Saturday, September 5, 2009
So after our carbohydrate-laden break of Voodoo doughnuts, we settled in for an hour of presentations on Designing Legal Writing Assignments.
Kristen Martin of Whittier talked about environmental justice and legal writing assignments; she suggested that to counter the "moral lobotomizing" of students and the general sense of disillusionment that pervades legal education, environmental justice can awaken awareness and revitalize the classroom. She also talked about creating especially challenging problems where the presumed "good guys" are in the wrong legally.
Next, Ursula Weigold of Cornell addressed success and failure in designing legal writing assignments. She has developed an assignment evaluation for herself to use after completing a fact pattern/assignment so that should she or someone else use it again, that person will know what worked and what didn't. She collects all e-mailed questions about the assignment from students and reviews them, as well as saving sample papers and walking herself through a series of questions about whether the assignment met her goals as a professor.
Finally, Megan McAlpin and Rebekah Hanley of Oregon (to the right in the picture) discussed using new and recycled materials in creating legal writing assignments. They talked about using recycled materials for samples for current students and as training materials for tutors, as well as for development of a library of comments that can be used in other feedback situations. They discussed how to vary an old problem to discourage cheating, as well as concerns that over-reliance on old materials can lead to a closed-mindedness on the professor's part when faced with a novel approach to the assignment. Some of the questions addressed the importance of understanding that the professor may not be the same person each time he/she uses a fact pattern (e.g., novice v. experienced) and that swapping with a colleague may save time and still provide a "new" fact pattern.
Friday, September 4, 2009
In case you missed it, this recent article from the NYT talks about a supposed "revolution" (ed note: you can add "revolution" to the list of words I'm beginning to hate - see below) taking place in secondary school education where students are allowed to choose the books they want to read rather than assigning titles as used to be done. The pros?
Literacy specialists say that giving children a say in what they read can help motivate them. 'If your goal is simply to get them to read more, choice is the way to go,' said Elizabeth Birr Moje, a literacy professor at the University of Michigan. Ms. Moje added that choices should be limited and that teachers should guide students toward high-quality literature.
Though research on the academic effects of choice has been limited, some studies have shown that giving students modest options can enhance educational results.
As you would expect, there's also plenty of skepticism about whether "reading workshops" enhance student learning or undermine it:
Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics — often difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves.
“What child is going to pick up ‘Moby-Dick’?” said Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University who was assistant education secretary under President George H. W. Bush. “Kids will pick things that are trendy and popular. But that’s what you should do in your free time.”
Indeed, some school districts are moving in the opposite direction. Boston is developing a core curriculum that will designate specific books for sixth grade and is considering assigned texts for each grade through the 12th.
Off-the-top-of-my-head, I'm not sure how, or even whether the "reading workshop" could be transferred to the law school context since: 1. At this level, students need to be self-motivated or they should find another graduate program more in sync with their interests; 2. the educational goal of law school is to train students to think like the group they want to join. (i.e. lawyers). But you can make up your mind by reading the full article here.
I am the scholarship dude.
The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities is an organization of scholars engaged in interdisciplinary, humanistic legal scholarship. The Association brings together people engaged in scholarship on legal history, legal theory, jurisprudence, law and cultural studies, law and literature, law and the performing arts, and legal hermeneutics. Scholars with interests across the range of areas in law, culture and the humanities are invited to organize panels, performance pieces, or screenings, or to submit proposals for individual paper presentations. The Association will be accepting proposals for panels, roundtables, papers, and volunteers for chairs and discussants until October 15, 2009. Submit your proposal at the online submission site. Additional information about the conference will be posted to the conference information page, as it becomes available.
Susan R. Schmeiser (Chair), University of Connecticut
Cliff Rosky, University of Utah
Adam Sitze, Amherst College
Matteo Taussig-Rubbo, University at Buffalo
Direct questions to Susan Schmeiser, email@example.com.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Here are some helpful tips on creating effective PowerPoint slides courtesy of the Business Writing Blog:
- Less data--just a few powerful pieces--is more compelling than heaps of numbers.
- Ten slides are more memorable than fifty.
- One clear idea moves an audience more than three, four, or five ideas, especially muddy ones.
- One relevant story sticks longer than a hundred statistics.
- Four words on a slide communicate more than forty.
- A 10-minute presentation grabs an audience more than a 60-minute one.
- An hour spent understanding the audience pays off more than 24 hours of fearing them.
- One precise call to action inspires an audience more than a dozen suggestions.
- An ounce of courage is worth more than a pound of blather.
The same could be said of both effective writing and oral advocacy.
You can read the rest of the Ms. Gaertner-Johnston's advice right here.
I am the scholarship dude.
Hillary Burgess (pictured at left) has a guest post on the Law School Academic Support Blog on the subject of what to think when law professors say "dude!" Legal writing folk mentioned in her post include Traci McGaugh and James Dimitri (pictured at right). Click here to read Hillary's post.
As a matter of record, we have our own in-house dude here on the Legal Writing Prof Blog.
We also extend our congratulations and good wishes to the Law School Academic Support Blog for recently having its landmark 150,000th visitor!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Here's a great post by David Walker at the Law Librarian Blog about reliability problems with online citators including Westlaw's Keycite, Lexis' Shepards as well as open source upstarts like Precydent (previously discussed here).
I'll let you read David's very detailed post discussing his impromptu experiment with online citators to determine the validity of United States v. Napier, 233 F.3d 394 (6th Cir. 2000) in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent holding in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008). Suffice it to say - impress upon your students that these services are far from foolproof or even accurate.
Hat tip to Joe Hodnicki.
I am the scholarship dude.
Thanks to our good buddy Raymond Ward at the (new) legal writer for alerting us to this online list of writing style guides courtesy of DailyWritingTips.com. It's your one-stop resource that covers everything from Chicago Manual of Style to the University of Alaska Style Guide (huh?) to the BBC News Styleguide.
Jump on it, Daddy-O, and get yourself some style.
I am the scholarship dude.
Professor Stanley Fish on writing - "don't call it a writing course unless you're actually teaching them how to write"
On his New York Times blog, FIU Law Professor Stanley Fish criticizes college writing courses that focus on substantive topics - "novels, movies, TV shows and . . . a variety of hot-button issues [like] racism, sexism, immigration, globalization" - rather than the craft of writing as an end in itself.
As I learned more about the world of composition studies, I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research.
Professor Fish rejects the assumption most of us make that the best way to teach students how to write is by giving them something to write about. Indeed, he says we're wrong to advertise it as a writing class unless it focuses solely on developing grammar skills, "style, clarity, and argument."
That essay provoked a lot of reader response - much of it negative - that Professor Fish must be off his rocker if he thinks writing can be taught as an abstract set of skills. Professor Fish responds in part II of "What Should Colleges Teach?" asserting that contrary to popular belief, thinking doesn't drive good writing but, rather, developing good writing skills actually improves our students' ability to think.
Is Professor Fish right? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Hat tip to Professor Michael Masinter.
I am the scholarship dude.
This past weekend's Northwest Regional Legal Writing Conference was a great success, in no small part due to the many excellent presentations (as well, of course, to the hard work by the sponsoring schools, University of Oregon and Lewis & Clark).
Saturday morning's first hour was devoted to the topic "Grading & Critiquing." Lori Bannai and Mimi Samuel of Seattle University shared a number of hints for positive critiquing, including the following:
* think of each student as your only student
* frame comments in terms of how a supervisor or judge might react to the writing choices
* assume that the student put effort into the writing (in the discussion afterwards, one participant pointed out that a 1-L might not understand what level of effort is expected or necessary to succeed in law school)
* especially when offering critical comments, avoid the word "you"
Helen Anderson of the University of Washington spoke next. One of her early points was that professors shouldn't mistake guidance for handholding. She also mentioned that one might consider raising the median grade on assignments during the semester (especially if it's a number-based grade in a letter-grade system), b'c students will feel better about their early grades even if the letter doesn't change at the end.
And so ended the first hour . . .
Professor Kirsten Davis, director of the legal writing program at Stetson University College of Law, has announced that school's innovative series of "virtual legal writing conferences," presented as free webinars for law school faculty.
The first in the series addresses the topic, "Outcomes and Assessments." The webinar will take place on Wednesday, September 16, from 3:00-4:15 p.m. Eastern time.Here's the program description:
In response to the Carnegie Report and increased focus by the ABA and regional accrediting agencies on student outcomes and their assessment, law schools across the country are exploring how to re-focus curriculum on student learning outcomes and how to assess those outcomes. This session will explore how to develop outcomes, and how to incorporate them into the first year legal writing curriculum, at the program level and the course level. The session will also provide ideas about developing assessment tools that are useful to students and faculty to determine whether students are meeting the expected outcomes.
Professor Davis will moderate the discussion, which will be led by Professors Linda Anderson (Stetson) and Sophie Sparrow (Pierce Law). Click this registration link to participate. Space is limited, but several persons can listen in from a single location. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar. PC users must be equipped with either Windows® 2000, XP Home, XP Pro, 2003 Server, or Vista. Mac users will need Mac OS® X 10.4 (Tiger®) or newer.
Upcoming webinar topics and dates include:
- Wednesday, October 7, 2009, Strategies for Coaching Moot Court Teams
- Friday, November 13, 2009, Innovations in Upper Level Writing Courses
- February 2010, What Is “Legal Writing Scholarship”? A Roundtable Discussion
- March 2010, The Legal Writing Faculty Retreat: Reasons to Have One and How to Do It
- April 2010, Annual Scholarship Highlights: New Voices and New Ideas in Legal Communication
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The First “Colonial Frontier” Legal Writing Conference -- December 5, 2009
The Duquesne University School of Law, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The University of Pittsburgh School of Law
West Virginia University College of Law
Engendering Hope in the Legal Writing Classroom: Pedagogy, Curriculum, and Attitude
This conference will provide legal writing professors with the opportunity to present short sessions about pedagogical techniques, innovations in curriculum design, and methods of fostering good interpersonal relations between students and faculty that work to improve law student performance and learning in the legal writing course by engendering hope in our students. The organizers welcome proposals for 30-minute and 50-minute presentations on these topics. Proposals should be sent as an e-mail file attachment in MS Word, WordPerfect, or PDF to Professor Jan Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org by September 8, 2009.
Proposals should be under 1000 words, and should note the topic to be addressed, the amount of time needed, any special technological needs, the presenter’s background and affiliation, and contact information. Proposals will be reviewed by Professors Julia Glencer, Erin Karsman, Jan Levine, and Tara Willke of the Duquesne University School of Law; Professors Ben Bratman, Teresa Brostoff, and Ann Sinsheimer of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Professors Hollee Temple, David Krech, and Grace Wigal of the West Virginia University College of Law; and Professors Allison Martin and Kevin Rand of Indiana University.
Attendance at the conference is free, with breakfast and lunch included, and Duquesne will provide free on-site parking to conference attendees. Pittsburgh is an easy drive or short flight from many U.S. and Canadian cities. To accommodate persons wishing to stay over in Pittsburgh on Friday or Saturday evenings, Duquesne will arrange for a block of discounted rooms at a downtown hotel adjacent to campus, within walking distance of the law school and downtown Pittsburgh.
The Duquesne Law Review will devote approximately 200 pages to a proceedings issue based on presentations made at this conference!
hat tip: Jan Levine
We'd previously reported on a longitudinal study being done by Stanford that hopes to shed light on whether social networking and other forms of e-composition are producing a generation of "better" or "less" skilled writers than their predecessors.
While we're still waiting for the release of that study, commentators continue to offer their opinions on whether we're in the midst of the greatest literary revolution since Gutenberg or are instead slouching towards the electronic equivalent of reductivist caveman grunts.
This column from the Chronicle of Higher Ed notes that one Emory English professor believes that despite all the texting, Twittering, emailing, etc, there's no empirical evidence showing an improvement in reading and writing skills:
'[W]e don't see any gains in reading comprehension for 17-year-olds on NAEP exams, the SAT, or the ACT,' referring to the battery of standardized tests taken by teenagers. If Twittering, texting, and the like really improved writing, [the professor argues], surely the tests would show some evidence.
I am the scholarship dude.
Monday, August 31, 2009
South Texas College of Law invites applications for one or more full-time, tenure-track positions beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year. In particular, South Texas is seeking to hire two individuals to teach Legal Research and Writing. The Legal Writing program at South Texas is directorless and is taught by tenure-track professors. The school seeks candidates with a strong commitment to teaching, scholarship, and service to the legal profession. Its mission is to provide an accessible legal education, distinguished by its excellence, to a diverse body of students committed to serving their communities and the profession. Students start classes in both the fall and spring and take classes during the day or evening.
South Texas is located in the heart of one of the largest legal and international business communities in the country. Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, offers students unlimited opportunities to learn in the classroom and in the workplace while interning, clerking, or volunteering within blocks of the college. In addition, the school is within walking distance of many of the cultural opportunities that Houston has to offer, including the theater district, baseball stadium, basketball arena, and numerous restaurants and concert venues.
To apply, send a cover letter and curriculum vitae (preferably by email) to Professor Tim Zinnecker, Chair, Faculty Recruitment Committee, 1303 San Jacinto Street, Houston, Texas 77019. For information about South Texas College of Law, visit the school's website. The school will be attending the AALS recruitment conference in November. In your cover letter, please indicate whether you will be attending the Conference.
ALWD/LWI required disclosures: The position advertised is a tenure-track appointment. The professor hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the $80,000 to $89,999 range. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be 46-50.