Teaching Ideas

Home / Archive by category "Teaching Ideas" (Page 2)
Forget Waldo – Where’s IRAC?

Forget Waldo – Where’s IRAC?

By Alice Burke, The John Marshall Law School

Students new to law school are bombarded with new concepts and sometimes, their accompanying acronyms.  None of those acronyms seems to strike quite the same terror as IRAC.  For some students, the concept of IRAC is as elusive as Waldo.  The fact is, it doesn’t have to be.   If students simply know where (and how) to look, IRAC can materialize before their very eyes.

IRAC is not all that new to legal writing.  Many law schools were teaching students to organize their analyses using IRAC thirty years ago.  Many of those students can now be found sitting on federal and state benches across the country.    And guess what?  They’re still using IRAC to organize their legal writing.  And guess what else?  Their judicial writing is readily available to students everywhere in reporters, on electronic databases, and on court websites.

Students who want to see what IRAC looks like need go no farther than the nearest court decision.  If it originated within the last twenty years, chances are they will see an example of one of IRAC’s many permutations in action.  As a Writing Specialist helping students adapt their existing skills to the new dialect that is legal writing, I use many different approaches to help students understand how to incorporate IRAC into their papers.  And as you would expect, we spend many advisory sessions looking at student papers.  What you might not expect, however, is that some of my most fruitful advisory sessions have been spent looking closely not at the students’ papers but at the court cases that they are using to support their analysis.

When IRAC remains elusive to students, I invite them to take out one of their controlling cases, and we use that decision to “discover” IRAC.  Together, we find where the discussion begins, and identify the global rule statement.  We notice whether the court breaks the global rule into discrete elements, or explains away parts of the rule that for one reason or another are not relevant to the issue before it.  Then we move through the opinion to the first issue before the court.  We note how the court identifies the discrete issue, and segues from there into the governing rules of law.  We observe how the writer has narrowed the focus to a single part of the overall issue, and witness how case citations are woven into the paragraph.  We notice whether the decision uses multiple paragraphs to discuss the applicable rules and how the court uses the facts of precedent cases to illustrate how the rule works.

Then, we note where the “rule” portion of the discussion gives way to “application.”  We pay attention to transition words like “Here,” or “In this case,” that signal this shift, and then note how suddenly we start seeing far fewer italics (indicating decided cases) and far more proper nouns (indicating the parties in the case before the court).  We study how the court compares and contrasts the case to previously cited cases before reaching a conclusion on the issue.

If we are lucky, the decision then goes on to consider another element or factor.  We can look at how the opinion transitions from one to another and then I ask the student to tell me where the opinion identifies the next issue, outlines the governing rules, applies those rules to the facts before the court, and arrives at a conclusion.   Frequently, this provides the breakthrough the student needs to understand how IRAC works (and to convince them that it’s not some crazy thing their professor came up with but that nobody actually uses) and to use it to structure their own analysis. I encourage students to be alert to the presence of IRAC in the many cases they read for their legal writing classes as well as in their doctrinal classes so that they can begin to see its many subtle variations. Short of putting a distinctive red and white striped shirt on it, it is the best way I have found to help students find IRAC.

 

 

An Exam Debrief Exercise for Getting Students to Think Like Graders

An Exam Debrief Exercise for Getting Students to Think Like Graders

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

Two weeks ago, I finished my midterms in first-year Contracts. Instead of doing the usual exam debrief the next class day, I tried something new that I very admittedly borrowed from Professor Allie Robbins at CUNY Law. Rather than merely walking through the essay problem and explaining the issues and answers, my students graded sample partial exam answers based off the exact same essay problem I gave them on the midterm.

My Contracts midterm this fall covered the major formation issues (governing law, manifestation of mutual assent, and consideration). For this exercise, I wrote up two sample answers addressing only the mutual assent issues (i.e. offer and acceptance). Both sample answers hit the issues and discussed the facts and analysis similarly. On the substance alone, both answers would have likely received the same score for issue spotting. However, Sample Answer A was much better organized and discussed the issues using a very detailed IRAC structure, while Sample Answer B was less well-organized, often failed to follow the IRAC format, and in essence, was a sloppier answer.

Since they had already taken the midterm and we had already discussed the entire essay, they were already familiar with the essay problem and particularly its coverage and analysis. With the two sample answers and grading rubric in front of them, I gave them 10 minutes in class to grade both answers.

My goal was to show them that organization is really important and that an otherwise good answer can lose points can be lost if the grader cannot readily find it. My students were surprised, at first, at how hard it is to grade an answer. My sarcastic response (“Yay, happy holidays to me.”) drew some irreverent laughter. But the more important response was the shift in my students’ perspectives from thinking that the exam was where they illustrated only what they knew about the subject matter to understanding that the exam was also where they had to demonstrate their knowledge in the most effective way—in an organized manner that can better display their mastery of legal reasoning.

When I polled the students for which answer they preferred, the overwhelming choice was Sample Answer A, the more organized, structured answer. Their preferences for Sample Answer A were followed by responses such as, “Answer A is much more effective and easier to read,” and “The writer for Sample Answer B really didn’t sound like a lawyer.”

I told them that format and structure counts on my exam: “So you see how Sample Answer A is likely going to get a higher grade because what I’m also looking for is effective legal reasoning?” I revealed to them that I didn’t think Sample Answer B would fail, but if it wouldn’t have received as high of a grade than Sample Answer A. “And if you’re going to spend all that time and energy on my final talking about the same things, why would you not aim for higher?” Students also noted that following the IRAC format more closely seemed to allow Sample Answer A to craft more precise rule statements and juxtapose law and fact for a more balanced analysis. Sample Answer B, on the other hand, tended to ramble. On law school exams, format and structure does makes a difference. Hopefully, this exercise did get my students to be much more motivated on developing their IRAC and essay organization skills for their fall final, alongside their ability to understand the doctrinal material. Happy holidays to me.

At CUNY Law, Professor Robbins uses this exercise also in bar support to show bar takers why a well-structured and organized answer would make a difference to a bar grader with hundreds of essays to grade and only a few minutes to grade each answer. My variation brings this into the first-year classroom. But in both settings, the exercise hopefully tries to convey that on exams, it’s not just what you say, but also how you say it that matters.

 

Random Thoughts About Resistance To Active Learning

Random Thoughts About Resistance To Active Learning

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

“Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing . . . .”  Specifically, it “refers to activities that are introduced into the classroom.”  It includes but is not limited to “small group discussion, debate, posing questions to the class, think-pair-share activities, short written exercises,” and generally involves in-class problem solving, student formulation of their own questions, and in-class brainstorming.”[1]

If you aren’t doing things described above or like the things described above, then you aren’t doing active learning.  Period.   So, in this regard “interactive” classroom atmospheres are not substitutes for active learning classrooms.  Interactive learning simply means that a student interacts with a professor.  You ask a Socratic question and the student answers and boom you are engaged in interactive learning.  You have a lively humorous bent to your presentation and again this satisfies the definition of interactive.

Interactive classroom techniques still tend to be professor driven and are simply thinly disguised versions of the typical classroom hierarchy which is the opposite of active learning.  If you find yourself describing effective teaching around observations of your class room that include, “I was funny,” “they liked my slides,” “I was so energetic they had to pay attention,” or even “I gave them context for what they were learning,” you may be engaged in some other pedagogical process but not active learning.

As long as you continue to believe that effective learning depends on your mouth moving or you being the source of the knowledge or even the source of the understanding of the material then you cannot be engaging in active learning.  The hardest part about transitioning to active learning is realizing that given the right guidance or exercise structure, the students in your classrooms are all capable of gaining the knowledge you are seeking to bestow upon them with less direct involvement from you than you currently believe is necessary.

This is a humbling experience for most of us.  It may be high time to really think if ego and our need to be necessary prevents us from letting go and whole heartedly engaging in active learning.  The doctors can’t be wrong after all as there is a massive trend in medical schools to make active learning the primary pedagogical technique.  Of course, they are meeting resistance as well because their equivalent of Langdell is reaching out from the grave with a heavy inertial hand.  It is worth remembering that Langdell prescribed Socratic teaching for law students about ten years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  I hope that we do not feel unnecessarily bound to pedagogies and norms from that era.

[1] https://www.everettcc.edu/files/administration/institutional-effectiveness/institutional-research/outcomeassess-active-learning.pdf

 

Taking Advantage of What Students Know to Teach New Concepts

Taking Advantage of What Students Know to Teach New Concepts

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

When teaching a new and complicated concept, it is always a good idea to help our students make connections to what they know.  When teaching the idea of using the facts of the precedent cases to compare to the “client” facts in order to come up with a prediction of the outcome of the case, I use simple props and a simple exercise designed to connect this new concept to concepts they have mastered already.  To achieve the desired result, which is learning how to compare facts of cases to facts of the “client” and utilizing reasoning, I use different sized paperclips and a binder clip.

The explanation of this technique takes a bit of history behind how students learn best.  For every new concept I introduce to my students, I ask the following questions of my students:

  1. What is the concept for today’s course?
  2. What will be important ideas in today’s concept?
  3. What do you already know about this concept?
  4. To what can you relate this?
  5. What will you do to remember the key ideas regarding this concept?
  6. Is there anything about this concept you don’t understand or are not clear about?

These questions help the students better understand the new concept by focusing them on what will be covered, what they found important about the readings, what they already know about the topic, how to relate it to something they already know, how to remember it, and on asking for clarification and help.  My paperclip exercise comes in with number 4 “to what can you relate this?”

I separate my students into groups of three and give them each a large metal paperclip, a small metal paperclip, a plastic paperclip, and a binder clip.  Then I ask the groups to look at the two metal paperclips and compare them, factually.  Students come up with similarities: shape, material, and color.  I ask them, “how are the different?”  The students know that size is the difference.  The next question for them is “does that difference change matter?”  Students instinctively know that it does not.  When asked why, they can articulate that the purpose of the paperclip is to hold paper, and, thus, unless it is a huge stack of papers, the size does not really matter.  At this point, it is easy to say, “yes, if you know the purpose of the paperclip is to hold paper, then you can decide what differences and similarities are important.”  Next, I typically pause and let that sink in for the students.  After the pause, I tell them, “if the paperclip is a ‘rule’ and you know the reasoning behind the rule, you can more easily decide if the factual difference will be important to the court.”  Once that point is made, it is easy then to bring in the binder clip.  The binder clip is much different factually from the paperclip; but could the “paperclip rule” cover the binder clip?  I have the students debate this for a couple of minutes and report back to me.

It is a fairly cheap and impactful exercise which engages the students, connects a difficult concept to something they already know and helps facilitate learning.

[1] Submitted by Sandra Simpson, Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing at Gonzaga University School of Law and the Co-Director for the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning.

 

How do we help to encourage and sustain transcendent motivation in our students?

How do we help to encourage and sustain transcendent motivation in our students?

By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

This month’s idea comes from James Lang’s very popular 2016 book, Small Teaching. At this time in the semester, students who returned eagerly to begin a new year are starting to feel the weight of readings and assignments. It is easy for them to quickly lose all motivation other than the fear of poor grades. As we now better understand, higher forms of motivation are better fuel for learning. They may include longer-term motivation for self-betterment, such as getting a rewarding job. But the most effective form of motivation is what Lang terms “transcendent,” and focus on how learning will result in better social outcomes.

How do we help to encourage and sustain transcendent motivation in our students? Lang makes several suggestions for habits and activities that take no more than 10 minutes of class time, and often less:

1. Use the time before class begins to strike up friendly conversations with students; try to reach out to each member of class at least once.
2. Human beings are wired for stories; consider framing the material around a newsworthy story, perhaps even a cliffhanger to be revealed at the end of class. Law is particularly well suited to this – every case presents a new story, and those stories often go much deeper than what is presented in the text.
3. Share stories about professionals in the field who have used their training to make a difference.
4. Frequently connect smaller units back to the big picture during the class session; make sure the purpose for learning the material says clear.
5. Convey your natural enthusiasm for your subject; it is more contagious than you may realize.

For further background on the educational research behind motivation, as well as deeper insights into each of Lang’s five teaching tips above, please see James M. Lang, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning 167-93 (Jossey-Bass 2016).

 

The Easiest Technology for Doing the Hard Work

The Easiest Technology for Doing the Hard Work

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

As an absolute technological dinosaur and in an effort to avoid technology, I usually use low-tech “clickers” in the classroom, which are nothing more than two pieces of colored paper. That avoidance has started to change as I see others using cool and really easy technology in the classroom. In fact, to help others like me, the ILTL summer conference for 2018 will be centered on technology in the classroom. Technology can and should be used to engage students and forward the classroom and teaching goals, not just for the sake of using technology. My excuse for why I typically do not use technology is that my teaching and learning goals are reached without it. But where they? Are students as engaged as they could be? These questions have led me on a quest to adopt some new, easy technology aimed at engaging students while still forwarding my classroom teaching and learning goals.

This past summer, I attended ILTL’s annual summer conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, and learned about some simple technology. During one of the presentations, I was introduced to Mentimeter. I have no connection to this company, and I am sure there are other apps that work just as easily, but this is the one I used. At www.menti.com, you can create an account and then create questions to ask the students. The students log in and watch the results on the screen as they vote.

Thinking the use of it was so engaging and fun, I decided to use it in my LRW classes to introduce Blooms Taxonomy of Learning while introducing the important parts of the syllabus. After explaining Blooms Taxonomy, I had the students log into www.menti.com and enter an access code. I then asked a series of questions based on the syllabus. The first question was purely a recall question; the second question was an application question; the third question was an evaluation question; and the last question was a creation question. Between each question, we revisited Bloom’s Taxonomy and discussed learning and assessment of the same.

The energy and engagement in the room was beyond what I expected, as was the opportunity for learning. Students loved watching the results come in. Students were also ready to discuss why they voted one way or another. Further, the evaluation question asked the students to come up with one word which described the syllabus. I used the “word-cloud” function to show the results. Some of the words were positive; some of the words described levels of anxiety; some of the words were negative. This allowed us to talk about positive and negative feedback and the value of both. As to the last issue, had I asked the students verbally to share their opinions about my syllabus and the class requirements, I am willing to bet no one would have said the negative things. Yet, it is very important to me that my students can express positive and negative opinions and feelings. I hope this exercise opens that door.

 

 

Teaching Lawyerly Grit

Teaching Lawyerly Grit

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

Each fall in my Contracts course, when all of my other colleagues are giving midterms and thus committing themselves to early assessment of student performance, I deviate slightly from the norm. It’s not that I don’t do assessments or believe in early assessments—I actually start on that on the very first day and build many moments during the semester for such purposes. And it’s not that I don’t believe in midterms either—in fact, the exercise I will show you here does involve a midterm—but I use my midterm in Contracts very differently. I use it as a lesson on lawyerly resiliency and resourcefulness.

The midterm I always give in the fall is non-graded, but content-wise it tests all the doctrine that we’ve studied up and until the day of the exam. The test is supposed to take up 45 minutes of a single one-hour-and-fifteen-minute class period. The issues up for grabs include all of mutual assent (offer and acceptance), consideration, promissory estoppel, and contract modification—in both common-law and UCC Article 2 variants (and yes, that means Battle of the Forms, for those commercial law nerds out there). The midterm has both a standard racehorse essay and a set of factual multiple-choice questions. It is a closed-book, closed-notes, and closed-everything exam. It’s difficult; it’s awful; it’s indicative of my final exams, which means even I wouldn’t want to take it myself unless my life depended on it.

I administer the exam as usual. Even though it’s non-graded, my students usually take it seriously enough and have studied for it. And truthfully, I appreciate that. In the minutes before the test starts, I will hear some of them reciting rules and asking each other doctrinal questions. A day or two before, I might have seen a copy of my practice midterm packet strewn somewhere in the law library. On test day, they take their seats, put away their outlines and notes, and crack open their laptops.

What they don’t realize is that I have purposely drafted an exam that is so difficult and intense that it is—in all honesty—nearly impossible to finish within the time allotted. I have done my due diligence to set them up for failure.

But the difficulty of the exam content is only half of this exercise. Somewhere during those 45 minutes, as my students are typing away their answers, I surprise them by stopping the exam with a simulated disaster—usually a fake laptop crash or a power outage. I tell the students who have been typing fastidiously away that their laptops have crashed, while I immediately start passing out a pile of fresh bluebooks that have been hiding under the lecture hall podium. “Take a few. You’ll need to finish the exam by handwriting the rest of your answers.” At this point, the students who had opted to handwrite the midterm are trying hard not to smirk.

When I started law teaching, I did this exercise repeatedly with the goal of developing student examsmanship on law finals and bar exams. The inspiration for the simulated laptop crash came from personal experience because it happened to me during my first day of the California bar exam. Luckily, we had practiced for it. So although it wasn’t ideal, I knew what to do to persevere through that dilemma and pass a high stakes exam. When I began teaching academic support, I started simulating laptop crashes (and a parade of other horribles) that could potentially happen to derail an exam session. Even now, going into my sixth year of teaching first-year Contracts, I find this exercise to really have an impact in helping students develop exam-taking strategies and realizing that technology does not displace good old-fashioned legal reasoning. But in recent years, this midterm exercise has taken on more resonance as I use it as a springboard for talking about resourcefulness in the legal profession.

After the midterm exercise is truly done, I usually don’t debrief the context of the exam. I leave that to another day. The tension in the classroom is too thick. The collective anxiety on the faces of those who have just experienced a small disaster during a fake session of high-stakes testing needs to be dissipated. “Just think if this happened on an exam that counted—like a final or a bar exam,” I say. “Aren’t you glad this counted for nothing?” The first line doesn’t usually fetch a laugh, but the second one always does.

What I do in the remaining class period is discuss what it was like for them to take the exam and to debrief strategies on what to do when bad things happen in high-stakes exam scenarios. I tell them my joke that the first year of law school seems like the facts from the Palsgraf case—where seemingly things that can only in one’s imagination go wrong often do. Of course, I’ll get responses that are seeking my answer to the type of questions like, “If my laptop breaks during an exam, do I need to start over?” or “Who will fix my laptop after the exam?” But after I address those questions, I bring the lesson to a larger, more resonant take-away: that in law practice, where things can be more hectic than a round of first-year midterms, where feelings and passions can run high, and the stakes are larger than failing a bar exam, one must develop an emotional intelligence toward resiliency and resourcefulness. Sometimes professional expectations continue despite mishaps and setbacks. You might think you’re ready to take down an exam, but it could be the exam that will try to take you down. So what will you do about it? What will you do when it’s not an exam taking you down, but some emergency, some major shift in a case, or some set-back in negotiations that will try to impede your ability to represent your client? Where is your true grit?

Occasionally, I’ll get an e-mail from a former student recounting laptop malfunction during a final or bar exam. It’s always a thank-you e-mail. But it’s not the thank-you part of that message that I am looking for. Instead, it’s the part describing that, despite whatever that happened, the perseverance and a cooler head prevailed, and all was fine because of it.

 

Summer Plans to Plan for Fall

Summer Plans to Plan for Fall

By Prof. Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

As we now gaze out at the great expanse of the summer, it’s easy to get lost in the endless possibilities. This is the time we’ve set aside for major writing projects, for incorporating new exercises and assessments into our syllabi, and for getting up-to-date on the latest classroom materials.  We also need to recharge our batteries.

As I’ve come to learn over a dozen years of teaching (and thus a dozen summers teeming with endless possibilities), very few of these goals will be met without a specific and realistic plan of execution. I’ve had too many summers where I hung up my graduation robe, took a quick nap, and all of a sudden found that it was August 20.  So the following sets out a few suggestions for laying the groundwork for a productive summer.

First, finish grading. Attack your stack of exams and papers.  Students need closure for the semester, and so do you. Do whatever works for you to make it through the exams or appellate briefs or student papers. Make a schedule of when you’re grading what. Find a quiet comfortable place to set up shop. Take breaks when you need to. Reward yourself for progress.

While you’re at it, though, keep in mind that the grading periods are also some of the most convenient times to make notes for the next semester. This review does not have to be an intimidatingly formal process. I’ve found that simply keeping open a Word document, “Notes from Exam Spring 2017,” on my desktop while I’m grading can generate some very helpful insights for the next round. Most of the comments are similar to the following:

  • confusion on Trustee/Settlor distinctions
  • clarify uniform rule vs. state rule on prudent investment standard
  • Essay #2 (charitable trusts) didn’t work – refine call of question

Once you’re done grading, spend some time thinking ahead to the fall before jumping into the rest of your summer. If you took notes about your teaching throughout the semester (what worked, what didn’t, which classes ended too soon, which exercise was a dud), go back and review those now. Sort through the notes you made while you were grading. And make the changes now—revamp the worksheet, rewrite the assignment instructions, identify places in your notes you can cut if necessary in the future. At the very least, make a specific list of changes to be made before you teach this class again. But do that part now while it’s still fresh in your mind. Take a day or two at the office to focus solely on teaching, which is more difficult than it sounds with other major projects (and vacations!) looming over us.

Next, if your summer calendar looks like mine, you’ve got a few conferences scheduled over the coming three months. (Including hopefully the ILTL conference in Little Rock on July 7-8?!) Conference travel is great, but it can wear you out.  If you’re going to the trouble and expense of attending conferences, make the most of them. Go to sessions, engage in conversations, network with colleagues, meet new friends. I firmly believe that much of the value of conferences comes in the interpersonal interactions between sessions and over a shared meal. When you get back home, follow-up with emails to people that you connected with and presenters you really enjoyed. Nurture those contacts.

Do you also have a list of “work-related things to do” over the summer? An article to start? A fact-pattern to develop as a foundation for classroom discussion? A new edition of your textbook to work through? If so, plan accordingly. For me, those are the easiest projects to ignore (after all, I’ve got until late-August!), but in some ways, they’re the most important.  Schedule in time to work on these projects. Find an accountability partner with whom you can check in weekly to share your progress (or better yet, to share the work and combine ideas!).

I was going to add a paragraph about personal vacation travel and using that time to read law review articles you’ve been meaning to get through. That is a fine idea, I think, but I couldn’t bring myself to write it authoritatively because that’s not at all how I use my personal travel time during the summer! I’ve got an issue of US Weekly and the latest book club selection from Target in my carry-on. And that’s perfectly ok too! Allow yourself time to not be engaged in research, writing, or teaching prep.

But when you do return to the scholarly pursuits, it helps to break them down into smaller chunks, even over the “vast expanse” of the summer. I’ve found renewed energy in setting aside time to read one law review article a night by someone I’ve come to know personally (e.g., at a conference) or whose work is important in my field, even if it is not directly related to my current projects.

Regardless of your summer plans, plan ahead for the fall.  Give yourself the rest and relaxation you need so you’re ready to go in August, but also keep on task every now and then so you won’t be caught off-guard.

End-of-Year Reflections: How Does a Teacher Say Goodbye?

End-of-Year Reflections: How Does a Teacher Say Goodbye?

By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

End-of-Year Reflections: How Does a Teacher Say Goodbye?

Today I found myself with a rare, small block of unstructured time in between 1L oral arguments.  Rarely at the end of the academic year do I take the opportunity to reflect as I should, before the year’s momentum and energy are dissipated.  I always promise myself that the next year will be different, and this time, in Year 11, I am finally cashing in on that promise to myself. In addition to actually, for once, editing my syllabus and assignment calendar while I still remember what did and didn’t work, I’d like to see what I can do to engage my students in reflection, as well.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend one of the Institute’s summer conferences in Spokane and to opt in to a teacher’s reflection retreat with none other than Jean Koh Peters. Drawing upon the seed planted in that workshop, I turned to her A Teacher’s Reflection Book: Exercises, Stories, Invitations, co-authored with Mark Weisberg. The book contains a chapter on how we say our goodbyes to students, particularly at the end of a course.  The chapter asks us to reflect upon what messages our styles of goodbye send to students, and provides some ideas for end-of-course activities. For example, the group may form a circle and offer each other closing thoughts. The instructor can also help bring the course full circle by revising students’ goal statements from the beginning of the course. Prof. Koh Peters has offered students coupons they can cash in when they need her advice even far into the future. Prof. Weisberg shares a series of unsent “postcards” about teaching and learning from Jane Tomkins’s A Life in School, and then encourages students to write their own. They are posted around the room and students circulate to read them in “silent witness.”

In the past, I have often allowed my semesters to end in a rush of paper deadlines and final presentations. This year, I have saved one last class at the very end of the term to work primarily to discuss with students how they can transfer their newly acquired skills to internships. But important as that task is, I plan to also reserve some time to give them back their “getting to know you” index cards from the beginning of the semester, on which they assessed their strengths and weakness in writing, and expressed their hopes and fears for the 1L writing and argument experience. My hope is that if we take some moments in class to reflect alone and together, we will reinforce a strong theme of the course: writing and advocacy are a life-long growth process, and that with effort, profound growth is possible even over a short time.

To see a video in which Profs. Weisberg and Koh Peters discuss the book, including the topic of goodbyes, see https://vimeo.com/41567151.

 

 

Utilizing Various Learning Styles and Repetition to Enhance Understanding

Utilizing Various Learning Styles and Repetition to Enhance Understanding

By Heidi Holland, Gonzaga University School of Law

Most of us are familiar with the concept of learning styles and the VARK model initially developed in 1987 by Neil Fleming.  VARK is an acronym for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities that are used for learning information.

Visual learners prefer graphic depictions of information.  Auditory learners prefer information presented in lectures, group discussions, etc.  Read/write learners prefer to have information presented as words. Finally, kinesthetic learners prefer “demonstrations, simulations, [and] videos . . . .” Most people are, however, multimodal.[1]

How then does one incorporate those different styles in a way that encourages our students to learn more effectively?  Here is one example of what I have done in teaching legal research.

Recently, I was teaching my students how to do statutory research.  Each of my sections is approximately fifteen students, and I break each section into two smaller groups for this exercise.  I have a short fact pattern that I present to the students and then show them how I would use the annotated code to find the statute, notes of decision, and cases.  Then, I break up the students into smaller groups and have them do a very short research problem following the same steps.  They are each given a handout with the problem and detailed instructions.  I rotate among the groups to answer questions and redirect them as necessary.  Once they have all found “the answer” to the problem, we regroup and discuss.  At that point, I give the students homework involving a slightly more complicated fact pattern.  The detailed homework instructions include a research flowchart and require them to follow the same steps we did together during our class time.

During the next class period, we walk through step-by-step the research they should have done for homework. The homework review includes a PowerPoint presentation with screenshots of what they would have seen in the books or online.

By the time we’re done, students will have watched me do research while I explained it, done it with a classmate under my supervision, done it on their own, and then reviewed the process again in class.  Visual learners will have seen graphic depictions of the research process in the homework instructions and the homework review’s PowerPoint presentation. Auditory learners will have heard the information in lecture, peer discussion, and class discussion.  Read/write learners will have class handouts with instructions, homework instructions, and PowerPoint review (which I also post on TWEN). Finally, kinesthetic learners will have the benefit of demonstration and then personal application in class and for homework.  Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate learning.  By utilizing various learning styles and repetition, our students’ understanding can be enhanced.

[1] www.vark-learn.com

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