Review: Lessons Learned about Classroom Teaching from Authoring CALI Lessons

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

Barbara Glesner Fines, Lessons Learned about Classroom Teaching from Authoring CALI Lessons, 38 William Mitchell Law Review 1094 (2012) [Read full text at William Mitchell website. (201 KB PDF)]

Barbara Glesner Fines is a leading voice in the field of law school teaching and learning, including computer-assisted legal instruction. Consistent with her other scholarship on teaching and learning, this article is clear, concise, and insightful. In this article, she draws five important lessons for law teaching from her experience as an author and editor of CALI lessons.

  1. Good Teaching is Good Scholarship. Writing a law review article, authoring a CALI lesson, and preparing for classroom teaching all benefit from the same process – thorough research, careful analysis, and peer review.
  2. Choosing a Destination is Half the Battle. Clear learning objectives for students are a fundamental aspect of good teaching. These questions can help teachers identify objectives for a CALI lesson or classroom session:
    • Where in the students’ learning does this lesson come? Is this lesson primarily for background instruction, enrichment, or review?
    • How deep into the doctrine should the lesson delve? How many exceptions to the general rule are necessary or helpful? How many examples?
    • What level of proficiency does the lesson expect?
    • From what standpoint is the student learning? As a policymaker? A lawyer practicing in a particular setting?
  3. It’s about the questions. CALI lessons and Socratic dialog both depend on quality questions. Effective teachers formulate initial questions based on their goals for the lesson or class. Keys to success in either format include how the teacher responds to student responses, what feedback the teacher provides, and the follow-up questions teachers ask.
  4. The Wrong Answers Are the Most Important Questions. Wrong answers from students provide critical pathways to learning. First, wrong answers can reveal fundamental misunderstandings that need to be addressed. Second, lasting learning can occur when students get answers wrong the first time and then work to understand why their initial answer was wrong.
  5. The Student’s Viewpoint Counts. When designing lessons that students encounter in the classroom or on the computer, variety is a virtue. A variety of activities and modalities (visual, auditory, etc.) enhance learning. Then, after the lesson or class, feedback from students about what was most and least effective can help teachers continuously improve.

This article ends with a call to action for teachers to thoughtfully address student learning both in and out of the classroom.

Faculty spend a great deal of time thinking about classroom teaching–how to engage, energize, entertain, and enlighten their students for the two or three hours per week they are together. But most student learning does not take place in the classroom. Students spend an average of twenty-seven hours a week reading and preparing for their classes. Authoring a CALI lesson requires faculty to attend to the many aspects of teaching that take place in those twenty-seven hours–the reading materials and learning exercises that students are assigned or undertake on their own. Giving attention to this aspect of student learning causes a reconsideration of the effective and efficient use of the class time; the discipline of preparation; the clarity of learning goals; the questions, answers, and misconceptions that class time can address; and the many ways in which students learn.

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