ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review Sessions Revisited

SpoonI have posted before about my approach to review sessions, which I have summed up in a picture to the left.  I have colleagues who ask students to come with questions and hold forth on whatever issues the students raise, but in my experience, the students cannot be relied upon to identify the "unknown unknowns" and they may be too shy or embarrassed to articulate  the "known unknowns."  I just deliver an outline of the course to my students while they frantically type.

But wait, why am I even talking about review sessions only seven weeks into the semester?  Well, I am holding review sessions for my contracts students this week because we are teaching contracts this year in two, seven-week, two-credit units.  My students have their exams for the first "minimester" next week.  

As I explained back in 2009: 

One of my main pedagogical goals, and I make no claim to originality here, is to get students to think of law school as being about much more than just learning a bunch of rules.  Nobody would need a lawyer if they could simply use Google to find the answers to their legal questions.  Rather, lawyers help solve complex problems that may well fall between clear legal rules or where several competing rules may apply.  In order to persuade a court to apply the rules most favorable to their clients or to apply the rules in the most favorable ways, lawyers need persuasive tools beyond knowledge of the black-letter law.  

We spend most of the semester working on those skills through broad-ranging and perhaps rambling discussions on the interaction of law and policy.  If students are too fixated on learning rules, they can't fully engage in what I consider the more important part of the course.  In any case, in lots of areas of contracts doctrine, the rules are far from fixed.

I remind my students throughout the semester that I will feed them some red meat at the end of the semester.  I hope to thereby enable them to relax and partake of the joy-filled fun ride that is the law of contracts. 

My approch to teaching has become more challenging to implement with the advent of the minimester and with more frequent assessments.  We no longer have the luxury of relaxed conversations over the course of a 14-week semester during which students' understandings of legal doctrinces gestate and coalesce.  Rather, every other week, they are tested on how well they are assimilating the doctrine.  

From my perspective, I think my students are better prepared after the first seven-week minimester than they were at the half-way point of the semester in years past.  But they are better prepared in the sense that we have focused more narrowly on basic doctrine and made sure that they are grasping that doctrine.  What is lost are the free-flowing discussions of the consequences of legal doctrines that in my mind has always been the stuff of lawyering.  

Hopefully we'll have more time to work on that stuff in the second minimester.


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