Saturday, June 10, 2006

Of Whales, Congo Lines, and Banjos: Wrapping Up Is Hard to Do

Lots went on in the last two days.  The festivities at the Atlanta Aquarium were everyone's favorite; we all ended up parked in front of an exhibit of four Beluga whales who seemed to enjoy watching humans as much as we enjoyed watching the whales.  In the spirit of  Ruth Anne Robbins's "life is a legal writing exercise," we all felt there was a metaphor among the whales somewhere.  The closest we came was the whales and their graceful antics as perfect professionals, exhibiting what Edward Villela once said about dancers: total control and complete abandon.  That same idea can be true of good writers, whose total control co-exists with complete abandon, for they have internalized the rules so well that they no longer are consciously aware of the rules at all.  So, too, a sonnet is one of the tightest and most controlled of poetic forms, and yet one could argue that the sonnet has engendered more creativity and been more popular among both poets and readers than any other form.  A similar idea was expressed by Michelle Streicher and Cara Cunningham (Univ. of Detroit, Mercy School of Law) in their presentation, "Methods of Persuasion: Exploring the Irony that Standardized Methods Foster Creative Thinking and the Creation of Compelling Arguments." 
Other fun activities in these last days included a congo line (yes, a congo line) at the symbolic-handing-off-the-torch-of-the-conference luncheon; the handing off was an example of performativity, a ritual to mark the change from having the conference in Seattle. After all, human beings crave rituals, whether or not they are expressed as congo lines.  In addition, after the visit to the Aquarium, a lucky few were treated to an impromptu after party at the Sparta Dorm in the Olympic Village; Sheila Simon (Southern Illinois) was rehearsing her many talents for the next day's closing reception (singing, song writing, banjo playing); her set with Hollee Temple and Grace Wigal (West Virginia) and others at the closing reception was warmly appreciated; there's nothing like having an in-house band.
A lot has had to be left out, but thanks must go to Yonna Shaw (Mercer) and Jennifer Chiovaro (Georgia State).  The next conference will have two difficult acts to follow: the long tradition of Seattle's hospitality and the short but equally hospitable experience of Atlanta.
--Dr. Natalie Tarenko, Writing Specialist, Texas Tech University School of Law
(njs)

June 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

themes at the LWI conference

One of the overlaps and echoes that repeated throughout the conference was the continued importance of the tradition of the teaching of writing, one of the tributaries that contributes to the ocean of legal writing.  Other repetitions around and alongside the role of writing instruction included the necessity of taking risks, the role of writing theory, and the possibility of intentionally and deliberately intervening in students' writing process. 
Both Terri LeClercq (Univ. of Texas) in "Gerunds, Infinitives, and Set-ups, Oh No! Composition Vocabulary for Creatures You'll Uncover in the Abyss of One-L Memos" and Mary Beth Beazley (The Ohio State Univ.) in "Don't Grade a First Draft Like a Final Draft: Course Design and Composition Theory" each delivered witty, bravura performances to large, appreciative groups on topics derived from English studies. One of LeClercq's most helpful tips was simply to place some post-it notes in a set of student papers to mark particularly common or annoying errors; then type up the example sentences before class, and take just a few minutes during class to go over the sentences with students, who will be very interested because the sentences will come out of a context on which the students are working at the time.  Beazley explained the concepts of writing tasks and/or errors that come out of cognitive (understanding), formalist (rules), and social (audience-based) processes.  Another presentation that made use of writing theory was "Rethinking Basic Legal Skills: Using Theory to Guide a Substantial Overhaul of A First-Year Program," by Kate O'Neill and Carolyn Plumb (both from Univ. of Washington); unfortunately, both the Beazley and the O'Neill/Plumb presentations were given at the same time, leading to one of those wishing-to-be-in-two-places situations.  However, it's a testament to the depth of the LWI conference that so many of those situations come up. Janet Chung (Seattle) in "Creating a Positive Feedback Loop: Using Writing-to-Learn Activities to Enhance Student Learning and Focus Your Teaching" also demonstrated writing-based techniques; in addition to pair-and-share, these techniques included self-graded (high-lighted) drafts and reflective free-writes on stages of the writing process.  According to Chung, it's necessary to take risks and try incorporating some of these techniques. 
Risk is a good thing also according to Laurel Currie Oates (Seattle) and Mary Rose Strubbe (Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Tech).  In their presentation, "Legal Research in the 21st Century," they proposed that "adaptive expertise" is what writing professors should try to help students acquire.  Rather than specific and surface-y research tools, which probably will change rapidly, writing professors should endeavor to impart to students the underlying research strategies involved; more example exercises are needed, but the technique of the hypothetical can be useful, asking students to think about how they would conduct research for a different jurisdiction, issue, etc.  Just telling students that they will need to transfer a particular skill turns out to be remarkably effective, for students on their own might just file information under a topic such as "negotiation" and not automatically be able to draw upon it for other situations.  The risky part is being willing to try new research technologies with which the students may be more familiar than are their professors. 
Deliberately intervening in students' writing process was another idea that appeared in more than one presentation.  Writing professors should start with the point they want students to reach and then look back to see how to create situations that help students get there.  This kind of strategy was described by Chung, by Beazley, and also by Prof. Lawrence S. Krieger (Florida State Univ.), in his presentation "Creating the Complete Legal Professional: Balancing Between Stressors and Stress Relief in the Legal Writing Classroom."  Krieger is well-known for his project of humanizing legal education; Krieger advises adding to the semester's plan a consideration of what in the semester will/could/should support students' needs, values, and motivation.  One need everyone can relate to, faculty as well as students, is the need for autonomy, for making "choices one prefers, to do things as one wants" (Krieger handout). 
There's still more to come.
--Dr. Tarenko, Writing Specialist, Texas Tech University School of Law
(njs)

June 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

r-e-s-p-e-c-t

Another interesting conference presentation on Friday was about RESPECT - Find Out What It Means to Me (and Find Out a Few Different Ways to Get There).  First, Sheila Simon (Southern Illinois) explained how she has gotten involved in local politics, first as a city Councilwoman and now as a candidate for Mayor of her town.  Next, Melissa Weresh (Drake) discussed the personal and professional benefits of pursuing scholarship.  Then Mark Wojcik (John Marshall - Chicago) encouraged participation in the organized bar and the Association of American Law Schools.  Members of the audience were encouraged to share their ideas for gaining respect within the legal academy, and many received their very own, homemade super-person capes for their contributions.  The presenters' paper hand-out is available on the LWI website.

(spl)

June 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 9, 2006

student evaluations

At one LWI conference session this morning, Professors Judy Fischer (Louisville) and Melissa Marlow (Southern Illinois) spoke about Student Evaluations:  What Empirical Research Reveals.  Each professor gave updates on the relevant literature, and also reported on the results of their own research.  They provided information on the inherent limits and biases of student ratings of professors, the evaluation documents themselves, and the ways law schools use student ratings.  Their bibliography is available online at the LWI website.

(spl)

June 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hamlet and the law

(reported by Dr. Natalie Tarenko, writing specialist at Texas Tech)
This next cluster of LWI events began with Hamlet and ended with metaphor, but everything really just keeps on going.
Thursday night truly was one of Wordsworth's beauteous evenings: LWI colleagues, a fine production of Hamlet, and a setting of roses and greenery.  The Georgia Shakespeare Company, in residence at Oglethorpe University, presented Hamlet; while "the play's the thing," it's really the actor who plays Hamlet on whom so much depends.  This time, the actor playing Hamlet, Daniel May, was everything and more.  As Meredith Stange observed (Northern Illinois Univ. College of Law), May didn't declaim or orate; he acted.  He made Hamlet credible and contemporary by inhabiting Shakespeare's language in a performance that was an accomplishment.  The theater was small but the house was full; there might be larger audiences and grander buildings, but this production could be stacked up against any.  Of course, many other people worked to make such a fine production, from the van driver/voice coach/education director (Allen O'Reilly) on up, and for working with the LWI, Carrie Ragsdale.
On the LWI end, special thanks must go to Lesley Carroll (Emory), for working so hard to make the excursion to see Hamlet a reality, and to Meredith Stange, the pathfinder of our LWI group, without whom many of us never would have reached the theater or gotten back.
Again, don't forget to take a look at the Web site The Legally Annotated Hamlet, www.shakespearefellowship.org/virtualclassroom/Law/legalhamlet, for connections between Shakespeare and law.  Hamlet gives us many well-known lines, but for connections to law, not the usual suspects, but a less well known quotation seems most useful: Hamlet's statement, "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" (II.2.235-236).  This statement seems ready-made to give meaning in a legal context of facts versus interpretations of facts.
In one of those echo-moments that occurred with some regularity during the conference, Jane Wise (BYU) mentioned the concept of "recasting a narrative" as one of the functions of storytelling in first-year law classes.  Professors sometimes can recast the narrative of student worries, putting a different spin on the details so as to help students not get mired in those worries.  Wise suggested a book that can help with such recasting of narratives: My Grandfather's Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen. Other benefits of using stories in legal education, according to Wise, include that stories get people talking, that a story shared in the classroom creates community, that stories invite empathic concern for the Other, that stories can produce an appreciation of complexity, and that stories connect the past with the future.  One way Wise uses stories early in the year is to share examples of the lawyer as hero, starting with but not limited to the character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
In an earlier presentation about law and literature ("Don't Slow Down: Teaching Law and Literature"), Marilyn R. Walter (Brooklyn Law School) similarly spoke about the value of literary works and law/lit courses in legal education: literature helps illustrate for law students topics such as law versus equity; justice; depictions of lawyers; and how authors use language.  The audience for Walter's presentation also suggested the benefits/transferable skills of close reading, of the skill of learning how to appeal to the imagination of judges and juries, and of the analogy of who gets to say what a work of literature/law/statute means (the author? the legislature? the judge? the public?).
Some other presentations that ought to be looked up and that overlap some of the ones mentioned already include "They're a Little Bit Plato, We're a Little Bit Aristotle: Understanding the Schism Between Doctrinal and Legal Writing Faculty" (Kristen K. Robbins, Georgetown University), "The Law/Justice Dichotomy: Teaching Students to Employ Justice and/or Law-Based Arguments for Maximum Persuasive Effect" (Lisa T. McElroy, Southern New England School of Law), and "From Aristotle to Martin Luther King: Using Letter from a Birmingham Jail to Teach Aristotle's Three Modes of Persuasion" (Suzanne Rabe, Univ. of Arizona).  (Jane Wise also used King's letter and some of the same cases in her presentation).
One more presentation that must be mentioned was Michael R. Smith's (formerly Mercer, soon University of Wyoming) "The Five Levels of Metaphor in Persuasive Legal Writing."  The overflow crowd was treated to a fabulous handout and discussion that focused on strategies advocates can use.  One such strategy Smith termed the "Cardozo attack," or recognizing that a metaphor is being used and arguing against the suitability of its use.  It turns out that "Justice Cardozo famously warned about the limited ability of metaphors to accurately reflect legal concepts" (from Smith's fabulous handout).  An interesting exercise that Smith described involves asking students to take an existing judicial opinion and revise it by incorporating a metaphor.  Some of this material also comes from Smith's textbook, Advanced Legal Writing: Theories and Strategies in Persuasive Writing.  In addition, Smith will be presenting at a special symposium/issue of the Mercer Law Review, Nov. 9-10, 2006; the symposium topic will be "Law and Metaphor" (as Smith said, a hot topic in current law research), and other presenters will be Linda Berger, Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, and Steven Winter.
According to Harold Bloom, "[c]onsciousness is his [Hamlet's] salient characteristic; he is the most aware and knowing figure ever conceived" (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human).  Consciousness, awareness, cognitive processes, "thinking [that] makes it so"--these are ideas and values that can inform teaching and writing and that all the LWI presenters have generously shared.
There's still more to come.
--Dr. Natalie Tarenko, Writing Specialist, Texas Tech University School of Law
(njs)

June 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

take me out to the ballgame . . .

Dscn0842_1 

Tracy Bach and Jayne Kacer

Beth Cohen and Myra Orlen

One of the optional conference activities was a Braves baseball game on Wednesday night. Here are some photos of folks having a great time.

Dscn0841Laura Reilly, Ben Bratman, and
Jeff Malcolm smile for the camera.

Dscn0846 Reviewing conference materials during the game . . . now that's dedication.

Thanks to Julie Oseid for taking the photos.

(njs)

June 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

report from the conference

(courtesy of Dr. Natalie Tarenko, writing specialist at Texas Tech)
Greetings from the LWI conference.  The poet Alberto Rios has written about the benefits of binocular or double vision, two ways of seeing something.  As is often the case, the best parts of the presentations thus far have been those times when one presentation/presenter does double duty and connects seemingly disparate topics; so, too, it has been interesting to catch those moments when two entirely different presentations/presenters at different times sometimes have echoed each other.
Alison Craig from BYU connected the praxis of giving a grammar diagnostic with the praxis and theory of empirical research ("Diagnosing Our Diagnostic: Using 'Re-vision' in Empirical Research").  Particularly interesting was her description of "the swampy place of creativity," whence solutions emerge from "the murky depths" that cannot be plumbed consciously for solutions.  Useful also was the term "persistence of error" for those writing flaws that do not improve as rapidly as everyone hopes; a recent and related term is "fossilized" concepts or errors.
Marilyn R. Walter from Brooklyn Law School connected the creation and teaching of a law and literature course with finding fresh inspiration in an already successful teaching and research career ("Don't Slow Down: Teaching Law and Literature").  Professor Craig Lawson (University of Nebraska), who was in the audience, generously volunteered to set up a clearinghouse/exchange for law/lit syllabi and other materials.  His e-mail is clawson1@unl.edu.  Prof. Lawson welcomes everyone to participate, including readers of this blog who did not get a chance to attend the conference; one does not have to share materials in order to receive the materials that will be exchanged.
Sonia Bychkov Green and Maureen Straub Kordesh, each from The John Marshall Law School, described the summer program at their law school in "A Chance to Succeed: Teaching Legal Writing and Analysis to At-Risk Law Students in a Summer Assessment Program."  While not the focus of the presentation, one memorable tip was to use the Off-sides Rule in soccer to illustrate factors and elements; the professor could even bring a soccer ball to class to round out the different learning styles/approaches that can be put into play with such a demonstration.
The Keynote Address given by Richard Gale and Dean Daisy Hurst Floyd already has been described.  The address stitched together insights from scholarship and praxis in the disciplines of drama and law.  One memorable statement came from the Carnegie Foundation's mission, to the effect that "a private act of teaching might become public."
"Reaching the Summit: Meeting Teaching Challenges and Working with Challenging Students" also already has been described.  Some particularly useful phrases to store away included "I can see how that would be frustrating" (in a group) and "What's going on," "I don't know if this helps or not," "One thing I know about you from class is," "Tell me what you've done/are doing/have tried," "It sounds as if," and "Let's brainstorm some ways you could continue to work on this project and get unstuck from the point at which you're stuck" (all for one-on-one/office/individual conference situations).
Chad Noreuill (Arizona State University), Allison Martin (Indiana University, Indianapolis) and Susan Smith Bakhshian (Loyola) shared interesting and useful techniques for "First Impressions: Introducing Yourself and Your Students with Style."  Some of the suggestions included small groups of 3-4 students who would search for similarities/similar quirks in their backgrounds and who then would share them with the rest of the class; benefits would go beyond ice breaking to helping students find some common ground they might not have been aware of otherwise (Bakhshian). 
Another interesting possibility for a bit later in the semester was a variation of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; the law version would be Who Wants to Be a Supreme Court Justice (Martin).
For more details, please be sure to check the LWI website.
Some presentations that make a person long to be in two places at the same time included "Seeing the 'Big Picture': Using Diagrams to Facillitate Learning in Legal Writing Classrooms" (Karen B. Cooper and Jennifer M. Romig, Emory University); "Interactive Legal Writing Lessons: Alternatives to Reading about Writing" (Nancy Johnson and Beth Adelman, each from Georgia State University College of Law Library, and Wayne Schiess, University of Texas); and "New Scholarly Pursuits in the Peak Years: Film and Re-Thinking the Fundamentals" (Anne M. Enquist and J. Christopher Rideout, Seattle University).
(njs)

June 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 8, 2006

reaching the summit

Want to reach the summit in your teaching?  Julie Oseid (St. Thomas), Jayne Kacer (Chapman), Robin Wellford Slocum (Chapman), and I discussed challenges in teaching, both in the classroom and in dealing with specific types of attitudes in students.  We discussed some difficult scenarios--not taking a deep breath, not following department guidelines--and solutions and future options.  We also addressed the reasons behind some negative student attitudes and how to de-escalate and effectively deal with those attitudes.

(njs)

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

session on syllabus construction

Susan Kosse (Louisville) and Craig Smith (Vanderbilt) set out the basics of drafting a successful syllabus.  Using sample syllabi from their own courses, they focused on using the syllabus as a teaching tool and as a way to set student expectations about their legal writing courses.  They also reminded participants to see the LWIONLINE website for sample syllabi and to submit their own syllabi for its syllabus bank.

(njs)

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

computers' dark side

One of the early morning sessions at the LWI conference today was on Inappropriate Student Use of Technology:  How to Deal with the Darker Side of Computer Use in the Legal Research and Writing Environment.  Professors Catherine Cameron and Jeff Minneti, both of Stetson University College of Law, described some familiar and some scarey new ways that law students can misuse computers.  Session attendees had a chance to use "clickers" to electronically answer questions that polled the audience's views about student computer use and abuse.  The bibliography and handout are available via the LWI website.

(spl)   

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

the rankings

Towards the end of the LWI conference day today, Professor Jan Levine of Temple University gave a report on Rating U.S. News: What's Behind the Rankings of LRW Programs?  He provided a helpful overview of both the overall law school rankings and the specialty program rankings, including some history and the details of how U.S. News arrives at these rankings.  Professor Levine also described what these rankings might mean for the legal writing community and what recent results might be telling the academy about legal writing programs.  He also described a study he is planning, to look further into these topics.  All the documents he projected during the presentation are available via the LWI website.

(spl) 

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

scholarship of teaching & learning

At the plenary session of the LWI conference, held over lunch today, 550 legal writing professors learned that much of the scholarship of our field from the last 20 years has a specific name:  the scholarship of teaching and learning.  We heard from Richard Gale, Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Daisy Hurst Floyd, Dean of the Mercer University School of Law, on the topic of Pedagogy, Practice, and Persuasion:  Legal Writing and the Case for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  The speakers described this type of scholarship as the private act of teaching in the classroom made public via scholarship.  They encouraged the audience to identify a teaching problem, make observations about it, gather evidence, and then go public with it.

The process of this scholarship about teaching and learning was nicely put with the phrases:

"from seeing to asking"
"from knowing to showing"

It became quite obvious that it's time for legal writing professors to apply to be Carnegie scholars.

(spl) 

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

plagiarism update

LWI conference attendees gained updated ideas on plagiarism problems today at a session entitled Cheaters Should Never Win and Winners Should Never Cheat:  Rooting Out and Addressing Plagiarism in LRW Programs.

First Professors Melody Daily and John Mollenkamp, of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, explained a new process they used to test how much their students learned about avoiding plagiarism during the first year of law school.  They had given their students a pre-test early first semester, and a post-test later in the second semester, and they shared their results.  But first, everyone attending the conference session took the post-test and had a chance to experience the thinking process required of the students.

Next, Professor Jeanne Kaiser, from Western New England College School of Law, presented some anecdotes of plagiarism problems law students have encountered and some ideas for preventing as many of these problems as possible.  She recommended particular aspects of assignment design that can help avoid problems, types of written and verbal warnings that may be effective, and certain computerized plagiarism detection systems.  Among the later were Essay Verification Engine (EVE) and copycatch.com.  Professor Kaiser also provided some sample written warning policies that are representative of those used by many legal writing programs, as found when she conducted a listserve survey.

(spl)      

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

teaching Internet research

At the LWI conference today, Michael Higdon, Legal Writing Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, gave an interesting and entertaining talk on Judges Using the Internet?!?  How to Teach Students to Effectively Find and Integrate Nonlegal, Internet Sources.  He reviewed the benefits (including cost savings) and limitations (including the difficulty of going back many years or updating) of researching legal authority via the Internet.  And then he discussed the many benefits of researching non-legal sources via the Internet, to find the social science behind much of our public policy and legislation.  Professor Higdon distinguished between finding adjudicative facts and legislative facts.  The latter can be brought into appellate briefs via Federal Rule of Evidence 201, which has an exemption for introducing legislative facts at the appellate level, even if they were not part of the record below.

BTW, did anyone else notice how much Michael Higdon resembles Leonardo Di Caprio in his Titanic days?

(spl)

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

empirical research steps

One LWI conference session I attended today covered Suggestions on How to Conduct Empirical ResearchRobin Boyle, Legal Writing Professor at St. John's University School of Law, and Dr. Joanne Ingham, Institutional Research Specialisit at New York Law School, gave detailed information on each of seven basic steps:

- identify the question or hypothesis,
- explain & defend the rationale,
- prepare a formal proposal,
- conduct the study,
- collect the data,
- analyze & report the findings, &
- describe & share the results.

Their bibliography is available on the LWI website and further information is available from the Association for Institutional Research.

(spl) 

June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

final reception photo

Picturedayone_012 Lots of people having a good time!!

(njs)

June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

recommended reading

Those not at the conference, or those already exhausted by meeting 550 legal writing colleagues all at once, might find the following an interesting read:  Ira P. Robbins, The Importance of the Secret Ballot in Law Faculty Personnel Decisions:  Promoting Candor and Collegiality in the Academy (May 15, 2006), http://law.bepress.com/expresso/eps/1367.  Of course some legal writing professors would be happy to have any type of ballot, but some of the issues and dynamics described in the article will be relevant for all professors.

(spl)

   

June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

reception photo two

Picturedayone_009_2 Doug Welch (Texas Tech) and his wife, Nadine, enjoy the opening reception.

(njs)

June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

photo from reception

Picturedayone_010 Here's a photo taken at the reception:  Lilla and Dale Jones (Dale teaches at Texas Tech); Joan Leary Matthews (Albany); Jim Levy (Nova Southeastern); and Craig Smith (Vanderbilt).

(njs)

June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LWI conference starts today

The Legal Writing Institute Conference started today with registration and an opening reception.  Hundreds of legal writing professors (well over 500 at last count) will attend the conference.  We'll be keeping you posted about events and sessions, and of course, will offer some great photos as well!!  Check back often.

(njs)

June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)