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Being human to my students and letting them know I care

Being human to my students and letting them know I care

By Jane Korn, Gonzaga University School of Law

I have taught first year law students for a long time.  Please do not ask how long!  But years ago, I became worried about the mental health and stress levels of my first semester, first year students. I teach a four credit, one semester course in Civil Procedure during the first semester of law school.   On the last day of the week that I teach in Civ Pro, I take a few minutes out of class time and ask my students to tell me how they are doing.

The first time I do this, usually at the end of the first week of law school,  I tell my students that it is my custom, from time to time, to take time out from Civ Pro, and talk about anything they would like (with some limits).  In some years, it takes weeks for them to take me up on this offer.  Other years, they start right in.  They ask questions like the following:

  1. When should I start outlining?
  2. How much time should I spend studying every night?
  3. How important is getting involved in extracurricular activities?
  4. What if I don’t know what kind of law I want to practice?
  5. Do professors care about grammar and organization on a final exam? (I only answer what I expect and do not answer for other faculty)

I think that much of the time, they do not get a chance to ask a law professor these kinds of questions, and can usually only ask upper class students.  While we have faculty advisors, students may or may not feel comfortable asking them questions like the above.  They eventually do (and sometimes quickly) feel comfortable asking me a wide variety of questions.  They sometimes ask personal questions and, within reason, I answer them because it makes them feel more comfortable with me.  Questions on gossipy matters about other faculty are off limits. If for example, they complain about another professor,  I handle this question with a smile and say something like – you should ask that professor about this issue.

I set aside class time for several reasons. First, while I do worry about giving up valuable teaching time, lessening the stress of my students may make them more able to learn.  Second, students often feel like they are the only one with a particular concern during this first semester, and they often do not have the ability to know that others have the same concerns or questions.  In the first year, many of our students are not from this area and are far away from support systems, at least at first until they can make friends at law school.  The ability to know that other students have the same problems they do can lessen the feeling of isolation.  Using class time to answer questions to the entire group may help them with this sense of isolation and being the only one who doesn’t know something.  It also lets them see that their concerns are important and credible.

Every year my teaching evaluations reflect this process positively.  Students feel like I care (which I do).  However, the reason I do it is to increase their comfort during those first few exciting, confusing, and terrifying months of law school.

Content Analysis Coding Practice

Content Analysis Coding Practice

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Hi All,

I have been doing training on assessment practices for in-class use and for institutional programmatic assessment.  To that end, I am learning many techniques which I am employing in my class to find out what teaching methods are working and what are not.  I learned the following coding method which allows me to assess answers from my students to open-ended survey questions.  To use the coding method, I look for themes in their answers.  I describe the system below.  Please contact me should you have any questions on the methodology or what I do with the information.  In traditional, interactive fashion, there is a practice exercise at the end so readers can see how simple this method is.  Once I see themes, I am able to respond and make changes.

Method:

Course goal:  Students will learn how to locate and print and on-line sources which are complete and relevant to solving a factual problem.

Question posed:  You are asked to do many assignments and activities in this class to help develop your legal research skills.  Please identify an assignment or type of activity that you found most helpful in developing your research skills.  Please include in your answer a specific description of what about the assignment and/or activity that helped you.

I asked this question to my students as I wanted to hear the student perspective on which types of assignments and activities most effectively helped them develop research skills.  I give many assignments, but I was unsure which ones were useful. I also wanted to know what about the assignment was helpful: step-by-step instructions, group work, lecture, or flipped classroom model. I developed a coding system so that I could analyze the results.  I devised the coding after reviewing a 20% sample of student responses.  I randomized who I chose.  They turned in the responses, and I chose every 5th one.

  1. Identification number for class level: (accelerated student=1; a traditional 1L=2)
  2. Overall response: (0=no response/question was unanswered; 1= student provided a usable response; 2=state/implied that research skills were not strengthened in LRW I course; 3 =response was either not useful or could not be coded)
  3. Positive mention of a structured assignment which led the student with step-by-step instructions to helping them develop research skills. (0=no; 1=yes)
  4. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required to use or develop research skills but no mention of step-by-step guidance being useful. (0=no; 1=yes)
  5. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required students to work collaboratively. (0=no; 1=yes)
  6. Positive mention of lecture on how-to-do research in print by LRW professor. (0=no; 1=yes)
  7. Positive mention of demonstration on how-to-do research on-line by the librarians. (0=no; 1=yes)
  8. Positive mention of video demonstration on how-to-do digest research in print which is uploaded to the TWEN page. (0=no; 1=yes)
  9. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a faculty member. (0=no; 1=yes)
  10. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a librarian. (0=no; 1=yes)

Use the coding scheme on the previous page to code the following three responses.  Each student has one row.

Student 1: Accelerated student: I learned the most about research when we did the mini assignments on finding cases in the digests in print.  It was most effective to me as we were allowed to work in groups, the professor gave us clear instructions as to each step in the process and I was able to watch the video on TWEN where the professor walked through an example.  Other assignments did not teach me as much when I had to struggle alone as I wasted a lot of time.

Student 2: Traditional 1L: This class and all my law classes have been a struggle for me.  I often don’t know where to go for help, and I am tired and stressed all the time.  The teacher seems to favor the three girls in the front row.  The rest of us aren’t encouraged to say anything.

Student 3: Traditional 1L: the assignment that taught me the most about research and really helped to develop my research was our first open memo.  What helped the most was struggling through the resources myself, asking for guidance from the librarian, and meeting personally with the professor who went to the library with me.  I found myself looking back at my lecture notes and the reading to remember how to do things.  This particular assignment helped bring it all together.  The other mini-assignments were too disjointed to help me much.

Coding sheet

 

 

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