Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Every semester a couple of my courses come to an end.  The group of students that was collected for the purpose of the class, the ones that met together twice or three times a week, break apart for good.  It's a momentous thing -- more momentous, in its way, than the beginning of a course, which is something I tend to prepare for rather obsessively.

Yet I always find myself at a loss when classes come to an end.  Part of the problem is that traditionally, a course ends with a final exam.  That's a fine moment of closure, but its nature is that of evaluation and judgment.  So when we do a final exam as the last course activity, students are under stress, still focused on themselves and their grades.  It's not conducive to reflection or celebration.

And I think that when we are all about to go our separate ways, ending a relationship that necessarily became rather intimate as we talked about ideas and worked through difficult texts together, reflection and celebration are in order.  Yet I rarely manage to live up to that ideal the way I typically get certain values enacted into day 1 -- values and practices that will define what the class is about.  Shouldn't there be the same kind of closure, the one that sends us out into the world with something resonant, or at least expresses thanks for what we managed to do together?

I never plan anything elaborate for this moment of ending; I usually wing it.  Sometimes I ask if anybody else wants to say anything.  It's awkward.  The grades aren't in, and the student evaluations might not be in either.  There are unresolved issues in the course.  We may not know what we think of it, all told, but I hate to think of the last few minutes where we sit face to face passing without the chance to say goodbye.  If anybody has any good ways of closing a course, I'd love to hear abou them.

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