What’s New in the Classroom: Holistic Assessment

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The current issue of the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (JALWD) has a number of interesting articles. In this post I want to discuss one particular article that really made me think about how I assess my students’ legal writing: Roger Klurfeld and Steven Placek’s article, “Rhetorical Judgments: Using Holistic Assessment to Improve the Quality of Administrative Decisions.”

In this piece, Klurfeld and Placek describe their work to help improve the quality of written decisions issued by the National Appeals Division of the United States Department of Agriculture. Their observations and experience make me wonder whether a holistic, reliability-tested approach to assessing student writing would improve the students’ learning experience and the overall quality of their writing. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Holistic Assessment”

What’s New in the Classroom: On the Issues

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This semester I taught a terrific group of students in my Legislation class. We had engaging and thought-provoking discussions about the legislative process and statutory interpretation. Indeed, some of those discussions continue on this Blog with some of my students participating in the on-line discussion about judicial activism.

As part of the class, I required my students to attend a number of the “On the Issues” programs hosted by our Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Law, Mike Gousha (see http://law.marquette.edu/cgi-bin/site.pl?on-the-issues/index for a list of the sessions from this semester along with corresponding podcasts). My reasoning for doing so, as I explained to my students, was to help them connect the material we learned about and discussed in class to real-world examples that impact us in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, and nationally. And after each “On the Issues,” we had fruitful discussions about what the guest speakers said and how that related to the topics we grappled with in class. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: On the Issues”

Appreciating Our Professors: Kathleen A. Sullivan

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I had some really wonderful professors in law school. I could easily write about a number of them in expressing my gratitude for their influence on my legal career. However, one in particular — Professor Kathleen A. Sullivan — sticks out for me. Kathleen (no one called her Professor Sullivan . . . indeed, she’d have none of it) was one of my professors in the Community Legal Sevices clinic at Yale. I began law school after seven years of Jesuit education (three years at Loyola High School and four years at Loyola Marymount University, both in my hometown of Los Angeles). And while I enjoyed my first semester classes, none of them resonated with me in terms of my educational background and values.

But then I enrolled in the clinic, and all that changed. Kathleen inspired us to embrace the enormity of our responsibility in representing and serving those who could not afford legal representation. Her message was clear: Our clients — those suffering from intense poverty — deserved the respect, dignity, autonomy, and privacy that we all shared. Kathleen also emphasized that our clients deserved zealous advocates who worked tirelessly and ethically to gain justice for them. And she led by example — spending long days in the clinic training her students and serving her clients, despite battling cancer. Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Kathleen A. Sullivan”

What’s New in the Classroom: Webcasts and Writing Bees

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One of my biggest challenges in teaching students to write has been figuring out how best to teach “the basics”: grammar, punctuation, citation, and other sentence-level editing skills.  Before this year, I always devoted several class periods to just those topics.  Because students tend to enter law school with very different ability levels, however, those classes did not seem as effective as I would have liked.  The students who needed little or no instruction about grammar and punctuation were invariably bored, and other students (many of whom have candidly admitted that they have not studied grammar in years, if ever) needed more than those few classes devoted to those topics.  So how does the instructor effectively teach to the entire class?  It is difficult, to say the least. 

To remedy the problem, I decided to move all of my instruction about grammar, punctuation, precision, conciseness, and citation out of the classroom and onto the web.  I find it difficult to teach writing without a visual, so I created PowerPoint presentations (or Word documents) with rules and examples, and I recorded short lectures over the top of the presentations or documents.  When I was finished, I had a series of audio-visual presentations that students could watch at times convenient for them.  If a student already understood how to identify and correct dangling modifiers, there was no need to watch the webcast about modifiers.  If, however, the student had never heard of a dangling modifier and needed to go over the examples more than once, the webcast was there for repeated viewings.    

I was concerned, however, that if I put the material on the web, students would simply ignore it, so I wanted some way to hold them responsible for learning the material.  Out of that concern came my second teaching innovation: the Writing Bee.  Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Webcasts and Writing Bees”

Appreciating Our Professors: Chuck Clausen

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Although I had many teachers who played a significant role in my development as a lawyer, a judge, and now a law professor, Professor Chuck Clausen most profoundly impacted me. His love of teaching and his unwavering commitment to his students came across in everything he did.  Chuck believed in the goodness of all people and wanted to be sure that all of us demonstrated our own personal goodness in our legal careers. He was committed to the responsibility of lawyers to help others, particularly the poor, in every way that we could.

I was fortunate enough to have Chuck for a few classes and to have him as a faculty advisor on some moot court work that I did. What I loved about Chuck is that having a conversation with him was like speaking to a renaissance man. He was so knowledgeable and engaged in so many different areas of life and of the community that I always learned something new when I was around him. His enthusiasm for life was infectious.

Because of my deep admiration for him, we continued to have contact after graduation. He truly became one of my most trusted advisors. Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Chuck Clausen”

Professor Fired for Humiliating Students for Plagiarism

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Writingcomp From the Daily Texan a couple of weeks ago:

Texas A&M International University in Laredo fired a professor for publishing the names of students accused of plagiarism.

In his syllabus, professor Loye Young wrote that he would “promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing.” After he discovered six students had plagiarized on an essay, Young posted their names on his blog, resulting in his firing last week.

“It’s really the only way to teach the students that it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Young, a former adjunct professor of management information systems, said he believes he made the right move. He said trials are public for a reason, and plagiarism should be treated the same way. He added that exposing cheaters is an effective deterrent.

This seems like a shaming method of punishment. Does it actually matter whether it works as an effective deterrent or is the medicine much worse than the disease?

Cross posted at Workplace Prof Blog.

What’s New in the Classroom: Common Law in Crim, But Nothing on Laptops

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This is the first in a new series of posts this month on new things we did in our teaching last semester or expect to do next semester.

One thing I did not do this past semester, but seriously thought about, was restricting laptop use in some way. I have a hard time pulling the trigger on this, in part because all of my strongest instincts are antipaternalist. But I can’t help feeling laptops are doing something pernicious in the law school classroom. Lisa Hatlen had a good post on the topic earlier this fall, which also generated several thoughtful comments. My basic concern is that the laptop has turned many law students into stenographers, with the quality of their learning and of classroom discussion suffering as a result. I find it a bit dismaying when students send me e-mails at the end of the semester quoting something verbatim that I said in class at the start of the semester and asking what I meant by it — this suggests that too much mental energy is going into transcription and not enough into comprehension and critical engagement with the material.

As a potential experiment, I have thought about sharing with students a detailed outline of the material I cover in class (so students don’t feel they need to transcribe) and banning laptops. On the other hand, I respect the fact that most upper-level students are used to having laptops, and that it would no doubt be perceived as unfair to ask them to abandon their well-established classroom practices so that I could conduct my little pedagogical experiment. For that reason, I would not try this except in a first-year class. I would also be reluctant to do it except as part of a cooperative venture with other first-year professors.

So, my only innovation this past semester was rather modest: I decided that I would test my first-year Criminal Law students on certain common-law rules. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Common Law in Crim, But Nothing on Laptops”

Appreciating Our Professors: Dean Howard Eisenberg

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Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva in the early 1600’s, said “the measure of love is to love without measure.” The late Dean Howard Eisenberg embodied this message. Dean Eisenberg gave his love without measure to the Law School, the legal community, and the pro bono clients he served.

I met Dean Eisenberg shortly after I graduated from college. At the time, I was teaching high school English. Dean Eisenberg talked to me about the legal profession as a helping profession — that lawyers are uniquely situated to protect and aid the individuals and entities they serve. Dean Eisenberg’s comments so inspired me that I decided to apply to law school. Dean Eisenberg’s presence at the Law School also convinced me that it was the right place to go to school. Any place, I thought, that had the good sense to have him at the helm was a place where I wanted to be.

In my second year of law school, Dean Eisenberg again influenced my life when I took his appellate advocacy course. That class turned me onto advocacy. I remember the thrill when I found the key case for my side in the Wisconsin reporter stacks. As I drafted the brief, I felt the joy of crafting language that would persuade a court. In that class, we also had to make an oral argument. I enjoyed turning my brief into an oral argument and observing how my use of language changed from its presentation in written form to oral form. I was hooked on advocacy, and I decided to go into litigation.

The last memory I have of Dean Eisenberg came two weeks before his untimely death. Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Dean Howard Eisenberg”

Appreciating Our Professors: Larry Lessig

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I’m never any good at these questions. I’m always stumped whenever I’m asked, “Who is your hero?” Similarly, although I enjoyed many of my classes, I don’t recall too many “ah-ha” moments in law school that didn’t come from reading a book or an article. For whatever reason, I’m more inspired by ideas than people.

And the idea that I picked up in law school that inspired me more than any other was the idea that law is part of a broader web of human culture, that it both influences other aspects of that culture and is influenced by it. I encountered (at least) two professors at Yale who were grappling with this concept, Bob Ellickson and Larry Lessig. Well, Lessig was only a visitor during the spring semester of my first year. On the other hand, I never took a class with Ellickson, and I’m not sure I’ve even ever met him. I know Ellickson primarily through his classic, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes.

So Lessig it is.

Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Larry Lessig”

Information About Legal Writing Competitions…and a Shameless Plug for a Nice Fall Photo I Took in DC.

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I learned at yesterday’s faculty meeting that our Director of Student Affairs, Andrew Faltin, is maintaining a list of legal writing competitions on the law school web site.  You can find it here.  If you are a student, why not go check it out? A number of Marquette students have won prizes in these competitions.

You may also want to become a reader of the Legal Writing Competitions blog maintained by Kathryn Sampson at the University of Arkansas School of Law.  It is thorough, and frequently updated.  Another nice feature of that blog is that Kathryn includes nice photos with most of her posts.  For instance, in her recent post about a tax-related competition, for which the prize includes a trip to DC, Kathryn includes a photo I took when I was in DC for a conference.  (The conference was fantastic, and I still want to post about it, but I have not found the time yet.)

Appreciating Our Professors: The Georgetown Experimental Curriculum

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As much as I would like to single out one person who had the most influence during my law school experience at Georgetown, like Kali Murray, I am going to break the rules here a little bit.

The greatest influence on me was, in fact, the course of study that I chose to pursue in my first year of law school. While most 1L’s take the traditional torts, contracts, property, etc., I was treated to a different group of classes that included: Bargain, Exchange & Liability; Property in Time; and Democracy & Coercion, to name a few. In addition, I took a small 1L Seminar on the different schools of legal thought (Critical Race Theory, Legal Process, Law & Economics), as well as a jurisprudence class called Legal Theory (where we read books like Anthony Kronman’s Lost Lawyer and Ronald Dworkin’s Law’s Empire).

All of these classes were part of the Section 3 experimental curriculum at Georgetown Law, which was created by a forward-looking group of professors who challenged the normal way of teaching law to students. The group who taught me in this experimental curriculum included many luminaries: Mark Tushnet (Government Processes), Wendy Perdue (Process), Mike Seidman (Democracy & Coercion and 1L Seminar), Dennis Patterson (visiting that year) (Legal Theory), Mike Gottesman (Bargain, Exchange & Liability), and Dan Ernst (Property in Time).

The combined Section 3 experience had a peculiar way of binding together not only the students who took this curriculum, but also the professors and students.

Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: The Georgetown Experimental Curriculum”