Focus on Closure, Not Assessment for Student Success

As finals week approaches rapidly,  unsettling changes for many students, faculty, and staff with the emergency move to remote teaching have not slowed down.  For many students, course format shifts, limited quality study time and space, and often overwhelming Covid-19 caused changes makes preparing for final exams and projects seem an impossible task.  For faculty, ensuring students are prepared and covered course content when their teaching plans were abruptly changed also may seem impossible.  A final project, paper, or exam might appear the best route to take to end this semester–but educational psychology suggests a different option may be more effective when teaching in a time of crisis.

President Brophy's 1950 announcment to Ferris after the fire image plus annotated as a model for closure

What?  Why?  

Former Ferris President Byron Brophy’s words from the devastating February, 1950 fire hang in the Alumni building and were meant to inspire teachers and students, reassuring them there IS a FUTURE.  With his four key points, he also demonstrates an effective teaching strategy often overlooked in the emphasis on assessment:  Closure.  Closure is also a concept used when talking about healing from trauma–and all of our students have experienced trauma this semester.

What is Closure, and how does it relate to assessment?  

Simply stated, Closure helps students look back to organize learning in a meaningful context in their minds, helping them better retain what they have learned and how to apply it to the world around them.  Assessment looks back, to summarize what was mastered.  Assessment is typically the determining factor of whether or not students can move forward, but assessment alone fails to connect students directly to that path to the future.

We know student learning experiences (nationally and internationally) were not what was anticipated at semester start. Rather than adding more time pressure, anxiety, and potential to fail on an assessment of what was originally supposed to be taught face-to-face, or writing additional formal papers, focusing on closure helps students feel more secure that their time and effort will be valuable in their upcoming plans for summer and fall.  One helpful activity to close out a lesson or course is a quick discussion about what they learned and what it means to them.  Online, this can be done synchronously in Zoom or asynchronously via video responses in Discussions to allow students to see and hear each other one last time in class.

To read more on the importance of closure, I recommend “Small Changes in Teaching:  The Last 5 Minutes of Class.  Don’t waste them trying to cram in eight more points…” by Dr. James Lang as shared in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Advice column.

a young man sitting on a table

I also recommend taking time to read this short overview of a Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching through Coronavirus, including suggested online activities to help with closure.

Additional UWN Sharepoint posts related to these concerns are being shared, including this recent one by Anna Wild on taking care of yourself at home, posts by Karen Royster-James with student strategies and resources , and Understanding the Covid-19 Pandemic by Emmanuel Jadhav.

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