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Friday, July 28, 2006

Class Prep?

I can't say that I don't like prepping for a new class, because when I'm into it, it's always pretty interesting.  But it does take a psychic commitment to buckle down, and I find myself easily distracted (like today) by blogging, e-mail (because I take notes on my laptop), and anything else going on around me.

Recognizing that this is a matter of personal style, I'm still curious how new professors most effectively prepare for a new class.  Last summer, I did extensive class notes (even to the point of inserting reminders for good one-liners) through the summer, and found from time to time either that I was a little stale, or I was redoing everything anyway just before class.  This summer, I am reading and briefing the cases, but not doing class notes until a couple weeks before.  The other alternative is not to do anything over the summer but research and write, and do all the class prep during the school year, something that would significantly raise my anxiety level.

Any thoughts out there?  Please don't respond if it would distract you from class prep.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 28, 2006 at 05:18 PM in Lipshaw, Teaching Law | Permalink


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Doug, that's a great idea, although easier in some areas than others. Even in Business Enterprises I, we can talk about Disney and the Enron/WorldCom stuff. I'm trying to think if it's possible to have a "ripped from the headlines" problem in Secured Transactions. I think it would have to be a headline in the back pages of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, right after the foreign currency exchange tables. (In contracts, the good news is there are some good headlines; the bad news is that none of them appeared after about 1915.)

I am taking from the comments: (a) it really is a waste of time to prepare in detail too early, (b) it is good to do something to teach yourself the subject matter ahead of time, and (c) one of the benefits of doing so is the freedom to bring other fresh materials (and not be learning the material from square one) during the semester.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 29, 2006 2:14:37 PM

Depending upon the subject-matter and the student population, I would put a current events spin on Russell's great suggestions. Do some google news searches for newspaper articles raising issues related to your field. They can stimulate ideas for hypos, and perhaps you can distribute the articles in class as a "ripped from the headlines" problem. (This seems to work for Law & Order.)

I sense that students like to see the connections between in-class materials and real-world problems. Of course, this can be easy (perhaps too easy) in some classes, and more difficult in others.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 29, 2006 1:30:49 PM

I think the approach should depend on the instructor's familiarity with the subject. For teachers with only a passing knowledge, I recommend reading a student-centered treatise (preferably one 500-1000 pages) cover-to-cover in the month or so before the class. Doing so will help the professor answer questions about parts of the course that are asked out of order and will help one tie themes in the beginning of the course to doctrine that will appear much later.
For teachers that know enough about the subject that treatise-reading is unnecessary, I think further preparation over the summer is likely to have minimal benefits compared to the value of research and writing. I must say, however, that I like Russell's ideas and will try them myself this year (which is my third).

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Jul 28, 2006 8:55:49 PM

I spend most of my summer doing research/writing, because I highly value the large block of undisturbed time. But here's two suggestions I like for summer prep. Number 1 (I got this from someone else): Over the summer, collect a list of recent law review articles on the class assignments or topics that you plan to teach each week, and that look interesting. Then, print them out or have the library pull them for you. Keep them in a file and, during the year when you are much busier, simply pull out the article and read it on, say, the Sunday evening prior to that week's topic. That's one effective way to add breadth to your knowledge base. Number 2: (my own suggestion) do the same, except with cases. It is easy for me when teaching a class like Crim Pro to run Westlaw searches on state and lower federal court cases that cite the big SCOTUS decisions (e.g. Terry, Miranda, Kyllo) that my students will study. Looking at recent cases gives me good material for hypos and fleshes out the new kinds of issues that are working their way up. Again, I don't read them during the summer, but have them to incorporate into my class prep during the year.

Posted by: Russell Covey | Jul 28, 2006 6:29:23 PM

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