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The Compounding Effects of Assessment

The Compounding Effects of Assessment

By Lindsey P. Gustafson, UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law

If you’ve found your way to the Institute of Law Teaching and Learning, you are likely already a believer in formative assessment. We do have empirical evidence that formative assessment improves student learning in law: Two recent studies have shown that students who received individualized feedback during the semester outperformed students who did not on final exams, and not just in the class where they received the feedback but in every single class they were taking.  [1] One study’s authors note the “likelihood of this occurring by chance is one in 256.”[2]

But as we add formative assessments to students’ semesters, we must consider how we are altering the demands on their time. The middle of the semesters, which have traditionally been the playground for the Socratic Method and for legal writing assignments, may now be filled with a variety of assessment activities, and some of them may dominate students’ time in a way that impacts students’ learning in other classes. When our assessments interfere with students’ participation in other classes, or vice versa, the inferences that we draw from our assessments about student learning may not be valid. And an assessment that provides invalid data is worse than no assessment at all. Consequently, we must all consider our assessments as students experience them, “holistically and interactively.”[3]

How do we deeply coordinate assessments and avoid an assessment system that instead overwhelms students, clutters or fragments their learning, or discourages them early in their first semester? We must coordinate beyond shared calendars, starting in our own classrooms by ensuring that our own assessment activities, as a slice of the student-time pie, are designed with and justified by best practices that encourage an assessment’s validity. In a recent article, I’ve identified five relevant best practices:

  1. Make the assessments’ alignment with learning goals transparent to students and to other faculty members with whom we intend to coordinate: A clear alignment with learning goals helps students understand how the assessments will move them towards learning goals, and helps them make informed decisions about their allocation of time. A clear alignment also allows us to clearly communicate our assessment choices to other faculty members.
  2. Use rubrics to create a shared language of instruction: Once we identify learning goals, rubrics help us refine our communication with students. They see how they will be assessed, and we see with specificity what they have learned.
  3. Ensure the assessments encourage student autonomy: One particularly harmful potential outcome of a tightly orchestrated assessment system is that it may overly dictate student decisions, rather than facilitate student autonomy. Our assessment systems should build students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which are fundamental to learning.
  4. Set high expectations and display confidence that students can meet those expectations: Students prone to maladaptive responses to feedback are likely to be overwhelmed and discouraged by frequent assessments. Explaining our high expectations and displaying confidence in students can help address these tendencies.
  5. Regularly review the entire assessment system, paying particular attention to students’ ownership of their own learning within the system.

When we ground our formative assessment decisions in best practices, we are better able to communicate our decisions to students, and better able to more deeply coordinate with other faculty members.


[1] See Daniel Schwarcz & Dion Farganis, The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance, 67 J. Legal Educ. 139, 142 (2017) (finding that formative assessment improved performance on final exams for students with below-median entering credientials); Ruth Colker et al., Formative Assessments: A Law School Case Study, 94 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 387 (2017) (finding the same); Carol Springer Sargent, Andrea A. Curcio, Empirical Evidence That Formative Assessments Improve Final Exams, 61 J. Legal Educ. 379, 383–84 (2012) (finding that formative assessment improved performance on final exams for students with above-median entering credentials); Andrea A. Curcio, Gregory Todd Jones & Tanya M. Washington, Developing an Empirical Model to Test Whether Required Writing Exercises or Other Changes in Large-Section Law Class Teaching Methodologies Result in Improved Exam Performance, 57 J. Legal Educ. 195, 197 (2007) (finding the same); Andrea A. Curcio, Gregory Todd Jones & Tanya M. Washington, Does Practice Make Perfect? An Empirical Examination of the Impact of Practice Essays on Essay Exam Performance, 35 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 271, 280-82, 302-306 (2008)(finding the same).

[2] Schwarcz, supra note 1, at 142.

[3] See Harry Torrance, Formative Assessment at the Crossroads: Conformative, Deformative and Transformative Assessment, 38 Oxford Rev. of Educ. 323, 334 (2012) (noting that “assessment is always formative, but not necessarily in a positive way”).

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.

Review: Feb. 2019  Article(s) of The Month

Review: Feb. 2019 Article(s) of The Month

By Rory Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

This month’s contribution departs from the format of reviewing and recommending a law review article.  Rather it summarizes four separate articles which are published in journals other than law reviews.  The articles are:

  1. “Understanding Generation Z Students to Promote a Contemporary Learning Environment,” available on line at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=jete
  2. “How Generation Z is Shaping the Change in Education,” available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sievakozinsky/2017/07/24/how-generation-z-is-shaping-the-change-in-education/#2086c0e46520
  3. “Designing Performer-Centric Learning Systems for Millennials, Generation Z and Beyond,” available at:  https://trainingindustry.com/magazine/issue/designing-performer-centric-learning-systems-for-millennials-generation-z-and-beyond/ ; and
  4. “The Challenge of Teaching Generation Z,” available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312659039_The_challenge_of_teaching_generation_Z

The reason I felt justified in departing from the usual format of this column is because I was alarmed recently by a discussion on a list-serve by legal pedagogy experts who were trying to minimize the impact of the current information environment on reshaping what we consider effective pedagogy.

The argument made in support of the statement that we don’t need to teach differently in the internet-era was essentially, “We should just keep teaching the way we have because even though information access and portability have reshaped the way the world functions, we don’t need to change the way we have always taught since before the dawn of the internet.”  Ironically, even a superficial google search reveals the patent lack of empirical support for that argument.

The truth about how teaching needs to change for it to be effective teaching to today’s students is discussed in the above referenced articles and a summary of the articles’ findings is as follows:

  1. Today’s students live in a world where information is instantly accessible;
  2. Communication needs to be replaced with interaction for these students;
  3. Learning needs to be more learner centered;
  4. The teacher needs to create a classroom environment that facilitates creativity and critical thinking as the delivery of information is no longer something we need teachers for;
  5. Because information is now widely and instantly accessible, teachers must find ways other than providing information to grasp and engage students;
  6. Most non-Generation Z teachers will need professional development help in order to effectively communicate with today’s students;
  7. Current students are dissatisfied being passive learners and educational experiences need to be fully immersive and these students need to learn by doing; and
  8. Collaborative learning environments are essential to teaching them. We can’t just be Professor Kingsfield at the head of a hierarchical learning environment as has been the norm since Langdell walked Harvard’s hallowed halls.

Unfortunately, our resistance to confronting the inertia involved in changing the way we teach is no longer a valid excuse if we want to teach effectively to the students who are now entering law schools.

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

 

Review: Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond

Review: Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond

By Jane Bloom Grisé, University of Kentucky College of Law

Scott Turow, the bestselling author of One L, compared reading cases to “stirring concrete with my eyelashes.” Reading cases is challenging for many law students, but critical reading skills are incredibly important for success in law school and legal practice. Empirical research shows that lawyers read cases differently than non-lawyers. In addition, top law students use different reading strategies than lower performing students. While expert legal readers read cases to solve client problems, novices often read to memorize facts. Higher performing law students use an arsenal of different reading strategies depending upon the complexity of the case, but novices tend to indiscriminately highlight large quantities of text. Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond was written to teach students the skills utilized by lawyers and higher performing law students. This book introduces students to a series of critical reading strategies so that they can become effective readers and move on to be successful in law school and law practice.

The Critical Reading program is premised on two ideas. First, it is based on the idea that critical reading should be taught. While it is often assumed that students enter law school fully equipped to read and understand cases and statutes, there is no evidence to support this assumption. One student in a focus group conducted in connection with the Critical Reading program indicated that reading a case was like looking for a purple dinosaur without knowing what a dinosaur was or what the color purple looked like. Critical reading strategies can be taught, and it is important to explain to students, as adult learners, how these strategies will improve their ultimate performance.

Second, Critical Reading is based on the idea that strategies should be presented in a sequential manner. As Bloom’s taxonomy suggests, students must master the lower level skill of understanding before they can be expected to engage in higher level skills, such as analysis and synthesis. For this reason, Critical Reading starts by examining the purpose for reading cases—to solve problems. Students are also introduced to the structure of cases so that they can understand different sections of cases. Critical Reading then presents information about civil and criminal procedure so that students can understand some of the commonly used terminology found in cases.

Then the program teaches students pre-reading strategies such as understanding the context of cases and doing case overviews before reading more carefully. After students master these foundational skills, they are introduced to techniques for reading facts and understanding complicated text. Rather than simply providing a template for a case brief, the program examines the components of a case such as the issue, holding, and dictum, and provides techniques to understand the main ideas in the case. Higher level skills such as finding rules, synthesizing cases, and evaluating cases are addressed at the end of the book.

These strategies can be introduced and incorporated into all classrooms in a few ways. First, students can be advised that they should read cases to identify rules and concepts that will be used to solve client problems or hypotheticals on a final exam. Students should be explicitly told that they do not need to memorize most cases.

Second, students can be instructed to read actively and pretend that they are either one of the parties in the case or the judge. Studies have found that higher performing students read actively in this way. Professors who ask students how they would decide the case or how one of the parties would argue in the case are encouraging students to adopt this active reading strategy. Finally, professors can take one sentence from an opinion and model good comprehension techniques such as paying attention to conjunctions, noticing repeated words, and shortening long sentences by inserting periods.

Critical Reading describes these and other strategies that can be introduced in the fall and/or spring semesters. As you are planning the spring semester, consider incorporating critical reading strategies into your courses. If you would like to discuss how you can introduce these strategies to your students, please feel free to contact me at jane.grise@uky.edu.

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.

Review: Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback

Review: Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback

By Lindsey P. Gustafson, UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law

Elizabeth Ruiz Frost, Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback, 65 J. Legal Educ. 938 (2016)

Elizabeth Ruiz Frost’s article Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback was published in 2016, but it continues to affect the way I design and critique my students’ assessment activities—both in my classroom and across our curriculum—as we respond to the ABA’s mandate for more formative assessment. Professor Frost posits that, while providing a model answer (either student- or professor-authored) in place of individual feedback may allow for efficient formative feedback, in most situations it does not provide effective formative feedback. She points to evidence that weaker students tend to misinterpret model answers and are less capable of accurately assessing their own work against the model.

In her article, Professor Frost gives reasons beyond efficiency a professor may have for giving feedback through a model answer, including that learning through a model answer encourages a students to self-teach, a skill they will rely on throughout their career; model answers provide feedback quickly, while students are still primed for it; model answers will not alienate students with personalized, negative comments; and model answers are what students clamor for. Professor Frost explains why each of these reasons is inadequate to justify what she describes as a shift in the learning burden: the professor avoids learning how to provide effective feedback by forcing a student to learn how to improve from a model.

Model answers provide effective formative assessment only if students are able to compare their work with a model and see what they did wrong. Professor Frost roots the assumption students do this in the “Vicarious Learning and Self-Teaching models of education, which have pervaded legal teaching since the nineteenth century.” In fact, whether this feedback is effective depends first on the characteristics and mindset of the learners, and second on the type of knowledge the professor is assessing. As to the first variable, because weaker students are less self-aware, they face a “double curse”: “[t]he weakest students, who lack the ability to distinguish between the standard exemplified by a model answer and their own work, will learn the least from a model answer. So the students who need feedback most for continued learning will get the least.”

The second variable is relevant because model answers can provide effective feedback for questions of factual knowledge and concept identification. But any assessment that requires higher-order thinking—where students need to demonstrate analysis, for example—model answers are not as effective. Students instead need elaborative feedback.

Professor Frost ends her article with methods for using model answers to give feedback that best promote student learning: (a) providing an annotated model answer together with individualized feedback; (b) creating opportunities for remediation and reassessment for students after they have reviewed model answers; (c) using a student’s own work as a model answer; (d) requiring students to review model answers in small groups instead of individually; (e) providing multiple sample answers for review, including both strong and weak samples; and (f) focusing on metacognitive skills throughout so that students can better self-evaluate against model answers.

Several of her methods have worked for my students. Recently, I’ve noticed the first method recommended above working across the curriculum: students learn more from a model answer when the same skill (here, answering a midterm essay question) is tested in another course and personalized feedback is given there. In short, learning in one course is improved by the efforts of professors in other courses.

Review: Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law In Less Time

Review: Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law In Less Time

By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law In Less Time by Gabriel H. Teninbaum
17 JOURNAL HIGH TECHNOLOGY LAW 273 (2017)

Spaced Repetition explains why spaced repetition is so much more than learning from flashcards. This article presents a concise tutorial detailing the psychological phenomena known as spaced repetition and how it can help to law students, bar preppers, and practitioners learn the law more quickly, effectively and efficiently. Discovered in the 1800’s, spaced repetition is a learning and memorization method that not only improves the way people learn and prepare for exams, it also fosters faster learning and greater retention. To understand how spaced repetition promotes learning and aids memory,  it is important to consider the three related psychological phenomena that form a spaced repetition system: the forgetting curve, the spacing effect, and the testing effect.

The forgetting curve is the decline in the ability to recall information. This occurs because as soon as a person learns something, they begin to forget it. To combat the forgetting curve, spaced repetition cues learners to restudy immediately before the learned material is predicted to be forgotten. Research shows there is an ideal moment to reinforce learned information. Recalling the information at just the right time allows learners to not only keep the memory active, but to identify the information that has already been forgotten so it can be targeted for restudying.

The spacing effect requires study sessions to be properly spaced to slow down the forgetting curve. Because of the initial steep decline of the forgetting curve, learners will need to review information frequently at first. Over time, the spacing effect increases allowing learners to wait for longer periods of time between review sessions. If done correctly the spacing can go from hours, to days, to weeks, to months, and even to years. As a result, material learned via spaced repetition in the first year of law school could be reviewed periodically throughout the second and third year of law school to be easily recalled during bar review and the bar examination.

The testing effect describes the ability of people to more readily recall learned information. Learners experience the testing effect when they recall learned information by testing themselves instead of passively observing the information. The benefit is even more pronounced when assessment is followed by meaningful feedback that includes exposure to the correct answer. The most effective spaced repetition techniques involve learners answering questions which force them to use their memory as much as possible such as free recall, short answer, multiple-choice, Cloze deletion exercises, and recognition. But spaced repetition can be so much more than just definitional flash cards and fill-in-the blank exercises; it can also be used to help learners apply complex content.

Early on, spaced repetition systems had to be created and used by hand. However, today, mobile applications have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for staging spaced repetition platforms. While Spaced Repetition is a primer on the basics of spaced repetition systems, it also promotes the author’s web-based platform: SpacedRepetition.com. The author has built in several key benefits into his platform including: it’s a web-based platform easily used on smartphones and mobile devices; it uses an algorithm to apply spaced repetition; it includes expertly created core content; it allows for editable content; it provides a third slide option (to include other pieces of black letter law or context); and, the content is shareable.

Spaced repetition can help law students, bar preppers, and practitioners learn more effectively and efficiently. The author cautions, however, that spaced repetition requires more than just looking at flashcards. Users of spaced repetition must still learn how to organize, apply, and express the law. But, if learners use spaced repetition outside of the classroom, legal educators can make more effective use of flipped classrooms as well as active learning and application exercises. While this article promotes the author’s platform, it is worthwhile read for legal educators looking to understand and provide spaced repetition learning opportunities for their students.

 

Review: Of Courtrooms and Classrooms

Review: Of Courtrooms and Classrooms

By Rory Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

Daniel Cover, Of Courtrooms and Classrooms, 27 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 291 (2018)

In her recently published article “Of Courtrooms and Classrooms,” professor Cover suggests ways that trial lawyers can increase the efficacy of their presentations to juries by analogizing the jurors to students in a law school classroom.  Even though the article is targeted at practicing attorneys her comparisons of jurors and law school students provide useful insight in to the hallmarks of effective pedagogy.

In her introduction, Cover points out that essentially a trial lawyer’s job is to convince jurors who have no idea going in what the case is about. She does this through a storytelling/narrative technique that captures the jurors’ attention even though many of the concepts coming at them are new and they are in a difficult environment where long days promote fatigue.  This she suggests is akin to the law professor’s job in the traditional doctrinal classroom.

She then examines the theory of how adults learn or andragogical information and concludes that some essential components of adult education are:

  1. The student rather than the subject matter is the center of the inquiry
  2. Adults learn better when they have a need or experience learning will satisfy
  3. Adults want to be self-directed in their learning
  4. Because of the various experiences acquired over the time it takes to become an adult, effective pedagogy must take into account difference in style, time, pace and place of learning.

The article goes on to describe in tangible and very useful ways law professors and trial lawyers can ensure the principles listed above are incorporated into presentations.  However, the most fascinating of these is here reference to the “disorienting moment.”

Cover explains that in the law school classroom and in trials students and jurors experience moments when their previously held beliefs and assumptions are challenged.  This she explains is a “disorienting moment.”  She suggests that these disorienting moments, when an adult’s schema are challenged, provide the most fertile ground for planting the seeds of new information. This is because challenges to schemas facilitate the incorporation of new information into the schemas and the creation of new schemas.

If you take only one useful piece of information (though the article is chocked full of useful information) form Cover’s work, then consider she suggests designing classroom presentations to deliberately include disorienting moments which facilitate significant incorporation of new knowledge into old knowledge.

Ultimately, the article is well researched and very useful.  It is a must read

 

 

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.

 

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