Review: The Value of Variety

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By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law

Are you eager to try something new in your classes but bereft of ideas? Do you believe that using a variety of teaching methods facilitates learning but lack the time to generate new ideas?

In a forthcoming Journal of Legal Education article, Professors Heather Garretson, Jane Siegel, Tonya Krause-Phelan, and Kara Zech Thelen promise and deliver a bevy of ideas, 80 in all, categorized, for easy reference, by the skill or value each exercise aims to teach.

The article offers benefits to law teachers on three different levels. First, the article is filled with great ideas. Because I don’t want to spoil your fun, I will only share one idea they entitled “Mud Cleaning.” The idea is a terrific variation of the well-known muddiest point classroom assessment technique, in which a teacher asks all her students to jot down what is muddiest, i.e., most confusing, in a class session or, more generally, in the course. In the authors’ words, here is their idea:

This is a variation of the muddiest-point index-cards exercise . . . Pass out index cards to the class. Then have students write on the card what they think is the muddiest point of the material covered (either in today’s class or to date). Collect the cards. Then pass them back to the class, mixing them up so students don’t get their own cards. The recipient of a card now writes, on the reverse side, a clarification of the muddy point on the other side. At the start of the next class, collect all the cards. Read some of the muddy points and the clarifications on the flip side.

Second, the project that led to this article offers a great model as a stand-alone tool for law teacher development. The authors report the results of their semester-long effort to generate new ideas in their own teaching. You will have to read the article to decide for yourself whether to emulate their project.

Finally, the authors’ categories are themselves helpful. Want an exercise that gets your students speaking? The authors offer 14 such exercises. Do you believe that students learn best when they are writing (instead of searching for a good eBay bargain)? You can select from 45 writing exercises.

I plan to use mud cleaning in my next class. I hope you find the authors’ ideas equally useful.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning