Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Getting It Right from the Start
Years ago, as part of an effort to address bar passage issues at my school, some well-meaning professors suggested having a remedial course for lower-performing law students. In broad-brush terms, the centerpiece of the proposal was to require students to begin each class, starting from the very first day of the semester, with a timed 30-minute essay question. After students finished the timed exam, the remainder of the class period would be devoted to the instructor reviewing the question and explaining what students should have written in their answers. Merely by dint of forcing students to write essay exam answers over and over, the theory went, they would do better on law school and bar exams. But the proposed class structure neatly met the clichéd definition of insanity, by requiring students to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result just by discussing what they should have done after the fact. Fortunately, the proposal never gained traction.
This summer and fall, I'm privileged to be involved with a CLEO program for incoming law students that takes the opposite approach. The Pre-Law Summer Institute, CLEO's familiar and long-standing residential program designed to prepare diverse participants for law school, now is preceded by a 30-hour online program, Developing Law School Literacies, devoted to providing instructional intervention from the start. Designed by Penn State education professor (emerita) Dorothy Evensen and funded by a grant from LSAC, the program leans on research about reading skills conducted by academic support educators such as Rebecca Flanagan and Jane Grisé and uses pedagogy based on sociocultural theory to provide intervention from the start. Rather than trying to do tasks on their own, students in this immersion program have frequent, intensive small-group meetings with academic support professors who act as instructional mediators. By explicitly focusing the students on using the tools given for effective case reading and briefing, and by verbalizing reasoning processes, the instructional mediators help students collaborate to competently complete a legal task from the very start. Each meeting focuses on a different aspect of case reading and briefing, such as the facts, the reasoning, and the rule.
I am especially excited that this program strongly emphasizes pre-reading, which in my experience is critical to active engagement with a text. I additionally hope that my CLIC group in the fall will provide a critical mass of 1Ls experienced and enthusiastic about wrestling with cases rather than searching for a rule and moving on. Helping students get things right from the start is a very ASP-ish approach -- empowering, effective, and humanizing.