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Turning Socratic Lecture Notes Into A Handout

Turning Socratic Lecture Notes Into A Handout

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

This semester I was desperate to increase the engagement in my civil procedure class.  These were upper division students who were taking the “other” civil procedure class.  My institution, in response to civil procedure being included on the MBE examination, revamped the civil procedure curriculum.  The class is divided into a 4-credit class called civil procedure I which deals with the rules, pleading, motion practice and subject matter jurisdiction. For the most part students find this class engaging and directly related to what most of them will be doing in their clerkships.

Then in their third semester of law school students are required to take the 2-credit, civil procedure II class.  This aforementioned other class, deals with the Erie doctrine, personal jurisdiction, res judicata, collateral estoppel, appeals and other topics students, at least in my experience, find less exciting.

In the latter half of the semester, I was scheduled to teach the right to a jury trial including the dreaded Beacon Theaters and Dairy Queen.  I was keenly aware that the Socratic method had outlived its usefulness in this class where students found the material really difficult.  Detecting a lack of engagement by the students who were not on the Socratic spot, I decided to try something different.

I plan classes around questions and my lecture notes include the questions and the answers to the questions I eventually hope to guide the students to via a Socratic discussion.  For this particular class I simply went through my lecture notes and deleted the answers.

I distributed this “questions only” document to the class at the start of what was originally planned as a Socratic lecture on the topic.  Next I broke the class into groups of about 4 and we spent the class time having them come up with the answers to the questions in groups.

The level of engagement was incredible.  The class was transformed into a beehive of activity and I would call on one group and ask them to discuss what they thought the answer was.  If the answer was not completely teased out then I would call on another group.

In addition to increasing engagement, the peer based method allowed faster and more confident responses to the questions.  In the groups students were anonymous to me anyway for brief periods that I allocated to them working as a group.  They were more relaxed and were able to come up with more complete answers to the questions than if I had one student targeted in the usual Socratic manner with all the associated stress of being “the one.”

I used the introductory material of the lecture in this way and then we went on to a more traditional Socratic class for the more complex aspects of the right to jury trial.  However having employed this collaborative and engaged pedagogy for the first segment of the class, the engagement in the remainder of the more traditionally conducted class was much higher than was the norm previously.  I employed it a few more times in the semester.

This is a very simple way to increase class engagement that lead to no extra labor on the part of a Socratic teacher, other than a quick edit of preexisting lecture notes.  As I type this it also dawns on me that this method could be used as the basis of a flipped classroom where students can be given the questions before class so that their reading is more focused and the actual class time can be spent discussing the doctrine in great depth because the students would likely have gleaned more from the reading.

Finally, I used an assessment trick I learned from Michael Schwartz which allowed me to gage the efficacy of this technique.  I handed out 3X5 flash cards to each student later on in the semester and basically asked, what topic was foggiest and what topic was clearest for them in the class.  Many students wrote the equivalent of, “The clearest things for me were whatever we went over with the handouts.”

Attached is the document I described above which I used for the introductory right to jury trial class.


Steering Students Back to the Rule

Steering Students Back to the Rule

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

It’s undeniable to me that each incoming class of 1Ls that I’ve ever taught has always exhibited a collective personality of its own from the prior one.  Despite this, I’m also amused by a commonality that each first-year Contracts class has shared with me—at least in the first semester of law school.  Whether it is because I teach in Massachusetts (where the politics can sometimes be loud, colorful, and brash) or whether it is just that law students—and lawyers, by extension—are intrinsically a breed of vocally assertive people, my first-year students always enter my class with a fervor to argue that they are legally “right” about a contract dispute, even though they are untrained and usually have little background in the subject area.  They like to reach for their gut instincts based on the facts they read in cases or hypos I give them.  They don’t always tend to realize that they’re to learn the law.

On the one hand, it’s great that they have this built-in passion for opinion and advocacy.  It shows me that they have energy and appetite for lawyering.  But if not soon reinforced by a method of legal reasoning (perhaps even à la “thinking like a lawyer”), this passion can also lead to bad habits and imprecise, undisciplined lawyering.

My lesson here is about how to train and direct students early on to remember that when they are faced with a legal dispute or hypothetical, their first strategy is to not go to their gut instincts and raw passion, but to go strategically to the law.  Thus, when they are given a fact pattern, they are not arguing why one side should prevail based on their own reading of facts or their own sense of justice or fairness, but that they first examine what rule of law might be pertinent for grafting onto this particular set of facts in order to come to a lawyerly conclusion.   This is a basic skill of legal reasoning that can be obscured by the excitement of starting law school, the mysterious (and sometimes confusing) nature of Socratic lectures, and the intensity of the first-year curriculum.  But by the end of the first year, if students don’t realize in a disciplined way that they always should go back to the rules, then their law courses have done them a disservice.

One way in which I have addressed and developed this habit of “going back to the rules” is by often introducing a new doctrinal unit with a “master” fact pattern hypothetical I can use to demonstrate a classic scenario that involves that new doctrine.  The reason I call this hypo a “master” fact pattern is because I will give it to students to try solve the problem when they don’t have the doctrinal rules yet, then use the same fact pattern to introduce and teach them the doctrine, and lastly re-visit the fact pattern as we get into the cases and pose variations on the hypo that illustrates the nuances in the doctrine.  My hope is multi-faceted:  First, without knowing the particular rules of law, my students first see the factual hypothetical and anticipate a resolution based on their gut reactions.  Then as they are taught doctrine in tandem with the hypothetical, they now have an active moment of discovery where the particular legal rules and doctrine reveal how the hypothetical might be resolved in a lawyerly way.  It’s also a good moment to emphasize the utility of the law and to redirect their instincts to reach for the law first, instead of resorting to arguing facts or fairness.  It can also be a good place to critique the law and bring in policy or demonstrate lawyerly analysis.  Lastly, now that they know the rules in tandem with a factual scenario, the variations on the fact pattern continue to reinforce their sense that they should always be thinking, “What’s the rule or doctrine?” at every step of the way.

One example of this is when I teach the unit on U.C.C. 2-207 Battle of the Forms to my students.   The unit is sequenced after we’ve gone through the mirror image rule for contractual acceptances.   Before unleashing the U.C.C. provision on the students, I start with an in-class hypo that involves a sale of goods between a wholesaler supplier and a product manufacturer.  Despite firm and identical agreement of the type of goods, price, and quantity, the problem involves differences in the boilerplate fine print on the back of the parties’ respective documents.  Students will know that under the classic mirror image rule there’s no contract technically.  But if I tell them that issues like this occur in business transactions countless times every day, involving tens of millions of dollars, they are usually perturbed and left trying to figure out what do we do when these parties incur liabilities, such as a product defect.  What do we do?

I like to stir up controversy because it usually makes them pay attention.  That’s when I tell them that as lawyers we have to go back to the law, and I then introduce 2-207 under the U.C.C., whose purpose, among others, is to resolve issues such as discrepant fine terms.  Then, we work through the fact pattern.  What I’ve essentially done is to first give my students a problem without the law, then incite their outrage or passion or inquisitiveness, and at last systematically direct them to reach for a legal solution by going to the rules rather than analyzing the facts first.  Use your brain, folks, particularly your left brain.

This works well as an assessment tool as well.  In most courses I teach, I usually begin with the first day with a fact pattern that runs through from A-to-Z all of the major issues of the subject area.  I make my students answer the question even though they don’t know the law yet.  I want them to feel inadequate without the rules of law that would otherwise help them investigate and problem-solve like lawyers.  Then gradually as we move through the semester, I will often find appropriate moments later, perhaps after we’ve learned a few units, to pull out that same fact pattern and ask them again to examine the problem and see how much better they can resolve the hypo now that they have had some law.  At the end of the semester, we usually look through the same problem one final time and hopefully students will have a good assessment tool for gauging how much doctrine they know now to analyze the question as well as a fundamental understanding that a basic strategy in legal reasoning is to reach for the law first.


Comment Bubbles and Redline Documents

Comment Bubbles and Redline Documents

By Prof. Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

I live-grade one of my students’ early memo assignments.  It’s a short 900-word IRAC that I grade (in fact, read for the first time) in front of each student during an individual conference in my office.  One benefit of that process is that there is a chance for the students to explain choices that they made in the writing process.  “Why did you opt not to use this case?”  “What was your thought when you put together this paragraph?”

Another possible way to achieve a similar benefit without the time-consuming week of individual conferences is to have students use Word’s comment bubbles and redline function.  For any kind of document you have students create and turn in, comment bubbles could be a useful way for students to explain strategic choices they made.  You could ask them, for example, to identify specific places they deliberately tried to make a passage persuasive and how they went about that.  You could ask them to flag any time they intentionally used the passive voice and to explain why (which will give you a good indication of how well they know what passive voice is in the first place).  You could even ask them to label the parts of an IRAC in their analysis.  The comment feature serves as a self-assessment tool and permits more targeted feedback during grading and conferencing with the student.

Combining the comment feature with a redline document could also be illuminating.  You could have students “grade” or “correct” a sample exam answer, submit to you a redline version showing the changes they made, and include comment bubbles to explain why they altered the original answer.  Not only does this permit students to approach material from a different perspective – how would you assess someone else’s work for meeting certain criteria rather than how would you answer the question – it brings them closer to practice.  As any summer associate knows, practitioners read, edit, and teach through redlines.  Associates are to learn from the changes made to the draft by a more senior counsel and implement what they have learned on the next assignment.

A colleague of mine does something similar in his transactional drafting course: students are given contract provisions drafted by the other side in the transaction and are asked to edit the document on behalf of their client.  Part of their score on the assignment comes from how they have explained why a particular clause is problematic and how the language they proposed would solve the issue.

When I take the time to ask and listen, my students’ thought-processes as they were creating a particular written work provide insight into their learning.  That insight, in turn, can help me relate better to them and their struggles and will allow me to be a more effective teacher.  A job well-done also turns students into more effective, self-motivated, and independent learners.  Asking students to use comment bubbles and redlining is yet another tool in your arsenal to achieve those goals.


“Luddite” and Loving It

“Luddite” and Loving It

By Prof. Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

All right, I confess: I’m not a true Luddite. I do appreciate gadgets as much as the next person, and I do use classroom technology when I need to do something really specific, such as show a video clip or (frequently) display something on the document camera.  But increasingly, I find myself enjoying going back to basics in the classroom.  There are no smelly, purple-inked mimeo sheets (ah, memories of Sister Angela’s iron rule…). But handouts are now standard fare again.

I used to rely heavily on PowerPoint presentations to structure my classes, believing that having a visual reference would help the students (and me) to keep on track.  But often I noticed that even in a no-laptops classroom, the screen at the front of the room tended to capture students’ attention more than the discussion, thus reducing eye contact and dropping some of the energy out of the room.

For me, a low-tech approach has dovetailed nicely with an increasingly “flipped” approach to classroom modules, where half or more of the time is spent on exercises, and the rest on lecture, review, and discussion. I reduce the exercise and perhaps some diagrams to a handout or two, and we work from that for the class. Laptops and phones are stowed away. At least in my small-to-midsize classes, I find that the having no distractions either at the desk or at the front of the room is encouraging more participation and engagement. Students are usually looking up unless they are working on an exercise alone or in groups. They don’t spend an inordinate amount of time taking notes (i.e., writing down everything on the slide), and can’t be dependent on slides to organize the material for them. Instead, the handout provides some organization and students must fill in the rest.

What works for each educator will depend on personality, comfort levels with the material, affinity for technology, and the subject matter itself. But if, like me, you tend to find using technology for most of the class session a bit distracting to the students and instructor, there are a number of upsides to going low-tech. More selective use of technology can reinvigorate the classroom—in small doses, it regains its power to awaken, especially when used just up to that 10-minute attention-span limit.  The course website or TWEN site can help to “flip” tech outside the classroom. Finally, students and professors can get a break from the constant presence of electronic information. For that last reason alone, a classroom low on tech and high on human contact many actually be the next big thing.


Icebreakers in Law School: Juvenile or Helpful?

Icebreakers in Law School: Juvenile or Helpful?

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law[1]

While having a discussion the other day with a colleague regarding the value of icebreakers in large, law school classrooms, I started thinking about icebreakers and what message they send to the students.  Does it make law school appear juvenile or does it help create a sense of community.  Or does it depend on how it is done.  Well, I have done some research (very preliminary) and I have asked a handful of students (who randomly stopped by my office or I saw in the hallways—not scientific).  The answer?  It depends on the type of icebreaker and how committed the professor is to forming a community and connecting classroom activities to the overall course.  This latter concern being the most important to the student with whom I spoke.

According to the Center for Teaching Excellence at Lansing Community College, the many benefits of icebreakers are: they reduce anxiety for both the teacher and the students, they foster interactions between teacher and student, they create the expectation that students learn through participation, they actively engage students and teachers, they foster a caring environment, and they foster the formation of a relationship early in the semester.  Of all the articles available on icebreakers and education, one thing is clear—icebreakers help establish a positive environment and help the students get to know each other and the professor.  What is not so clear, however, is the question: are they helpful in a professional school, such as law school?  The answer seems to be when properly executed, icebreakers can be a valuable part of the law school, classroom experience. Further, when properly executed, icebreakers can be used throughout the semester to foster community and trust among the students.  They can also be used to assess student understanding of the material. [2]

Through my discussion with students, it became clear to me that if the class was a required course, they preferred the icebreaker activity to be related to the lesson for the day or to the overall class.  Students with whom I spoke had very little patience for tangentially related “get-to-know-you” type activities in required courses but seem to have slightly more patience for this type of activity in upper-division, elective courses. The “Teaching with Technology” wiki site seems to support this premise with its statement: “If the group is voluntarily present then an ice breaker not necessarily related to the topic at hand has a better chance at success. However, if your group’s presence is a requirement an ice breaker directly related to your topic at hand will have a much better chance at success. In this case, your ice breaker should server as a segue into your presentation.”

It also seems that students recognize the need and usefulness of using icebreakers in a business setting for team building and trust building.  Several students said they enjoy icebreakers in a professional setting as long as they are done professionally and don’t take up too much business time.  Sophia, a popular on-line business training website, confirms what students already know; “in order for an ice breaker to be effective, it must employ content appropriate to the group as well as be appropriately timed.  It should not be too long otherwise it might sabotage the more serious work of the meeting. It should occur at the beginning of the meeting or speech, and then at appropriate times during the program.”

Thus, if icebreakers have the benefits described and students buy into them and see their value if employed correctly, which ones should we use?  The following ideas, I have either personally used successfully or I believe they would work.

  1. Brainstorm: break into groups and give each group a general subject from the reading. Have each student take 2 minutes to write down as many things as he/she can remember from the reading on that subject.  Have the groups make a master list for each group. Then have each group present their list.  Total time: 15 minutes.
  2. Fact or Fiction: prepare 10-15 fact or fiction statements drawn from the readings. Divide students into groups.  Give each group 1 minute to decide whether the statement is fact or fiction and why. I do this closed book when I am teaching holdings, issues, dicta, and the difference. Have the students then report their answers.  Total time 10-15 minutes.
  3. Expectations: Have students jot down what they expect to learn in the class. Collect them and read several of them.  Or have the students read their own out loud to the class.  Or have the students get in groups and discuss among themselves and report out to you.
  4. Just a few words: Ask the students to come up with three to five words which they associate with the topic you are introducing.  Have them write them down and/or share them with the class.  This is a great way to also assess your students and where they are regarding the subject and your class.  With just a few students reporting in, you will get enough information to assess their thought process.
  5. Burning questions: Ask the students to take a moment and think of a question the current case in which you are reviewing did not answer for the student. If you have time, you can also ask the students to jot down why the answer to this question is important to them.  This is also an excellent why to assess the students ability to think deeply about the cases they are reading.  Are they questioning what they read?


[1] Sandra Simpson is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Gonzaga University School of Law, and Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing, and the Co-Director of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning

[2] As stated in ABA standard 314: “A law school shall utilize both formative and summative assessments methods in its curriculum to measure and improve student learning and provide meaningful feedback to students.” Interpretation 314-1 states “Formative assessment methods are measurements at different points during a particular course or at different points over the span of a student’s education that provide meaningful feedback to improve student learning. “ Interpretation 314-2 states that schools are not required to use any specific formative assessment method. Thus, it seems clear a professor can use some of these “icebreakers” for the dual purpose of forming a community AND assessing student learning.  Feedback as to student understanding can be given to the students in class.

Summer Teaching: a Time to Relax and Listen to the Students

Summer Teaching: a Time to Relax and Listen to the Students

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

I volunteered to teach Legal Writing III this summer to take some load off of the fall enrollment and to get back into the swing of teaching legal writing. I will be returning to legal writing part-time in the fall while still maintaining my position as the associate dean of academic affairs. It felt good to get back into the legal writing classroom: a feeling of coming home if you will. My students have just finished drafting and receiving feedback on their client demand letters and are knee deep in understanding summary judgment motions. They had drafted outlines of their arguments and research for me to review. After reviewing them, it was clear to me that, as I expected, they were struggling with melding the elements of the tort with the standard on summary judgment.

Over the weekend, I plowed through mountains of examples and exercises I have used over the years to help the students put together the pieces of summary judgment and elements of the underlying law. The methods I have used in the past just did not seem to be what I needed. Frustrated and tired on Sunday night (I teach on Monday mornings), I threw in the towel. I had no idea how to bring together their struggles. I had a lesson plan: two hours of exercises designed to reach all types of learners; exercises designed to engage the learner. As I lay in bed with ideas swirling around in my head, the thought came to me. What about letting the students dictate how the class will run by expressing their needs. I was on to something.

The next morning on my morning run, I put the pieces together in my head. I began class with a simple question: what did we do last week and what do you still need in order draft your summary judgment documents for next week. What flowed from that was magic in my teaching book. Their needs and questions ranged from the substantive to the very technical court rule questions to the simple regarding where to find the forms. My mind quickly organized a plan of attack. We started with substantive and moved toward the technical and the simple. My strategy was to tackle the hard stuff first. It was the first class of the summer which I felt really out of control of the substance and the structure of the class. It was also the first time there was high energy in the room and a sense of community. The lesson learned from this class is to step back every few weeks and listen to the students and give them what they think they need not what you think they need.

Let’s Talk About I-R-A-C

Let’s Talk About I-R-A-C

By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

Love it or not, IRAC forms the backbone of any legal analysis. How we talk about it with students-and when-can greatly influence their ability to perform legal analysis skillfully across multiple courses. Many of you are now grading essay exams and perhaps seeing surprising shortcomings in the analysis. How could the class have spent the past 14 weeks painstakingly testing the logical limits of various rules, dissecting their premises, and so on, only to receive an answer that leaps immediately from a conclusory statement to a brief discussion of nothing but facts? In addition to more common tools such as practice or sample essay tests, you may wish to try a few ideas aimed at the transfer of learning.

  1. Harmonize mixed messages. If you talk about IRAC to your students, poll colleagues to see how they discuss the same concepts with students. Our law school did so about two years ago and discovered that while we thought we were sending consistent messages to our students about how to perform IRAC for essays, we often used conflicting terminology, taught varied acronyms (IRAC, CRAC, CREAC, CREXAC, FIRAC, etc.), and expected different stylistic preferences (often unstated). For example, students are taught in most legal writing classes that IRAC can be broken down as CREAC so that lawyers remember to analyze both the rule and the facts (rule Explanation and rule Application). Other classrooms usually put the whole of analysis under the “A” in IRAC. Because “A” means to legal writing students “apply law to facts,” they may assume that under IRAC, the A is just application to facts and does not include “explain and analyze the law.” See also Mark Wojcik, “Add an E to your IRAC,” Student Lawyer, Vol. 35, No. 3 (2006).
  2. Disclose unstated expectations. If you do not talk to your students about IR[E]AC, you may wish to do so to improve the chances that exam answers will better resemble expectations. Do not assume that just because students have received IRAC instruction in other courses that they will successfully anticipate how to apply those skills in your course. That process of transferring IR[E]AC skills from one course to the next is trickier than one might expect; these are higher-order analytical skills and not rote tasks. For those who feel strongly that there is not enough time to review those skills in class, one option is to consider attaching an annotated sample to your syllabus or posting one to your course webpage. See also ILTL Idea of the Month for May 2011: “Setting Expectations for Exam Essay Structure and Strategy.”
  3. Portray IR[E]AC as a flexible, adaptable framework. I sometimes hear professors, judges, practitioners, and others tell impressionable law students that IRAC doesn’t always work in the real world. While it may be true that a poorly executed IRAC analysis doesn’t work, IREAC just identifies the inherent logical sequence of any analysis of the law or how it applies to facts. It’s an empty framework that needs to be filled with a number of sub-sequences. Part of the problem is that the standard IRAC acronym, sans “E,” hides the need for rule analysis, including statutory interpretation. It also doesn’t include a “P” for policy or letters for other nuances in analysis. That “P” is a subpart of both rule explanation and rule application-it still happens inside an IREAC. That is why instructors should expressly state those expectations in assignment instructions and essay exemplars. See Hollee S. Temple, “Using Formulas to Help Students Master the “R” and “A” of IRAC,” Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Spring 2006) (347 KB PDF).
Practitioners and Real Work Product

Practitioners and Real Work Product

By Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

Law schools are increasingly attuned to the need to produce practice-prepared graduates, while at the same time facing limited resources for hiring new faculty and developing new courses. Some faculty members are finding effective methods to reach beyond the walls of the law school to provide additional exposure for students without adding significant costs.

One approach employed by Amy Westbrook, a colleague of mine here at Washburn, is to reach out to practitioners to talk about what they know best – the documents used regularly in their practice. In a series of meetings, various transactional attorneys share with a small group of students their drafting tips and insights by talking through the provisions of a document frequently used in their practice. Typically, these talks are held outside of class time, over the noon hour, with students encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch (it’s cheap!).

Amy intentionally limits the size of the group to eight students. That restriction helps create demand for the sessions (limited signup in advance), and the students value their spot and read the document in advance as required. It also helps with recruiting practitioners to do it, Amy tells me, because a lunch with eight students to walk through a document feels easy and do-able, unlike perhaps preparation for a large group lecture.

The practitioner provides a copy of the document (lease agreement, stock purchase agreement, will, trust, power of attorney, etc.) beforehand so the students can review it and prepare questions in advance of the presentation. During the discussion, the practitioner reviews the various provisions in the document and addresses the overall structure of the document, the key negotiating points, alterative formulations, and other drafting considerations that arise in constructing the final product.

At the end of a semester, then, students end up with a portfolio of sample documents for their “grown-up lawyer” file, as well as an increased understanding of the content and drafting considerations for each. Further, the series serves to connect students with the bar, to give them invaluable exposure to experienced practitioners, and to bridge the divide between the practice and law school.

Teaching Students to Think While Moving their Feet

Teaching Students to Think While Moving their Feet

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

With the weather warming up and the sun making its return to the Pacific Northwest, students are wanting to be outside and wanting the semester to end. It is at this point in the spring semester when I am searching for something to keep my students learning and engaged. A teaching method I have employed with much success is called “four corners.” This method works best in doctrinal classes when you are planning to discuss a preeminent case. This is how it works.

Preparation: Read and understand the arguments put forth to the court by both sides of the case, including amicus briefs. Decide which four “arguments” or “points” you will use for your “four corners.”

Class: I hang signs with the four “points” or “arguments” on them in the four corners of the room before the students come in. Once the students are in the room, I have them go to the corner of the room with the “point” or “argument” with which they most closely align. Once the students move, I have a list of questions for the group to discuss. The professor can choose any question for discussion. I typically ask the groups these types of questions: Why do you align with this point? What support from the case (or article or brief) can you use to bolster your opinion? What are the policy concerns/benefits of this point? Would any change in law or fact cause you to change your opinion? If so, what? I then have the groups report their answers.

Debrief: After the students return to their seats, I lead a discussion about the many sides that exist in most cases. We discuss ways to see the other sides and why it might be important for a lawyer to see all of the policy concerns and the factual concerns.

This method can be used for many different purposes such as ethical issues, legal writing problem deconstruction, and seminar topics. It is a way to get the students out of a seated position, get them to talk to each other, and get them to look deeper into cases and issues.

Pop Quizzes

Pop Quizzes

February 2016 Idea

By Barbara Lentz, Wake Forest University School of Law

By Valentine’s Day, we are about one-third of the way through the semester, so it is time to test students on early material they may have forgotten and interweave the practice of a skill or a more recent topic. I administer a short quiz at the beginning of class (aka pop quiz or “an opportunity to assess one’s learning without pre-testing anxiety”). In my classes, there is minimal grousing when the pop quiz appears because my students know that they will have an opportunity to retake the quiz, as part of a group, at the end of class and have their grade determined by an average of the two scores.

Studies show the benefits of frequent, low-stakes testing. The best learning happens when testing is regularly spaced into classes over the term.(1) Regular tests promote learning and improve long-term retention.(2) Testing improves learning independent of additional study time.(3) Appropriate testing promotes learning by forcing students to recall and apply knowledge acquired from lectures, reading, discussion and simulations; practicing retrieval over the term (not just cramming for a final exam) makes learning stronger and makes studying for the final more effective and efficient because much less is forgotten along the way.(4)

Now, it is possible that your students may not see testing as the beneficial bridge to durable learning that it is. However, with the opportunity to retake the quiz after class, you likely will enjoy a thoroughly engaged class of attentive students seeking knowledge needed to pass the re-take. At the end of class, I require students to retake the same or substantially similar quiz in a group. High performers do not fear freeloading, as they have locked in a good (but not perfect) grade by performing well on the initial, individual quiz. Group work and discussion develops collaborative skills and leads to more precise, accurate, exact and (if you limit the time and space) concise answers. Group retakes also generate far fewer quizzes to grade while providing immediate formative feedback (and answers) to students who may assess their own learning and study skills months before the final.

Nearly every retake scores 100%, meaning the students have retrieved and demonstrated understanding of the knowledge deemed most crucial by the professor, and also meaning that no class time is needed to further review answers. Yet if you must grade on a curve, averaging the initial and retake grades can create a range of scores while still resulting in all students mastering the material. I have also seen a spillover effect in regular, close reading by more students and student-initiated study groups forming to discuss and distill answers to questions posed in class (which questions are likely candidates for future pop quizzes).

(1) Roediger, H.L., How Tests Make Us Smarter, in New York Times, p. SR12, July 20, 2014.
(2) McDermott, K.B., Kang, S. & Roediger, H.L., Test Format and Its Modulation of the Testing Effect, European J. of Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 19, 528-558 (2007).
(3) Cull, W.L. Untangling the Benefits of Multiple Study Opportunities and Repeated Testing for Cued Recall, Aplied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 14, 215-35 (2000).
(4) See Roediger, How Tests Make Us Smarter, supra.

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