Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It's that time again- finals week.
For some it's just the end of the quarter. For others it's make it or break it time. For a lot of professors this is a sort of blow-off week. I say this because I have seen a trend over the last five years. That's to say that the final exam isn't used to demonstrate the knowledge one has accumulated over the course of the allotted tim as often as when I was an undergrad.

Maybe this is one of those "when I was a young sprout" stories. Really, I did like it at the end of the semester we had a big test. I'd study my head off and get a great grade.  It was affirming, like a pat on the back and an 'atta girl'. But really, from a curriculum standpoint, a cumulative final exam can help students review what they know and help them to relate that new knowledge to other knowledge so it has a greater chance of sticking.

But teachers in some places, with far too many adjuncts, have a hard time investing themselves for a longer run. A favorite strategy in the English department is to give a take-home final and not even meet the day of the exam. The mandate rule is that you have to meet with your class and engage in meaningful activities for the final exam. But given the pay, the hours, and the lack of oversight, is it really a surprise that sometimes teachers give a final that can be turned in online and be done with it? You can get an extra few days of vacation and planning time that way. It's tempting.

Today I gave the second of three comprehensive finals. It took my class, on average, about 2.5 hours to thoroughly complete and it's mentally taxing. Their hands were tired from writing. I handed out gum and owl stickers to lighten their moods, played classical music, and reminded them every hour to stretch and look around to avoid eye strain. One of my online friends asked why I would do such a thing.  It's a good question. But I promise the answer is not that I enjoy twisting a knife and making my students uncomfortable.

Have you ever done something hard and found out you had more in reserve than you thought? A lot of times our curriculums do not challenge students enough.  When they walked out of that classroom, there was no doubt in their minds that they can write well enough to find success in college. 

This is not the only goal in my teaching life, but it's an important part of why I do what I do.

Now to go grade all the things. Finals is exhausting for more than just the students.

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