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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First Day of an Upper-Level Elective

It's getting to be that time of the year again -- when we all turn to our syllabi for the upcoming fall semester and figure out what, exactly, we're going to do for 28 class sessions.  I thought I'd take this opportunity to ask a question about how we deal with shopping period, and how we ought to.

My approach to my upper-level electives has always been to make the first class meeting its own standalone class, and not part of the overall flow of the semester. So, I may assign an interesting recent case that raises a host of issues central to the overall topic for the semester, or a particularly thorny problem that might introduce a theme we'll encounter at various points -- but never the foundational beginnings of the doctrine; I save that for class meeting #2.

I do this for two reasons: First, as a way of giving the students a feel for the entire course before they commit to it, and second (and more importantly), to accommodate both those students who aren't sure if they want to stay in the course (who, as such, don't have to purchase the materials), and those who might come to the course after the first day, having made a similar decision about another class.

What do others do with that elusive first day? Do you dive right in? Do you assign more thematic material? Do you try your best to scare people away?

Posted by Steve Vladeck on July 16, 2009 at 06:47 PM in Life of Law Schools, Steve Vladeck, Teaching Law | Permalink


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My biggest question on the first day is whether to go in depth about the course assignments/structure. For those who join me on the second or third day, they'll miss an essential explanation of what's going on. But, for those who come to the first day trying to gauge the course, they won't get a full feel for it if I don't do it that day.

Posted by: David S. Cohen | Jul 17, 2009 10:18:57 AM

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