The final exam—A reflection essay and impromptu speaking activity

Before the exam period: At the end of each semester of Communication Skills, students complete a reflection essay about their progress in the course. Because students have collected their work in a portfolio, they can review everything they've compiled and use specific detail to point out their growth in oral and written communication skills. For example, they sometimes describe relationships with parents or roommates in which communication was at one point difficult and was later resolved because the students acquired new skills on conflict resolution. A student might point out growth in writing skills by comparing assignments from two different points in the semester. Many write about their experiences with group projects and their new skills in handling such complex tasks. Students may choose any focus for the reflection papers. I do not specify the length, but students generally write 2-5 page papers. For once, they seem eager to write!

The course packet for CommSkills includes this description of the assignment:

Reflecting on Your Progress—The Final Exam

Write a reflection essay about your progress toward your goals in the class. review your work, especially the introduction letter, the goals memo, and the midterm progress report. Have your listening, writing, and speaking skills improved? Has your attitude about speaking changed since the beginning of the semester? What advances have you made in the use of electronic communication or research? What parts of this class do you see as relevant to your future in college and/or career? Refer to the starred assignments in your portfolio (your best work) and explain why you're proud of them. Observe the standard essay format: introductory paragraph with thesis, thoroughly developed body paragraphs with topic sentences, and a conclusion paragraph. The final "exam" is due at the beginning of the exam period. Please turn in paperwork reflecting all stages of the writing process.

To prepare for exam day: Students create, organize, draft and revise their essays, knowing that they will be required to turn in evidence of all steps of the writing process. They also know that we will have some kind of final activity. Although I don't tell them exactly what that will be, I assure them that no preparation is necessary. They've learned to trust that I won't spring something negative, so they look forward to the surprise. I do ask them to bring snacks or sodas to share with the class.

During the exam period: Once students have submitted their reflection essays, I ask them to write their names on slips of paper and put the names in a container. A student draws a name and then interviews the person whose name was drawn about his or her disasters and successes during the semester. Sometimes a student also solicits comments from other students in reference to the partner's progress. After 5-10 minutes, students make some quick notes and then make impromptu speeches. They congratulate their partners on their accomplishments during the semester and use examples to explain those accomplishments. Some create playful awards"—such as "Most Prompt Student" (given to a student who's always late). They honor their classmates in the way only peers can. Many of the presentations are funny; some are nostalgic. We share snacks and laughter—and sometimes tears and hugs.

|  Introduction   |   The Final Exam    |    Sample student essays   |  An outline of the courses' syllabi  |