Working Without a Net to Improve Your Classes
The Law Teacher, Volume 2, number 1 (Fall 1994), p. 10.
About the Author
Michael L. Closen is a professor of law at John Marshall Law School. For more information, contact him at John Marshall Law School, 315 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 427-2737, FAX (312) 427-8307.
Here's a teaching tip that may improve your classroom performance and impress your students: Use no notes (not even the assigned coursebook) in class sessions for the entire semester.
This simple idea offers several advantages for the professor who walks into class empty-handed for some forty-plus hours of classes in a semester:
- It gives you freedom. You're not anchored to the podium or table where your lecture notes or coursebook would be located. You can move about and use the blackboard more freely. You can speak more extemporaneously as you are forced away from both exact words and established organization fixed by your notes or coursebook. You can have more eye contact.
- You'll impress students. Students observe virtually every other law professor carry substantial materials (notes or coursebook) into their classes and follow those materials religiously, and they will notice that you're not saddled with those materials. They are impressed that you have such a mastery of the material that you can teach an entire course without notes, or they appreciate that you prepare so diligently that you can do so.
- You'll put students at ease. The idea here is that if the professor can teach the course without notes or a casebook, then students should certainly be able to comprehend it with the help of the coursebook, classroom lectures, and study aids. Students are more likely to view your relationship with them as non-adversarial if they see that the subject is manageable. This approach does not mean the course will be less rigorous, because the professor still must demand thorough preparation and full understanding from the students.
- You'll be forced to go out among the students. One of the big advantages of this teaching trick is that it gets me away from the podium and out into the classroom, because there are regular occasions when I need to use the exact words of a statute, a case, or whatever. When this happens, I just go out into the class and read from the coursebook with one of the students over his or her shoulder. Often, I stay there and continue a dialogue with the class from that location. Reducing the distance between the prof and the students seems to be effective. Students tend to warm up to you, and they seem less intimidated.
- You'll enhance your classroom preparation. Although we all prepare diligently for all of our classes, I think you must be even better prepared to guide the class without coursebook or notes at your side. Incidentally, if I have a case or statutory citation, or any other item of detail, that does not appear in the assigned reading and that I want to share with the students, I simply scribble it on a scrap of paper, put it in my pocket before class, and retrieve it at the appropriate moment in the lecture. Again, students are impressed; they see that I have prepared for that particular class.