This is the busiest time of academic year for faculty and students alike.
image from: http://admissions.vanderbilt.edu/insidedores/2012/11/5-tips-to-overcoming-finals/
Student support services are ramped up, helping students deal with the stress and sometimes crippling anxiety about final work. Can we do more, though?
Students feel intense pressure (perhaps much of it self-induced) to get A’s. Realizing at this time of semester that an A is not possible, that perhaps a B might be the best possible outcome, can send many of our high-achieving students into a tailspin. Students looking at a C right now, with a chance to bring the grade up by excelling on the final exam, can become so anxious that they can barely function.
How can we as faculty help our students cope with this type of stress? How can we help them with the following important lessons they need to learn:
1. Sometimes in life we encounter challenges we must face even knowing we won’t earn A’s, or even B’s, in everything all the time.
2. It is an important skill to learn how to cope with disappointment and defeat, be it on the sports field or in the classroom.
3. Prioritizing sometimes involves painful decisions. For example, if, in order to focus energy on a course you are not doing well in, you need to reduce your extracurricular commitments, then the choice must be made. Many of our challenges in life result from personal choices we have made.
4. The Grade is not “A for Effort”
5. The distractions of life can interfere with academic success. That’s part of life in general.
6. There is more to being successful in life than earning A’s.
7. There are many paths to success in life, all having bumps along the way.
What we faculty can do:
1. Remind our students that they have been learning and mastering the course material all semester. They are not learning it for the first time, they are reviewing and remembering and confirming what they already know. Try to build their confidence.
2. Tell them that final work is not meant to trip them up. We don’t assign work that is beyond their reach to achieve.
3. Hold a review session or some open office hours for students to come and ask questions.
4. Provide your students with some review questions, or old exam questions, or some kind of review assignment during the last week of classes and spend a little time reviewing, summing up, the course with them. One great class format that I’ve used very successfully in my neuroscience and behavior courses is put the reading assignments from the semester on small pieces of paper, a piece of paper for each student. So, each piece of paper has one or two reading assignments on it. Then, in preparation for the last class, I have the class draw a piece of paper out of a hat and have them re-read that assignment. Then, during the last class, I have the students reflect back to that assignment/concept and draw a connection between it and a different assignment. We use the chalkboard to draw connections and see how the content of the class comes together.
What ideas have you tried to help our students manage the stress of this time of year?