Not surprisingly, we are often wrong. Sometimes we make simple, embarrassing errors, like hitting reply-all when we shouldn’t (most of us can tell that story). More often, even for seasoned attorneys, our most troubling errors occur when we are exercising judgment, when we feel like we made the right (or best) call.
Exercising judgment can be fraught with ambiguity especially for law students who feel the profound seduction for certainty, for being right. Yet, developing competence in exercising judgment is an iterative process. By this I mean a lengthy process of mastery that involves working through one challenge after another, reflecting on mistakes, evaluating roadblocks, making new plans, and executing strategies. To get students on board for the ride, students need to embrace errors and learn from them. But how do we teach that? And why is it so hard? Continue reading “Tell Your FAIL Stories”
There are stranger things than using a Halloween-themed exercise to engage your students, particularly during this stressful point in the semester. After a weekend of binge-watching Season Two of the Netflix phenomenon, Stranger Things, I reconfigured my Halloween lesson to include items that every respectable professor needs to tame little monsters, brain-drained zombies, and every other ghoul in school:
Build suspense with an email inspired by Stranger Things or another Halloween favorite: I sent the following email to my students the day before our Halloween class:
Tomorrow we’re taking a “Curiosity Voyage.” Don’t forget to bring your oars — hard copies of your two cases. However, as you read them, especially the dissenting opinion in the appellate case, don’t get turned Upside Down by the various arguments regarding how to use statistical evidence in a disparate impact case. The way that statistics would be used is not particularly relevant to the Salon at this point (although the case mentions three primary approaches to using statistics, not Eight or Eleven.) It would be highly relevant if the Salon were already facing litigation, but here, we are in a counseling posture. (Trust me on this; friends don’t lie.) Use your unique mental powers to focus primarily on each case’s implications, if any, for Memo Three. There’s nothing stranger than me asking you to bring your laptops to class tomorrow, but please do. Bring your Bluebook, too. You’ll be doing an “eerie exercise” in honor of Halloween and one with a party. (Let’s hope it includes a zoomer and mage lest your mind get flayed!)
When I was eight years old, I went on my first field trip. The entire third grade class traveled in five yellow school buses from Fort Sam Houston to the Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. Earlier that month our classroom lessons had showcased state government civics. Now at the Capitol, we enjoyed a tour and got to see where the Texas legislature did its work. While eight-year-old minds aren’t known for expansive abstract thinking, seeing the concepts we learned in class come to life made those civics’ lessons stick.
On September 20, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (“Fourth Circuit”) held oral argument at the Worrell Professional Center at Wake Forest University. The Fourth Circuit brought the “field” to us. Seeing the Fourth Circuit in action was a valuable learning experience. Continue reading “Field Trip”
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. Continue reading “How Thaler’s Misbehaving Grades Helped Me Teach Law Better”
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. Continue reading “Screens Off, Brains On”