For Adjunct Faculty, Try a 'Teach-In'
The Law Teacher, Volume 5, number 2 (Spring 1998), p. 4-5.
About the Author
Celeste M. Hammond teaches at The John Marshall Law School, 315 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL 60604; (312) 987-2366; fax (312) 427-5280; 7hammond [at] JMLS.EDU
Adjunct professors -- especially those new to teaching -- are a frequently overlooked group of "students." For the last two summers, I have been holding a training session, which has been dubbed the "Teach-In," for adjunct professors in The John Marshall Law School's graduate (LL.M.) program in real estate law.
I found Sage Publication's 1996 The Adjunct Faculty Handbook to be a particularly helpful resource for our adjuncts, and I directed their attention to specific chapters. Many found the chapter on developing lesson plans and syllabi invaluable, which is not surprising since the practice of law does not routinely require practitioners to consider course content nor to draft syllabi.
Planning the "Teach-In"
When planning for the 1997 Teach-In, I realized, based on their evaluations, that our graduate students felt that the adjuncts were lecturing too much. Students wanted more opportunities for active learning. Thus the focus of the teaching effectiveness program would be teaching adjuncts how to develop collaborative and participatory classrooms.
The student comments should not have surprised me. Attorneys have enrolled in our graduate program to learn the art of commercial real estate transactions from our adjunct professors, who are among Chicago's leading real estate lawyers. Many adjuncts not only had written extensively, but they had lectured frequently at continuing legal education programs. Lecturing was the technique that they knew and had used successfully. They stuck with the tried and true in their classrooms.
Through my in-class visits throughout the year and by watching videotapes of some classes, I also realized that often a single topic was covered in great depth and in exhaustive detail in a single session; yet insufficient efforts were being made to relate the "topic of the day" to topics already covered (or to be covered later). The evaluations made clear that though students believed the courses provided valuable and useful information, they were having difficulty absorbing and processing the tidal wave of substantive law, practice tips, and general advice.
I was delighted that our LL.M. students had intuitively realized that they learned best in classrooms where material is presented in a context, in an organized manner, and in small chunks. To really learn, they needed opportunities to apply substantive law from the lectures to the solving of realistic problems, which occurred best through role-playing exercises, group discussions, case studies, and demonstrations. It was clear that they wanted to do more than just take notes and try to keep focused on the lectures.
I was now faced with the task of "teaching" this to the faculty. Since adult learners, whether they are graduate students or adjuncts, have been described as having a "pragmatic and problem-centered focus," I knew that I could not just deliver a lecture at the Teach-In, pass out some handouts, and consider the matter handled. I planned to provide the adjuncts with an array of models that they could emulate since techniques appropriate for the Drafting and Negotiations Skills Workshop might not be as effective or appropriate for the Commercial Real Estate Transactions course.
Since I strongly believe that modeling is one of the best ways to learn new skills, and since I knew from my own experience that learning was best accomplished by watching good teachers teach, I decided to structure our Teach-In as a simulated three-hour class in which these "students" would both discover and try out the skills that I wanted them to adopt. All of us would be both students and teachers. I hoped to create a dynamic classroom environment in which the ideas flowed and in which the time "just flew."
As the first step in the process, I developed an agenda that I sent to all adjuncts together with their reading assignment -- a chapter on adult learning that provides a primer on the psychology of teaching adults, and a chapter on teaching methods and strategies that explores a broad variety of instructional methods including lectures, discussions, and participative techniques such as student presentations, role playing, and even field trips. Both are in The Adjunct Professor's Handbook. I also asked two adjunct professor "students" to make presentations.
The agenda for the Teach-In was my course outline in disguise. I began with welcoming remarks, which in reality comprised my "lecture" for the day. I told them about adult learners and the challenges that these posed to faculty and some of the ways that we could help adults learn.
Then, one of my "professor students" gave her "student presentation" by describing in-class exercises she had used. She led a "discussion" on what else she could have done to enhance learning in her classroom.
Next, I made use of the "presentation aid" technique by playing videotaped excerpts from actual classes. The tapes were painful to watch and vividly illustrated how deadly dull the lecture format was for those in the audience. It also showed a few examples of professors getting away from the lecture format and engaging the audience in a discussion. The perceptible differences in classes led to a spontaneous discussion of how to prompt classroom discussion. The ideas flew thick and fast with everyone having something to contribute. I finally had to cut off the discussion.
For my "guest lecturer" I asked the director of John Marshall's media services department to do a "show and tell" about the media equipment that the school has available for classroom use. Her demonstrations ran from the simple (overheads) to the complex (PowerPoint). She gave them examples of how other faculty were using this equipment in their classrooms. For those less technically advanced adjuncts, her demonstrations were eye-opening. Everyone asked questions and started to give suggestions as to how the technology could be used.
Next, our second "student presenter" decided to spring a negotiation exercise on the adjuncts so that they could experience "active learning" firsthand. To preserve the element of surprise (which he maintained added an element of "real life" to the exercise), the description of this part of the class deliberately had been kept vague.
Everyone participated as a member of a two-person team representing buyer or seller of a parcel of real estate. The negotiation exercise was a good lead-in to our final task -- that of brainstorming strategies for increasing student classroom participation. Again, faculty participants drew on their experiences as both teachers and learners. They described successes as well as failures. It was especially interesting to see the group take an idea and work with it until a number of improvements had been made. A real collaborative effort at problem solving was under way.
When time was up, I recalled the ways in which our "class" followed the suggestions of their reading assignment, and I asked for feedback. The adjuncts may not have liked having to participate in the negotiation exercise, but they recognized its value as a learning device. Likewise, they realized that classes set in a context -- in this case the teaching of adult learners -- were more effective. They realized that the day's activities taught them more than they would have learned from a lecture. They headed out with new ideas and were excited about the prospect of putting their learning into effect in their own classrooms.