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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

 

 

Change Your Syllabus, Change Your Life

Change Your Syllabus, Change Your Life

By Elizabeth Sherowski,
Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

What’s in your syllabus? If you’re like most law professors, it’s a mash-up of course information, schedules, learning objectives, and university-dictated policy language. You probably cobbled it together during your first few years of teaching (cribbing some parts from other professors’ syllabi), and you probably haven’t updated it, other than to change the dates on the reading assignments, in some time.

But what message is your syllabus sending to your students? The syllabus is usually the first thing that your students experience in your course — and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. By changing the focus of the syllabus from rules and policies to explanations and support, we can change our students’ (and our) view of the course.

The Rule-Focused Syllabus

Imagine if, on your first day of teaching, one of your senior colleagues handed you a list of all the ways she predicted you would make mistakes in your first year, and the penalties you would incur for making those mistakes. That’s basically what we’re handing to our students when we kick off the course with a list of all the things they’re not supposed to do (miss class, turn work in late, start emails with “Yo, what up?”) and the penalties for doing them.

Syllabi that focus on policies and rules create a transactional relationship between the learner and the teacher. “If you do these things, and don’t do these other things,” it says, “I will reward you with this grade.” Frankly, that’s a terrible way to learn. It leads the student to focus on the outcome (the grade) rather than the process and importance of what they are learning. Additionally, research on adult learners shows that they learn best when teachers are partners, rather than authority figures. Presenting the course as a collection of rules, and presenting ourselves as the arbiter of those rules, actually hinders learning.

The Learner-Focused Syllabus

Now imagine if, on your first day of teaching, that senior colleague instead handed you a list of teaching practices they had found to be effective, with explanations of why those practices worked. That’s the idea behind the learner-focused syllabus — it explains what the students will learn, why it matters, and how to be successful. Rather than focusing on what matters to the teacher or the administration, it focuses on what matters to the learner.

For example, instead of just listing course objectives (“students will be able to research and apply federal regulations”), a learner-focused syllabus explains why those objectives matter and how they will be met:

Federal regulations impact almost every part of life, from the time we’re born (Department of Health, Department of Education) until after we die (Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service). Through in-class demonstrations and client simulations, we will learn to locate these regulations in print and online and apply them to our clients’ legal issues.

A student receiving the first syllabus will know what they will learn, and no more. A student receiving the second syllabus will know what they will learn, plus how they will learn it and how it fits in with their larger goal of becoming a successful attorney.

The same is true for rules and policies. Instead of taking a punitive or dictatorial stance (“students are required to bring both books to every class session, and failure to do so will negatively affect their grade”), a learner-focused syllabus explains the reasons behind the rules and policies, and helps students know and do what’s expected:

In some courses, it may seem that the reading is optional, but that is not the case in this class. Our casebook and supplement illustrate concepts that we will be learning throughout the course, and we will refer to them often. Therefore, please bring both books to every class meeting.

Nothing has been lost in the conversion from rule-focused language to learner-focused language — the students are still required to bring their books to class. But they’re more likely to comply with the second request because it explains the reason behind the rule and shows how following the rule will help them to succeed.

Changing Your Syllabus Will Change Your Life

Two years ago, I switched from a rule-focused syllabus to a learner-focused syllabus (you can see the evolution here). I knew it would change how students interacted with the course, but I didn’t realize how much it would change my teaching (and my attitude) as well. Changing my syllabus refocused my attention on what I love about teaching: helping and encouraging students, not making and enforcing rules.

The learner-focused syllabus also forced me to explain (and subsequently re-evaluate) my course objectives, making the course more coherent and the teaching less taxing. The new syllabus helped my students focus on what really mattered, and teaching became more enjoyable with learners who were interested in learning skills that would help them achieve their long-term goals, rather than just angling for an A.

Changing my syllabus was a lot of work, but it paid off in more-motivated students, a more coherent course, and a much happier professor.

 

Elizabeth Sherowski is a Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Law. Email her at esherowski@unc.edu.

 

 

Notes on Supporting Non-Millennial Law Students

Notes on Supporting Non-Millennial Law Students

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

Usually about this time in June—during the early-to-middle weeks of the summer break—is when I do an assessment of my teaching from the past academic year.  By now, all of my final exams have been scored for a while and grades have been submitted.  Students are gone off for their summer jobs and internships.  A sense of quiet resides within the faculty hallways and invites contemplation.  For me, it’s a great time look back because the distance from finals grading has dissipated any visceral feelings—positive or negative—that might have otherwise influenced a look-back at my teaching.  I want any assessment to be as honest and objective as possible.

In looking back this particular year, I note the presence of a few more non-traditional, older law students in my first-year courses than usual.  Because of their increased presence, the challenge of trying to support them was thrust upon me from fall to spring.  Of late, I have seen many great pieces in current law teaching literature focused on teaching law students from the millennial generation.  However, when curiosity got the best of me and I searched for current articles on teaching and supporting law students outside of the millennial generation, I found some statistical knowledge, but not very much constructive observations or information.  For those likeminded folks who have also wondered how to better teach and support our older, non-millennial law students, I have a few observations from my own experiences this year.

  1. Non-millennial law students are not a homogeneous group. Just because they are beyond the current mainstream generation of law students in age, does not mean that they resemble each other either.  Many of my non-millennial law students varied in age and background from each other as well.  As a reflection of that variation, they brought to the student body many differences in socio-economic status, career backgrounds and goals, and life experiences.  For me, as the instructor, this variation also meant trying to use different strategies to make them feel included in the dialogue in the classroom—often relying on their practical experiences before law school to invite conversation.  For instance, in Contracts, cases dealing with homebuying or employment relationships often allowed my non-millennial law students who own property or have had working experiences to engage in the material from a more practical way and offer insight.
  1. Non-millennial law students often prepare differently for classes than younger law students. One very observable characteristic between my millennial and non-millennial law students has been in their method of preparation.  Whereas my millennial law students will often find something in their case reading is relevant only because it’s relatable at the time to a concept that we were readily and simultaneously learning in the course, my non-millennial law students will try to broaden what is relevant and significant by asking themselves, “Do I need to know this just in case?”  This difference translates into their preparation for my classes and final examination.  While I have to sustain relevancy for my millennial law students, I have to show my non-millennial law students what material or information might be extraneous.
  1. Some non-millennial law students tend to become important emotional pillars in the student body. Because of their life and career experiences prior to law school, my non-millennial law students often become role models in extra-curricular positions or become sources of emotional support to their millennial counterparts in the first year.  This occurrence often does put added stress to their own studies and time management.  As the professor, I often will remind my non-millennial law students to take a moment and assess what they can or cannot take on—especially for those students who might also have an active family life or work responsibilities outside of law school.
  1. Non-millennial law students learn just as quickly and as readily as millennials. I have no quantitative or qualitative statistics here.  This observation is just anecdotal.  However, I have witnessed the successes of many non-millennial students in my various classes, which gives me confidence in making this statement.  I do concede that success could be attributed to the amount or type of preparation that non-millennial students put forth rather than natural ability.  But I stand by this assertion, nonetheless.  It is an observation that counters biases against any societal perceptions of “handicaps” to learning as an older law student.
  1. Non-millennial law students bring a contextualized experience to the dialogue of the classroom. Often, this observation is touted as a reason to welcome the admission of older law students in law student body.  It adds to the diversity of the student population and can be seen as generating different viewpoints in class dialogue.  That is true to some extent.  However, I have noticed that sometimes the prior work, life, or industry experiences outside of law school can also impair ways to see the other side of a situation—especially if they have had some extensive work experience in something related to my course.  So I often will spend time in the classroom welcoming their viewpoints but also de-contextualizing them by countering with hypotheticals that might get them to see other possible sides of an issue.

These points above are generalized observations and not all non-millennial law students exhibit these traits.  However, I hope my descriptive observations here give some guidance and food for thought to other law teachers out there who are interested in making sure non-millennial law students succeed just as well as their millennial peers.

 

A Negotiation Exercise for Your Legal Skills (or Contracts) Course

A Negotiation Exercise for Your Legal Skills (or Contracts) Course

By George J. Siedel, University of Michigan

An ABA Business Law Section task force recently completed a landmark report titled “Defining Key Competencies for Business Lawyers” that was published in 2017 in The Business Lawyer (Winter 2016/2017).  The report drew on the framework of the ABA MacCrate Report (“Legal Education and Professional Development–An Educational Continuum”), and is directed toward law schools and law firms.

Both reports emphasize the importance of negotiation as a key lawyering skill.  As the MacCrate report notes, “the skill of negotiation is a fundamental part of legal practice….”  The reports also discusses the analytical skills that lawyers must have when participating in negotiations.  The MacCrate report, for example, emphasizes that all lawyers must be able to (1) determine the bottom line; (2) evaluate alternatives; (3) identify outcomes from the negotiation; (4) analyze whether the negotiation is zero-sum, non-zero-sum, or a mixture of the two; and (5) examine the negotiation from the perspective of the other side.

A Free Teaching Package to Develop Negotiation Skills

I have developed a free teaching package that can be used by professors who want to introduce these skills in their courses.  The package includes a negotiation exercise with two roles, a Teaching Note, and Powerpoint slides.  The package could be used in a legal skills development course, in a legal writing program that includes negotiation, or (because the exercise is a contract negotiation) in the first-year Contracts course.  Here is a link to the package:

https://umich.box.com/s/ewycm8d4vedns15hj7m68oxfx4yu2qvz

The exercise, titled “The House on Elm Street,” involves a transaction that everyone can relate to—the sale of a house.  The twist in the exercise is that, unknown to the seller, the buyer is a secret agent representing a company that wants to demolish the house.  Students receive a short (two-page) role as either the buyer or seller, and they negotiate for 30 minutes, followed by an instructor-led debriefing.

The exercise is designed to achieve several learning goals that include the analytical skills mentioned in the two ABA reports.  Students will learn how to:

  1. understand the different types of negotiations;
  2. prepare for negotiations using a negotiation analysis that includes a reservation price, most likely outcome, stretch goal, and zone of potential agreement;
  3. recognize and decide ethical issues, using law-based standards (fraud, fiduciary duty, and unconscionability) and general ethical standards;
  4. develop and use their negotiating power through the concept of BATNA (“best alternative to a negotiated agreement”);
  5. apply contract and agency law concepts to negotiations; and
  6. create value in a manner that benefits both sides.

The Teaching Note is divided into three sections.  Section I explains how to set up the negotiation exercise.  Section II provides a script, with slides, for debriefing the exercise.  Section III discusses a document titled “Self-Assessment and Feedback for the Other Side” that is appended to the Teaching Note.  Students can use this document to evaluate their negotiation skills and develop a plan for skill improvement.  In law school courses where legal skills are taught within a legal writing course, the evaluation and plan could be used as a writing assignment.

Feedback from Participants

I have used this exercise in degree courses and in executive seminars in North America, South America, Asia and Europe.  In addition to law students, attorneys and judges, other participants in the courses and seminars include athletic directors, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, and physicians.  Organizations in the public sector (for example, the World Bank) and private sector (one of the five largest U.S. companies) have used the exercise for negotiation training led by in-house staff.

Feedback on the exercise has been positive.  Here is a comment on the debriefing experience and the plan for improving negotiation skills.

What a great learning experience! [T]he ability to get feedback and actually debrief a negotiation is really powerful!  I considered myself rather self-actualized, but some interesting things came to light in the class discussions.  I know that if I make a concerted effort to work on [my plan for skill improvement] it will certainly serve me well in my career—both now and in the future.

I have also received considerable feedback regarding the impact of the learning from the exercise.  Here is a comment from a participant who used a planning checklist based on skills covered in the exercise.

I received a quote from a key supplier a few weeks back that was very good and I was just going to accept it as is. [But first I decided to complete the] planning checklist and called in the supplier. We had a great meeting, expanded the pie, learned tons about what each other wanted. In the end we renegotiated everything, set up yearly pricing reductions and a 2 tier pricing schedule that allows me to cover depreciation expenses on any expansion and provides my supplier the long term commitment from me he wanted.  Win-Win. The projected savings over the next 5 years is over $4M ….

If you decide to use the exercise, I would appreciate your comments and recommendations for improvement of the materials.  Thank you.

__________________________

George J. Siedel is the Thurnau Professor of Business Law and the Williamson Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan.  He can be contacted at gsiedel@umich.edu.

 

How You and Your Students Can Benefit From Stone Soup Next Year

How You and Your Students Can Benefit From Stone Soup Next Year

By John M. Lande, University of Missouri School of Law

The University of Missouri Law School started the Stone Soup Project about a year ago to incorporate more knowledge about actual practice in legal education.

Stone Soup contributes to a more balanced educational diet, adding context of disputes and more focus on parties.  Readings on legal doctrine generally are extremely acontextual.  Of course, students get value in reading excerpts of appellate case reports to learn about legal doctrine and analysis.  Similarly, students get value in reading about practice theory.

But I think that most law students get too little education about how cases actually look to lawyers.  In real life, cases are full of facts, evidence, uncertainty, risk analysis, interests, relationships, and emotions, which provide context that is systematically stripped out of most of our teaching materials.

And parties – central characters in lawyers’ work – typically are portrayed as cardboard figures who are included merely to demonstrate our teachings, not as the principals, who lawyers serve.

Readers of this blog know this.  People – maybe including you – have been saying this for a long, long time.  Indeed, this has been a major motivation for clinical and some other instruction.

Stone Soup is another systematic effort to provide a more balanced educational diet for students by including more of these perspectives in our teaching.

How Stone Soup Works

Since we started the Project about a year ago, we have engaged almost 1000 students in 40 classes covering 12 subjects, taught by 32 faculty from 25 schools in 3 countries.

Faculty generally have assigned students to conduct interviews about actual cases and/or practitioners’ backgrounds, philosophies, and practices.  Some faculty assigned students to observe court proceedings or mediations.  You can tailor an assignment to fit your educational objectives.

Most assignments were in traditional ADR courses, but faculty also used Stone Soup assignments in other courses including Access to Justice, Evidence, Relational Lawyering, Resolving Community Civil Rights Disputes, and Trusts and Estates.  Faculty could use them in almost any course, such as Labor Law, Employment Discrimination, Professional Responsibility, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law, among many others.

Stone Soup faculty assessed their courses, identifying what worked well, what students learned that they would not have learned without the assignment, and what faculty would do differently in the future.  Here’s a collection of their assessments.

Faculty consistently reported outstanding results that far exceeded our expectations.  Stone Soup has provided many benefits including:

  • increasing students’ exposure to the real world of practice
  • helping students develop critically-important interviewing and analysis skills
  • identifying how theory does and doesn’t map well onto actual practice
  • supplementing faculty’s knowledge, especially for faculty who haven’t practiced in the subjects they are teaching – or haven’t practiced at all
  • increasing students’ and faculty’s enjoyment of the courses

Faculty who used Stone Soup assignments in their courses this year generally plan to use Stone Soup again with little or no change.

How You Can Use Stone Soup

The initial experiences yield some general suggestions for using Stone Soup.  In particular, faculty should require students to complete interviews or observations as soon as appropriate in a course, and should schedule time in class to discuss what students learned.  Discussing insights from these assignments early in a semester provides a base of experience that everyone can refer to during the rest of the course.

Here’s a table identifying characteristics of Stone Soup courses and including links to faculty assessments of the courses.  The table demonstrates the incredible creativity of faculty in tailoring assignments to fit their instructional goals and circumstances.  For each course, it shows:

  • Class size
  • Description of the Stone Soup assignment
  • Whether the assignment was required, one option of an assignment, or extra credit
  • Assigned paper length
  • Due date
  • Percentage of grade, if any
  • Whether the results of the assignment were discussed in class

Some faculty like the Stone Soup idea generally but wonder if it work in their courses or feel hesitant for other reasons.  This post identifies some colleagues’ concerns and responses to those concerns.  In particular, the assignments need not add much, if any, workload, students generally can find interview subjects without faculty assistance, and Stone Soup can work well in almost any law school course.

If you would like more information, you can read this report on the Project’s first year and/or get in touch with me.

If you would like to join the roster of colleagues using a Stone Soup assignment next year, please let me know the courses(s) and semester(s) in which you would use it.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!