Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
There is another variant on this discussion if you teach at a school like Tulane that does not permit adjustment of anonymously determined exam grades on account of participation. You can pre-announce an attendance policy (which can include non-preparedness) but even then you are only permitted to lower the grade, and even that is done automatically through the academic services office. All of which is to say that none of the above makes any difference.
Several colleagues here and I have discussed the general issue of unpreparedness in the last few days. We have tentatively identified three theses. One: the expectation of participation from the Socratic model of teaching is unrealistic in many courses. I am teaching two Code courses - Article 2 (Sales) and Article 9 (Secured Transactions). Unlike many other courses, there are right answers (as Miranda points out for her tax classes), and "policy debates" are far fewer than in classes like criminal law or constitutional law. I will pose questions, and often use the students as foils, but the idea of dragging the Code materials out of them, rather than teaching it to them, doesn't seem to make much sense. [I took Securities Regulation in the spring semester of 1979 from Professor Kenneth Scott at Stanford. I am teaching the class this coming fall. Now granted that many things, in terms of the regulatory specifics, have changed in twenty-eight years, but the basic bones of Section 5 of the '33 Act and the exemptions and exceptions under Section 4 are still the same. His lectures - lectures, mind you - were so organized and, as I recall, interesting, that I retained my class notes all these years, and I expect to be able to go back to them for at least some pieces of class prep. What's wrong with that???]
Two: large "required" upper level courses (e.g., evidence, business associations) can have a surly audience. Many of them are there under a sense of duress, and unlike the 1Ls, they realize it doesn't make any difference any more how surly they are.
Three: what is the proper expectation in a grad school? Do professors in other disciplines at this level take attendance? Grade on participation in class discussions? Put tick marks and such on the seating chart for good comments? When I was a practicing lawyer, I couldn't take notes on my own questioning because I would lose the thread of the examination. I can't imagine trying to teach a class and administer points at the same time!