are explicit, but also your goals and expectations are explicit as well.  Explicit methods makes reinforcing skills easier, makes reinforcing behaviors easier, and it makes reviews quite easy.

(Yes, this is just neurolinguistic programming.   I find it works well.)

Add to this some concrete examples, and get some participation and you have a good recipe for retention.   It is important to mix demonstrating examples with problem-solving exercises.     Spaced learning over time gives the best skill and knowledge retention!

Simply put, it is easier to reawaken knowledge than you might think.   A lot of students will appear (or say) that they have forgotten things, but will still be able to perform with minimal prompting.

The bad:

Students that have crammed, skipped classes or homework, or have been distracted throughout the class won’t have the working knowledge that they can draw from.    Unless they make some concentrated efforts,  they won’t know where to start a problem.     These students will probably feel anxious or defeated by the end of the quarter.

If you can, reach out to these students and ask them what they think they can do to help with their learning.   Many will be self-aware enough to recognize that they could have done things earlier in order to retain information.     If not, they may end up blaming things outside of their control for academic failure:   your teaching style,  life complications, or “I’m just not good at math.”   If you can empower the student, there is hope for them.  But they will still need to retake the class.

The ugly:

By the end of the quarter, there is very little that you can do to change the outcome.   No amount of review material will make up for the weeks of instruction that came before.     Some students will pass, some students will fail.    And that is the cold, hard truth.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was not to take failing students personally.

Remember that each class is also a learning experience for you the teacher.    Every mistake is a learning experience.   Even our own – keep refining, and keep it fresh.



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