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Going Back to the Basics, Low-Tech Assessment Methods in Large Doctrinal Classes

Going Back to the Basics, Low-Tech Assessment Methods in Large Doctrinal Classes

Teaching Idea for February.

By Sandra Simpson, Professor, Gonzaga University School of Law.

While teaching large, doctrinal courses, it is possible to engage and assess the entire class with low-tech methods.  I teach a Real Estate Transactions course to 60 plus students every spring.  One effective method is using 3M posterboards for groups to “publish” their work.  I used this method this week when we were reviewing contract concepts.  In reviewing covenants versus conditions, I needed to know where my students were in terms of understanding these basic contract terms.  To accomplish this, I returned to a basic, low-tech method of large 3M posterboards (poster-sized sticky notes) for this assessment.

Once I found the 3M posterboard pad (in a lonely, dusty corner closet), I posted 23 pieces of paper around the room before the students arrived.  Once the students arrived[1], I had them form groups of three.[2]  I asked the groups to read the following clause: “Seller to provide the buyer with a certificate of occupancy prior to closing.”  The students were then asked to determine whether this clause creates a promise or a contingency.  After five minutes of group discussion, I asked random groups to support whether it is a promise or a contingency.  We discuss why the distinction matters.  Students soon realize the clause can be argued either way, which is not ideal for a real estate contract; it can lead to litigation, affecting the parties’ contract rights.

For the next step, I asked the students to redraft the clause creating a promise, and then redraft the clause creating a contingency.  The students wrote the two clauses on their 3M poster paper.  After every group was done with the drafting and had posted their paper on the wall, I asked them to walk around reading the other groups’ drafted clauses.  Each group marked the one they liked best (they could not vote for their own).

After all the students sat down, we looked at the votes to ascertain the best clauses and debrief the exercise.  The voting showed two very different drafting techniques tied for the best clauses.  This highlighted some drafting issues and created a discussion of different methods to create a promise or a contingency.  The entire exercise took 30 minutes, but it engaged the entire class.  An additional bonus was that the posterboards remained on the walls for the entire class, allowing me to walk around (while students were working on another problem) and read all the students’ work, which created another opportunity to talk to the groups about their work and answer lingering questions.

[1] It was really fun to listen to their reactions to the paper being posted around the room.  They were very curious and excited.

[2] You can form the groups yourself, particularly if you want to pair strong and weak students.

Instructional Check-Ins To Surmount Trials And Tribulations Of The Pandemic In The Era Of Meta Connection

Instructional Check-Ins To Surmount Trials And Tribulations Of The Pandemic In The Era Of Meta Connection

By Lécia Vicente*, Henry Plauché Dart Endowed Assistant Professor of Law, LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center

The Covid-19 pandemic threw us out of our game. It obligated us to change, readjust, compromise, quit, and reinvent ourselves in a new world where connection and communication are necessarily conducted at a meta level—online. However, there was one thing I maintained -regular and structured student check-ins. I ask my students to “check-in” by meeting with me at some point of their choosing during the semester. All students would plan to meet at least once during the semester, if only to let me know how things were going. These spaces for connection, reassurance, and validation became invaluable during the pandemic.

Connection is important. At a meta level, our relations are framed by dystopia and misconception of reality. Our relations are characterized by information overload. Very little sticks after the laptop is shut down and closed. Learning behind the screen makes it difficult to express our feelings or voice our questions.

Check-ins are an effective pedagogical tool which I have used for my doctrinal courses. I believe regular check-ins with built-in student group discussions can be useful in legal research and writing courses as well. These sessions allow me to meet students where they are and surmount some of the learning tribulations and challenges that they face behind the screen. I have been holding this format of office-hours in small groups. Students sign up for the meetings through a sign-up platform online where they can choose time slots of their preference. We meet via Zoom or in person, depending on the size of the group. During check-ins, students can interact not only with me but also with each other. It almost resembles a small discussion group to which I serve as a facilitator. I ask questions such as “What makes you learn better in this course?,” “What improvements would you like to see?,” and “How is law school going?”[†]

The conversational dynamic of the group creates an opportunity for my students to explore topics they are curious about. Some questions relate to the course materials and subject-matter. Others relate to their professor’s profile and choices she made when she was in their position, pursuing her law degree. Some of their common questions are: “How did you learn to speak six languages?” “What was it like to work with multinational companies with subsidiaries in Europe?,” and “Why did you want to become a law professor?” I facilitate dialogue that is deep, humane, and relatable. This conversation allows me to understand what helps my students learn better, what they are eager to learn, what is meaningful for them, and what is needed to build a relationship beyond the meta connection that the pandemic has imposed on us.

After each meeting, I process the students’ comments, questions, and instructional concerns. The results in my business law courses have been overwhelmingly positive, despite the pandemic and the challenges inherent to it for both students and professors. Regular, structured student check-ins have become a great source of feedback. Additionally, check-ins also provide a layout for meaningful connections which are essential for excellent learning outcomes.

[*] Henry Plauché Dart Endowed Assistant Professor of Law, Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center. Research Fellow, Law & Economics Center at George Mason Antonin Scalia Law School.

[†] See Gregory S. Munro, Outcomes Assessment for Law Schools (2000). Available at: https://www.law.du.edu/documents/assessment-conference/munro-gregory-outcomesassessment2000.pdf (accessed on November 11, 2021).

Writing Case Briefs

Writing Case Briefs

By Professor Andrew Henderson, Australian National University.

Writing case briefs (or case notes as they are called in Australia) is a common form of assessment in law school, especially with first-year law students, as a way of exposing them to basic legal research, writing, and thinking skills before moving on to substantive subjects.  More importantly, the preparation of a case brief is usually the first taste first-year law students have of reading case law and identifying the holding (something that’s called the ratio decidendi in Australian law schools). It is also a common piece of legal research writing both in legal practice and in academia.

But my experience of teaching and marking case note writing, and informal discussions with students, indicate that they have consistently struggled with the case brief assessment – particularly with the identification and explanation of the holding.

A few years ago, I decided to go back to fundamentals in planning how to teach case brief writing. But rather than starting with the activity itself, I started with some basic principles of lesson design and planning.

Establishing the playing field

Unlike the United States, an LLB is the most common method of entry to the legal profession in Australia.  There are prescribed learning outcomes associated with the degree as a whole, and individual units within the degree, that are determined nationally by the Council of Australian Law Deans (the Teaching and Learning Outcomes (TLOs) for LLB students) and the Law Admissions Consultative Committee.  However, like American law schools, each unit also has learning outcomes approved by the Dean of each faculty. Some universities also have a set of graduate attributes applicable to all units offered on campus.

Good curriculum and instructional design mean that each of these sets of requirements should be aligned within a unit or course and reflected in assessment as a way of demonstrating that an individual law student has been assessed against accepted expectations.

If we had to picture that hierarchy in an Australian law school for a case brief assessment, it might look something like this:

Identifying the players

But just identifying the requirements isn’t enough. We also need to think about the law students that we will be working with. That is going to include things like the size of the group, their age, their educational experience so far, and their current level of confidence.

Each of these things is going to be critically important to the design of the lessons. For example, the majority of first-year law students in Australia tend to fall within what identify as a period in social and cognitive growth associated with ‘young adulthood’.  Studies of learning at this stage suggest that students at this stage struggle with ambiguity and assume that there is one right answer according to what lecturers or tutors tell them.

In writing a case brief, that’s important. There is rarely one correct version of the holding and one correct way to set out a case brief.  Explaining that there may be different ways of expressing the holding, and in fact that an important part of advocacy is to argue for a particular interpretation, is difficult and at this stage, ambiguity needs to be de-emphasized until the basic skills are established.

Planning the play

Despite case briefs being endemic to legal study, surprisingly there is no consistent or single method in how to teach or write one.  Frustratingly for students, there is no pro forma or precedent for presenting it.

However, where the skill being introduced is entirely new to the learners, there is a need to provide more active support and direction initially before providing opportunities for practice.  That means providing very structured explanations initially as a means of building – scaffolding – students to take an increasingly independent role.  Rather than just explaining what a case brief looks like, I write one in class, explaining what I am doing as I work through the decision. In a series of planned steps, I begin to hand over responsibility for the task to students, moving ultimately to getting students to work independently.

So what does it look like? My planning for the series of lessons looks like this:

Does it work?

Law students I have worked with, after stepping through this series of lessons, have generally expressed more confidence and performed well in case brief writing. Just as importantly, they have demonstrated much more confidence at the end of the process in tackling the process of reading cases.

What do you think? Is it worth a try in your law school classroom? Could it be improved?

 

Looking Beyond Headnotes: Distinguishing Cases (Exercise)

Looking Beyond Headnotes: Distinguishing Cases (Exercise)

By Matthew Boles,

Background

According to the ABA Student Lawyer magazine, unpaid internships, primarily in the summer between the first and second year, consists of research and writing.[1] More than 80 percent of the top 200 law schools indicate that legal research is a mandatory course for first-year students.[2] A 2013 Insights Report states associates spend nearly one-third of their time on legal research.[3] As students and lawyers research issues, headnotes can be a useful tool to read summaries of cases and find other similar cases.[4]

This exercise helps students look past the headnotes when reading cases and making arguments that courts should follow precedent or whether the case is distinguishable.  I practice immigration law and use a four-page decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) as an example case. Students will read facts from a hypothetical scenario I created, read the decision and headnotes, and determine whether the headnote about a conviction for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is sufficient.

Directions:

  1. Have students read the “Overview of Client’s Case” section
  2. Next, students will read the headnotes of the decision, Matter of Siniauskas,[5] take notes, and make a conclusion as to whether the case applies to our hypothetical situation, and if so, how. [Click here to access Matter of Siniauska (pdf)]
  3. Read the case and determine whether the headnote about a DUI addressed the issue. I highlighted portions of the decision. I provide some information below as to why we do not cite headnotes in decisions.

Overview of Client’s Case

The attorney is an immigration lawyer and works at a small firm. She handles many types of immigration matters, from submitting petitions to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on a wide variety of matters, to representing immigrants who have court at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“immigration court”). Up to this point, her work has been for immigrants who are not detained. As the firm grows, however, she begins taking cases where clients are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The firm is contacted by a family whose family member is in an ICE facility about two hours from your office. The facts are below, but ICE files a Notice to Appear (form I-862) with the immigration court. The client’s family retains the firm to represent him in immigration court. The attorney files the Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative Before Immigration Court (form E-28) and completes the proof of service. She is prepared for his Master Calendar hearings, preliminary type of hearings, but understandably she wants to request a custody redetermination hearing (bond hearing) in hopes that her client will be released from ICE custody and have his case transferred to a non-detained docket.

Here are the facts of the client’s case. He is an immigrant whose sole entry to the United States was in 2005. He entered without inspection and has never applied for nor received any type of visa or lawful immigration status. In 2007, he meets a woman who he marries in 2010. His wife is a United States citizen. In 2012, she gives birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy. Three years later, they have their second child. This time they have a girl, and she has some health issues. He has a full-time job, working six days a week to support his family. He is the main source of financial support for his family. In addition to working, he and his family attend church every Sunday, and he is well-respected in the community.

One day after work, he and a couple of colleagues had a couple of drinks. He was driving home alone in his car when the police arrested him for a DUI. The DUI did not result in injuries or property damage. He pleaded guilty, received credit for time served, and paid the fine. A couple of days before he was scheduled for release, ICE placed an immigration detainer (immigration hold), and he was transferred to ICE custody. The DUI is his only criminal history (remember that immigration is civil, and not criminal. ICE is alleging he violated the Immigration and Nationality Act).

Since he has been detained, his family has struggled. His children, ages 9 and 6, are having trouble focusing at school. His wife had to find a second job and is constantly worried what will happen to her husband. The attorney has already collected letters of support from friends, family members, the church, and other relevant documents she will include as exhibits in the motion. She also obtains the criminal disposition for the DUI and arrest report. She also obtained a letter from Alcoholics Anonymous, stating his client would be able to attend meetings if he is released from the ICE facility.  In her notarized letter, the client’s wife states she will drive him so that he will not have to drive, and she provides her driver’s license, proof she owns a car and car insurance.

Since the attorney is new to detained work, she begins to research relevant BIA case law. She feels confident that her client would not be considered a flight risk given his family and community ties, but she is worried that the client may be considered a danger to the community based on the DUI conviction. As she researches cases, she finds a 2018 BIA case that addresses DUI in the custody redetermination context. That case is Matter of Siniauskas.[6]

Headnotes from Siniauskas

Below are the two headnotes from the case:

(1) In deciding whether to set a bond, an Immigration Judge should consider the nature and circumstances of the alien’s criminal activity, including any arrests and convictions, to determine if the alien is a danger to the community, but family and community ties generally do not mitigate an alien’s dangerousness.

(2) Driving under the influence is a significant adverse consideration in determining whether an alien is a danger to the community in bond proceedings.

Looking at these headnotes, what thoughts comes to mind as it applies to our hypothetical scenario and the client? Just by reading the headnotes, it does not seem promising for the client. The first headnote essentially makes two points: the IJ should consider more than just arrests and convictions, and family and community ties that go to flight risk will not generally address whether a respondent is a danger to the community. The second headnote, however, specifically addresses DUIs and provides the “significant adverse consideration” language.

Next, read the case. I have highlighted parts of the decision. The BIA decision is four pages long, and there was no dissent. Discuss whether students believe the headnotes sufficiently summarize the decision.

Discussion/Information about Headnotes

The BIA precedent chart compiles headnotes.[7] The chart specifically states, “This document is provided for informational purposes only as a convenience to the public.  It is not intended as a comprehensive source for preparing an appeal, or for citation in legal briefs, and does not represent an official publication of EOIR.”[8] Headnotes should not be cited.[9] In Supreme Court cases where there is a syllabus (headnote), there is a disclaimer to make clear the headnote is not part of the opinion.[10] The note specifically cites a 1906 Supreme Court case.[11] That case, United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co.,[12] is about a property dispute, but counsel relied on the headnotes of a previous case. The Supreme Court noted, “In the first place, the headnote is not the work of the court, nor does it state its decision…It is simply the work of the reporter, gives his understanding of the decision, and is prepared for the convenience of the profession in the examination of the reports. . .. .”[13]

Returning to the client’s case, reading the case is important to not only understand the BIA’s reasoning but also the specific facts. As the Siniauskas court explained, “[i]n bond proceedings, it is proper for the Immigration Judge to consider not only the nature of a criminal offense but also the specific circumstances surrounding the alien’s conduct.”[14] This is where the facts come into play to distinguish the case from the one in Siniauskas. In that case, the respondent had three DUI convictions, a pending DUI charge, and three out of the four involved accidents.[15] In at least one subsequent unpublished decision, the BIA agreed with an I.J. who found a respondent was not a danger to the community when the respondent’s DUI conviction was his only offense in nine years of living in the United States and his DUI did not result in injury or property damage.[16] Even though BIA unpublished decisions are not binding,[17] they are helpful when conducting research and advocating for clients and their release from ICE custody. In our scenario, our client is closer to the respondent in the unpublished decision. In drafting the bond motion for her client, the attorney should cite both cases and explain why the I.J. should find our client is not a danger to the community. As a practical matter, I often include unpublished BIA cases as exhibits.

Headnotes, no doubt, are a helpful tool that students and practitioners can use when researching and drafting. But encourage students to go beyond the headnotes and delve into the details of the case, rather than exclusively looking at headnotes. This exercise will make students better prepared and ready for internships and eventually when they practice.

[1] Bill Chamberlain, What to Know about Your First Summer Internship, ABA Student Lawyer Magazine, December 1, 2016, available at https://abaforlawstudents.com/2016/12/01/what-to-know-about-your-first-summer-internship/ (last visited Oct. 11, 2021).

[2] Caroline L. Osborne, The State of Legal Research Education: A Survey of First-Year Legal Research

Programs, or “Why Johnny and Jane Cannot Research”, 108 Law Libr. J. 403, 408 (2016).

[3] Steven A. Lastres, “Rebooting Legal Research in a Digital Age,” Insights Paper, 2013, available at https://www.lexisnexis.com/documents/pdf/20130806061418_large.pdf (last visited October 11, 2021).

[4] Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies, Robert Crown Law Library, Stanford Law School, available at https://guides.law.stanford.edu/cases/headnotes (last visited October 11, 2021).

[5] 27 I&N Dec. 207, 209 (BIA 2018).

[6] 27 I&N Dec. 207 (BIA 2018).

[7] BIA Precedent Chart, available at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/bia-precedent-chart (last accessed October 11, 2021).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] See, e.g., Niz-Chavez v. Garland, 141 S. Ct. 1474 (2021).

[11] Id.

[12] 200 U.S. 321, 337.

[13] Id.

[14] 27 I&N Dec. at 208 (citing Matter of Guerra, 24 I&N Dec. 37 (BIA 2006)).

[15] Id.

[16] N-P-N-, AXXX XXX 692 (BIA Oct. 29, 2018).

[17] See Matter of Echeverria, 25 I&N Dec. 512, 519 (BIA 2011).

Using Silent Signals to Assess and Engage the Students

Using Silent Signals to Assess and Engage the Students

By Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law and Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

In a large classroom or in a zoom setting, sometimes it’s difficult to encourage two-way communication so that students can share thoughts with the professor.  Use of “silent signals” can facilitate real-time feedback and communication from students so that the professor can accurately assess the classroom climate.

First, what kind of silent signals?  You can ask for simple gestures like a thumbs up or thumbs down.  When I use this method, I have the students hold their signal close to their chests so I can see the signal but most of their colleagues can’t.  This may help the students feel more anonymous.   The same hand gestures work on zoom, or you can use the options under “reactions”—thumbs up, thumbs down, arrows, stop sign.

Next, signals in response to what?  Anything you might need feedback on.  Comprehension of the topic or the sample problem.  Pacing of the conversation.  Voting on how a hypothetical case will come out.  Expressing opinions on whether you agree with the dissent’s position. I use the thumbs up or thumbs down method to measure students’ comprehension of a concept we just covered.  The same method is a quick way to poll the students as well.

As with many teaching techniques, be careful not to overuse signals.  But in limited doses, they can be an effective way to take the temperature of a classroom.

Adapted from Elizabeth F. Barkley & Claire Howell Major, Interaction Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty 156-57 (2018).

Review: Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum…

Review: Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum…

Review by Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law.

Professor Teri McMurtry-Chubb once again steps into a gap to provide much-needed information, suggestions, and resources for the law teaching community.  This time, she has written a book about incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into all of our classrooms.

Strategies & Techniques for Integrating DEI into the Core Law Curriculum: A Comprehensive Guide to DEI Pedagogy, Course Planning, and Classroom Practice by Teri McMurtry-Chubb is available for free download here:  https://www.wklegaledu.com/resources/law-school-faculty/law-school-faculty

The book features DEI learning outcomes and assessments, course planning templates for each course in the core law curriculum, and racial trauma-informed teaching approaches. It also includes FAQs and discussion questions by chapter to work through as you and your colleagues plan and implement DEI curricular initiatives at your law school. The book is organized in three main parts, as described in the Introduction:

Part I, Chapter 1, The Scope of DEI Education & Pedagogy details the evolution of teaching with a DEI lens. DEI education and pedagogy work to make the greatest positive change within the core structures of legal education by strategically employing critical pedagogies and curricula. Chapter 2, The First Amendment, Academic Freedom, and the DEI Curricular Lens, examines the pushback students, faculty, and administration have encountered when advocating for DEI pedagogical and curricular interventions. This pushback has been cast as a conflict around academic freedom. This chapter discusses the current conflicts in the battle between DEI and academic freedom, and provides strategies for how to navigate these issues on law school campuses. Chapter 3, Assessing the Institutional Climate for DEI Curricula, explores the varied considerations professors of all ranks and statuses (e.g., Assistant, Associate, and Full Professors, non-tenure-track full-time faculty; adjunct faculty, etc.) should make when implementing DEI issues into the classroom and curriculum. This chapter explores how rank, status, and campus climate influence which pedagogical and curricular choices are available to faculty. It also examines professor positionality and teaching, or how a professor “presents” to the class impacts available DEI curricular choices and pedagogical strategies.

Part II, Chapter 4, Racial Trauma Informed Approaches to DEI Pedagogy, discusses how microaggressions, macroaggressions, and other discriminatory practices leave an indelible mark on those who have survived them. The psychological and social science communities have examined these phenomena as trauma, and have detailed the emotional, psychological, and physical effects they have on minoritized groups. It is imperative that professors have an understanding of racial trauma and racial trauma informed pedagogies as they prepare to discuss DEI issues in the classroom and design DEI curricula. Chapter 5, Course Planning and Assessment for the DEI Classroom & Curriculum, provides instruction on how to build a course that integrates a DEI curricular lens. It offers course planning templates that link skills and knowledge to learning outcomes, performance criteria, and learning activities – both for traditional and online classroom environments. It also connects the information in Chapter 4: Racial Trauma Informed Approaches to DEI Pedagogy to the course planning and assessment processes. Chapter 6, Developing Instructional Materials for DEI Pedagogy & Practice, lays out the processes for developing classroom DEI instructional materials that serve as learning activities to advance and measure learning outcomes. The chapter surveys multimedia resources, traditional learning techniques, microlearning techniques, and the like that are appropriate for traditional and online learning environments. It also provides levels of difficulty (easy, intermediate, difficult, and advanced) at which professors can access this work.

Answers to a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) is located in Chapter 7. If you are working through this book with a committee, faculty, or other group, Chapter 7 also provides discussion questions for Chapters 1-6 to facilitate group dialogue. Lastly, Part III, Chapters 8-14, provides examples of course planning, instructional materials, and assessment for core curriculum courses at the easy, intermediate, and difficult levels. The courses included are Contracts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property, Constitutional Law, Legal Writing, and Torts.

Précis

Précis

This teaching idea comes to you from the directors of ILTL [1]

Précis

Précis is a French word, pronounced pray-see, that refers to a way of summarizing text to include the meaning of the original text but to be as concise as possible. It can be an effective tool to solidify understanding of a particular document, and it could be used a couple of different ways in a law school setting.

Often, in thinking about legal briefs or memos, experts talk about a topic sentence outline—making sure the topic sentence of each individual paragraph flows in a cohesive argument throughout the document.  The exercise of condensing each paragraph to just one topic sentence is a version of précis.

Students could use this technique to more deeply understand a case opinion as well.  Number the paragraphs of an assigned opinion, and have students create a précis.  Essentially, they will be writing a topic sentence for each paragraph of the judicial opinion in their own words, except when the words used by the court are terms of art, then they should use those terms of art.  The goal is to essentially create a topic sentence outline of the opinion that would allow the reader to follow the full course of reasoning.  It’s not a summary; students should write in the voice of the court.

Important pieces of a précis:  Who is the actor?  What is the function of the paragraph? What is the substantive content of the paragraph? And then focus on conciseness—use clear, simple language and eliminate unnecessary words.

For example, a précis of the equal protection discussion in Loving v. Virginia might look something like this:

1 The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the constitutionality of the State’s ban against interracial marriages because (1) preserving the racial integrity of its citizens was deemed to be a legitimate governmental purpose and (2) marriage traditionally lies within the sphere of state regulation rather than federal regulation.
2 The State argues that (1) the Equal Protection Clause does not apply because it was meant only to prohibit differential punishment based on race and (2) as a result, the Court should apply deferential rational basis review to the laws.
3 The mere fact of equal application does not remove a law from equal protection scrutiny; laws containing racial classifications must meet a very heavy burden of justification.
4 The legislative history surrounding adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment does not clearly support the contention that it was meant to address only criminal laws that imposed differential punishment on the basis of race.
5 Precedent to the contrary has been repudiated.
6 Laws, like this one, that rely on distinctions based on race, must be shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective other than race discrimination itself.
7 The law is supported by no overriding legitimate purpose outside of racial discrimination itself.
8 Anti-miscegenation laws also violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
9 Marriage is a fundamental right which cannot be infringed upon based on racial classifications.

[1] Hat tip: Susannah Pollvogt, Associate Dean of Student Success, University of Arkansas School of Law

How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching

By: Cynthia M. Ho, Professor at Loyola University School of Law

The principle of using frequent (multiple times a class and every week) formative assessment data to tailor teaching underlies Click & Learn, a Civil Procedure teaching tool that I created with Professor Angela Upchurch and Professor Susan Gilles.  However, this approach works in any doctrinal class.

How Can Formative Assessment Data Help Teachers?

Formative assessment data can help you know what students have mastered.  Saved time can focus on tougher concepts and/or permit other activities such as group exercises.

Alternatively, if there are topics that a substantial number of students did not get (i.e., at least 20-25% wrong), class time can be used to improve understanding.

What Formative Assessment Data?

Data can be derived from both “objective” (i.e. MC and T/F) data and narrative (i.e., essay answer and discussion board posts) assessments.

Data can provide trends to inform your teaching.  “Objective” data is easiest to scan.  But even narrative data can be efficiently reviewed if you review a small sample.

A Word of Caution: The Need to Focus Students on Learning

Teachers know that the point of formative assessment is to help students learn.  To reinforce this focus, students should get full credit towards class participation for all timely and “professional” submissions (i.e., doing the entire assignment in more than 30 seconds).

Three Options to Tailor Class

Here’s an overview of three options to tailor class:

Type of Formative Assessment Example How much class tailoring +/-
1. In-class only In-class polling Minimal +  easiest to incorporate;

–  least tailoring

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

Medium + more tailoring, no need to adjust “on the fly”

-no ability to tailor during class

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above Maximum + maximum tailoring

– maximum prep time

In addition, here are the benefits of each type of assessment for tailoring how you teach class.

Type of Formative Assessment Example Goals
1.In-class only In-class polling -review of material just covered to ensure mastery

-emphasizes a point

– provides application practice

– changes the pace of class and maintains engagement

2. Outside class only (a) “Objective”

(b) Narrative

-Objective questions with detailed explanation provide  feedback to help ensure the entire class has mastery o

-provides application practice

3. Combo-in & outside Both of the above -all of the above, plus long-term learning benefits

Now that you know the big picture, let’s dive into the details.

  1. In-Class Only

Here’s a few examples of how to use in-class polling.

In-class polling to recap material just discussed

One way to incorporate polling is to ask a question after introducing a concept.  So, for example, after discussing what is a trade secret (TS), a polling question could ask students to apply what they know.  The left shows slides introducing the concept whereas the right shows the polling question.

In-class polling to emphasize a point in the assigned reading

A polling question can emphasize an issue since students will remember something if they get it wrong.  Here is one example that reinforces an issue students otherwise often miss without a poll:

  1. Outside Class only

Data based on formative assessment outside class can also help tailor class time.

For topics where the data shows students are struggling, these can be handled in two ways.  First, the question can be displayed again in class to solicit discussion of the right (and wrong) answer, together with reasoning.

Here’s one example where the question students previously had trouble with is on the left, with the key Civil Procedure issue of 1331 subject matter jurisdiction is on the right:

Alternatively, a new application question can be posed in class that asks students to discuss the same concept, but in a new factual setting such as the following:

Isn’t it a waste of time to review issues in class if formative assessment provided an answer?

No!  Even after students read an explanation, they may need more reinforcement.  Students say they prefer to review tougher questions in class even after reading the explanation.

How do you use data from narrative assignments?

Class discussion can also be tailored based on sampled essay data.  For example, after reviewing a few essay answers from a Civil Procedure, class a slide addressing noted issues can help organize the in-class discussion as shown below:

  1. Combo – in and outside

The best way to tailor teaching involves combining the previously discussed approaches.  Basically, conduct formative assessment outside class and then use that data to focus class time on needed issues, including in-class polling. This seems to promote long-term learning; students studying for the bar often email with delight to note that they remember concepts studied two years ago.

Tailoring can be truly maximized with a flipped law class where students learn material before  class. Click & Learn enables faculty to easily do this.

Even without using a flipped class approach, the Combo approach still provides more polling benefits. How?  Let’s explore.

A new in-class polling question may use the same facts from an outside-class “objective” question but pose new answer choices.  These choices can focus on issues underlying wrong answers students previously chose but stated slightly differently. This is shown below:

Data from narrative answers can be used to create a new in-class polling question to assess the entire class and reveal to confused students that they are not alone.  Here’s one example:

Data from narrative answers can also be used to help students compare what is and is not a strong statement to include in an essay answer.  Here’s one example with answer choices from sampled student answers:

Now what?

If you want more info, check out [How to choose a Formative Assessment Platform] and/or slides from the related Summer 2021 Conference presentation are available here.

And, of course, the best way of learning is by doing.  So, hopefully you’re now inspired to do more with your own data using some of these techniques!

How to Choose a Formative Assessment Platform to Optimize Data-Based Teaching

How to Choose a Formative Assessment Platform to Optimize Data-Based Teaching

By:  Cynthia M. Ho, Professor at Loyola University School of Law

Formative assessment not only helps students learn, but the data from this can help faculty teach more efficiently as discussed here. However, not all formative assessment tools are created equal for this purpose.  If you want to optimize data to tailor your teaching, you’ve come to the right place!

What types of formative assessment?

Although there are a number of types of formative assessment, this post will focus on using data from short answer questions (MC, T/F, word cloud, etc.)

In class or outside of class?

Assessment tools may differ based on when they are used – in or outside of class.

There are a variety of in-class tools. There are also a number of tools for outside class assessment.  These include CALI lessons, quizzes associated with casebooks, as well as platforms for Civil Procedure and Legal Research.  Also, you can create your own questions in a learning management system (Blackboard, Canvas, TWEN, etc).

Given a number of options, which one should you choose?  Keep reading!

What to look for in choosing a formative assessment platform
The considerations differ for in-class vs. outside class assessment. To help you focus on what matters to you, the following chart highlights features for each to potentially consider.

Assessment method Features to consider
In-class – Is it easy for you to use in class?  (i.e. do you need to exist a slide presentation to start polling)

– Do you want to have the option to not reveal the correct answer immediately (if you want to encourage discussion of all answers first)

– Do you want to be able to see data on individual student performance and/or have a downloadable excel of data (Tophat and Socrative can but CALI’s Instapoll is always anonymous)

– Would you like students to be able to re-do questions later on their own time before seeing the correct answer for additional review (Tophat is good for this)

– Do you want the ability to have students engage in competitive teams (Socrative & Kahoot focus on this)

Outside class -Do students receive immediate and detailed feedback, including an explanation of wrong answers?

-Does data for faculty include:

-Data on class overall (i.e. how many got question right)?

-Data on selection of each answer option (i.e. A-D) since wrong answers may reveal different flaws in understanding?

-Online ability to jump from class data to actual question?

-Data on performance of individual students over several assignments to identify persistent issues that may indicate a need for more academic support?

Examples of good feedback for outside of class “objective” data:

 Feedback should ideally provide an explanation of what makes the correct answer best, as well as flaw(s) in the incorrect answer.

 Here’s some examples:

Now that you know what is helpful feedback for students, it’s time to see some examples of helpful data for faculty.

Examples of helpful detailed data on all answers to individual questions

Since I don’t have access to all platforms, I’m going to use examples available to all, beginning with a quiz in TWEN.

Here is the data from a quiz I gave students that reveals how many students chose the correct answer(s), as noted with an asterisk, as well as how many chose incorrect answers.

For those that teach Civil Procedure, Click & Learn can also provide data on individual questions.  This tool provides a bar graph of the number of students that got each question correct (darker color on the left) as well as the number that got it wrong.  A quick scan of the chart below reveals that question 2 was the toughest question for students.  The “Answer Breakdown” reveals how many students selected each choice for Q2.  It shows most chose the correct answer A, as noted in teal, and that the second-most popular choice was C.

Does the assessment platform link data to questions?

A program that enables you to easily link between overall student data and the question text is also helpful.  Otherwise you have to remember the question the students struggled with and then go into the Quiz itself to find the actual text of the question and answers.  Here are two examples again from TWEN and Click & Learn.

As shown below, the left side shows class performance for all questions.  Clicking on the question number reveals the actual text of the question and answers shown on the right.

Click & Learn provides the same functionality for those that teach Civil Procedure and adopt the text (i.e. require students to purchase it).  The below diagram shows what a faculty would see by clicking on Question 2.

What next?

Once you’ve chosen your formative assessment tool, you’re prepared to start using this data to tailor your class.  For details on that, check out How to Use Formative Assessment Data to Tailor Teaching “which will be next week’s blog post”.

 

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning