By Jeremiah Ho from Washburn University School of Law
Paul Bateman, Toward Diversity in Teaching Methods in Law Schools: Five Suggestions from the Back Row, 17 QLR 397 (1997) [Read fulltext (1.5 MB PDF)] (Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Law Review Association of the Quinnipiac College School of Law, © 1998; reprint courtesy HeinOnline.org)
More than a century has passed since the Socratic method has become the prevailing method for teaching law school classes — particularly for the core first-year subjects. Despite noting both the scholarly reverence and criticism for the method over the years, Professor Bateman’s article also observes that teaching and learning Socratically has become a hallmark of legal education. Through its inquiry nature, what the method offers is an opportunity for students to acquire the skills of argumentation and abstract analytical reasoning. But the method can also inhibit student creativity and profoundly alienate certain students.
Professor Bateman’s article recommends that the use of the Socratic method should not preclude law teachers from exploring other diverse methods of teaching in the law school classroom — methods that can offer to bring student-centered learning closer to the forefront of the classroom. In particular, Professor Bateman discusses and elaborates on five suggestions for adding diverse teaching methods into law school teaching: (1) debriefing classroom participation; (2) assigning various writing assignments throughout the semester for feedback and for targeting better exam analysis skills; (3) using games in and out of the classroom; (4) employing student learning contracts; and (5) bringing in computer-assisted instructional tools as a way of giving additional practice and feedback. All of these diverse techniques are explained and demonstrated with the goal of using each — or a combination — of them to fill student learning needs in ways that can supplement traditional law school teaching methods.