Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I'm at the point in the semester where I'm about to wrap-up Personal Jurisdiction. This seems like a natural break point to encourage my students to go back and review the material and make sure they understand what we've covered. That's exactly what I've told them to do, but I also told them not to outline.
You're probably wondering why the heck I would tell my students to review their material, but NOT to outline. The reason is simple, most of my first year law students (in fact many of my 2nd and 3rd year students too) don't know what the term outlining is intended to mean. So they go with what they know (for the most part undergraduate outlining experience) and they rehash their typewritten notes into very well organized, paginated, tabbed, bulleted dictation notes which don't help them understand the material now or for the exam. It seems there is no synthesis or attempt to understand the material, instead it's a clerical exercise, often involving 100's of pages by the end of the semester, especially when study groups collaborate to make one mega outline. What a waste of paper and time.
Instead of this "outlining" process, I've told my students to develop an "Analytical Framework." I don't use the term outlining, in fact I don't use it in any classes I teach. I instead always tell my students to develop a framework which helps them apply the material we've covered to new circumstances. The results have been extremely encouraging. Instead of fielding questions such as "what is the rule here?" I'm fielding questions such as "So when applying my minimum contacts analysis, should I read Shaffer to say that International Shoe always controls?" Those types of questions are the norm, and considering that we're in Week 4 I'm pleased to see my students synthesizing the material and thinking in terms of application and analysis not regurgitation. (In fact, in my upper level class one 3L student came to office hours to tell me that he had never thought of outlining as developing an analytical framework and since he has looked at it that way he has a whole new grasp of the material---whoa.)
With so much else to worry about, how did I integrate this teaching method into my class? Well, once we made substantial progress through Personal Jurisdiction I began hammering home the point of developing an "Analytical Framework." In the Hypo's found in the book and in the cases we covered I started pressing my students to tell me how they would approach the facts of a problem to resolve the jurisdictional questions. At first they ALWAYS wanted to jump to the quick answer "yes/no there is/isn't jurisdiction" or "yes/no there are/aren't minimum contacts." Rather than let them flail about I began to press them to tell me, if presented with such a fact pattern as a lawyer or a judge, what would be the first question they'd seek to resolve? I have forced them to articulate their rationale in light of what we've learned so far. I repeat this process through each step of the analytical framework.
Here's the hard part about this. First, it requires me to have my analytical framework fully developed---that is to say when it comes to personal jurisdiction questions I need to know today how I want students to approach the problem. If I don't have that in my hands it's tough for me to fairly evaluate how well they are comporting with the approach I believe to be correct and consistent with what we've covered. Luckily, I did this, and when we get to exam time the 5 page analytical framework that I developed will form something of a scoring sheet for that portion of the exam. Second, the in-class part of this is also extremely time consuming, at least at first. The first time I did this I spent 45 minutes with one student on the hot seat, and used him to walk the class through his analytical framework. What actually was happening was that I walked the class through my analytical framework by helping him along the way with guidance and suggestive questions. When we finish personal jurisdiction I will end by doing the same thing, and hopefully it will flow seamlessly.
With that said, it is time consuming at first but it gets easier After a little more than a week of this analytical framework talk, we've arrived at a point where I believe most of my students have taken the time to develop their own framework. When I pose a question, rather than flail they jump to their analytical framework (usually there's a shuffle of papers or a click click of opening windows). As they begin to ponder the question, their answers demonstrate a reasoned analytical approach which details the steps in their thought process, the questions they'd attempt to resolve, and how they would apply the facts of this case or hypo to their understanding of the law. This is a good time (at least for me).
One of my most enjoyable exercises is to take a case we've covered and to change the facts just slightly. Then, based only on the facts of that case (perhaps with my slight modification) I have the student explain to me how they would approach those facts within their analytical framework. Oftentimes I'll ask them to argue against jurisdiction where the court found that jurisdiction was proper. It's fascinating to watch them develop legal arguments and use what they've learned and to do so in an organized analytical fashion.
I'm not sure if time will permit me to continue this approach throughout the semester. However, I believe that getting them in the habit of developing an analytical framework at this stage in the semester will benefit them throughout the course, and hopefully throughout their legal career. I'm also hoping that it will make for some great exams to read over Christmas break. We'll see!