Friday, January 4, 2013

Professor Wellford-Slocum on Student Conferences

I have always thought that student conferences were an important part of, if not the most important part of, teaching legal writing.  I have just run across a wonderful article on student conferences by Robin S. Wellford-Slocum--The Law School Student Faculty Conference: Towards a Transformative Learning Experience, 45 South Texas Law Review 255 (2004) (also here).

Abstract: "Part II of this article contends that the student conference can be one of the most important learning experiences of a law student’s education. With its personalized attention to an individual student’s cognitive development, the conference is a forum in which a student can engage in a sustained dialogue with her professor and explore ways of improving her analysis and writing without the pressures of performance in front of peers. In Part III, the article explores the institutional and individual constraints that often prevent the student conference from realizing its full potential. Not only do time and financial constraints impose limits on one-on-one dialogue, but professors are poorly prepared by legal scholarship alone to make the most of the student conference. Even thoughtful and prepared law professors may lack a systematic understanding of what is happening (or failing to happen) in the student conference without the benefit of insights from extensive research in the areas of cognitive science, psychology, psychotherapy, composition theory and critical discourse analysis.

The remainder of this article builds on such research to provide a detailed analysis of how law professors can make the student conference an effective and transformative learning experience. Part IV discusses such considerations as the timing of student conferences in the writing curriculum and the advance preparation required of both professor and student prior to the conference. Part V of this article discusses the importance of the relationship between professor and student and considers the characteristics of an interpersonal relationship that would best encourage the law student’s cognitive development. In Part VI, this article discusses and evaluates the four phases of the student conference, including the rapport-building phase, the problem-overview phase, the problem-resolution phase, and the closure phase."

I especially liked this observation, which sums up the problems with the Socratic method: "The Langdellian classroom in particular is so focused on revealing to students what they do not know, as opposed to what they do know, 'that students tend to leave a traditional Langdellian classroom with a sense of failure, rather than a Socratic sense of accomplishment.'”

Here's another one: "In fact, a limited training in analytical skills leads to unintended consequences, as students learn to depend on these skills to provide solutions to problems without considering the human dimension."

(Scott Fruehwald)

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