Thursday, January 11, 2007

Teaching Differently

Some years ago, I attended a program with Jill Ramsfield, of Georgetown's LRW faculty. She spoke about teaching her students principles of rhetoric, and about the importance of context. I went back home inspired. I re-worked the first class of my Advanced Legal Research class.

When I first started teaching, I had the happy presumption that students would read the assignments for the first class. I am now disabused of that notion, and no longer rely on readings for the first session. Instead, after an orientation where I go over the syllabus and warn students of the level of work involved, I take a completely different direction.

Nearly every class session is built on a worksheet that the students are responsible for completing ahead of class. They are to use their textbook to work through the worksheet, which usually involves examining, evaluating and comparing various resources for the type of research covered that week. But now, the first worksheet, which has always been statutory research, is based on the students, as a class, interviewing me, as their client.

I role-play the client, and students must ask questions to pull out details for their research. I am always amazed at the ingeniousness and energy this method brings out. I want the students to understand that part of research is fact-finding, and that the quality of their research and analysis depends on their questioning and listening skills. It works pretty well. But it's so artificial to just drop in client interviewing for one class and then stop any connection to real legal practice! I am thinking of expanding the program beyond the first class, but we have so much to cover... Maybe it's time to re-organize the entire class into a single research problem that we work on a bit each week. Wow! That will take some effort!

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