Monday, January 02, 2006

Developing as a Teacher

I have been teaching legal research now since the 1980's, one way and another. I started out earnestly lecturing and holding up materials. Over time, I slowly began to change how I taught. Both by watching how my students responded, and by thinking about how I learned best, myself, I changed how I presented most of my classes.

When I was a very young lawyer, I attended CLE classes and was very impressed at how much I took away from them. I could learn so much more, and more quickly than every before. Why could school not have been like that? Well, I suppose because I did not have the background when I was in school -- duh! But my point here is that having immediate application for what you are learning makes the learning much more effective. That is when I started thinking about doing worksheets AHEAD of the class in which we discussed the materials.

Earlier in this blog, I posted an entry called Bass-ackwards Teacher, in which I refer to this, briefly. This is not a really revolutionary idea, but it took me a long time to really refine it. In Library School, we had classes where we taught ourselves about the "tools" available for research in various disciplines by examining them. We learned to look for the indexes, tables of contents, and other "finding aids" and to evaluate how well they worked. This is essentially what I am teaching my students to do with both print and electronic materials. I tell them that the only thing I know for sure is that by the time they are making choices as a lawyer about what to buy for themselves, anything I teach them about will have changed. They need to know how to look and evaluate for themselves. So the class is about learning how to learn and judge. I think the students enjoy a chance to talk for change, and to express their opinions. There are no wrong answers, as long as they have a reason for their opinion.

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