Friday, September 5, 2008

turn your students into newts; they'll get better

Bedevere_and_the_witchAre your students in a muddle over the Socratic Method? To help them understand the underpinnings of that teaching style, try using a teaching script penned by Professor Hillary Burgess (Hofstra) to accompany a film clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (20th Century Fox 1975) that we featured here a few weeks ago.

The peasants have found a woman they suspect to be a witch, and they turn to (Professor) Bedevere for help: "May we burn her?" Burgess's script stops the clip at various points so that the professor can comment on the scene. For example:

(Stop the clip at 00:45.) The professor starts asking questions. First, the questions seem pretty easy. "How do you know she’s a witch?'" Like most new law students, you want to immediately jump from the issue, or question, to the answer: "She looks like one."

(Stop at 1:47.) Then, your professor gives you what you think will be the key. "There are ways of telling whether she is a witch." In other words, there’s a rule out there and all you have to do is apply the rule in this case. So, you want to know the rule, "Tell us!"

(Stop at 1:54.) But, does the professor tell you what the rule is? No, because in practice, no one is going to tell you what the rule is, you have to find it for yourself as a practicing attorney. So, the professor begins to guide you through the process of uncovering the rule so you’ll know what to do when you become a lawyer.

(Stop at 2:01.) Your professor starts asking questions that seem totally unrelated to what you are studying. "What do you burn apart from witches?" Where’s he going with this question? You don’t know, but you just dig deep and answer the question. "More witches...wood."

(Stop at 2:06.) Now the questions start getting really hard, "why do witches burn?" and not only did you not think to ask the questions when you did your reading, you never would have come up with these totally bizarre answers.

The clip is short, about three and a half minutes. The clever script makes many excellent points analogizing the antics of the Pythons to the classroom experience. To download and read the whole script (a WordPerfect document), click here: Download Burgess-MontyPythonExplanation.wpd (And should you decide to use it, please send a thank you to Professor Burgess.)


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