Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Reckoning Season

We are just about to begin the reckoning season. It’s when student reckon with their grades. It’s the same every year. However, after this year’s AALS meeting on graduating happier law students, I believe it is possible to soften the reckoning season for students. Reckoning season will soften when students have an idea of what their grades will be before the close of the semester, when they actually have a chance to improve. The reckoning season will be easier on all of us if students are not only less depressed, but less angry because they knew what to expect when they open their grades. Less angry, depressed students will have a host of benefits.

The reckoning season will end when students have periodic formative assessments throughout the semester that help students learn what they don’t know. As Rory Bahadur of Washburn demonstrated at AALS this year, formative assessments need not increase the grading burden. By writing short questions with a grading rubric, students can peer-grade. Or as Ingrid Michelsen Hillinger of BC Law and Sophie Sparrow of UNH Law confirmed, even if you add assessments, assigning students to teams to reduce the grading burden.

Adding assessments always begs the question: what about coverage? Best expressed by Allison Anderson of UCLA, coverage does not always mean understanding. By rushing through material at the expense of deeper understanding of the material, students are not only shocked and depressed by their grades on reckoning day, but they have not necessarily learned anything in the process.

What role will ASP play if students have a sense of their grades before the close of the semester? It means we will get to focus on skills earlier in the semester, and they will be more likely to listen when we can help before grades are final. It makes our jobs more meaningful, because students will see the importance of our roles earlier in their law school career.  It may mean more work for us earlier, but a more balanced school year with less of a crush at the start of the spring semester. (RCF)

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