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Monday, November 20, 2017

Fed Courts by treatise--the results

I wrote at the beginning of the semester about my plan to teach Fed Courts without a casebook or cases, but relying largely on the Chemerinsky and Pfander treatises (supplemented by a few cases, statutes, rules, etc.). We have two classes remaining in the semester, but today I administered a survey on the materials and this teaching approach.

Overall, I was happy with how things went this way. Students were generally very well-prepared and ready to answer almost anything I threw at them. The occasional lapse came where the questions went to something that was not covered in the treatise discussion (often about factual or procedural backgrounds). I perhaps lectured on preliminary information a bit more in spots, where the treatises focused on different pieces of a case than the casebook I previously used (Low, Jeffries, and Bradley). One obvious place was in the discussion of Atlantic Coast Line v. Brotherhood of Engineers, where the treatises paid less attention than the casebook to the effect of on-point SCOTUS precedent on the § 2283 analysis. But this was the exception rather than the rule--between them, the two books gave the students everything they needed to participate in the discussion I was trying to lead. I also was pleased (if surprised) that some students read the highlighted cases in addition to the treatises. I taught the same basic class I have been teaching for several years, but got much further than I have in recent years--this is the first time in four years that I have reached the material on jurisdiction-stripping and congressional control over court structure.

The survey results and comments suggest the students liked the approach. Of the 12 responses (out of 13 in the class), 7 "strongly agreed" this was an effective way to learn the material and prepare for class, 8 "strongly agreed" it was more enjoyable than working from a casebook or cases, and 9 "strongly agreed" that I should teach from these materials in the future. The comments suggested a general view that this method of prep was helpful to seeing the big picture at which we engaged with the material in class. And the general level of engagement throughout the semester shows that the students were doing the reading and preparing well for class.

So, all-in-all, it worked well. The students and I were happy and it allowed me to cover all the material I wanted to in the way I wanted to. I think I have found my way going forward in this class. And I will follow the same approach for Civil Rights in the spring, working from my treatise* that is basically my class in book form, along with puzzles for class discussion.

[*] Second Edition coming to supermarket checkout lines near you in 2018.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 20, 2017 at 08:26 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

Very interesting. Do you feel that this would also be effective in a 1L course like Civ Pro, or do you think this would only work with advanced students who already kind of understand how the underlying case structure works?

Posted by: anonandoff | Nov 20, 2017 8:32:07 PM

Very interesting. Do you feel that this would also be effective in a 1L course like Civ Pro, or do you think this would only work with advanced students who already kind of understand how the underlying case structure works?

Posted by: anonandoff | Nov 20, 2017 8:32:08 PM

Probably not, because we still are trying to get 1L students to learn to read and parse cases (or, in Civ Pro, to read cases in conjunction with rules and statutes). One of the survey comments made this point--casebooks make sense for 1Ls to learn case-reading skills, but are less essential by 2L year.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 20, 2017 8:36:22 PM

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