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Making Finals Fun:Using novel finals for learning and levity

As the school year nears its end, if you are like me, managing the last few weeks of “class-culminating” projects, other end-of-the-year demands, and, of course, spring fever (mine as well as the students’), can be overwhelming. One way I have dealt with these end-of-year stresses is to introduce some creativity and levity into the mix. I try to plan at least one “novel final.” A novel final is any final class activity, other than a test or paper, that gives students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned, and allows assessment of that learning. Here is an example:

The novel final for Theories of Personality (N=40) involved recording group discussions (N = 8 ) of the personality characteristics of “Bob,” Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob? Students in each small group were randomly assigned different theoretical viewpoints. The groups watched a 20-minute clip from the movie and then had an hour to discuss Bobfrom their differing points of view.  The discussion ended with the group deciding what theory best explained Bob’s personality, which they reported to the rest of the class at the end of the final.

Invariably students would leave laughing and invigorated by the experience. They had fun, and so did I.

So what are some things to consider in designing a novel final?

  • Make it novel but not too novel. You want the experience to energize and challenge, but not terrify and overwhelm students.  This can be helped if you draw on the skill(s) students have learned, and the material they have been studying/practicing.  In Theories of Personality, being evaluated based on one’s contributions to a recorded discussion was highly unusual.  Having a final that had a collaborative element built in to it was unique for its time.  Yet, students had already been involved in discussion groups.  They had had practice viewing the same case study from different theoretical viewpoints.  And, we had a practice session.  It probably also helped to temper anxiety  by holding the final in an informal setting  (dining center), with free coffee and snacks!

  • Novel finals should give students a feasible and familiar way to communicate what they have learned.  It would have been unfair for me to demand students present dramatic interpretations of Bob’s personality from different theoretical perspectives (at least not without training and practice).   At the same time, the mode of communication can be innovative. I could have asked students to produce a schematic diagram of the relationship of different personality theories (with labels).

  • Novel finals should be fun to grade. I realize that what might be fun for me to evaluate may not be for someone else, and vice versa.   Regardless, a thoughtful, applicable rubric for assessment will make the process go better for students and for you as you are evaluating the experience.  In the example given above, the rubric made it possible for me to take about 6 hours to listen to all the discussions, and evaluate each group member.  Compared to reading 40 papers, [12+ hours], grading group discussions was more time efficient, and more fun. I enjoyed hearing the groups starting to relax and enjoy the task, and I got more than a few chuckles out of hearing how they thought Freud [or some other theorist] would characterize Bob.

  • Last, novel finals should be memorable. That is, both you and students will look back on that final and be glad for the experience. Not long ago, a former student (now colleague), unsolicited, recalled the final, similar to the one described above, that I had designed for a course she had from me—nearly 20 years ago.

Novel finals, designed, executed, and evaluated well, can make the end of the school year just a little more, well, fun….