Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Indirectly assessing writing and analysis skills in a first-year legal writing course"

This article is by Professor John D. Schunk (Santa Clara) and can be found at 40 S.U. L. Rev. 47 (2012).  From the introduction:

Early each August as one prepares to teach a legal writing course for first-year law students, the legal writing teacher has to confront, prioritize, and reconcile these ideas for the academic year ahead. With the ultimate goal of trying to help produce practice-ready law school graduates, how can the legal writing teacher accomplish this? With forty students, can the legal writing teacher provide prompt feedback based on rigorous assignments? Does the legal writing teacher have the time to give students meaningful, formative, and summative assessments? Should students start a new writing assignment while the teacher reviews and comments on the current assignment?

Recent research suggests that testing plays an important role in student learning. This is known as the “testing effect,” and research shows that taking a test positively increases the individual's memory for the tested material. This effect extends to the study of complex academic materials.

This article suggests that one underused, if not ignored, arrow in the legal writing teacher's quiver is the selective use of multiple-choice assessments. Studies have shown that multiple-choice assessments can measure student performance for both analysis and writing - two of the cornerstones for any legal writing course.

 This article envisions not a multiple-choice assessment about legal writing; instead, it envisions using a multiple-choice assessment that forces the student into the role of editor for both presentation and substantive analysis.

 If used well, this type of multiple-choice assessment can provide a series of benefits. It can supplement the traditional direct assessment of student writing and rewriting by allowing the legal writing teacher to assess discrete writing skills quickly, to better provide prompt feedback to students, to increase the rigor or the number of assignments students undertake, and to provide either formative or summative assessments.

Based on two years of experience, this article explains how one might incorporate this idea into a traditional first-year legal writing course. Initially, Part I identifies the ultimate object of any first-year legal writing course. Next, Part II looks at how the ultimate objective of a first-year legal writing course is compatible with traditional multiple-choice techniques for assessing writing and analysis skills. It reviews how important testing is to student learning. It also reviews early and more recent attempts to develop multiple-choice tests for assessing writing and analysis skills. Part III summarizes how I developed a multiple-choice assessment for my legal writing course and what I learned from using it. This includes a comparison of student performance on the multiple-choice assessment and a subsequent direct assessment of students' writing. Part III concludes by suggesting ways in which a legal writing course or program could benefit from using the type of multiple-choice assessment described in this article.


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