Teaching Tip: Retrospectives at the End of a Term
A semester’s end often tempts us to redouble efforts to cover material. We remember desiderata that we meant to return to, or we discover that the unforeseen (like, say, a hurricane) has shredded our careful planning. And so we “teach faster” in a kind of panic at the end of a term to try to make up for lost time.
It might be valuable to take time instead to help students organize what they’ve learned. It’s not only that experts know more than novices; they also have much richer organizations for what they know. Students who are overwhelmed trying to remember it all are probably not making connections so much as memorizing discrete bits of information. As students approach the final weeks of the term, they often find it difficult to see the big picture, because they’re so lost in all the minutiae and new procedures. How can we help students see how it all fits?
One way to help students organize what they’ve learned is to have them draw concept maps, either on their own or together in class. A concept map graphically represents each idea as node in a network, with lines between those nodes whose labels clarify the relationships. Here’s an exemplary concept map about genetics: http://sciencevideos.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/g9-genetics-review.jpg
We can use concept maps not only to review material but to brainstorm, to organize a record of class discussion, to discover what students already know, and to test them over course content. There are online tools for drawing concept maps—http://bubbl.us is free and user-friendly. For much more about concept maps, we recommend this article from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition: http://cmap.ihmc.us/publications/researchpapers/theorycmaps/theoryunderlyingconceptmaps.htm
What tips can you share with us? How do you help students prepare for the end of a term? We’d love to hear from you.