December 18, 2009
The myth of "the right stuff"
Grading is in process. With grading will come ranking. With grading and ranking will come probation and academic dismissal decisions. Such is the cycle of legal education.
We know that our students are talented, bright, and successful. If they were not, they would not have made it to law school. Occasionally over the years, I have heard law professors from various law schools and legal specialties make comments that some law students "don't have the right stuff." I think that perception is unfortunate.
I realize that the law is not always a good match for every student. One of my best friends in law school left because he couldn't see himself spending a lifetime being unhappy in a discipline that he didn't enjoy - his grades were not the problem. Several students with whom I have worked are happily and successfully pursuing other careers or graduate degrees because law just wasn't for them. They had the courage to walk away.
It is true that some students do not do well because they never get the hang of "thinking and writing like a lawyer." Academic dismissal because of grades at the end of the first year (or later) is not necessarily a bad process. However, what bothers me is when people make comments about students as if they are inferior because they are unable to master the law.
We are all blessed with differing gifts. I celebrate my students' differences in learning and help them apply their gifts to legal education. However, I do not think less of the students who work extremely hard but never master legal education. They have valuable gifts to share with others outside the law.
It seems to me that we need to honor our students' gifts. Even if the decision is made by the law school that they cannot continue, it should never be couched in language that suggests they are failures or "lesser beings." Instead, we should always be aware that those students will be successes in other fields. We should give them hope of finding their niches and not add to their distress by suggesting they do not have what it takes. (Amy Jarmon)
December 15, 2009
The Grading Grind
Okay, so this begins the part of the semester that is a least-favorite among many of us...the grading grind. In ASP, we tend to grade year-round, so it's not quite the flurry that it is for doctrinal law professors. But nonetheless, I am swamped with papers that need to be corrected, and grades due Dec 22 for my undergrads (much later for my law students). Here are some pieces of simple advice if you are new to grading or giving feedback on papers:
1) Give yourself a break at between 3-5 papers. If you try to do more than that, you start to get irritated, and it will show in the grades. And that is not fair to the students.
2) At least scan them all once after you have assigned grades. Since it is not wise to grade everything at once due to fatigue, you need to be sure you are using a consistent standard.
3) Rubrics help. They are smart pedagogically, but they also can help keep you consistent.
4) Plan ahead. Grading takes much, much longer than you think it will when you start in ASP. I can easily spend an hour or more on each paper, even when I am not giving detailed feedback (which I almost always do).
5) If you are giving feedback (and you should), be sure students can understand what you are writing. After 3-5 papers, handwriting tends to become sloppy. And feedback can't help a student if they can't read it!
6) Be gentle. It's easy to become snarky and frustrated when you see the same error for the nth time. But think of it this way...if you think you are frustrated with the mistake, chances are the student is much, much more frustrated with themselves that they can't get a concept, no matter how hard they try.
7) Don't try to eat and correct papers. It's gross when a paper is returned to a student covered in food gunk and icky-ness. Don't be that person. (That being said, I think we have all been that person at least once).