By Jeremiah Ho from Washburn University School of Law
Justine Dunlap, “I’d Just As Soon Flunk You As Look at You”: The Evolution to Humanizing in a Large Classroom, 47 Washburn Law Journal 389 (2008) [Read fulltext… (201 KB PDF)](Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Washburn Law Journal © 2007.)
With the end of the semester upon us, the inclination arises to reflect back on our teaching over the last several months to determine whether we’ve been effective teachers to our students. Certainly, this time of the year can be a fruitful time of pedagogical assessment and decision-making. For some guidance into making changes to next semester’s classes, particularly for large doctrinal classes, this article by Professor Justine Dunlap offers some valuable suggestions.
Professor Dunlap begins her article by examining the psychological repercussions of the traditional law school classroom and expressing that part of her goal in law teaching has been to avoid inflicting such psychological stressors by incorporating humanizing principles and teaching techniques in her classroom. In defining what she believes an effective, humanizing classroom requires, she draws from the research and writings of Professors Lawrence Krieger and Kennon Sheldon explaining that “to be psychologically well in addition to performing well in law school, students have certain needs that must be met in the law school setting. Accordingly, so-called humanizing techniques, as well as principles of good teaching, must be examined through this prism.”
Humanizing, she asserts, is more challenging in large-class settings than in other teaching environments, such as in smaller seminar groups or in clinical legal education. In her efforts to balance both her substantive teaching and the psychological needs of her students, Dunlap developed three techniques for humanizing a large classroom. First, she conducts an in-class exercise with her students that candidly addresses how law school can have negative effects on students and asks her students to brainstorm ways to minimize such effects. By doing so, Dunlap attempts to make the psychological pitfalls of the law school experience an open topic, to personalize herself, and to demonstrate a more holistic approach to seeing life and law school.
She also strives to humanize the Socratic method by utilizing what Dunlap terms the “The Law Firm Method” of calling on students and by manifesting her respect for student preferences and student autonomy in her classroom through frequent and effective student evaluations of her teaching. In sum, Professor Dunlap believes that, in law teaching, the classroom environment has tremendous influence on the effectiveness of student learning and well-being. According to her, a law school classroom “must be a place where learning is safe, expected, and encouraged.” Her article demonstrates her commitment to creating such a setting for her students and also gives great suggestions for law teachers looking to humanize their classrooms.