Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New scholarship: "Now I see: redefining the post-grade student conference as process and substance assessment"

This one is by Professor Cassandra L. Hill, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and Professor Katherine T. Vukadin, Howard University School of Law. It can be found at 54 How. L.J. 1 (2010). From the introduction:

The task of guiding law students toward success in legal writing is an urgent one. Law students could once expect to develop their writing skills after law school graduation. But today's legal employers are increasingly reluctant to shoulder the burden of teaching new law graduates essential practice skills. The American Bar Association's MacCrate report and the recent Best Practices in Legal Education    report emphasize that law schools must better equip students to enter the legal profession. Legal writing professors should answer this challenge by using every tool at their disposal to refine and improve students' legal writing skills.

One such tool is the post-grade student conference - the one-on-one conference a student might request after receiving a poor memorandum or brief grade. Unlike a routine student-faculty conference, the post-grade conference comes at a critical juncture. The conferencing student may be frustrated and angry over a poor grade and is at risk of letting the disappointing grade color his or her future attitude and performance in the legal writing class. The student may request a conference to discuss or even challenge the poor grade. The resulting post-grade conference presents an opportunity to reach the student most at risk of missing important practice skills and to change the student's approach and trajectory in legal writing.

To chart a new course in legal writing, however, the student must first see why past practices failed. This Article posits that a poor legal writing grade most often results from problems in not just one area, but in two distinct areas that should be analyzed separately: (1) the writing process, and (2) the resulting substance of the student's writing. To maximize the post-grade conference's value as a teaching opportunity, the legal writing professor should therefore organize the post-grade conference as a review of these two distinct areas in which students can falter. Instead of focusing on point deductions and marginalia, the conference should first deconstruct the writing process through a student interview and then deconstruct the student's written product. To capture this analysis, the professor can prepare a list of individualized Writing Targets - specific lessons learned in the conference - that the student carries forward in completing future assignments. A discussion about point deductions and grading curves should come last. When the student views point deductions as the result of the student's writing process and substantive product, the student walks away with both an understanding of the grade and the means to improve.

Part I of this Article describes a typical conference, which provides contrast for the focused process and substance review presented in Part II. Part II describes the process interview and assessment and the substance interview and assessment. Part III describes the Writing Targets document that professor and student prepare during the conference. Here, the Article focuses on the post-grade legal writing conference, but the process and substance approach is equally applicable to conferences in doctrinal and skills courses.


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