Two important moments during instruction are the beginning and end of class. The events that occur during these windows can influence the engagement of students in their learning as well as their ability to synthesize major concepts. There are a variety of classroom models that can help frame what the instructor does to commence and conclude class.
Intentional questions, group discussion, and dynamic review can provide students with the time necessary to connect ideas and build larger conceptual understandings (Love 2013). Research suggests that when instructors make explicit connections between ideas and across class sessions, however briefly, students’ conceptual understanding and context-transfer rises exponentially (Ambrose 2010). The opening and closing moments of class can be effective moments for such connections.
Examples of Classroom Strategies
Many of the strategies utilized to promote effective “first day” and “last day” sessions of classes apply to the first and last moments of individual class sessions. Classic strategies include Gary Smith’s (2008) “First-day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom,” which gains “student buy-in” by asking them to “assess their own learning” and consider how alternate styles might help them achieve their goals.
The “first five minutes” is often heralded as the most crucial, and underappreciated, moment to promote student motivation and engagement. Instructors can deploy a variety of strategies depending on local class culture (adapted from Lang 2016):
- Ask Questions – Instructor presents provocative questions about content or concepts at the beginning of class, which can catch student attention and privilege their contributions to learning before the instructor’s. Returning to the same questions throughout class can provide a sense of direction and consistency.
- Review Earlier Sessions – Instructor asks students to brainstorm and reconstruct (Lang says “retrieve”) previous content and conversations. This method provides purpose across meetings and helps students access prior knowledge.
- Reactivate Prior Knowledge – Instructor asks questions, provides brief demonstrations, or asks for elaborations in order to activate student thinking about previous topics. This method helps students build new knowledge upon earlier learning.
- Writing Exercises – Instructor guides freewriting, 1- minute paper, or response-to-prompt to help students focus on past and future topics. Following up with think-pair-share activities enhances comprehensive review of materials and promotes class discussion.
There are a number of strategies and tools that instructors can use to engage their students in learning at the beginning of class based on the methods described above as well as other classroom techniques. These tools can be used in tandem with one another or independently.
- Anecdotes – Provide a compelling anecdote related to class content. This might be an interesting fact, case, or news story that captures students’ attention.
- Questions – Present a controversial or compelling question for students to think about related to course content. Instructor can have students write their answers on a note card to be collected later or posed as a clicker question. Students can also carry this out as a Think-Pair-Share exercise. Student responses can be discussed at the start of the class session.
- Demonstration – Conduct a class demonstration relevant to the material presented that day.
- Summary – Ask students to summarize what they learned last class.
- Roadmap – Provide students with a roadmap of the class to scaffold their learning.
- Objectives – Present the learning objectives for the class session that day.
In addition, some examples of end-of-class instruction include:
- Review – Revisit the class learning objectives.
- Summary – Ask students to summarize what they have learned. This might be done initially as a Think-Pair-Share or one-minute paper activity and then as a report back to the class.
- Exploring Confusion – Ask students where they may still have points of confusion. For example, an instructor can ask the students to write their “muddiest points,” or topics or concepts on which they are still confused, on a note card and collect them. These muddiest points can be discussed during a subsequent class.
- Preview – Start preparing students for the next class by giving a preview and connecting what they learned during the present class with material to come.
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Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research – Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lang, James. Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Advice, January 11 2016.
Love, B. (2013). Finishing Strong: End-of-Class Review to Improve Relationships, Measurement, and Learning Outcomes. College Teaching 61: 151-152.
Smith, G. (2008). First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom. The National Teaching & Learning Forum 17.5: 1-4.
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