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Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

By Aaron Caplan, Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University

Visual aids are not the most important thing a law teacher does in the classroom.  They can never substitute for well-chosen material, clear organization, thoughtfully chosen in-class activities, being a good explainer or being a good listener.  With that said, good visual aids can help students learn more effectively – and bad visual aids make learning harder.

A series of videos based on a presentation I gave at the AALS New Law Teachers Workshop in June 2019 explores what makes successful visual aids work.  The first segment explores the psychology of multi-media learning, providing a theory for preparing visual aids that complement one’s lesson plan and not detracting from it.  The following segments provide examples of visual aids that I have used with success in various classes, including illustrations, visual renderings of legal texts, visualizations of concepts, and more.

The videos can be reached here:  www.lls.edu/CaplanVisualAids/

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

By Eric Voigt, Faulkner University, Jones School of Law

I have asked myself many times, “Self, could my first-year law students research a legal issue without any guidance from me?” You have probably asked yourself a similar question if you teach a skills-based course. This semester, I decided to create a new assessment measure to answer my question: an online research exam.

Summary of How I Teach Legal Research

My students learn to perform legal research through multiple methods. Students first read the assigned chapters from the textbook I have authored titled Legal Research Demystified: A Step-by-Step Approach. Students then jump online and answer multiple-choice questions on Core Knowledge for Lawyers (https://coreknowledgeforlawyers.com). Core Knowledge automatically grades each answer and provides an explanation (similar to Core Grammar) to reinforce basic research concepts. Next, students complete guided research exercises using the research services and tools they just read about. During class, I discuss the commonly-missed questions and answer their questions. Last, students must apply their research skills to the open memo problem—once again, with guidance from me.

Purpose of Online Research Exam

Despite those formative assessments, I wanted a higher degree of confidence that my students could “fly the research nest” and answer a legal question on any unfamiliar issue. To that end, I am creating an online research exam that my students will take this semester. I have one primary purpose: determine whether my students could find—and understand—relevant statutes and interpretive cases without guidance from me.

Content of Online Research Exam

For my research exam, students will not simply answer questions on research concepts (e.g., What is KeyCite?). Instead, students will resolve a client’s legal question using Westlaw or Lexis Advance. Specifically, they will research state statutes and update them, including confirming their validity, checking effective dates, and reviewing amendments. They will also need to find cases that have interpreted the statutes. Last, students will synthesize the relevant rules and authorities and predict the client’s likelihood of success.

Delivery Format of Online Research Exam

Students will electronically complete my research exam directly on TWEN (The West Education Network), which is my course management system. (Next year, students will be able to complete the research exam on Carolina Academic Press’s platform, Core Knowledge.) Most of the exam contains multiple-choice questions, but it also has a few fill-in-the blank questions and one short answer question. The final question, for instance, requires students to follow CRAC principles (Conclusion-Rule-Application-Conclusion) and write a few paragraphs on whether the client would prevail.

By placing the exam online, I can include questions that build upon prior ones, allowing me to assess students’ understanding of different steps of the research process. For example, suppose a student finds the wrong statutes in response to an initial question. I could still assess whether the student understands how to update the statutes by identifying the correct statutes in subsequent questions and asking about their validity and effective dates.

Because some questions provide the answers to prior ones, I will establish certain limits. Using TWEN’s advanced options, I will prevent students from downloading the exam and viewing any subsequent question until they have answered the question on their screen (called “sequential quizzing”). I will also have TWEN grade the first selected answer for each question, so a student cannot change an answer based on what the student learns from later questions.

I will have students take the exam outside of the classroom, so they will not be limited to our eighty-minute class periods. Students will have a three-day window to start the research exam; once started, they will have three continuous hours to complete it. Students will need the extra time to discern the relevant from the irrelevant authorities, as well as more time to analyze the application of law to the client’s situation.

TWEN’s Grading Features

TWEN has several useful grading features. TWEN automatically grades the multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank questions. As to a short answer question, a professor can electronically mark each one correct or incorrect and can even assign partial credit. TWEN then tallies each student’s scores on all questions. The professor can “release” the grades for all students, allowing each student to view only his or her own grade.

Benefits of an Online Research Exam

Assigning an online research exam has multiple benefits to professors and students, such as the following:

  • Professors assess students without giving up an in-person class meeting.
  • Professors who assign the exam in lieu of in-person meetings (permitted under the ABA rules) could free up an entire week of classes to provide feedback on students’ draft memos.
  • Professors can ascertain whether students have learned how to do “real” legal research.
  • Students receive their exam grade immediately upon completion.
  • Students discover any weak research skills before the deadline of the open memo.
  • Students gain confidence in researching on their own and learn skills that can be applied to the open memo problem.

In short, an online research exam is a good assessment tool for first-year and upper-level students. It could be assigned in an integrated research and writing course or a stand-alone research class. If you would like a copy of my research exam, please email at evoigt@faulkner.edu.

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

While attending the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference this past summer, I learned about live critiquing from Professor Amanda Sholtis from Widener University Law School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Her session captivated me, and it made me want to try live critiquing with my first year LRW students.  The following is a brief description of my formative assessment with my first closed-universe writing problem:

  1. The students are given three heavily edited cases to synthesize and a fact pattern containing a problem to solve. It is a problem which has three elements and, therefore, will have three IRACs (or IREAC, CREAC, etc.).
  2. We synthesize the cases in class together.
  3. For the next class, I give them a writing template and a writing example. They are to read those documents and bring a completed draft of the closed-universe problem to the next class.
  4. During that next class, they were given my rubric to self-assess one of the IRACs they wrote (I choose which IRAC they self-assess in class).
  5. I give them 20 minutes to work through the rubric with their own paper.
      1. For the self-evaluation, I instruct them to use the rubric which fully explains what a good issue statement should contain; what a good rule statement should contain; what definitions should look like, etc.
      2. I also instruct them to note in the margin of their paper what needs to be improved on their paper for each section of the IRAC.
      3. Then, I give them a “good” example of the IRAC for the same issue which they just worked on for the self-assessment. The “good” example is fully annotated by me, showing the students what is good about each section of the IRAC.
      4. The students used the rest of that class period to review the “good” example and compare it to their paper.
      5. I was available during that classroom work time to answer questions, etc.
      6. Once the self-assessment was over, I told them they need to apply what they learned while writing the final draft.
  6. Once the students turned in their final draft, which only contained the two un-assessed IRACs, they signed up for a live critique with me.
  7. I give each student ½ hour to go over their final draft with me.
      1. I don’t review their final drafts until we are sitting together for the face-to-face conference.
      2. I have my rubric with me, and I have a “good” copy of the two remaining IRACs with annotations of what is good in each section of the IRACs.
      3. The students take the rubric and the “good” paper home with them.
      4. During the ½ hour, I spend with each student, I just start reading his or her paper. I stop periodically and make comments on what is good and what needs improvement.  The students take notes, ask questions, and dialogue with me.

I found the process helpful in getting to know my students, getting to know the sticking points in their thought/writing process, and getting feedback on my instructions.  The students overwhelmingly preferred it to getting a bunch of comments on a paper which they admit they usually don’t read, and if they do, they often don’t understand them.  With the next paper, I gave the students the choice to have live critiquing or written critiquing.  Over half of my students chose live critiquing, which I considered a good sign that students liked it.

The downsides to this process, however, are:

  1. I have 37 first-year LRW students so I spent a lot of time meeting with students. I would, however, have spent the time grading anyway.  Thus, I think the time spent is a wash.
  2. It is stressful to meet face-to-face with students and talk to them about what they are doing wrong. I am a social person, and so I really enjoyed the process.

I found live critiquing inspiring, helpful, and surprising. If anyone would like more information about this, I am happy to engage in a further conversation.

Getting to Know Your Students

Getting to Know Your Students

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Hi All,

I hope your semester is off to a great start.  I know that I have been silent these last few weeks, but I have been swamped with the end of summer and the start of the semester.  I had some time today to post a blog post with a teaching idea on getting to know your students and starting to build a learning community in your classroom.  At the beginning of the semester, I sent my students a “Getting to Know You” form which contained the following questions:

  1. Tell me anything you would like me to know about you.
  2. How comfortable are you with writing and research? Please give me as much information as you can so I can gauge your experience.
  3. Why did you decide to go to law school?
  4. Why did you choose Gonzaga?
  5. What study methods work best for you?
  6. How do you learn best in the classroom?
  7. Think of your favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your favorite?
  8. Think of your least favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your least favorite?

These simple questions gave me insights into who is sitting in front of me.  I stapled a picture to each of their information sheets so that I could put a face to the information.  I am only one week into the semester but the information has already helped me.  For instance, when I am forming working groups for the day, I was able to pair students who are comfortable with writing and research with students who are less sure.  Also, knowing what study methods work for the students in front of me, helps me shape how I teach each group of students.  Because each group of students is so different, it is good to have information about those students rather than creating lesson plans without that information.

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!

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.

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

 

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.

Being human to my students and letting them know I care

Being human to my students and letting them know I care

By Jane Korn, Gonzaga University School of Law

I have taught first year law students for a long time.  Please do not ask how long!  But years ago, I became worried about the mental health and stress levels of my first semester, first year students. I teach a four credit, one semester course in Civil Procedure during the first semester of law school.   On the last day of the week that I teach in Civ Pro, I take a few minutes out of class time and ask my students to tell me how they are doing.

The first time I do this, usually at the end of the first week of law school,  I tell my students that it is my custom, from time to time, to take time out from Civ Pro, and talk about anything they would like (with some limits).  In some years, it takes weeks for them to take me up on this offer.  Other years, they start right in.  They ask questions like the following:

  1. When should I start outlining?
  2. How much time should I spend studying every night?
  3. How important is getting involved in extracurricular activities?
  4. What if I don’t know what kind of law I want to practice?
  5. Do professors care about grammar and organization on a final exam? (I only answer what I expect and do not answer for other faculty)

I think that much of the time, they do not get a chance to ask a law professor these kinds of questions, and can usually only ask upper class students.  While we have faculty advisors, students may or may not feel comfortable asking them questions like the above.  They eventually do (and sometimes quickly) feel comfortable asking me a wide variety of questions.  They sometimes ask personal questions and, within reason, I answer them because it makes them feel more comfortable with me.  Questions on gossipy matters about other faculty are off limits. If for example, they complain about another professor,  I handle this question with a smile and say something like – you should ask that professor about this issue.

I set aside class time for several reasons. First, while I do worry about giving up valuable teaching time, lessening the stress of my students may make them more able to learn.  Second, students often feel like they are the only one with a particular concern during this first semester, and they often do not have the ability to know that others have the same concerns or questions.  In the first year, many of our students are not from this area and are far away from support systems, at least at first until they can make friends at law school.  The ability to know that other students have the same problems they do can lessen the feeling of isolation.  Using class time to answer questions to the entire group may help them with this sense of isolation and being the only one who doesn’t know something.  It also lets them see that their concerns are important and credible.

Every year my teaching evaluations reflect this process positively.  Students feel like I care (which I do).  However, the reason I do it is to increase their comfort during those first few exciting, confusing, and terrifying months of law school.

Content Analysis Coding Practice

Content Analysis Coding Practice

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Hi All,

I have been doing training on assessment practices for in-class use and for institutional programmatic assessment.  To that end, I am learning many techniques which I am employing in my class to find out what teaching methods are working and what are not.  I learned the following coding method which allows me to assess answers from my students to open-ended survey questions.  To use the coding method, I look for themes in their answers.  I describe the system below.  Please contact me should you have any questions on the methodology or what I do with the information.  In traditional, interactive fashion, there is a practice exercise at the end so readers can see how simple this method is.  Once I see themes, I am able to respond and make changes.

Method:

Course goal:  Students will learn how to locate and print and on-line sources which are complete and relevant to solving a factual problem.

Question posed:  You are asked to do many assignments and activities in this class to help develop your legal research skills.  Please identify an assignment or type of activity that you found most helpful in developing your research skills.  Please include in your answer a specific description of what about the assignment and/or activity that helped you.

I asked this question to my students as I wanted to hear the student perspective on which types of assignments and activities most effectively helped them develop research skills.  I give many assignments, but I was unsure which ones were useful. I also wanted to know what about the assignment was helpful: step-by-step instructions, group work, lecture, or flipped classroom model. I developed a coding system so that I could analyze the results.  I devised the coding after reviewing a 20% sample of student responses.  I randomized who I chose.  They turned in the responses, and I chose every 5th one.

  1. Identification number for class level: (accelerated student=1; a traditional 1L=2)
  2. Overall response: (0=no response/question was unanswered; 1= student provided a usable response; 2=state/implied that research skills were not strengthened in LRW I course; 3 =response was either not useful or could not be coded)
  3. Positive mention of a structured assignment which led the student with step-by-step instructions to helping them develop research skills. (0=no; 1=yes)
  4. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required to use or develop research skills but no mention of step-by-step guidance being useful. (0=no; 1=yes)
  5. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required students to work collaboratively. (0=no; 1=yes)
  6. Positive mention of lecture on how-to-do research in print by LRW professor. (0=no; 1=yes)
  7. Positive mention of demonstration on how-to-do research on-line by the librarians. (0=no; 1=yes)
  8. Positive mention of video demonstration on how-to-do digest research in print which is uploaded to the TWEN page. (0=no; 1=yes)
  9. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a faculty member. (0=no; 1=yes)
  10. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a librarian. (0=no; 1=yes)

Use the coding scheme on the previous page to code the following three responses.  Each student has one row.

Student 1: Accelerated student: I learned the most about research when we did the mini assignments on finding cases in the digests in print.  It was most effective to me as we were allowed to work in groups, the professor gave us clear instructions as to each step in the process and I was able to watch the video on TWEN where the professor walked through an example.  Other assignments did not teach me as much when I had to struggle alone as I wasted a lot of time.

Student 2: Traditional 1L: This class and all my law classes have been a struggle for me.  I often don’t know where to go for help, and I am tired and stressed all the time.  The teacher seems to favor the three girls in the front row.  The rest of us aren’t encouraged to say anything.

Student 3: Traditional 1L: the assignment that taught me the most about research and really helped to develop my research was our first open memo.  What helped the most was struggling through the resources myself, asking for guidance from the librarian, and meeting personally with the professor who went to the library with me.  I found myself looking back at my lecture notes and the reading to remember how to do things.  This particular assignment helped bring it all together.  The other mini-assignments were too disjointed to help me much.

Coding sheet

 

 

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