Saturday, December 25, 2010

are student memos are like storage units?

Having finished grading memos, for the first time I caught a TV show called Auction Hunters, where the contents of abandoned self-storage units are auctioned off.  During the auction, when the door to a unit is opened up, the potential buyers have only a few minutes to try to see what's inside.  They can't walk into the storage unit, and they can't touch anything.  They bring flashlights, stand at the door, and try to take a good look at what they can see inside.  And then they have to assume, based on what's visible, what the value of the unseen items might be.  Based on that quick look and speculation, they figure out what price they're willing to bid on the contents of the storage unit.

So it occured to me, peeking in the storage unit for a few minutes is a bit like skimming a student's memo during a legal writing conference. Legal writing professors who have fifty or more students may only be able to meet with each student for ten or fifteen minutes.  In that situation, all too familiar to many of us legal writing professors, there's just not enough time to give each draft a careful read. An experienced professor can skim the paper to make sure it meets the technical requirements (no sections missing, etc.) and follows the expected analytical structure (IRAC or CREAC or whatever).  Well-prepared students who show up with a list of questions can help the professor home in on particular problems.  And the professor can offer many helpful suggestions for filling research gaps, strenghtening the organizational scheme, and keeping the analysis appropriately focused.

But when the professor sits down to read carefully the final, submitted papers, it's a bit like the auction buyers sorting carefully through the partially-seen stuff they just bought.  There are always some surprises, some things that disappoint and something that turns out better than you expect. The auction buyer may find a box full of odds-and-ends with little value, and the legal writing professor may find a paragraph of conclusory arguments that still lack detailed support and explanations. The next box the auction buyer opens, however, may contain valuable antique items, while the next paragraph the legal writing professor reads may contain a really creative argument supported by the facts and the law in an unexpected and highly effective way.  There are always interesting surprises as we dig through student memos!


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