Wednesday, October 17, 2007

too much time

How much time do you give your students for each assignment, from day of distribution to day it's due? Historically, I have given my students between 3 and 4 weeks. Now I wonder if that's too much time.

Here's why: I am concerned that the generous number of days lulls many into a false sense of "I can do it later," even though my syllabus suggests a more plodding sort of schedule. For example, shortly after the class that teaches these traditional components of the office memo, the syllabus advises students to try the Question Presented and Brief Answer. The pedagogical reasoning supporting this advice is that it's good to practice new skills while the information is fresh in mind. Of course, it's also possible that it may take several drafts to get a QP/BA set that works pretty well.

But very few students work on the memo a little at a time. Instead, they postpone thinking and writing until a couple of days before it's due. The end product reflects that delay. I don't think they plan for it to happen that way. But first-year law students have so many pressures, and they tend to be concerned only about putting out the most immediate fire--which is the next assigned reading in their contracts, torts, property, civil procedure classes.

Therefore, I'm thinking that next year, I may cut the time for memo writing in half--not delaying distribution of the problem until 3-4 days before it's due, but cutting the time to somewhere between 10 days and 2 weeks. With a shorter time frame (but still ample enough for drafts), is it possible that student focus and performance will improve? (And is this closer to the timetables they'll have in their clerking jobs?)

Readers, what has been your experience? Is this an idea worth pursuing?

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Comments

I do give my students a fairly long time period for a memo. However, in the interim, I require students to electronically submit drafts of certain parts of the memo, such as the facts, QP, BA, thesis paragraph, discussion outline, etc. I make these submissions credit/no credit and will review student questions in office hours or conference. I've found this forces many students to get rolling and to get in the habit of making progress throughout the writing process.

Posted by: David Simon | Oct 17, 2007 10:02:22 PM

I agree that most students won't break up an assignment just because it's suggested. However, if you think that students would learn best if they break up writing the memo into different sections, why not have them turn in different sections to you, say, the day after the information is taught. If you don't want to grade extra assignments, have them turn it in to you for full/no credit, and then redistribute to peers for peer review. Use your schedule for create responsible learning. :) Just a thought. :) Hillary Burgess

Posted by: Hillary Burgess | Oct 23, 2007 9:32:35 AM

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