Thursday, December 20, 2012

Team-Teaching: Constant Conversations about Teaching

If you have the opportunity to team-teach a course at your law school, jump at the opportunity.  

With the close of this semester, I've had a chance to think about how team-teaching has worked in one of the new courses a colleague and I teach. Two advantages to the team approach were obvious: the broadening of the students' learning experience, and the broadening of the teaching experience for those of us at the front of the room (yes, I know, asp-ers, you are all over the room!).  

This new course, “Practical Lawyering Skills,” was created to fill a gap in our academic support offerings. While we had plenty of academic support offerings in the first year, and a newly introduced third-year “just-before-you-take-the-bar” course for graduating students, the second year (or third year for our part-time students) was empty of academic support opportunities. Intervention in the second year seemed a natural extension of academic support offerings.

It also seemed natural to me to design the course as a team-taught enterprise in order to bring as much diverse experience to the class as possible, both in teaching style as well as in legal experience. My co-teacher in the fall semester is a senior faculty member, highly respected by faculty and students alike. As well as having impressive criminal law experience, she is also an experienced doctrinal professor having won “best teacher” awards several times. The two of us, having team-taught in other courses over many years, are comfortable together in the classroom.  

In the spring I teach with a newer professor, but one with plenty of civil practice experience. While our experience teaching together is not as deep as that with my fall colleague, the teaching relationship is quickly maturing after just one semester together.  I think students enjoy this ”double treat,” something we carry over into the grading of their assignments so that students get a broad spectrum of evaluation.

The "carry-over" effect of team-teaching reaches outside the classroom as well.  My colleagues often ask about the "how" of our team-teaching, about the logistics of how we do it—the choreography. (More about that at another time.)

What I tell my colleagues, however, is that the strength of our team-teaching is more about what happens outside the classroom--in our preparation, debriefing, and shared evaluation of students--more so than in our dual presence in the classroom. While many of us have had someone observe our classes to receive feedback on our approach, the team-teaching model creates a constant stream of observation and evaluation, as well as a constant conversation about how we approach the course and, on any given day, how we approach and deliver specific, daily classroom goals.

That conversation provides endless opportunities for evaluating global teaching approaches as well as the individual components of a class session.  So you can have a continual discussion and evaluation from the creator's point of view, and you don't have to wait for the student reviews some time after the final exam to make some navigation corrections.  What I have learned from this experience has given me greater confidence in the classroom and a greater willingness to take risks.

Paul Bateman

 

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