Sunday, August 19, 2012

What Legal Writing Professors Can Contribute to Improving Teaching in the Academy

Last week, I discussed what legal writing professors do. (here) Today, I would like explain some of what legal writing professors can contribute to improving teaching in the academy. In doing so, I am drawing on a very fine article by Lisa McElroy, Christine Coughlin, and Deborah Gordon, The Carnegie Report and Legal Writing: Does the Report Go Far Enough?

First, because they correct so many assignments in detail and provide opportunities for rewriting, legal writing professors are experts in formative assessment. "Because they are regularly engaged in both formative [feedback during the semester] assessment and summative assessment [assessment after the end of class] of student work, they may be the most experienced and skilled assessors in the legal academy, and written and oral formative assessment may even be deemed legal writing’s 'signature pedagogy.’" Summative assessment "assigns grades and class rank (which may be important to future employers) but does little to improve analytical abilities or class performance (which is even more important to future clients)." Formative assessment helps students learn in steps as part of a process, it helps students see they are progressing to their goals, and it helps students attend to learning, which aids both short- and long-term memory. The Carnegie Report stresses the need for frequent formative assessment. Legal writing professors can teach their colleagues about formative assessment.

Second, legal writing professors can show their colleagues how to help their students become reflective learners. "[H[elpful techniques involve self-reflection in the learning process, such as private memos, soliciting general feedback about individual understanding of course concepts (either generally or using directed substantive content questions), journals, and self-ratings. There is also a range of self-instruction techniques, typically computerized, ranging from self-graded or ungraded practice exams, to self-scoring computer quizzes, CALI exercises, and electronic group assessment systems."

Third, legal writing teachers can show their colleagues that the best teaching is interactive and experimental. This is important because interactive and experimental approaches grab the students’ attention causing them to remember more than from just lecture. In addition, these approaches teach skills that lecture does not. " These mechanisms allow students to experience legal problems in ways that go beyond and enhance dialogue over individual cases; in other words, to 'practice' being legal professionals."

Finally, legal writing professors can show their colleagues how using practical exercises, such as "oral arguments, negotiating contracts, reading and reviewing case histories, and engaging in problem-based learning" can help student learning.

In sum, legal writing professors can help their colleagues improve their teaching because legal writing professors are already using best practices.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S. I am not criticizing doctrinal professors in this post. Rather, I am showing that legal writing professors have a lot to contribute to their law schools concerning teaching techniques because they have different teaching experiences.

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