Sunday, August 23, 2020

Interdisciplinary Help

For many, the summer and early fall is a time to evaluate lectures and programming.  I teach a required 1L class, and one of the upcoming classes is on outlining.  For a couple years now, I have not liked my outlining class.  I tried to integrate or use exercises from other ASPers and ASP books, but in the end, students still struggled with outlining.  I didn't like the way it flowed.  My basic assessment is I understand the context and what I am trying to teach, but the students don't have the same context.  I needed help.

I sought help from an expert and someone I trust, my wife.  She is an communication professor and has unique expertise in argumentation.  She coached numerous highly successful individuals at the national high school speech and debate competition prior to becoming a professor (along with her own collegiate national championship).  She has expertise in speech and argumentation structure but is not entrenched in law school terminology.  I explained my problem, and she understood what students needed to do.  However, she could explain it as an outsider who never created a law school outline.  The experience was enlightening.

My experience helped me in a couple ways.  First, I believe I improved my outlining lecture.  She discussed underlying communication problems for untrained individuals.  A person without context for a task becomes overwhelmed when given multiple steps even when he/she works through those steps with guidance.  First semester students don't have much context for law school outlines, especially not this early in the semester.  Giving them a 3 or 4 step process for creating an outline won't help many students because they still don't have the schema to assimilate the information.  ASPers discuss schema in relation to doctrinal material, but outlining and skills have similar requirements. 

She suggested a basic format for how she would teach the process.  She encouraged re-framing the discussion around 1 idea.  She called it a visual framework.  Students won't complete 4 tasks.  They will create a visual framework that includes a few components.  Students won't get as overwhelmed with the steps since it is essentially 1 task.  She suggested examples and activities that many of you utilize.  She used her argumentation and speech outlining background to say students should create instructions, outlines, or steps for common practices like making spaghetti.  Many of you utilize similar activities.  Also, providing a fill in the blank form and examples of completed outlines helps.  I was glad that I do many of the activities she suggested, but I appreciated her fully walking through how she would approach teaching the skill.  For me, the communication and framing piece is helpful since she approached it from a non-legal perspective.

The second big takeaway for me is to seek help both inside ASP and outside the law school.  Our Universities have experts in areas that could help us reach students.  The obvious example is the education department for teaching, but we should look beyond even that department.  Communication scholars have significant knowledge on how people receive information.  We need students to understand and incorporate our teaching, and communication classes could help with basic speech/lecture organization to presentation techniques using technology.  Psychology departments can help with understanding motivation and human behavior.  The business school can help with marketing.  Athletic Departments and coaches focus on maximizing potential.  Our Universities have abundant intellectual resources.  From my experience, I think we should seek them out even more.  I know I could learn from those around me, and it would probably be quicker than the usual trial and error method in my programming.

(Steven Foster)

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