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Using Silent Signals to Assess and Engage the Students

Using Silent Signals to Assess and Engage the Students

By Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law and Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

In a large classroom or in a zoom setting, sometimes it’s difficult to encourage two-way communication so that students can share thoughts with the professor.  Use of “silent signals” can facilitate real-time feedback and communication from students so that the professor can accurately assess the classroom climate.

First, what kind of silent signals?  You can ask for simple gestures like a thumbs up or thumbs down.  When I use this method, I have the students hold their signal close to their chests so I can see the signal but most of their colleagues can’t.  This may help the students feel more anonymous.   The same hand gestures work on zoom, or you can use the options under “reactions”—thumbs up, thumbs down, arrows, stop sign.

Next, signals in response to what?  Anything you might need feedback on.  Comprehension of the topic or the sample problem.  Pacing of the conversation.  Voting on how a hypothetical case will come out.  Expressing opinions on whether you agree with the dissent’s position. I use the thumbs up or thumbs down method to measure students’ comprehension of a concept we just covered.  The same method is a quick way to poll the students as well.

As with many teaching techniques, be careful not to overuse signals.  But in limited doses, they can be an effective way to take the temperature of a classroom.

Adapted from Elizabeth F. Barkley & Claire Howell Major, Interaction Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty 156-57 (2018).

Review: Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum…

Review: Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum…

Review by Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law.

Professor Teri McMurtry-Chubb once again steps into a gap to provide much-needed information, suggestions, and resources for the law teaching community.  This time, she has written a book about incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into all of our classrooms.

Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum: A Comprehensive Guide to DEI Pedagogy, Course Planning, and Classroom Practice by Teri McMurtry-Chubb is available for free download here:  https://www.wklegaledu.com/resources/law-school-faculty/law-school-faculty

The book features DEI learning outcomes and assessments, course planning templates for each course in the core law curriculum, and racial trauma-informed teaching approaches. It also includes FAQs and discussion questions by chapter to work through as you and your colleagues plan and implement DEI curricular initiatives at your law school. The book is organized in three main parts, as described in the Introduction:

Part I, Chapter 1, The Scope of DEI Education & Pedagogy details the evolution of teaching with a DEI lens. DEI education and pedagogy work to make the greatest positive change within the core structures of legal education by strategically employing critical pedagogies and curricula. Chapter 2, The First Amendment, Academic Freedom, and the DEI Curricular Lens, examines the pushback students, faculty, and administration have encountered when advocating for DEI pedagogical and curricular interventions. This pushback has been cast as a conflict around academic freedom. This chapter discusses the current conflicts in the battle between DEI and academic freedom, and provides strategies for how to navigate these issues on law school campuses. Chapter 3, Assessing the Institutional Climate for DEI Curricula, explores the varied considerations professors of all ranks and statuses (e.g., Assistant, Associate, and Full Professors, non-tenure-track full-time faculty; adjunct faculty, etc.) should make when implementing DEI issues into the classroom and curriculum. This chapter explores how rank, status, and campus climate influence which pedagogical and curricular choices are available to faculty. It also examines professor positionality and teaching, or how a professor “presents” to the class impacts available DEI curricular choices and pedagogical strategies.

Part II, Chapter 4, Racial Trauma Informed Approaches to DEI Pedagogy, discusses how microaggressions, macroaggressions, and other discriminatory practices leave an indelible mark on those who have survived them. The psychological and social science communities have examined these phenomena as trauma, and have detailed the emotional, psychological, and physical effects they have on minoritized groups. It is imperative that professors have an understanding of racial trauma and racial trauma informed pedagogies as they prepare to discuss DEI issues in the classroom and design DEI curricula. Chapter 5, Course Planning and Assessment for the DEI Classroom & Curriculum, provides instruction on how to build a course that integrates a DEI curricular lens. It offers course planning templates that link skills and knowledge to learning outcomes, performance criteria, and learning activities – both for traditional and online classroom environments. It also connects the information in Chapter 4: Racial Trauma Informed Approaches to DEI Pedagogy to the course planning and assessment processes. Chapter 6, Developing Instructional Materials for DEI Pedagogy & Practice, lays out the processes for developing classroom DEI instructional materials that serve as learning activities to advance and measure learning outcomes. The chapter surveys multimedia resources, traditional learning techniques, microlearning techniques, and the like that are appropriate for traditional and online learning environments. It also provides levels of difficulty (easy, intermediate, difficult, and advanced) at which professors can access this work.

Answers to a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) is located in Chapter 7. If you are working through this book with a committee, faculty, or other group, Chapter 7 also provides discussion questions for Chapters 1-6 to facilitate group dialogue. Lastly, Part III, Chapters 8-14, provides examples of course planning, instructional materials, and assessment for core curriculum courses at the easy, intermediate, and difficult levels. The courses included are Contracts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property, Constitutional Law, Legal Writing, and Torts.

Précis

Précis

This teaching idea comes to you from the directors of ILTL [1]

Précis

Précis is a French word, pronounced pray-see, that refers to a way of summarizing text to include the meaning of the original text but to be as concise as possible. It can be an effective tool to solidify understanding of a particular document, and it could be used a couple of different ways in a law school setting.

Often, in thinking about legal briefs or memos, experts talk about a topic sentence outline—making sure the topic sentence of each individual paragraph flows in a cohesive argument throughout the document.  The exercise of condensing each paragraph to just one topic sentence is a version of précis.

Students could use this technique to more deeply understand a case opinion as well.  Number the paragraphs of an assigned opinion, and have students create a précis.  Essentially, they will be writing a topic sentence for each paragraph of the judicial opinion in their own words, except when the words used by the court are terms of art, then they should use those terms of art.  The goal is to essentially create a topic sentence outline of the opinion that would allow the reader to follow the full course of reasoning.  It’s not a summary; students should write in the voice of the court.

Important pieces of a précis:  Who is the actor?  What is the function of the paragraph? What is the substantive content of the paragraph? And then focus on conciseness—use clear, simple language and eliminate unnecessary words.

For example, a précis of the equal protection discussion in Loving v. Virginia might look something like this:

1 The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the constitutionality of the State’s ban against interracial marriages because (1) preserving the racial integrity of its citizens was deemed to be a legitimate governmental purpose and (2) marriage traditionally lies within the sphere of state regulation rather than federal regulation.
2 The State argues that (1) the Equal Protection Clause does not apply because it was meant only to prohibit differential punishment based on race and (2) as a result, the Court should apply deferential rational basis review to the laws.
3 The mere fact of equal application does not remove a law from equal protection scrutiny; laws containing racial classifications must meet a very heavy burden of justification.
4 The legislative history surrounding adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment does not clearly support the contention that it was meant to address only criminal laws that imposed differential punishment on the basis of race.
5 Precedent to the contrary has been repudiated.
6 Laws, like this one, that rely on distinctions based on race, must be shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective other than race discrimination itself.
7 The law is supported by no overriding legitimate purpose outside of racial discrimination itself.
8 Anti-miscegenation laws also violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
9 Marriage is a fundamental right which cannot be infringed upon based on racial classifications.

[1] Hat tip: Susannah Pollvogt, Associate Dean of Student Success, University of Arkansas School of Law

How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

By: Cynthia M. Ho, Professor at Loyola University School of Law

The principle of using frequent (multiple times a class and every week) formative assessment data to tailor teaching underlies Click & Learn, a Civil Procedure teaching tool that I created with Professor Angela Upchurch and Professor Susan Gilles.  However, this approach works in any doctrinal class.

How Can Formative Assessment Data Help Teachers?

Formative assessment data can help you know what students have mastered.  Saved time can focus on tougher concepts and/or permit other activities such as group exercises.

Alternatively, if there are topics that a substantial number of students did not get (i.e., at least 20-25% wrong), class time can be used to improve understanding.

What Formative Assessment Data?

Data can be derived from both “objective” (i.e. MC and T/F) data and narrative (i.e., essay answer and discussion board posts) assessments.

Data can provide trends to inform your teaching.  “Objective” data is easiest to scan.  But even narrative data can be efficiently reviewed if you review a small sample.

A Word of Caution: The Need to Focus Students on Learning

Teachers know that the point of formative assessment is to help students learn.  To reinforce this focus, students should get full credit towards class participation for all timely and “professional” submissions (i.e., doing the entire assignment in more than 30 seconds).

Three Options to Tailor Class

Here’s an overview of three options to tailor class:

Type of Formative Assessment Example How much class tailoring +/-
1. In-class only In-class polling Minimal +  easiest to incorporate;

–  least tailoring

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

Medium + more tailoring, no need to adjust “on the fly”

-no ability to tailor during class

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above Maximum + maximum tailoring

– maximum prep time

In addition, here are the benefits of each type of assessment for tailoring how you teach class.

Type of Formative Assessment Example Goals
1.In-class only In-class polling -review of material just covered to ensure mastery

-emphasizes a point

– provides application practice

– changes the pace of class and maintains engagement

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

-Objective questions with detailed explanation provide  feedback to help ensure the entire class has mastery o

-provides application practice

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above -all of the above, plus long-term learning benefits

Now that you know the big picture, let’s dive into the details.

  1. In-Class Only

Here’s a few examples of how to use in-class polling.

In-class polling to recap material just discussed

One way to incorporate polling is to ask a question after introducing a concept.  So, for example, after discussing what is a trade secret (TS), a polling question could ask students to apply what they know.  The left shows slides introducing the concept whereas the right shows the polling question.

In-class polling to emphasize a point in the assigned reading

A polling question can emphasize an issue since students will remember something if they get it wrong.  Here is one example that reinforces an issue students otherwise often miss without a poll:

  1. Outside Class only

Data based on formative assessment outside class can also help tailor class time.

For topics where the data shows students are struggling, these can be handled in two ways.  First, the question can be displayed again in class to solicit discussion of the right (and wrong) answer, together with reasoning.

Here’s one example where the question students previously had trouble with is on the left, with the key Civil Procedure issue of 1331 subject matter jurisdiction is on the right:

Alternatively, a new application question can be posed in class that asks students to discuss the same concept, but in a new factual setting such as the following:

Isn’t it a waste of time to review issues in class if formative assessment provided an answer?

No!  Even after students read an explanation, they may need more reinforcement.  Students say they prefer to review tougher questions in class even after reading the explanation.

How do you use data from narrative assignments?

Class discussion can also be tailored based on sampled essay data.  For example, after reviewing a few essay answers from a Civil Procedure, class a slide addressing noted issues can help organize the in-class discussion as shown below:

  1. Combo – in and outside

The best way to tailor teaching involves combining the previously discussed approaches.  Basically, conduct formative assessment outside class and then use that data to focus class time on needed issues, including in-class polling. This seems to promote long-term learning; students studying for the bar often email with delight to note that they remember concepts studied two years ago.

Tailoring can be truly maximized with a flipped law class where students learn material before  class. Click & Learn enables faculty to easily do this.

Even without using a flipped class approach, the Combo approach still provides more polling benefits. How?  Let’s explore.

A new in-class polling question may use the same facts from an outside-class “objective” question but pose new answer choices.  These choices can focus on issues underlying wrong answers students previously chose but stated slightly differently. This is shown below:

Data from narrative answers can be used to create a new in-class polling question to assess the entire class and reveal to confused students that they are not alone.  Here’s one example:

Data from narrative answers can also be used to help students compare what is and is not a strong statement to include in an essay answer.  Here’s one example with answer choices from sampled student answers:

Now what?

If you want more info, check out [How to choose a Formative Assessment Platform] and/or slides from the related Summer 2021 Conference presentation are available here.

And, of course, the best way of learning is by doing.  So, hopefully you’re now inspired to do more with your own data using some of these techniques!

Formative Assessment in Doctrinal Classes: Rethinking Grade Appeals

Formative Assessment in Doctrinal Classes: Rethinking Grade Appeals

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: Formative Assessment in Doctrinal Classes: Rethinking Grade Appeals

Written by: Professor Roberto Corrada, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Published: Journal of Legal Education, Volume 63, Number 2 (November 2013)

In this article, Professor Corrada makes a compelling case for allowing students to appeal their grade on the mid-term exam.  Professor Corrada realized that creating long and detailed rubrics for exams was not helpful if students never reviewed them.  To give them an incentive to review his exam comments, he began giving a mid-term exam, which, he reasoned would encourage students to look at the feedback.  He noted when students came to review their exams with him, many of them had good arguments and probably deserved a better grade.  He felt that he demanded excellence from his students and so shouldn’t he demand that of himself.  The idea of allowing students to appeal their midterm grade was his solution. If the students had a chance to appeal, they might glean more from the review of their midterm.

In developing this idea, he came up with a system which is both efficient and workable. His appeal rate is about 70%, and he believes almost every student reviews his/her/their exam.  Among the many advantages he has found is that it encourages students to think critically about what they are writing and to question assumptions. Further, through explanation students often realize they don’t write what they mean; learning to fix this common error is key to a successful law practice.

The article addresses concerns including the extra time this process takes (which is not as much as one might expect) and gives the reader a step-by-step guide to implementing this appeals process.


Review:  Teaching Controversial Topics

Review: Teaching Controversial Topics

Reviewed by Jane Korn, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article:  Teaching Controversial Topics [1]
Written by Beth Burkstand-Reid, June Carbone, and Jennifer S. Hendricks

In the highly politicized climate, it seemed especially appropriate to look for advice on teaching controversial topics.  While the article reviewed is in the context of a family law course, almost any course can have controversial topics.  I teach both Civil Procedure and Employment Discrimination and while there are more minefields in Employment Discrimination, Civil Procedure has a few.

The authors first explore what controversial topic is and they indicate that this includes those that are heavily politicized and note that these areas often promote rigidity in thinking.   Controversy can also arise when topics are personalized by students, either by personal experience or because of a lack of diversity in the classroom.  While some diversity is noticeable, other types may not be known to the professor such as sexual orientation or some disabilities.

It is important to lay the groundwork before the first class or even before.  A course description can set the expectation for prospective students in your class.  For example, you can indicate the wide range of topics you will be covering which should put students on notice that there will be controversial topics covered.  The authors also suggest that if you want to market the class more narrowly, you can state that a certain position is the starting point rather than a matter for debate.  You can also lay the groundwork during the first class.  The authors caution that dictatorial control can backfire but that laying expectations can aid discussion without chilling all debate

The article lays out three strategies for expected controversy:

  1. Learning who stands for what – deciding who in the classroom advocates for which position.  Sometimes an outside speaker or colleague is helpful to present a viewpoint.  You can also take blind surveys to find out various positions on anticipated controversial topics to gauge the varying positions.
  2. Using media and pop culture to bring in what otherwise may be marginalized views.  This can also reduce tension through humor.  Historical versions of pop culture can also provide context and background.
  3. Shifting ground by blunting controversy by confronting it obliquely. One way to accomplish this is to shift the discussion away from what side is right to what arguments can be made.

No matter what we teach, there will be controversy.   The authors note that we must recognize that what worked in one class during one semester may not work in another.  The toolbox of techniques suggested by the authors is a welcome resource for dealing with the difficult issue of covering controversial topics in the classroom.


[1] Beth Burkstand-Reid, June Carbone, and Jennifer S. Hendricks, Teaching Controversial Topics, 49 Fam. Ct. Rev. 678 (2011)

Review:  Teaching Online Will Make You a Better Teacher in Any Setting

Review: Teaching Online Will Make You a Better Teacher in Any Setting

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: Teaching Online Will Make You a Better Teacher in Any Setting [1]

Written by Kevin Gannon [2]

Published in The Chronicle of Higher Education

The article, “Teaching Online Will Make You a Better Teacher in Any Setting,” is a great article which highlights how pushing ourselves to teach in another setting will make us a better teacher.  Here the other setting is a completely different setting.  Professor Gannon makes it clear that online teaching is not where good teaching goes to die, but quite the opposite.  He makes the point that “teaching in another setting forces you to “critique and modify, or affirm and expand, the way you operate in the physical classroom.”  Specifically, online teaching, he says, helps you design and assess the course more effectively; helps you really think about why you spend time on what you do; and prompts you to explain/communicate more effectively in all your courses.  This is a motivating piece which has moved to the forefront of importance due to the ever-expanding online offerings at all out schools.


[1] The article can be found here https://www.chronicle.com/article/Teaching-Online-Will-Make-You/247031?cid=wcontentgrid_hp_9

[2] Professor Gannon is a Professor of History, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Review:  Normalizing Struggle

Review: Normalizing Struggle

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: Normalizing Struggle[1]

Written by Catherine Martin Christopher
Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Bar Success, Texas Tech University School of Law

In this article, Professor Christopher makes an excellent argument for normalizing and even celebrating our students’ struggle to acquire, retain, and apply the information taught in law school.  She encourages us not to see our students’ struggle as a problem and but rather asks us to “reorient our attitudes toward the struggle.”  Not only will this help our students learn and retain knowledge better but it will help our students be better equipped to handle the stressors of being a lawyer.

The article starts with examining how our current system conflates struggle with failure, which marginalizes our students, and continues by discussing how pervasive the struggles are among our students.  Part III teaches us how to reframe the struggle to being productive, and Part IV gives us some best practices to help students to work with their struggles.  Lastly, the article ends with encouraging the institution as a whole to normalize and encourage the struggle.  Even though I consider myself fairly well-read when it comes to assessment and teaching techniques, I found a plethora of new articles to read in the article’s footnotes.  What is more, I found some great ideas to incorporate into my classes this fall. These ideas ranged from good topics for first day discussions with students to good ways to implement information retention strategies.  One of my favorite parts of this article paints an image of an elementary student standing in front of a chalkboard with chalk in her hand unable to solve the problem on the board.  She is in front of everyone.  The teacher, not wanting her student to be humiliated, has the child sit down and calls another child up to solve the problem.  Professor Christopher asks the thought-provoking question of “what if it wasn’t embarrassing to not have the right answer?”  To me this is a mind-blowing concept, and yet it is so simple.  What if we helped the student solve the problem by embracing the student’s struggle?  I am inspired, and the article gives me the tools to do this!  Don’t let the 33 pages of this article scare you away from reading it.  The time slips by quickly and the ideas are abundant.


[1] Forthcoming in the Arkansas Law Review 2019 but can be accessed at SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3378829

Review:  Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning

Review: Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article:  Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning
Written by Gerry Hess, Michael Hunter Schwartz, & Nancy Levit[1]

As the introduction to Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning states, “In 1999, The Journal of Legal Education published an important article for law schools seeking to improve the quality and quantity of faculty scholarship output, James Lindgren’s Fifty Ways to Promote Scholarship.”  Lindgren’s article reports that at least one law school saw improvement in scholarly output after implementing some of these ideas.  The current article reviewed here, addresses the other side of a professor’s job, teaching.  It provides fifty ways to promote teaching and learning in your law school.  The authors make clear that not all schools will find all the suggestions useful, but implementing some of the ideas should help schools promote good teaching and learning, and creating a culture of teaching and learning.  The article is filled with great ideas from administrative and financial support for teaching sabbaticals to requiring learning objectives in every course.  “The core idea is creating a culture of learning about teaching and continuous improvement of all faculty members as teachers.”  At its core, this article encourages deans and faculty to discuss teaching and learning, adopt some of the ideas, and track the schools progress.

As a side note, our faculty had a round table discussion about the ideas in the article.  The article was circulated to all of our faculty at Gonzaga.

[1] This article was published in The Journal of Legal Education, Volume 67, Number 3 (Spring 2018).

 

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.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning