How Thaler’s Misbehaving Grades Helped Me Teach Law Better

By: Steve Garland, Wake Forest University School of Law

The professor that had the most important effect on my teaching just won a Nobel Prize. Out of full disclosure, I’ve never met him or taken a class from him. Still, Richard Thaler taught me that sometimes you may have to use psychological tricks to insure that your students focus on what matters most.

As we all know, in teaching legal writing and reasoning, leading the students to focus on the learning rather than the grade can be a challenge, particularly since our grades are most often the first grades the students receive. From my own experience in law school, I recalled that the grades we received in Legal Writing (at the time the only grades prior to the end of first semester exams) often had a disproportionate effect on our confidence going forward. This anecdotal intuition was reinforced by a study that my colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Law – Professors Laura Graham and Miki Felsenburg – undertook. They found that high-achieving college graduates lose confidence when they find that their hard-won skills in college may not immediately translate to their new law school community.
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Screens Off, Brains On

By: Professor Meghan Boone, Wake Forest University School of Law

I often teach in the dreaded mid-afternoon time slot. It’s a hard time to teach at the start of the semester, when the lingering summertime air warms the classroom and suggests that perhaps a nap is in order. But it is truly difficult towards the end of the semester, as the light that filters in through the windows is already fading towards dusk, causing everyone’s mind to drift towards a hearty dinner and a cozy armchair from which to take in an episode of their favorite reality television show. It is difficult to marshal my own energy at this time of the day, much less expect my Civil Procedure students to stay engaged.
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Getting to Know You: Using Pop Culture Pedagogy to Connect with Students

By: Professor Abigail L. Perdue, Wake Forest University School of Law

As a teacher I’ve been learning.
You’ll forgive me if I boast.
And I’ve now become an expert
On the subject I like most.
Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you.
Getting to hope you like me.”

– Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Getting to Know You in The King and I

As a child, I was mildly obsessed with Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. The King and I was my absolute favorite! I still remember the first time I saw the confident and commanding (albeit quite sexist) King of Siam twirling lithe Anna Leonowens all over the ballroom. The musical, which was inspired by true events, recounts the magical story of a British woman who travels halfway around the world to serve as governess to the King of Siam’s royal children.
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Reprogramming Your Writing Intuition


By: Professor Joe Regalia

When I ask judges what frustrates them most about lawyers, the conversation often turns to writing. I hear things like: “attorneys can’t write concisely,” and “why don’t law schools teach law students how to write?” Perhaps these problems persist because when you try to change how you write, you are butting up against years of subconscious habit—what I call your “writing intuition.” And just like making changes to other deep-seated habits in your life, changing your writing intuition takes significant work.
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How to Make a Great Second Impression in the Law School Classroom

By: Professor Joe Fore, University of Virginia School of Law, & Professor Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

First impressions matter. And it can be hard to overcome a bad one. So it should come as no surprise that the first day of any class is crucial in laying a foundation for a productive semester. The first day of class presents an opportunity to accomplish several important things:

  • Get to know the students and to let them get to know you. Let the students introduce themselves. And share your background with the class. It can help to establish credibility and let the students know where you’re coming from—both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Establish a supportive and encouraging learning environment. Demonstrate your own enthusiasm for the course and for teaching and working with students. Encourage students to ask questions and to come to office hours.
  • Convey high—but achievable—standards. Let the students know that (a) you have high expectations, (b) they are capable of meeting them, and (c) you are ready, willing, and able to help. Studies have shown that such messages can improve student performance, particularly for minority students.

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