Reviewing for Finals with Lasting Impact

As the end of the year approaches, so too do tests, papers, and final demonstrations of all our students have learned in the past semester. Let’s take a few moments to consider what the real goals of year-end projects and tests are.

Our overarching goal is that our students have picked up something of the subject matter while also becoming more careful listeners, thoughtful writers, and discerning questioners. But, because of our grading and accountability systems, we have to find some way of knowing that they know more.

So we make TESTS: projects, papers, exams — whatever they be,we are testing to see that they know. OOooooo, as I write this, I’m struggling not to fall into a big rabbit-hole discussion of the value of the knowledge we impart. Why does it have value, when does it have value, is the value lost when students forget it next year? I’ll spare you! Instead, I’ll limit myself to discussing how a final product of a class might stick with a student.

The Final Product

The final product of a course is a fuller mind map of knowledge. While a few specific facts or formulas might stick with the student long-term, the lasting impact of our classes is how the concepts we introduce interact with the student’s mental map of the world. As we discussed in a previous post, learning arbitrary things is much harder than learning things that connect into our existing knowledge.

Once we lay that out in the open and accept it, it makes us question how important it is for students to demonstrate their absorption of specific facts. More valuable, perhaps, is helping students find a way to describe their new mental map or to articulate new connections made.

Reviewing when Mental Map is the Final Product

An easy and wonderful mind-stretching practice is to have students mind-map two different concepts. I recommend this as a regular activity throughout the semester, but it’s also really helpful at finals time to help ideas take root for the long haul.

In a Pear Deck slide, simply write two concepts that you’ve studied on the slide. Set the response type to “Drawing Slide” and make sure you choose the blank canvas option.

To make it a little simpler, pick one concept that you’ve studied and one thing they likely know a lot about already so they can more firmly map the new concept into existing knowledge. Also, the terms don’t have to be super related. They don’t have to be synonyms. Just pick two different things and let students draw connections, then discuss. Examples:

  • Math — Associative Property and Multiplying
  • History — Renaissance and Enlightenment
  • Science — Viruses and Humans
  • ELA — “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “Romeo and Juliet”

It doesn’t matter if students don’t remember the term. This is not about testing their memory — go ahead and give a definition. They will remember it better once they’ve mapped it and connected it to other ideas and concepts.

As student begin mapping, keep an eye on their responses. This way you can quickly catch misconceptions before they become solidified. You might also notice that some students are very organized — they will categorize, with quick judgement, the facts and information they know about each topic. Other students will be much more fluid, descriptive, or perceptive in their maps. There is no right way. Whatever helps them make sense of the concepts is ok.

Give students about 2 minutes, then share their answers and talk about the different connections being made. What are the surprising or unique connections? Do those connections help other students better understand the concepts?

As you discuss, let students continue to alter their own mind maps. This way they can add connections that are meaningful and erase misconceptions. When you publish the Takeaways at the end of class, students will get a full document of all the different mental maps they have created.

Remember to remind student that this isn’t about being right or wrong — this is about sharing different ways of understanding new concepts and building connections to prior knowledge.

Here is a simple example Deck to show you how to set up the questions. Feel free to use the Deck and tweak it for your own class.