Letting Students Run the Review

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April 2015 Idea

By Aida M. Alaka, Washburn University School of Law

As the semester comes racing to a close, many faculty members are facing review sessions and the inevitable question of how best to conduct them. Trying to cover the entire course in a single session may be unrealistic and may inadvertently create a false impression that you only consider a limited subset of the course “important” in preparing for the final exam. Most of us don’t assign material we don’t consider important, and yet, students tend to put much stock in the content of reviews (and material omitted from reviews – even though omissions may be inadvertent). On the other hand, covering the course too generally may serve not much more of a purpose than reminding students of what they could easily discover if they simply reviewed the syllabus or course plan. Finally, just asking students to come prepared with questions might result in you facing a group of mute students who are all waiting for other students to ask questions. The ideally efficient, yet comprehensive, course review can be elusive, and I sometimes find myself issuing disclaimers at the review – “the omission of a particular nuance does not mean it is unimportant” – or unhelpful assurances – “everything we read and discussed is subject to testing.”

One way to avoid these potential pitfalls is (to borrow from Sophie Sparrow’s excellent February Idea) to let the students run the review. There are many ways of doing this but the key consideration is designing the review so that students actively engage in the process.

For example, at the end of the semester, or after each topical section during the course, assign one or two questions to each student individually or in groups and require them to answer their questions in writing and submit their answers to you in time for you to prepare the review session. I prefer to do this as group assignments because students learn from their engagement with other students in the problem-solving process. Old exam questions can be a useful source of review questions.

Alternatively, you can require all of your students to post questions to your course TWEN page if you have one or to otherwise provide them to you. To ensure adequate course coverage, you may assign students to particular topics. Group questions by topic and choose the best from each topic. As with the questions you draft, assign the students’ questions to other students to answer.

While students are researching their problems, prepare a power-point presentation with the questions you have chosen. Once the students have submitted their responses, you can finalize the power-point by:

  1. Putting the answer on a slide and asking the class whether the answer is true or false. This is particularly helpful when answers the students provide aren’t completely accurate or when several class members get the answer wrong. This method gives you (or another student) a chance to explain the answer with reference to the applicable law. To optimize student participation during the review session, call on other students to articulate and explain the correct answer.
  2. Putting the answer on a slide but not showing it until someone in the class has provided an answer. When the answer matches the one provided, you can quickly move on, unless students have questions about the answer. When, however, it does not, you (or another student) can explain the right answer with reference to the applicable law.

If you wish to enhance the game aspect of the review or increase the level of competitiveness among students, consider creating a competition among small groups for the most correct answers, perhaps providing small goodies to the winning team. (Of course, teams would not be allowed to answer their own questions.)

To give students the opportunity to review all of the questions before the review session, you might consider providing all of the questions to your class ahead of time. This might allow students more time to identify the concepts that truly confuse them as opposed to those they have simply forgotten. Having the students run the review by drafting and answering questions allows you to better address any remaining confusion.

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