Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TA's for your legal writing course

Still reporting about the LWI conference’s many excellent sessions, as time allows:

Joel Atlas, Megan McAlpin, Suzanne Rowe, Tenielle Fordyce-Ruff, and Andrea Mooney gave a presentation on Investing in the Future: Creating Effective Teaching Assistants. They focused on defining TA’s multiple roles, selecting TA’s, and training them.

TA’s can serve four basic roles, as:
1) mentors or mediators,
2) role models for professional behavior,
3) direct assistants in the teaching process, and
4) graders or evaluators.

In these roles, the TA’s can help the legal writing professor save time, extend her reach, and offer more to the students. Of course TA’s can do the initial research and drafting to develop legal writing problems, and they can be extra sets of eyes during the proofreading stage of anything that is going to the students in writing. TA’s can work with small groups of students or one-on-one, supplementing classroom teaching, and can help keep things positive in either setting. TA’s can also teach some class sessions, such as when citation is covered. And TA’s can give the professor feedback on how things are going and how the students are doing.

When selecting TA’s, an LRW professor needs to be clear to applicants about both the qualitative and quantitative expectations on the job. Quantitative expectations include the number of hours weekly for the job and how much time to spend with any one student. More qualitative expectations include professional behavior towards the professor and students. Although an application process takes more time than just selecting students you already know, the application package and interviews provide additional information about the applicants. Current TA’s can interview prospective TA’s, too.

Training TA’s w

ell is essential for everyone to end up on the same page. TA’s need to understand the big picture of their jobs, more specifically what you want from them, the nature of their new relationship with you and with the students in the course, and how you will give feedback and assess their performance. Group training will help your TA’s gain a sense of their special role, build cohesion among the group, and provide a time to clarify course policies. In a group meeting, TA’s can function for a legal writing professor much like the Cabinet does for the President.

Finally, the presenters highly recommend reading the article by Ted Becker and Rachel Croskery-Roberts, Avoiding Common Problems in Using Teaching Assistants: Hard Lessons Learned from Peer Teaching Theory and Experience, 13 J. Leg. Writing 269 (2007).



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