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Failure, Fun and Formative Assessment: Lessons from Click & Learn: Civil Procedure

Failure, Fun and Formative Assessment: Lessons from Click & Learn: Civil Procedure

By Cynthia Ho, Loyola University Law School, Chicago

Failure, Fun and Formative Assessment: Lessons from Click & Learn: Civil Procedure

The title is not a typo.  Rather, it describes what can happen when you blend the best of learning theory, legal education goals and technology.  Intrigued?  Keep reading!

Formative Assessment is now widely acknowledged as important to legal education as reflected in ABA standards.  This makes sense based on decades of learning theory that show active learning promotes both short and long term memory.  There seems to be great interest in promoting formative assessment based on comments I’ve seen among participants in the CALI Online Teaching Mini-Course, as well as a Civil Procedure Pedagogy & Distance Learning workshop.  Many seem to recognize that  in-class polling can provide key formative assessment.  As studies have shown, such polls close a “feedback loop” by showing whether class and/or specific students understand material, such that any gap can be remedied long before the final.  But, how to incorporate more formative assessment, and especially find questions, often seems daunting.

There is actually an easy way to incorporate more formative assessment for Civil Procedure faculty –  a new online and interactive tool:  Click & Learn:  Civil Procedure, of which I’m a co-author with Angela Upchurch and Susan Gilles  that is premised upon these principles of learning theory.  This is true whether class is entirely in person, entirely online, or some combination.  In fact, we have successfully done both.

Click & Learn can provide formative assessment throughout the course.  There are over 2000 questions at all levels of difficulty across all topics, as well as sections that cover multiple topics such as SMJ, PJ and Venue simultaneously.  These questions permit repeated formative assessment, consistent with learning theory that recommends multiple opportunities for formative assessment, as well as assessment that promptly provides feedback.  Since the tool is completely online and provides explanations to questions, including wrong answer choices, students can obtain feedback immediately and on their own pace.   Students at our three different law schools, as well as students who have adopted it on their own all tell us they found this fun and effective.  Usage outside of class can constitute ABA minutes regarding class time whether the class is designated as fully online or not.  In addition, it can even satisfy ABA requirements for distance classes by including feedback and promoting monitoring of student efforts.  The questions can also be used with small groups to promote student interactions.

This tool is fundamentally built upon active learning principles, as well as studies that show the benefit of failing on student learning.  Although less well known among legal educators, formative assessment can include more than testing students after material is introduced.  Studies show that “failing” with a pre-test can actually improve learning.  There is a “generation effect,” which basically means that generating a guess on an answer promotes long term recall.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, studies find students learn better this way than being told the answer first.  Why?  Basically, generating a guess, students prime their brain to the concept such that they are more likely to remember it.  This means that formative assessment of law students can ideally begin in conjunction with learning material for the first time.

Click & Learn tool incorporates many questions that can be used as pre-tests to promote learning. In particular, each topic includes questions that can be used as a pre-test that studies show can enhance final exam performance.  So, for example, a student might be shown FRCP and asked what they think it relates to based on headers.  Or, alternatively, a student might be asked why they think a rule has a particular policy.

Click & Learn is designed to supplement any Civil Procedure casebook, regardless of the order in which topics are taught.  Each major topic is introduced without any assumption that students have covered other material.

Click & Learn can be flexibly used.  Students can do it on their own without any faculty involvement.  Or, faculty can adopt it to require the entire class benefit from formative assessment.  Faculty of course retain freedom in deciding how to use the formative assessment opportunities.  A faculty could require students to answer medium-level questions – in class or outside of class – to test student understanding after covering a topic in class.  Or, a faculty could assign, or at least recommend the most basic questions as a way to actively engage students in learning and gain the learning best from such a pre-test.  There are also more challenging questions that can be used in class, in office hours, or as supplemental review. In addition, faculty can assign questions to previously covered material to promote interleaving of concepts that studies show further promotes class learning.

Each topic is introduced through several interactive FAQ that students can easily revisit as well.   Here is how the beginning of 1332 looks like:

The icons under the “Q#/Level” indicate the number and difficult level of questions provided. Most of these are the easiest questions.  The section with the trophy icon is a review section with more challenging questions.  A student can do these sections in conjunction with class material.  In addition, students could return to past sections that they previously performed poorly on.  This would also be consistent with interleaving and lead to better learning outcomes.   Indeed, we found our students often repeated questions they initially got wrong even though we did not require them to do so.

To help make it easy to incorporate Click & Learn, there is a downloadable table of contents that shows all the topics, as well as questions, including difficulty level.   There is also a way to match it to casebooks.  Both of these are shown under the Support tab online:

“Matching to my Casebook” enables faculty to match Click & Learn with major textbooks including Freer & Perdue, Glannon and Yeazell.  Faculty adopters can easily cut and paste from these documents to create something like this:

Class 1:  Introduction to SMJ and Diversity
Read F&P  pp. 175 – 207
Class 2: Diversity
Read F&P  pp. 207 – 212
WEEK IN REVIEW  Complete by ____________2020

C&L Unit 3, Part 4: Diversity (& Alienage) SMJ
Required: Ch V. 1332 SMJ Synthesis 15 Qs Synthesis
Optional:   Ch II.  D. Review of “Citizenship” for SMJ  – 10 Qs Synthesis
AND Ch IV. F. Review of Amount in Controversy (AIC) 4 Qs PMP

Click & Learn is also designed to promote more student learning.  How?  It provides a unique faculty dashboard rich with data.  For example, the image below shows that question 2 is the one that most students had trouble with, as well as that choice “C” was the most common wrong answer.  Checking what choice C says (which is easily done with one click) can then indicate what issue should be reviewed.  A faculty member can thus use this information to close the feedback loop and address the issue(s) of confusion.

The Dashboard also provides information on individual students.  It highlights late submissions, and also provides the score of each student.  You can see this below with a fake class (to avoid FERPA issues).  Here, the fifth student was late.  In addition, this easily identifies students 1 and 4 as the lowest performing students – but, only to the individual faculty member.  Students see their own scores, but not those of other students.  This enables a faculty member to easily identify students who need more support and provide that support.

There is a lot more I could say about this, but it would probably be more engaging to try it out yourself!  Any faculty member interested in learning more can register for a free complimentary copy.  In addition, if you want more of an overview, check out this zoom session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fmugIa-oUA

Make Failure Flattering:  Embracing Classroom Struggles, Creating Real World Successes

Make Failure Flattering: Embracing Classroom Struggles, Creating Real World Successes

By Maj Wolfgang S. Weber, U.S. Air Force Academy[1], Assistant Professor Of Law

To all my students, past, present, and future, please forgive me, I have something I need to get off my chest:  I enjoy seeing you fail in the classroom.   

Well, at least initially. 

As educators, we constantly reflect upon how we can make our class an academic journey worth taking. Sure, we could lecture till we’re blue in the face; but is that really as effective (or fun) as an interactive effort that helps students recognize their own strengths and weaknesses within the material?

When I first began teaching, I meticulously walked my students through every single lesson, “If you have a question please don’t hesitate to stop me and ask!” I never wanted to leave a rock unturned; I never wanted to leave the class with lingering inquiries. I would spend countless hours thinking about exactly what I would say each lesson. I felt a need to tell them everything.

Before long, however, I quickly came to two realizations:  1) even though I was covering all the material, they weren’t fully processing it; and 2) I was boring.  

I was failing. But as you may guess, I’m glad I did.

From my own classroom failures, I reflected deeply on my deficiencies as an educator. I thought about everything I was doing step by step. I spoke at length with my more seasoned colleagues. Soon, it became clear – I was robbing my students of the opportunity to fail. 

Failure is undoubtedly one of life’s best teachers. As we can all likely attest, many of our most profitable educational lessons, both in and out of the classroom, come from failure. Even the most gifted toddler will certainly fall before she learns to walk. In an academic setting, nothing speaks quite as loudly as unmasking a student’s own deficiencies. Of course, this is far easier said than done. In Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Wagner points out that many traditional academic settings penalize students for failure and discourage them to take risk. Thus, as educators, creating an academic environment that teaches students through failure can be an uphill battle. 

The best solution? We must give them permission to fail.

In all my classes, I am constantly thinking about new ways to allow my students to experience failure. In my law class, throughout the semester every student is assigned the task of creating and presenting a different hypothetical legal scenario that they must then teach the class to analyze. In my negotiations class, at some point each student must negotiate with a classmate while the rest of the class observes. In both instances, I make it a point to not teach the students the applicable material beforehand.

On the day of, the students hesitantly make their way to the front of the classroom – visibly nervous about doing or saying something incorrectly in front of their peers; but before a word ever leaves a student’s mouth, I provide a preface to the class: 

Before Sidney and Graham begin, I want to quickly tell them both … ‘thank you.’ While each of them will undoubtedly do some things correctly, they will almost certainly also do some things incorrectly … they will fail. And that’s okay. While we learn in many different ways, one of the best ways to improve is learning from our failures. The Wright brothers didn’t build a flying plane on their first attempt, and none of us, including me, are likely to conduct perfect legal analysis on our first go.  

But the important thing is that we all have the courage to make that first attempt, and that we all are open-minded, tactful, and considerate in our criticisms. Let’s thrive together from an academic environment that lauds mistakes and embraces growth. Graham, Sidney – thank you both for being vulnerable in front of all of us today and giving us this chance to learn … please proceed.

As the students proceed, the class watches eagerly. By the end of the exhibition, I ask the students to take a seat, often receiving applause from their classmates without prompting. Then, I unapologetically ask the entire class the tough questions:  What did they do right? What did they do wrong, where did they fail? What could they have done better?

On most occasions, the students burst into an array of discussion, both complimenting and critiquing their peers with little reluctance; while their peers themselves anxiously receive the feedback, often following up with further questions about their own shortfalls. From there, I jump into the academic lesson, teaching the material while interweaving it with the student presentation and subsequent dialogue.

Over years of teaching through this method, the results have remained consistent: Nine times out of ten, students fail miserably during these exhibitions. Fall flat on their face. But then, the consequent transition transforms them as they ponder all the hidden lessons that did not initially come to mind. Lightbulbs start flashing above their heads as we discuss the new material. And by the end of the class, they’re smiling. They love it. Within an hour, they have gone from defeat to success. They have experienced growth before their very eyes and they’re better for it. By the end of the semester, student feedback repeatedly reiterates these exercises as class favorites.

ather than lecturing at them, consider creating an environment in which students can readily experience and reflect on their academic weaknesses safely. Set them up for failure in the classroom. Make it an ethos in your classroom by giving them permission to fail. You may find that the only thing more enjoyable … is knowing you prepared them for real world success. 

Review: The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam

Review: The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam

By Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Jamie R. Abrams, The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam, 68 J. Legal Educ. 194 (2019).

Professor Jamie Abrams from University of Louisville has recently published an article in the Journal of Legal Education with an innovative technique for exam preparation, formative assessment, and lawyering simulation all through what she calls the “deconstructed exam.”  In her piece, The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam, she uses the exam review opportunity in a large case-method class not only for its formative assessment purposes, but also for facilitating more comprehensive curricular reforms that today’s law schools are implementing—particularly in the area of developing lawyering competencies.

Abrams’ approach begins with the use of a traditional issue-spotting cumulative essay.  Once administered and then reviewed with students for legal analysis and issue-spotting skills, Abrams suggests extending the opportunity for further instruction based off the same fact pattern.  Abrams recommends using the exam to further the student’s ability to redo the exam from a client-centered perspective.   This approach is handled particularly by “invit[ing] students to explain why rules are as they are, to provide context for how a rule developed to be what it is, to highlight whether claims are strong or weak, to put issues in procedural context, and to anticipate client reactions.”  Her article details a step-by-step guideline that lays out how her approach is accomplished.

For those of us who teach large Socratic courses, Abrams’ approach may sound ambitious at the start—and it is!  However, her article is precisely written and her approach is very well calculated.  Overall, her approach takes the large fact patterns that we spend days (or weeks) to write for our students and imbues it with more than just its customary finite purpose in the exam room and for grading.  Rather it repurposes the traditional law school exam from its goals for formative assessments to effectuating larger professional competencies within our students.  Abrams gives us a new thoughtful approach to law school testing that imparts more usefulness for both faculty and students.

Back to Basics: Teaching Constitutional Law through Content Review

Back to Basics: Teaching Constitutional Law through Content Review

By Allison E. Butler  CSULB – College of Business, USC Gould School of Law

Exhibit A: Comparative Chart: U.S. And Italian Constitutional Provisions

Co-Authors: Allison E. Butler, JD and Laura Fabiano in collaboration with Fulbright Award 2019.  Allison E. Butler worked with Laura Fabiano with reference to the Italian/U.S. Comparative Constitutional Law.

  1. Introduction

Instructing constitutional law can be challenging given the broad scope of its content. Notably, the U.S. Constitution not only provides the federal government structure but also provides for numerous enumerated rights and guaranteed personal freedoms. While most instruction in law school is through case law, most students have little idea as to the actual structure and content of this document. This article provides a different approach by requiring students to obtain and assemble a U.S. Constitutional booklet, which is subsequently reviewed in a classroom. This exercise enables learners to recognize and find constitutional citations and provide an overall understanding of the contents of this vital historical document.

  1. The U.S. Constitution
  2. Examining the Booklet

The first requirement for this process is to mandate that students download and assemble a free U.S. Constitutional booklet.[1] One day, preferably in the beginning of the course, should be dedicated to reviewing the relevant constitutional provisions prior to actual case law studies. To provide a background on the subject and to begin the instruction, two optional videos can be viewed 1) British Library’s What is the Magna Carta[2] and 2) the History Channel’s The United States Gets a Constitution.[3] While there are numerous other clips, these links are highly effective in refreshing students’ knowledge and providing international students with a general background on the adoption of the document. This review technique can also be facilitated for a comparative or international law class with the students obtaining two constitutions and comparing the two. For example, see comparative chart of the Italian and U.S. Constitutions, set forth in Exhibit A.

  1. Articles and Amendments

While a review of the applicable provision is subjective, it is necessary to begin with a review of the federal government structure beginning with Article I – Legislative Branch of the Constitution. While discussion on the different legislative branch may be warranted, Section 8 of Article I provides the enumerated rights specifically designated to Congress, which with reference to business law includes, but not limited to, the following:

  • Commerce clause to discuss state powers. [4]
  • Copyright and patent clause to discuss intellectual property.[5]
  • Coinage clause for possible discussion on cryptocurrencies.[6]
  • Creation of inferior courts to discuss the federal court system. [7]

Section 10 of Article I provides for a brief discussion on freedom of contract that invokes examination of this clause as well as the substantive due process clause, including discussion on the Lochner Era, in which the U.S. Supreme Court continuously struck down numerous state statutes.[8]

Thereafter, Article II is discussed with focus on the Executive Powers. The primary objective here is the executive power to appoint “[j]udges of the supreme Court and all other Officers of the United States” with advice and consent of the Senate;[9] however, this section also provides discussion on current topics ranging from State of the Union to impeachment proceedings. Lastly, Article III establishes the Supreme Court and the judges therein. With the establishment of the three branches of government, students are directed to Article VI, Clause 2, discussing the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Upon establishing the main content of the constitution, the Bill of Rights is examined, starting with the following:

  • Establishment Clause[10]
  • Freedom of Speech[11]
  • Search and Seizure[12]
  • Warrants[13]
  • Due process clause – federal[14]
  • Taking Clause[15]
  • Privacy[16]
  • State Powers[17]

These discussions also include a reference to amendments and how they apply to the Constitution leading to the adoption of the 14th and 15th amendment after the U. S. Civil War. The 14th amendment discusses how the due process clause incorporated many of the bill of rights as applicable to the state government as well as the equal protection clause. The 15th amendment illustrates race suffrage and its application solely to the male population but the adoption of the 19th amendment provides for sex suffrage.  Another provision worth discussing is the 28th Amendment, prohibition, and its relation to the 21st amendment repealing the prohibition of the transportation or importation of intoxicating liquors.  Lastly, discussion of the 26th Amendment provides age suffrage.

After full discussion on the various provisions and applicable case law, the pamphlets can be collected and returned to the students on the day of the exam, which is essentially an “open constitutional exam.” Sample questions can range from what articles establish the Supreme Court to what clauses provide for substantive due process. Moreover, questions can be of multiple-choice, essay, or short answer depending on the mandate of the overall course.

III. Conclusion

This type of constitutional review provides students with a broader perspective of this instrument of government. Learners learn to navigate the pages while observing the language adopted by courts such as “probable cause” or “supremacy clause,” observing that these phrases are nor fabrication of the courts but language of the constitution itself.  This learning technique provides the students with a solid base to begin further examination through case study.

EXHIBIT A

COMPARATIVE CHART: U.S. AND ITALIAN CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

Constitutional Provision United States Italy
Year 1787 1947
Legislature Article I Parte II – Titolo I – sezioni I e II (artt. 55 -82)
Executive Article II Parte II – Titolo III –Sezione I (artt. 92-96)
Judicial Article III Parte II – Titolo IV Sezioni I e II (artt. 101-113) ;

Judicial Review – Constitutional Court: Parte II, Titolo VI sezione I (artt. 134-137)

Supremacy Clause Article VI Art. 5
Reservation of State or Regional Rights Tenth Amendment Art. 117 ( more in general on regionalism: Parte II Titolo V artt. 114-133)
Freedom of Contract Article I, Section 10; Due Process of Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Art. 41
Freedom of Religion First Amendment Art. 7 ; art.19
Freedom of Speech First Amendment Art. 21
Right to Privacy ·        The First Amendment; Third Amendment;

·        Fourth Amendment; Fifth Amendment;

Ninth Amendment.

The right to privacy is most often cited in the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment

Artt.13-15
Due Process – Procedure Fifth  Amendment (Federal); Fourteenth  Amendment (State) Artt.24-27;

Artt. 111-113

Due Process – Substantive Fifth Amendment (Federal); Fourteenth Amendment incorporates application to the States of Fundamental Rights Art. 2;

Parte I , Titoli I-II-III-IV (art. 13-54)

Taking Clause Fifth Amendment Artt.42-44
Voting Rights Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth Amendment require that voting rights cannot be abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, or age for those above 18. Parte I, Titolo IV (art.48-54)

Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

[1] See https://constitutionbooklet.com/ for free download and instructions.

[2] See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xo4tUMdAMw

[3] See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1YLoO9sHvI

[4]  Article I, Section 8, Clause 3.

[5] U.S. Const., Article I, Section 8, Clause 8.

[6] U.S. Const., Article I, Section 8, Clause 5.

[7] U.S. Const., Article I, Section 8, Clause 9.

[8]  U.S. Lochner Era wherein development of economic due process (14th and 5th Amendments) [1897-1937]; see also,  Arruňada, Benito and Veneta Andonova, Common Law and Civil Law as Pro-Market Adaptations, 26 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol’y 81 (2008); for recent case law on contract clause see, Sveen v. Melin, 584 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct., 1815 (2018).

[9] U.S. Const., Article II, Section 2, Clause 2.

[10] U.S. Const., amend. I

[11] Id.

[12] U.S. Const., amend. IV

[13] Id.

[14] U.S. Const., amend. V

[15] Id.

[16] U.S. Const., amends., I, III, IV, IX and X

[17] U.S. Const. amend. X

Recommit to the Profession of Teaching and Helping Your Students Recommit to Their Work

Recommit to the Profession of Teaching and Helping Your Students Recommit to Their Work

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Over the past six months, I have struggled with what some might call a “mid-life-professor crisis.”  As I struggled to keep up with committee work, teaching, writing, applying for promotion, etc., the feeling of being overworked was overwhelming me. I write this post today because I know others struggle with the same feelings.  It makes professors wonder if this is the right place and the right job.  The answer to that question is intensely personal but the way to get to the answer is not very personal.  I took time over the break to look deep into the recesses of my heart and mind asking myself some tough questions: do I make a difference, is this where I want to be, and if so, why?  Here is two words that came to the surface again and again: recommit and privilege.

First of all, I realized I needed to recommit to the science and the art of teaching.  I needed to put teaching first: before scholarship, before committee work, and before other work responsibilities.  We are here to teach students, to perfect that craft, and to dedicate our energy there.  The decision seemed so clear to me at that point.  Teaching is what I love, and I need to focus on it first.  Once I said that out loud and recommitted to that love, my direction seemed so clear: stay with teaching.  I have been able to put it first for the first couple of weeks.  Feel free to hold me accountable as the semester heats up!

Secondly, once I recommitted to my first love (teaching) I realized what a privilege it is to be able to come to work and teach students how to be lawyers.  The last week has been so much more joyful focusing on this privilege.  Some may call this gratitude, but I see gratitude as part of realizing the privilege. We are indeed lucky to do this work.

Lastly, once I saw this and felt it in my heart, I knew I had to share this perspective with my students.  After I told them what a privilege it was to be a lawyer and to be their teacher, we discussed what lawyers do to make a difference in the world.  Some students brought up how helping one person changes the world.  As we started to talk and share, I saw the student’s shoulders start to straighten, and, it seemed, their mood lifted.  I urged the students to think about what is good in their world and to think about what is a privilege in their lives.  This conversation took about 5 minutes and then we continued to learn about grammar and contract drafting.  After class, several students stopped me to say thank you for stopping the “rat race” for just a few minutes which allowed them to breathe and be thankful.  Take some time to recommit yourself, and, if you feel comfortable, share that commitment and gratitude with your students.

Review: Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings

Review: Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings

By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings
By DeShun Harris
57 Duquesne Law Review 43 (Winter, 2019)

In her article Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings, Professor DeShun Harris encourages professors to rethink how they use office appointments to enhance student learning. Professor Harris addresses the current notion that technology has reduced, if not eliminated, the need for in-person office hours. While research shows that students tend to typically underuse, or even avoid altogether, the in-person office appointment, professors can overcome students’ perception that office meetings are not worth their time.  Because one-on-one meetings provide rich learning opportunities, improve student performance on assessments, and potentially improve grades, legal educators should use effective learning strategies, many of which are being integrated into law school classrooms, to provide students with one-on-one learning opportunities during office hours.

Using strategies to encourage office meetings, professors can overcome the underutilization of office hours. One common misperception students have is that faculty are unavailable or not interested in hosting office meetings; consequently, professors must explain why one-on-one office meetings are important to students. Professors can convey a message through an invitation to attend office hours in the course syllabus; the message can be reinforced during the first class and before and after assessments during subsequent classes.

Once students decide to attend an office meeting, professors must create a welcoming office setting. Doing so conveys a message that the professor is available and does not think the meeting is an interruption. Things to consider when creating a suitable office atmosphere are ease in scheduling the meeting, an uncluttered office, a blank computer screen, and arranging furniture in a way that does not form barriers between the student and the professor.

The student meeting itself should be structured according to the common office hour framework.  While there has been little research in the law school setting, Professor Harris points to research conducted at German universities where it was noted that most one-on-one conferences take on a five-sequenced framework. First, the prefacing sequence, involves inviting the student into the office; this can be done by general invitation or a specific request for the student to meet with the professor. The invitation must be extended in a way that is non-threatening. Second, the identification sequence is typically the beginning of the meeting, where the professor greets the student and engages in small talk.  Flowing naturally from the identification sequence, the third sequence is outlining the academic business the student wishes to discuss. This sequence should be task-oriented to address the student’s concern/goals. Once the academic business has been outlined, the professor and student can move to the fourth sequence is negotiating academic business sequence. Here, the professor guides the student to a solution. Attention should be paid to writing, thought processing, and behavior that can lead to academic and career success. In working toward a solution, the professor is encouraged to use research on learning science to foster student learning. The fifth and final sequence is the closing sequence. Here, the solution is acknowledged.

Finally, professors must use effective learning methods to create a learner-centered meeting. One method professors can use is retrieval, the act of trying to recall information once learned from memory. Retrieving information is a powerful way to retain information because it strengthens the memory and association with the material, even when students give wrong answers. Another effective learning strategy to use in the office meeting setting is problem-solving. Professors can ask students to answer something that is new to them; then the student explains their thought process in reaching the answer. This also allows professors to give constructive feedback. As a way to aid students in becoming self-regulated learners, professors can also discuss professional development concepts like training, self-study, critical reflection, and feedback.

Professor Harris concludes that office hours are not obsolete. Instead, office hours should be encouraged as they provide important learning opportunities for students. Professors can easily modify the manner in which they currently host office appointments and incorporate effective learning strategies, many of which are being integrated into law school classrooms, to provide students with one-on-one opportunities designed to enhance their knowledges, skills and education.

Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

By Aaron Caplan, Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University

Visual aids are not the most important thing a law teacher does in the classroom.  They can never substitute for well-chosen material, clear organization, thoughtfully chosen in-class activities, being a good explainer or being a good listener.  With that said, good visual aids can help students learn more effectively – and bad visual aids make learning harder.

A series of videos based on a presentation I gave at the AALS New Law Teachers Workshop in June 2019 explores what makes successful visual aids work.  The first segment explores the psychology of multi-media learning, providing a theory for preparing visual aids that complement one’s lesson plan and not detracting from it.  The following segments provide examples of visual aids that I have used with success in various classes, including illustrations, visual renderings of legal texts, visualizations of concepts, and more.

The videos can be reached here:  www.lls.edu/CaplanVisualAids/

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

By Eric Voigt, Faulkner University, Jones School of Law

I have asked myself many times, “Self, could my first-year law students research a legal issue without any guidance from me?” You have probably asked yourself a similar question if you teach a skills-based course. This semester, I decided to create a new assessment measure to answer my question: an online research exam.

Summary of How I Teach Legal Research

My students learn to perform legal research through multiple methods. Students first read the assigned chapters from the textbook I have authored titled Legal Research Demystified: A Step-by-Step Approach. Students then jump online and answer multiple-choice questions on Core Knowledge for Lawyers (https://coreknowledgeforlawyers.com). Core Knowledge automatically grades each answer and provides an explanation (similar to Core Grammar) to reinforce basic research concepts. Next, students complete guided research exercises using the research services and tools they just read about. During class, I discuss the commonly-missed questions and answer their questions. Last, students must apply their research skills to the open memo problem—once again, with guidance from me.

Purpose of Online Research Exam

Despite those formative assessments, I wanted a higher degree of confidence that my students could “fly the research nest” and answer a legal question on any unfamiliar issue. To that end, I am creating an online research exam that my students will take this semester. I have one primary purpose: determine whether my students could find—and understand—relevant statutes and interpretive cases without guidance from me.

Content of Online Research Exam

For my research exam, students will not simply answer questions on research concepts (e.g., What is KeyCite?). Instead, students will resolve a client’s legal question using Westlaw or Lexis Advance. Specifically, they will research state statutes and update them, including confirming their validity, checking effective dates, and reviewing amendments. They will also need to find cases that have interpreted the statutes. Last, students will synthesize the relevant rules and authorities and predict the client’s likelihood of success.

Delivery Format of Online Research Exam

Students will electronically complete my research exam directly on TWEN (The West Education Network), which is my course management system. (Next year, students will be able to complete the research exam on Carolina Academic Press’s platform, Core Knowledge.) Most of the exam contains multiple-choice questions, but it also has a few fill-in-the blank questions and one short answer question. The final question, for instance, requires students to follow CRAC principles (Conclusion-Rule-Application-Conclusion) and write a few paragraphs on whether the client would prevail.

By placing the exam online, I can include questions that build upon prior ones, allowing me to assess students’ understanding of different steps of the research process. For example, suppose a student finds the wrong statutes in response to an initial question. I could still assess whether the student understands how to update the statutes by identifying the correct statutes in subsequent questions and asking about their validity and effective dates.

Because some questions provide the answers to prior ones, I will establish certain limits. Using TWEN’s advanced options, I will prevent students from downloading the exam and viewing any subsequent question until they have answered the question on their screen (called “sequential quizzing”). I will also have TWEN grade the first selected answer for each question, so a student cannot change an answer based on what the student learns from later questions.

I will have students take the exam outside of the classroom, so they will not be limited to our eighty-minute class periods. Students will have a three-day window to start the research exam; once started, they will have three continuous hours to complete it. Students will need the extra time to discern the relevant from the irrelevant authorities, as well as more time to analyze the application of law to the client’s situation.

TWEN’s Grading Features

TWEN has several useful grading features. TWEN automatically grades the multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank questions. As to a short answer question, a professor can electronically mark each one correct or incorrect and can even assign partial credit. TWEN then tallies each student’s scores on all questions. The professor can “release” the grades for all students, allowing each student to view only his or her own grade.

Benefits of an Online Research Exam

Assigning an online research exam has multiple benefits to professors and students, such as the following:

  • Professors assess students without giving up an in-person class meeting.
  • Professors who assign the exam in lieu of in-person meetings (permitted under the ABA rules) could free up an entire week of classes to provide feedback on students’ draft memos.
  • Professors can ascertain whether students have learned how to do “real” legal research.
  • Students receive their exam grade immediately upon completion.
  • Students discover any weak research skills before the deadline of the open memo.
  • Students gain confidence in researching on their own and learn skills that can be applied to the open memo problem.

In short, an online research exam is a good assessment tool for first-year and upper-level students. It could be assigned in an integrated research and writing course or a stand-alone research class. If you would like a copy of my research exam, please email at evoigt@faulkner.edu.

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

While attending the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference this past summer, I learned about live critiquing from Professor Amanda Sholtis from Widener University Law School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Her session captivated me, and it made me want to try live critiquing with my first year LRW students.  The following is a brief description of my formative assessment with my first closed-universe writing problem:

  1. The students are given three heavily edited cases to synthesize and a fact pattern containing a problem to solve. It is a problem which has three elements and, therefore, will have three IRACs (or IREAC, CREAC, etc.).
  2. We synthesize the cases in class together.
  3. For the next class, I give them a writing template and a writing example. They are to read those documents and bring a completed draft of the closed-universe problem to the next class.
  4. During that next class, they were given my rubric to self-assess one of the IRACs they wrote (I choose which IRAC they self-assess in class).
  5. I give them 20 minutes to work through the rubric with their own paper.
      1. For the self-evaluation, I instruct them to use the rubric which fully explains what a good issue statement should contain; what a good rule statement should contain; what definitions should look like, etc.
      2. I also instruct them to note in the margin of their paper what needs to be improved on their paper for each section of the IRAC.
      3. Then, I give them a “good” example of the IRAC for the same issue which they just worked on for the self-assessment. The “good” example is fully annotated by me, showing the students what is good about each section of the IRAC.
      4. The students used the rest of that class period to review the “good” example and compare it to their paper.
      5. I was available during that classroom work time to answer questions, etc.
      6. Once the self-assessment was over, I told them they need to apply what they learned while writing the final draft.
  6. Once the students turned in their final draft, which only contained the two un-assessed IRACs, they signed up for a live critique with me.
  7. I give each student ½ hour to go over their final draft with me.
      1. I don’t review their final drafts until we are sitting together for the face-to-face conference.
      2. I have my rubric with me, and I have a “good” copy of the two remaining IRACs with annotations of what is good in each section of the IRACs.
      3. The students take the rubric and the “good” paper home with them.
      4. During the ½ hour, I spend with each student, I just start reading his or her paper. I stop periodically and make comments on what is good and what needs improvement.  The students take notes, ask questions, and dialogue with me.

I found the process helpful in getting to know my students, getting to know the sticking points in their thought/writing process, and getting feedback on my instructions.  The students overwhelmingly preferred it to getting a bunch of comments on a paper which they admit they usually don’t read, and if they do, they often don’t understand them.  With the next paper, I gave the students the choice to have live critiquing or written critiquing.  Over half of my students chose live critiquing, which I considered a good sign that students liked it.

The downsides to this process, however, are:

  1. I have 37 first-year LRW students so I spent a lot of time meeting with students. I would, however, have spent the time grading anyway.  Thus, I think the time spent is a wash.
  2. It is stressful to meet face-to-face with students and talk to them about what they are doing wrong. I am a social person, and so I really enjoyed the process.

I found live critiquing inspiring, helpful, and surprising. If anyone would like more information about this, I am happy to engage in a further conversation.

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)

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