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Review:  Normalizing Struggle

Review: Normalizing Struggle

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: Normalizing Struggle[1]

Written by Catherine Martin Christopher
Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Bar Success, Texas Tech University School of Law

In this article, Professor Christopher makes an excellent argument for normalizing and even celebrating our students’ struggle to acquire, retain, and apply the information taught in law school.  She encourages us not to see our students’ struggle as a problem and but rather asks us to “reorient our attitudes toward the struggle.”  Not only will this help our students learn and retain knowledge better but it will help our students be better equipped to handle the stressors of being a lawyer.

The article starts with examining how our current system conflates struggle with failure, which marginalizes our students, and continues by discussing how pervasive the struggles are among our students.  Part III teaches us how to reframe the struggle to being productive, and Part IV gives us some best practices to help students to work with their struggles.  Lastly, the article ends with encouraging the institution as a whole to normalize and encourage the struggle.  Even though I consider myself fairly well-read when it comes to assessment and teaching techniques, I found a plethora of new articles to read in the article’s footnotes.  What is more, I found some great ideas to incorporate into my classes this fall. These ideas ranged from good topics for first day discussions with students to good ways to implement information retention strategies.  One of my favorite parts of this article paints an image of an elementary student standing in front of a chalkboard with chalk in her hand unable to solve the problem on the board.  She is in front of everyone.  The teacher, not wanting her student to be humiliated, has the child sit down and calls another child up to solve the problem.  Professor Christopher asks the thought-provoking question of “what if it wasn’t embarrassing to not have the right answer?”  To me this is a mind-blowing concept, and yet it is so simple.  What if we helped the student solve the problem by embracing the student’s struggle?  I am inspired, and the article gives me the tools to do this!  Don’t let the 33 pages of this article scare you away from reading it.  The time slips by quickly and the ideas are abundant.


[1] Forthcoming in the Arkansas Law Review 2019 but can be accessed at SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3378829

As easy as “1,2, buckle my shoe” 10 Steps for Addressing Race Intentionally in Doctrinal Classes

As easy as “1,2, buckle my shoe” 10 Steps for Addressing Race Intentionally in Doctrinal Classes

By Angela Mae Kupenda, Mississippi College School of Law

One, two, Buckle my shoe…
Three, four, Open the door…
Five, six, Pick up sticks…
Seven, eight, Lay them straight…
Nine, ten, Do it Again Do It Again & Do It Again.!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsvtaLDuYvc

            The children’s game “One, two, buckle my shoe,” takes children through various steps as they learn to count, and then reminds them to repeat the steps again and again for retention.  While the original meaning of the song is unclear, the counting process reminds us of the many steps to achieving a goal and how repetition is critical for success.

Taking steps and repetition are also critical with learning to address race intentionally in our courses as law professors. We may prefer to think that race is not present in all doctrinal classes.  This assumption seemingly excuses us law professor from addressing race because there is so much other “real law” to cover. Such is simply not the case. Addressing race in our courses is critical if we expect to address real law.  In many, if not all, of our courses, racial inequalities either lurk right beneath the surface or are in plain view in the cases and topics we cover.  Failing to lead our students in these discussions on race results in our not providing them the best education possible. A racially informed legal education is needed as our students will become leaders in a quite diverse, and quite divided, America.

Hence, the purpose of this essay is to take us through the simple steps, by counting off the steps, to guide us in addressing race intentionally and facilitating unplanned racial discussions in our doctrinal classes.

One, two, Buckle my shoe

 Step 1.  Grow in awareness of oneself as a “raced” individual in America.  Often we as faculty are not automatically equipped to lead discussions on race with our students, because we do not see our own “race.”  If we see others as having a race but not ourselves, we are failing to see how America’s legal systems have raced us as individuals or as part of a group. The children’s rhyme chants, “One, two, buckle my shoe,” and suggests that we must first pay attention to ourselves and how we prosper, suffer, and generally live in America as a raced individual.

As legal academics, ask yourself questions like:   How am I personally affected by the country’s history and current events as to race and racial privilege or lack thereof?    How have the federal and state laws generally treated me and my immediate, and not so immediate, ancestors?  How is that different from the treatment of other dominant or non-dominant groups in America?  How is that different from the treatment of my diverse students and other people in this country?  Asking yourself these questions may make you feel uncomfortable, or even attacked or defensive.  But, don’t let the answers shut you down, that is if you want to address race in your courses from a position of self-awareness.  Keep in mind, our privilege (or lack thereof) and biases are not the biggest problem–rather our lack of awareness of them is the biggest problem.  The great news is that our work in legal education affords us opportunity each semester for necessary personal growth to lead our students into becoming leaders in a racially aware and more welcoming society.

Step 2.  Grow in awareness of oneself as a teacher and of one’s calling as a law professor. While inspection of oneself as an individual or as a member of a racial group is step one in buckling one’s shoe, the second step is to grow in awareness of one’s calling as a law professor. Law professors, like teachers broadly, have a special place in America to encourage the opening of minds to new ideas, other experiences, and various perspectives.  While law professors have a calling in kind with other teachers, we have a special calling given the role of the law in our democracy.  We educate future presidents, legislators, judges and advocates who will continue to shape our systems, positively we hope, even as related to race in America.

So step two entails asking yourself questions, like: What is my calling as a professor? What goals do I have in my teaching? What is my calling toward effectuating more equality in our system?  Embrace the power of your position in furthering equality.  Ask if you are something more than a video, or a case explainer or presenter. In other words, examine your calling by asking: as a professor, what do I profess? Then ask, why would you want to address race in your courses, or why do you not want to address race in your courses.

I had lunch with a Law School administrator at an Ivy League school, a lovely lunch in a very rich faculty club. He wanted to run something by me.  He explained that his school was preparing for an ABA accreditation visit and was concerned with their diversity, or the lack of it at his school if you use traditional measures.  His school’s argument was that they were diverse because his school was non-diverse.  He said it was diverse because it offered another option for people who do not want traditional diversity. He said they still provide superior education, but in a way different from other schools in that they are not diverse. He wanted to know my reaction.

I repeated his argument back to him word for word, then summarizing: your law school believes it to be offering a superior education by educating future leaders who choose your school for one reason because they want to be unexposed to and unaware of the implications in America of race, gender, class, and so on. He replied: YES, you understand. I then replied, perhaps that could be a superior education if you were working with kindergarten children, but certainly not for legal education, actually not for kindergarten either. After I elaborated on my response, he brought the lunch to an abrupt close, with no dessert.  He apparently did not like my suggestion that he and his school should engage in One, two, Buckle my shoe, by, one, examining their own awareness of race and, two, by asking what they considered as the role collectively of their school’s professorship in furthering equality and creating a better country.

Three, four, Open the door…

(note, some versions of the rhyme say “shut the door,” but here “open the door” is better)

Step 3.  Open the door of your mind to consider the presence of race in the courses you teach and to consider the consequences of your failing to address race.  As professors some of us may think that in our courses our role is to just cover the Black Letter law and not address race at all, or if to address it to cover it in the most neutral/disconnected/bland way. The dominant message in many school books, etc., is that nonwhites are appropriately invisible or inferior.  As a result, educators may unfortunately feel more at ease searching for a middle ground that does not question the present message, but also does not reject that message, either.

With this step, identify and acknowledge the many ways that “race” is already present in your courses and just needs to be addressed.  Here are just a few examples of courses and the presence of race: Contracts (status to contract, unconscionability, overlap with civil rights cases, gender/racial disparities in negotiating contracts); Civil Procedure (the Walker v. Birmingham case,  and much overlap with civil rights cases); Criminal Law and Procedure courses (cases about nonwhite defendants and some of the language in the cases, punishment disparities, the increase of nonwhites in prison post-slavery, death penalty and the Baldus Study in the case McClesky v. Kemp); Business Associations (ownership rights of shareholders who represent a minority percentage interest and the various rules and voting procedures available to protect those minority interests contrasted with protections given minority race voters in the political process, consider Lani Guinier’s book, The Tyranny of the Majority); Health Care Law (for background consider Harriet Washington’s book, Medical Apartheid); Family Law (nonconjugal adoption,  transracial adoption, adoption of white children by nonwhites, the laws related to domestic violence and the impact on people of color); Torts (ample cases addressing race are present, and consider damages, valuing of lives, overlap with Civil Rights and Constitutional Law (an interesting case is a federal case regarding the Mississippi flag as inflicting emotional distress on Blacks, Moore v. Bryant);  Evidence (eye witness testimony reliability across racial groups, who could be a witness historically versus witness credibility today); Ethics (whether those with certain racial views, affiliations, or exhibiting racist conduct out to be disciplined by the Bar, racial conflict of interest).

If you do not see your subject above, it is only because of brevity of this essay.

In discussing these ideas with the faculty at my school, one of my white colleagues shared that a white student in her Criminal Law course briefed a case in class where the black defendant was referred in the case to as an n _ _ _ _ _.  She said the white student used the word in his briefing. She wasn’t sure what to do in class, so she did nothing.  After the class a number of the minority students approached her and told her how upset they were.  She did not know what to do, so she did nothing and was quite upset with herself as she considers herself a liberal in the south.

I suggested that there were a number of possible approaches she could take depending on whether she thought the word was necessary for an understanding of the case.  Perhaps before the cases with such language are covered in class, she could engage the students in a broader discussion of race, language, and the times of the cases.  Maybe by having such a discussion, some students would be more racially aware in their briefings or other students would be more prepared with an understanding that not all people share the same disdain with the “n” word.  I thought that discussion before or even after the case could possibly enlighten students and expand racial discussions that, mind you, were already happening outside her classroom about how she did not respond in any way in the classroom.

This step is that a professor should plan to address race in class and consider the vehicles to do so.  Merely attempting to ignore a smoldering issue, as the professor above did, does not make it go away and does not prepare our students for the diverse society in which they live and will practice law and serve as community or political leaders.

Step 4.  Open the door of your mind to consider the context in which you teach. In other words, be open to the possibility that close mindedness may be prevalent at your school. Consider the institutional environment and the consequences of doing what you must do–addressing the racial issues in your courses.  First, consider the faculty composition:  How many nonwhite faculty members, how many white women, and how many white male professors teach at your school?  What about adjuncts?  What do these numbers suggest about the potential response (by faculty, administrators, and students) to your addressing the racial issues that are present in your courses? Second, do the same for the student body as a whole and for the usual enrollment in your courses.  Third, critically think about whether there is vocal diversity of viewpoint at your school.  Fourth, examine how welcoming the school is by taking a look at the curriculum that is regularly taught at your school. Are there, or have there ever been, any race classes in the curriculum?  What about other courses like Civil Rights, Women and the Law, Domestic Violence, First Amendment, Immigration Law, Class and the Law, etc? Fifth, consider recent speakers and other invited guests to the campus.  Are nonwhites included to a great extent? Are any whites included who hold viewpoints different from any mainstream thought at your school? Don’t overlook the administration’s openness, or closeness, to addressing race.  Even consider such matters as the school’s physical environment.  Is there any artwork by or featuring people of color or other historically excluded groups?  Finally, think carefully about the racial conflicts that have occurred among the students, faculty or administrators.  How were the conflicts resolved?  Did the conflicts lead to more education about race and the legal system?

An evaluation of your institutional racial environment may leave you discouraged or encouraged.  But if it leaves you discouraged, that could just mean that there is lots of opportunity at your school and a great need for someone to take the courageous step of addressing the racial dynamics in courses that many already know are there and are likely privately discussing.

Five, six,  Pick up sticks…

Step 5. Pick up your tools. Set the stage. Prepare for the impromptu. Plan for the unplanned. Rehearse for the unrehearsed.  One tool I use is introduced on the first day of class.  I set the tone with what I call my Greensheet of Professionalism (I call it the greensheet because I copy it on heavy stock green paper.  It includes class goals and professionalism expectations).  Before the first day of class, ask yourself what climate can you/your students tolerate and what climate is more conducive to addressing race in your course.

One semester, I attempted to build rapport, with my largely white class, first before addressing race.  Note: this approach did not work for me, when I did later address race in the materials many white students said they felt betrayed.  So for me, starting with day one in my Con Law courses, we discuss the individuals or groups that were left out of the promises of the original constitution.  And, I begin the course with individual rights and the Civil Rights cases (majority held congress lacked power to outlaw private racial discrimination; the first Justice Harlan was the sole dissent and he had a half-brother who was a slave).  I regularly use judges’ biographies to address race/class/gender in decision-making.

I also have a participation requirement for the course and daily use a participation roster of those who are prepared with the entire assignment.  Those students are the ones who get the floor and that I call on, this helps keep the class more focused and keeps it from going awry by students who did not prepare and give thought to the material but want to incite tension in an already tense discussion.  In my large classes, I also require students to stand (if they are able) when they orally participate. So, they must stand in and own their analysis and view as to which opinion they are more closely aligned with.

Another tool involves the use of current news and timely issues to address race in the course.  For me, an important policy I follow is I only address in the classroom race in the news where it is relevant to the course.  Some news accounts I save for later in the course when students have learned the foundational material needed to analyze the issue.

So as to have a consistent approach, consider making addressing the facts and contexts of cases a frequent norm.  Then addressing race one day will not be just the exceptional exploration of a case.

Step 6. An important tool in addressing race in your courses is to shift some of that work to the students. Figure out ways to share the responsibility in class for addressing race, in other words plan in advance for inevitable disagreement.  We are educating legal professionals after all, so one tool is to get them into the practice of exploring various perspectives different than their own.  A frequent statement I make in class is, “I understand your argument. But, a great advocate can argue both sides of a dispute.  So, now I want to hear you argue the other side.”

Group collaborative work can also be helpful in teaching students how to disagree even with their friends about issues implicating race in the course.  It is exciting to see two students who are friends analyze together how they come to different perspectives on an issue involving race.   This is a much better outcome than seeing students silence themselves so they can be liked by a majority.

Seven, eight, Lay them straight…

Now we are familiar with some of the tools to address race, so we now come to the class day where we will address race or have the rehearsed unrehearsed moment for an intense racial issue that is present in the materials.

Step 7.  Notice what is going on in the classroom AND within yourself. In step one you understood yourself and the racial issues you are still navigating in your own life. So you know that you must notice your own reaction in the classroom.  Sometimes the intensity may be about yourself and sometimes tension may unexpectedly build in the classroom.

So REMEMBER you can slow it down. Some conversations can be delayed until the next class or even taken outside the classroom first. REMEMBER that you are in charge of the class and that your ultimate goal is for students to learn. Use the “sticks” you picked up and the strategies from steps five and six.

Try to keep the conversation with some balance where there are arguable differences, even if you have to make the argument.  Always connect the discussion back to the course material. Exhibit zero tolerance for disrespect of students, other faculty etc. Sometimes I have to stop the discussion, take the class back to my greensheet of professionalism, and remind them, “We may attack arguments, but we do not attack people.”

Your lingering issues will show up when students make certain comments.  For me, I am still thinking about race and class.  I confessed my discomfort to the class when a nonblack student in my Civil Rights class said, “I didn’t know any poor mothers cared about their children.” In my Race and the First Amendment class a nonblack student said, “All blacks call each other n____ you are not a real black, prof, you don’t know about the experiences of real blacks. I know all real blacks do this because my boyfriend is black and his friends call me a n___lover and then they all laugh.” I was the only black person in the room when this statement was made. I managed to engage the class, before taking further discussion outside the classroom with this young woman.

Step 8.  If you don’t lay them straight in a given class meeting, you still get another chance and more chances to have a positive impact on the lives of your students by helping them think more deeply about the law and race.  A white female in one of my courses said, “I’m from the hills…I have not been around many black people…but what I really think about these people and how they can fix their problems is….” One of her black female classmates was greatly offended by her remarks.  Through after class conversations individually with both students and then a discussion in class, we were able to work through and disaggregate the comment and response.  Everyone learned.  The white female experience much growth through this process.  And later when she applied for a position with Legal Services and her future employers questioned me (her reference) about her ability to work with nonwhites, I was able to recount this growth. The young woman got the job and did very well.

Nine, ten, Do it Again Do It Again & Do It Again.!!!!

Step 9. Perform a critique of how you are doing in our courses with addressing race. Evaluate yourself and seek informal feedback from your teaching community, students, alums etc. Analyze and write about your experiences and present about your learning in various settings.

Step 10.  Revise and plan again for the next class meeting, next semester, or even the next academic year. Tweak your process for addressing race in your doctrinal classes, experiment with it, but never give up.  Remember, for as long as we teach, we get another chance and another!

Racial Anxiety

Racial Anxiety

By Anastasia M. Boles, UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law

As law professors, we care deeply about our students.  We put a tremendous amount of effort into our teaching, advising student organizations, and serving as formal and informal mentors.  Unfortunately, science has taught us that unconscious racism may be operating to degrade our student interactions. Many of us are familiar with the term “implicit bias.”  Over the last few decades, social psychologists have explored the ways implicit preferences and biases permeate society, including criminal justice, health, and education.  Thus, unconscious racism may be interfering with our student interactions.

While lesser known than implicit bias, a common consequence of unconscious racism is “racial anxiety,” which is the unconscious anxiety we may experience or exhibit when interacting with a person of a different race.  For example, racial anxiety can cause undetectable physical changes in our bodies such as nervousness, discomfort, stiffness, and decreased eye contact.  The experience of unconscious racial anxiety sets up a vicious cycle; we unconsciously minimize interactions that have made us uncomfortable in the past, even if we cannot name the source of the discomfort. Racial anxiety expresses differently depending on race – people of color may be anxious about experiencing racism; whites may fear saying the wrong thing, or being labeled a racist.  Whatever the cause, as our cognitive resources are directed to mitigating any racial anxiety we are experiencing, the quality of our personal interaction with the differently-raced person can degrade.[1]

Racial anxiety is likely present in the halls and classrooms of law schools as well.  Despite our best intentions, law professors may experience racial anxiety symptoms in cross-racial conservations and interactions with our students.  At the same time, our differently-raced students may experience racial anxiety as they interact with us.  Consider this common scenario: a white law professor and a student of color meet outside of class for the first time to review an exam, talk about an issue from class, or discuss a paper.  Racial anxiety can affect the professor’s ability to build rapport with the student, appear open and friendly, evaluate the student’s learning needs, engage the student’s questions, and build trust.  The student of color, if also affected by racial anxiety, is less able to ask questions, absorb feedback, and seek mentoring.  If either the law professor or law student experienced unconscious racial anxiety during the meeting, future interactions between the professor and student may be affected.  Now imagine the potential for racial anxiety to disrupt the law school classroom where a sensitive issue related to race comes up in class discussion.  Racial anxiety may degrade the ability or willingness of the professor to engage the issue.  The ensuring student discussion could suffer.  Our students require our full attention; if racial anxiety is depleting the attention we give, we should do something about it.

What can we do?  If racial anxiety operates in our unconscious minds, can we ever hope to banish it?  The great news is that we can.  To combat racial anxiety, psychologists recommend that we start by increasing our cross-racial interactions with our students.  Psychologists call this “intergroup contact.”  Strategies such as encouraging students to attend office hours to increase familiarity, attending and supporting student events with differently-raced students, and increasing the amount and depth of conversations with differently-raced students can help.  During cross-racial interactions, seek to understand cultural differences as well as identifying similarities; the goal is to recognize and appreciate the varying cultural backgrounds of our students – not minimize them.  The more law teachers and law students from different racial backgrounds interact with one another, the less potential for racial anxiety to disrupt those interactions.

[1] For more information about racial anxiety see here, and here.

The Compounding Effects of Assessment

The Compounding Effects of Assessment

By Lindsey P. Gustafson, UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law

If you’ve found your way to the Institute of Law Teaching and Learning, you are likely already a believer in formative assessment. We do have empirical evidence that formative assessment improves student learning in law: Two recent studies have shown that students who received individualized feedback during the semester outperformed students who did not on final exams, and not just in the class where they received the feedback but in every single class they were taking.  [1] One study’s authors note the “likelihood of this occurring by chance is one in 256.”[2]

But as we add formative assessments to students’ semesters, we must consider how we are altering the demands on their time. The middle of the semesters, which have traditionally been the playground for the Socratic Method and for legal writing assignments, may now be filled with a variety of assessment activities, and some of them may dominate students’ time in a way that impacts students’ learning in other classes. When our assessments interfere with students’ participation in other classes, or vice versa, the inferences that we draw from our assessments about student learning may not be valid. And an assessment that provides invalid data is worse than no assessment at all. Consequently, we must all consider our assessments as students experience them, “holistically and interactively.”[3]

How do we deeply coordinate assessments and avoid an assessment system that instead overwhelms students, clutters or fragments their learning, or discourages them early in their first semester? We must coordinate beyond shared calendars, starting in our own classrooms by ensuring that our own assessment activities, as a slice of the student-time pie, are designed with and justified by best practices that encourage an assessment’s validity. In a recent article, I’ve identified five relevant best practices:

  1. Make the assessments’ alignment with learning goals transparent to students and to other faculty members with whom we intend to coordinate: A clear alignment with learning goals helps students understand how the assessments will move them towards learning goals, and helps them make informed decisions about their allocation of time. A clear alignment also allows us to clearly communicate our assessment choices to other faculty members.
  2. Use rubrics to create a shared language of instruction: Once we identify learning goals, rubrics help us refine our communication with students. They see how they will be assessed, and we see with specificity what they have learned.
  3. Ensure the assessments encourage student autonomy: One particularly harmful potential outcome of a tightly orchestrated assessment system is that it may overly dictate student decisions, rather than facilitate student autonomy. Our assessment systems should build students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which are fundamental to learning.
  4. Set high expectations and display confidence that students can meet those expectations: Students prone to maladaptive responses to feedback are likely to be overwhelmed and discouraged by frequent assessments. Explaining our high expectations and displaying confidence in students can help address these tendencies.
  5. Regularly review the entire assessment system, paying particular attention to students’ ownership of their own learning within the system.

When we ground our formative assessment decisions in best practices, we are better able to communicate our decisions to students, and better able to more deeply coordinate with other faculty members.


[1] See Daniel Schwarcz & Dion Farganis, The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance, 67 J. Legal Educ. 139, 142 (2017) (finding that formative assessment improved performance on final exams for students with below-median entering credientials); Ruth Colker et al., Formative Assessments: A Law School Case Study, 94 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 387 (2017) (finding the same); Carol Springer Sargent, Andrea A. Curcio, Empirical Evidence That Formative Assessments Improve Final Exams, 61 J. Legal Educ. 379, 383–84 (2012) (finding that formative assessment improved performance on final exams for students with above-median entering credentials); Andrea A. Curcio, Gregory Todd Jones & Tanya M. Washington, Developing an Empirical Model to Test Whether Required Writing Exercises or Other Changes in Large-Section Law Class Teaching Methodologies Result in Improved Exam Performance, 57 J. Legal Educ. 195, 197 (2007) (finding the same); Andrea A. Curcio, Gregory Todd Jones & Tanya M. Washington, Does Practice Make Perfect? An Empirical Examination of the Impact of Practice Essays on Essay Exam Performance, 35 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 271, 280-82, 302-306 (2008)(finding the same).

[2] Schwarcz, supra note 1, at 142.

[3] See Harry Torrance, Formative Assessment at the Crossroads: Conformative, Deformative and Transformative Assessment, 38 Oxford Rev. of Educ. 323, 334 (2012) (noting that “assessment is always formative, but not necessarily in a positive way”).

Interactive Presentation Software

Interactive Presentation Software

By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

Many professors have been looking for meaningful ways to integrate technological tools into their course design. I am one of them. But for a professor who does not allow students to use their laptops for notetaking, it was important that students be able to recognize that I was using the technology for a limited and strategic purpose, not to be hip or gimmicky. Additionally, it was particularly important that any technological tool I chose was one that could be used quickly, easily, and strategically A few years ago, while at an ILTL conference, a professor polled the audience during her presentation using Mentimeter. I was impressed and after leaving the conference, I explored ways that I could use this slick, but simple app in my classes.

So, what is Mentimeter? Simply, it is an interactive presentation software app that allows professors to interact, collaborate, and poll students. (https://www.mentimeter.com/). The concept is simple: the professor asks a question, the class votes, and the students’ responses appear as a presentation on the classroom screen showing the results.  To prepare the question that will appear on screen, the professor must sign up with Mentimeter. The website allows the professor to write their own questions from scratch or to use one of the site’s templates.  There are many different styles and formats to choose from.  When ready to poll the class, the professor simply displays the question slide prepared in Mentimeter. The students are prompted to go to the voting website, use their cell phones to enter the code that appears on the question slide, and to vote.  As the students vote, their responses appear on the classroom screen. The professor can, however, choose to hide the results until everyone has voted. So far, I’ve incorporated Mentimeter with success using three specific formats: Word Clouds, Multiple Choice, and Questions from the Audience.

 Word Clouds. With the Word Cloud format, I pose a question. The students’ answers actually create a work of art; it literally looks like a cloud made out of words. As students respond, their answers rearrange the word cloud in real-time to emphasize the most common words submitted by the class.  This format is particularly useful to gauge students’ perceptions, understanding, and reflections.  For example, I polled my Criminal Procedure students to gauge their understanding of the most important requirement of the Miranda rule before they read the case. Without fail, arrest is always the biggest word; in other words, students think arrest triggers the Miranda warnings. After students read the case and we analyzed it in class, their Word Cloud more accurately reflected the rule and as a result, custody, interrogation, silence, and lawyer became the largest words in the Word Cloud. When students compared both word clouds, they had a clear visual of the wrong interpretation of the rule versus the correct application of the rule.

Multiple Choice.  In Criminal Law, a first-term class, I have used the Multiple Choice format in its basic format: to give students a multiple choice question. With first-term students, this is a useful tool that allows me to guide them through the deductive reasoning process necessary to successfully navigate multiple choice questions.  But I have also used the Multiple Choice format in Criminal Procedure to administer a simulated photo identification procedure. After showing students the photo identification, I gave them a Mentimeter prompt with five choices (the number of people in the photo identification), A-E, and they made their identification by selecting the letter that represented the photograph of the alleged perpetrator they chose. I hid the screen from students while they voted so they would not be influenced by other students’ selections.

 Question from the Audience.  Another useful way to use Mentimeter is the Questions from the Audience format. At the end of main units, I often allow students a few minutes to pause and to reflect about what they have just learned. Using the Questions from the Audience format, students may ask any questions as they process the information without interrupting other students. This particular format allows the professor to choose when and how the questions appear on screen; the professor can hide the questions while students are in the questioning process or the professor can permit the questions to appear as bubbles, scrolling questions, or one at a time. I typically hide the questions until all students have posted their questions.  This allows me time to sort through the questions and determine how best to handle answering them. Depending on the number of questions, I typically answer the questions in class or use an exercise to help the students figure out the answer. This format and process is also useful in review sessions hosted by the professor or teaching assistants.

There are many interactive apps available for classroom use. Mentimeter is one of them. It is fun, interactive, and very user friendly.  The possibilities for which this app can be used in the law school classroom are many.  Give it a try. Neither you nor your students will be disappointed.

Review: Feb. 2019  Article(s) of The Month

Review: Feb. 2019 Article(s) of The Month

By Rory Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

This month’s contribution departs from the format of reviewing and recommending a law review article.  Rather it summarizes four separate articles which are published in journals other than law reviews.  The articles are:

  1. “Understanding Generation Z Students to Promote a Contemporary Learning Environment,” available on line at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=jete
  2. “How Generation Z is Shaping the Change in Education,” available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sievakozinsky/2017/07/24/how-generation-z-is-shaping-the-change-in-education/#2086c0e46520
  3. “Designing Performer-Centric Learning Systems for Millennials, Generation Z and Beyond,” available at:  https://trainingindustry.com/magazine/issue/designing-performer-centric-learning-systems-for-millennials-generation-z-and-beyond/ ; and
  4. “The Challenge of Teaching Generation Z,” available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312659039_The_challenge_of_teaching_generation_Z

The reason I felt justified in departing from the usual format of this column is because I was alarmed recently by a discussion on a list-serve by legal pedagogy experts who were trying to minimize the impact of the current information environment on reshaping what we consider effective pedagogy.

The argument made in support of the statement that we don’t need to teach differently in the internet-era was essentially, “We should just keep teaching the way we have because even though information access and portability have reshaped the way the world functions, we don’t need to change the way we have always taught since before the dawn of the internet.”  Ironically, even a superficial google search reveals the patent lack of empirical support for that argument.

The truth about how teaching needs to change for it to be effective teaching to today’s students is discussed in the above referenced articles and a summary of the articles’ findings is as follows:

  1. Today’s students live in a world where information is instantly accessible;
  2. Communication needs to be replaced with interaction for these students;
  3. Learning needs to be more learner centered;
  4. The teacher needs to create a classroom environment that facilitates creativity and critical thinking as the delivery of information is no longer something we need teachers for;
  5. Because information is now widely and instantly accessible, teachers must find ways other than providing information to grasp and engage students;
  6. Most non-Generation Z teachers will need professional development help in order to effectively communicate with today’s students;
  7. Current students are dissatisfied being passive learners and educational experiences need to be fully immersive and these students need to learn by doing; and
  8. Collaborative learning environments are essential to teaching them. We can’t just be Professor Kingsfield at the head of a hierarchical learning environment as has been the norm since Langdell walked Harvard’s hallowed halls.

Unfortunately, our resistance to confronting the inertia involved in changing the way we teach is no longer a valid excuse if we want to teach effectively to the students who are now entering law schools.

Review:  Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning

Review: Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article:  Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning
Written by Gerry Hess, Michael Hunter Schwartz, & Nancy Levit[1]

As the introduction to Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning states, “In 1999, The Journal of Legal Education published an important article for law schools seeking to improve the quality and quantity of faculty scholarship output, James Lindgren’s Fifty Ways to Promote Scholarship.”  Lindgren’s article reports that at least one law school saw improvement in scholarly output after implementing some of these ideas.  The current article reviewed here, addresses the other side of a professor’s job, teaching.  It provides fifty ways to promote teaching and learning in your law school.  The authors make clear that not all schools will find all the suggestions useful, but implementing some of the ideas should help schools promote good teaching and learning, and creating a culture of teaching and learning.  The article is filled with great ideas from administrative and financial support for teaching sabbaticals to requiring learning objectives in every course.  “The core idea is creating a culture of learning about teaching and continuous improvement of all faculty members as teachers.”  At its core, this article encourages deans and faculty to discuss teaching and learning, adopt some of the ideas, and track the schools progress.

As a side note, our faculty had a round table discussion about the ideas in the article.  The article was circulated to all of our faculty at Gonzaga.

[1] This article was published in The Journal of Legal Education, Volume 67, Number 3 (Spring 2018).

 

Become Obsolete Graciously Please and Stop Blaming our Students

Become Obsolete Graciously Please and Stop Blaming our Students

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

Most of us have heard the lament from colleagues that, “Because K-12 and undergraduate has changed so much since we went to school, students enter law school today undereducated and so unaccustomed to rigor, that law schools need to invest an inordinate amount of time just to enable students to be competent at the things that lawyers need to do.”  Corollary comments are:  students can’t write, and their grammar is deficient yada yada yada.

Taken to its logical extreme, this sentiment means the practice of law and civilization is essentially dead because kids no longer learn the things needed to become successful lawyers. There are a few things which have been deemed correct assumptions of our civilization at different times in our history.  Reflect on the reactions of people at the time as they slowly discovered these things were not true:

  1. The sun rotates around the earth;
  2. The earth is flat;
  3. The earth is at the center of the universe;
  4. Women are inferior to men;
  5. Continents are immovable; and
  6. The ether is a necessary transmission medium for light.

We can all agree that these are no longer true.  Yet are the following assumptions we cling to as law professors equally false?

The first assumption is there is value to the minutia of grammar and our students are deficient because their grammar and punctuation skills are not “like ours were.”  A counter narrative, however, says ‘Grammar is classist, it’s ableist, and it’s oppressive. It reeks of privilege, and those who spend their time correcting others’ grammar do too.”[1]  One wonders whether Shakespearean elitists of the 16th century could ever imagine that “thine grammar would become archaic and clumsy.”  Grammar may also be a race-based check on valuation of individuals according to their conformance with an artificial social construct.[2]

The second assumption is that today’s students don’t know how to work.  I will suggest here that what efficient and hard work was 10 years ago is in large part inefficient and archaic today.  Today’s students have instant access to information that we had to “work hard” to get.  As a result, what we envision as “productive hard work,” needed to get information is now inefficient and useless because they can ask Siri and get the same information.  Their time is better spent creatively using information rather than memorizing and obtaining it.

If you don’t believe me, try to learn a legal concept with which you are unfamiliar.  11 years ago, that concept for me as a new teacher was 11th amendment immunity and the Seminole Tribe case.  I spent hours researching law review articles, reading cases and trying to figure out where a good starting point was for the doctrine.  I mentioned the struggle I was having to my 16-year-old son who said, “Read Wikipedia first.”  I did and in three and a half minutes was able to have a clearer starting point for the doctrine than after three or four days of “hard work.”

Much of the research on Millennials and Generation Z suggests that professors who have information and pass on knowledge are viewed as close to useless by today’s students.  In order to engage these students, we need to provide context and demonstrate how information and knowledge is useful in current and relevant ways.  That’s not their fault.  Knowing stuff is no longer a big deal but the creative use of the information everyone has access to is what’s important today.

 

[1] https://medium.com/no-prescription-needed/grammar-the-worlds-most-under-recognized-social-construct-a54e096ecc9c

[2] https://medium.com/no-prescription-needed/grammar-the-worlds-most-under-recognized-social-construct-a54e096ecc9c

 

Review: Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond

Review: Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond

By Jane Bloom Grisé, University of Kentucky College of Law

Scott Turow, the bestselling author of One L, compared reading cases to “stirring concrete with my eyelashes.” Reading cases is challenging for many law students, but critical reading skills are incredibly important for success in law school and legal practice. Empirical research shows that lawyers read cases differently than non-lawyers. In addition, top law students use different reading strategies than lower performing students. While expert legal readers read cases to solve client problems, novices often read to memorize facts. Higher performing law students use an arsenal of different reading strategies depending upon the complexity of the case, but novices tend to indiscriminately highlight large quantities of text. Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond was written to teach students the skills utilized by lawyers and higher performing law students. This book introduces students to a series of critical reading strategies so that they can become effective readers and move on to be successful in law school and law practice.

The Critical Reading program is premised on two ideas. First, it is based on the idea that critical reading should be taught. While it is often assumed that students enter law school fully equipped to read and understand cases and statutes, there is no evidence to support this assumption. One student in a focus group conducted in connection with the Critical Reading program indicated that reading a case was like looking for a purple dinosaur without knowing what a dinosaur was or what the color purple looked like. Critical reading strategies can be taught, and it is important to explain to students, as adult learners, how these strategies will improve their ultimate performance.

Second, Critical Reading is based on the idea that strategies should be presented in a sequential manner. As Bloom’s taxonomy suggests, students must master the lower level skill of understanding before they can be expected to engage in higher level skills, such as analysis and synthesis. For this reason, Critical Reading starts by examining the purpose for reading cases—to solve problems. Students are also introduced to the structure of cases so that they can understand different sections of cases. Critical Reading then presents information about civil and criminal procedure so that students can understand some of the commonly used terminology found in cases.

Then the program teaches students pre-reading strategies such as understanding the context of cases and doing case overviews before reading more carefully. After students master these foundational skills, they are introduced to techniques for reading facts and understanding complicated text. Rather than simply providing a template for a case brief, the program examines the components of a case such as the issue, holding, and dictum, and provides techniques to understand the main ideas in the case. Higher level skills such as finding rules, synthesizing cases, and evaluating cases are addressed at the end of the book.

These strategies can be introduced and incorporated into all classrooms in a few ways. First, students can be advised that they should read cases to identify rules and concepts that will be used to solve client problems or hypotheticals on a final exam. Students should be explicitly told that they do not need to memorize most cases.

Second, students can be instructed to read actively and pretend that they are either one of the parties in the case or the judge. Studies have found that higher performing students read actively in this way. Professors who ask students how they would decide the case or how one of the parties would argue in the case are encouraging students to adopt this active reading strategy. Finally, professors can take one sentence from an opinion and model good comprehension techniques such as paying attention to conjunctions, noticing repeated words, and shortening long sentences by inserting periods.

Critical Reading describes these and other strategies that can be introduced in the fall and/or spring semesters. As you are planning the spring semester, consider incorporating critical reading strategies into your courses. If you would like to discuss how you can introduce these strategies to your students, please feel free to contact me at jane.grise@uky.edu.

Skills-Focused Exam Prep Exercise

Skills-Focused Exam Prep Exercise

By Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Yes, it is again that time of the semester again. The post-Thanksgiving emotional climb of test anxiety is upon us much like the Christmas music that has begun to trail us at retail stores.  I can see that anxiety in the eyes of my first-year students coloring their expressions when I greet them in the hallway or stare at their faces in the lecture hall.  Once November hits and the days start to get shorter, the inevitable fear of exams loom.

For many of them, the fear of exams is really about not having any confident direction or know-how in terms of preparing and taking law school exams.  That’s natural for new first-years.  What I’ve uncovered over the years is that a simple conversation with students is very helpful to allow students who are new to law school testing to get a handle on how to perform well on first semester finals.  I call this my yearly exam pep-talk.

What has been even more helpful prior to having my pep-talk is to give my first-years an exam-writing exercise that doesn’t focus on whether they are substantively correct on the material, but focuses on the skills of exam writing itself.  Then afterwards I have the talk about exam taking.  I tried this exercise recently with high satisfaction and success.  My theory is that after having an exercise that only focused on exam-taking allowed us to have an even fuller discussion of exam writing and solidified much of the truth about that process in order to dispel the fear of finals—the fear of some sort of unknown, in other words.

Here’s what I did:

(1) I gave a one-issue hypothetical fact pattern in class that covered a recent doctrine we recently taught in class.  Through class dialogue and discussion, I tested the students on their substantive application of that fact pattern.  I made sure to go the rule and the most correct response, working out the substantive answer together in class so that we’re all on the same page.

(2) Then I requested that they each take the same fact pattern home and write a one-issue IRAC response that reflected what we’ve already worked out for this fact pattern.

(3) At the next class, they returned with their written IRAC responses.  I passed a rubric for that response.  However, the rubric only measured their ability to write an organized IRAC essay—measuring for characteristics such as organization, IRAC structure, clarity, and grammar/syntax.  I made students turn to a partner, exchange fact patterns, and grade their partner’s response using this skills rubric.

My intent was that if the substantive issues had been clarified previously, the students were then able to focus on the how-to of writing exams when they wrote the one-issue IRAC at home.  For instance, they were now better able to focus on strategy and making effective choices in organizing an IRAC during the exam session.  Then grading each other’s responses with my skills rubric made it easier for them to understanding my thought process as the grader.

Doing this before my exam pep-talk helped them have better questions to ask me when I took the time to talk to them about exams.  What resulted was more effective focus and questioning regarding the skills part of their answers rather than the substantive aspects.  It led to a much better and more constructive conversation about exam taking that I had ever had.

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