November 25, 2008
Being Thankful during the Holiday Season
Thanksgiving Break has always been bittersweet for our law students. It is a break from the daily routine of classes, but rarely has been a true break from law school. Most students have always had to study a good portion of the five-day respite. This year, it is even more of a study period because Reading Day is the Monday following the holiday period, and exams start on the Tuesday.
A large number of law students are staying in town to devote themselves to studying. I encourage them to take off as much of the actual holiday as possible so that they have some relaxation and fewer regrets over a missed holiday.
One of our law students is hosting dinner at his house for any law students who volunteer at the local soup kitchen during Thanksgiving Day. Other students have told me that they are getting together with study partners to celebrate the day.
Although many students are seeing the holiday period as just another week of studying, I hope they will take a few minutes to be thankful. They have much to be thankful for although they may be feeling stressed right now. Each law school community has its own list of things for which students can be thankful. In our law school community, they can be thankful for the following:
- They can be thankful for having a place to live that is warm and clean and safe.
- They can be thankful for a surrounding city that has a low cost of living, easy commutes, and friendly people.
- They can be thankful for having the intelligence to be admitted to a spot in law school.
- They can be thankful for family and friends who support them financially and emotionally during their degrees.
- They can be thankful for classmates who help each other as tutors, teaching fellows, and study partners.
- They can be thankful for professors and administrators who honestly care about their success in law school.
- They can be thankful for student organizations that support their interests and law school endeavors.
- They can be thankful for the high-tech facilities of our new addition to the law school.
I am always proud of our law students this time of year. One of our student organizations works with the Salvation Army to sponsor children who are "forgotten angels" during the holiday season. This annual event helps law school participants remember to be thankful in the midst of exam studying and to share their bounty with others who are less fortunate.
Last year, 300 children were sponsored by our law school family. After this Thanksgiving Break, the law school lobby will once again have a fleet of bicycles and piles of packages waiting for distribution by the Salvation Army. There will be scores of children thankful for the anonymous law school students who took time from studying to bring joy to others' lives.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. May you have many blessings to be thankful for now and in the coming year. (Amy Jarmon)
Pop Culture, Teachable Moments, and Using "There Will Be Blood" to Illuminate Title Statutes
I am a fan of judicious use of pop culture to give context and depth to law. However, this comes with a caveat; one must be careful not to obfuscate the purpose of the teachable moment by overuse of film clips, TV snippits, and news articles. Too many times pop culture becomes a substitute for deep thinking about hard areas of the law, which doesn't help students to learn what they need to know.
The key to using pop culture references is to use them judiciously. Here are two guideposts: use a pop-culture reference as a part of the fabric of your class, or use a pop culture reference to illuminate a concept as students are struggling with it. These guideposts present a paradox; teachable moments tend to be of-the-moment, and often happen spontaneously. However, if the references are not in the context of what the students are learning, the reference becomes opaque and without purpose or focus. Students don't learn from teachable moments if they don't completely understand why it is a teachable moment, as well as why the reference is relevant to what is going on in class. Specifically with pop culture references, it is sometimes best to hold back and weave the reference into the fabric of the course the following semester. This also gives students who may not be "tuned in" to pop culture the opportunity to know what you are talking about. It can alienate students who may not focus on what is on gossip sites and in the movies if the reference is too "of-the-moment."
All this leads up to a suggestion to help illuminate a tough area of Property law. In the movie "There Will Be Blood", Daniel Plainview, the main character, goes to a family ranch with his young son to scout for oil. Daniel lies to the landowners about why he is on the land when he tells them he is hunting for quail. Daniel finds oil on the land, but does not tell the family, and tries to buy the ranch without disclosing his discovery. The next scene follows Daniel to what is presumably the town clerk's office. He goes to the town clerk to look at a plat of the land he would like to buy throughout the area. These scenes screamed to me because so many students struggle with title and recording statutes, and these scenes provide fantastic context for why recording statutes are important in land sales or transfers. Additionally, the set-up gives great material for hypotheticals on trespass and disclosure laws. But without an understanding of the fundamentals of recording and deeds, students could get lost in the emotions and moral ramifications of an oil baron failing to disclose his unique knowledge to poor farmers at the turn of the century, and would miss the importance of his stop at the town clerk's office. While the moral challenges may make for a great, dramatic film, it is not going to help students learn Property law.
This is going to be my only post for the week, as I am off to North Carolina to visit family for the holidays (family without an internet connection.) I wish everyone a very merry Thanksgiving and a restful break.
See you in December,
November 24, 2008
Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Did you miss the e-mail on the ASP Listserv sent by Barbara McFarland regarding the NCBE handout on drafting rules for multiple-choice questions from Dr. Susan Case, Director of Testing for NCBE?
Several common techniques used by law professors in composing multiple-choice questions are specifically mentioned in the drafting rules. Dr. Case is currently working on an article for the Journal of Legal Education on this same topic. I know that all of us will be interested in reading the article when it is published.
You can read the PDF file for the Dr. Case's handout here: Download multiple_choice_drafting_guidelines_by_s_2. Case of NCBE.pdf . (Amy Jarmon)