7 minutes from the end of class.

by Harry on February 10, 2023

I sometimes employ an undergraduate to observe my teaching, and criticize what I do. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, but I really employ them, these days, to hold me accountable to the standards I set myself and to tell me what is happening in the room (this is especially valuable in large classes) more than with the expectation that I’ll learn something brand new.

Anyway, last week my new observer, Allyson, solved what has been a longstanding problem for me. In my large classes students get antsy in the last ten minutes, and start, slowly, and discreetly, to put their stuff away and get ready to go. Each individual student is not disruptive, but having most of them doing this over a 7 minute period is very distracting (for them and for me). Its especially bad in winter because they have lots of clothes to put on. [1]

And I am not blaming them for this. My campus is large, and there is a 15 minute gap between classes. Unless they are ready to go the second class ends many of them will be late for the next class.

Allyson pointed out the antsiness, and suggested the following: 7 minutes from the end of class tell them that they are not leaving till the end of the class, but that I am giving them one minute to get their stuff together.

So, I did it on Monday. It was magical, in something like the way that Think Pair Share is magical: one minute of total disruption, followed by 6 minutes of complete focus. Wednesday was the same. What I really noticed on Wednesday was the different noise at 3.45; I dismissed them and the class went from silence to all the noise happening at once, briefly, as they departed much more quickly than I’ve ever seen.

Obviously, what happens in that last 6 minutes is different from before. They can’t take notes, so the 6 minutes has to be stuff that they don’t feel the need to take notes on: last week it was Q&A (and the questions were great), but I can imagine setting up a 5 minute video, or a brief Pair Share about what they have learned in that day. I haven’t read about this before, and when I asked Allyson whether she’d seen this work in other classes, she said no, she just thought it up as a possible solution to a problem she’s seen in all her classes (and almost all of her classes have been large — she’s an Industrial Engineering major). I’m not the least surprised that she is imaginative, but still it was a stunning success. If you try it, or have seen it work already, I’m curious what your experience is/has been.

[1] This is hardly ever a problem in my smaller classes. Indeed in the class Allyson is actually taking from me this semester, which is the last class of the day, it is clear that I could keep them back for an hour and half of them would be happy. Its also not a problem even in the large class if I am in the Tues/Thurs 11-12.15 slot, because nobody who is in a class in that slot has another class till 1. But I try to teach smaller classes in that slot because I know that students in smaller classes are much more likely to hang around chatting for a long time after class, and that is the one slot in which I can guarantee that will be possible because nobody else will need the room till 1.



Daniel Hirschman 02.10.23 at 6:01 pm

Nice! My solution to the same problem was to set a timer on my cellphone that goes off audibly 1-2 minutes before the end of the scheduled class. I tell them that I will 100% end class by finishing whatever thought/sentence is happening at that moment, and then they will have time to gather their things and leave by the official class end time. It’s worked pretty well, but I like your idea of using the last 5 minutes for some kind of wrap-up or reflection.


Rob Chametzky 02.10.23 at 10:45 pm

In my larger lecture classes, I like(d) to have the students do “One-Minute Papers” at the end. I presume you, Harry, know about this, I’m not sure how/if it would fit into the six-minute slot you have (one could just give them more than a minute, of course, which I in fact did at least sometimes do)–though it seems to fit nicely with the “Pair/Share” you mention–and it does require paper and writing-tool. I found it both easy to do and remarkably helpful. I would have my TA(s) take them first, so that they could read them before section, and then I’d get them. but perhaps others do not. Here’s one account of it:

A one-minute paper is simply that: students are given 60 seconds—either at the end of a section of work, or at the end of a lecture period—to jot down on paper some anonymous responses to an aspect of that day’s class session. They drop these responses into a box at the front of the class, which you then take to your office. Then you read the responses to get a sense of what the students have learned, where there might be gaps in their knowledge, what aspects of your teaching practice they are responding to, and so on. The function of this exercise is solely to get a ‘dipstick’ measurement that you can respond to in a subsequent class session, by email, or on Blackboard.



Seekonk 02.11.23 at 7:45 pm

I recognize the degree of difficulty of teaching, large classes or small, and I appreciate the effort that teachers put into it. Permit me a memory that may illustrate part of the problem that teachers confront.
In college I was in a crew that was a bit erratic in attending classes and completing the reading assignments. (I’m not bragging about this.) So one day a buddy was in the frat lounge cadging morsels of info to get through a mid-term exam. “Tell me about Doctor Zagoon”, he entreated. It took us a while to figure out that he was referring to Darkness at Noon.


M Caswell 02.11.23 at 8:51 pm

I tell students that our classes’ end-times are approximate, rather than official, but that anyone– including myself– should feel free to leave when they have somewhere else to be.


Pascal Desmond 02.16.23 at 9:57 am

As an undergrad in the 1980s, one of my Geography lecturers, used to begin each lecture with a quiz and tell us the answers at the end… and, of course, we were envious of the highest scorer. One week it was “Name the states that have an international frontier with the Russia” and we all scribbled furiously. Many had 10 or 11 but I could only come up with 3 countries, Finland, China and Mongolia — I forgot about Poland! The following week, it was List the ten most populous African countries, and a week later, it was List the ten largest African countries… and so on. It was an excellent way to make sure we were wide awake and he kept us alert till the end.
When attempting to teach Maths, I used to finish each class with questions such as “4 times 7 =?” and when a kid got it right, they could leave. It meant that for the class just before a break the competition was intense.

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