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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Legally Blind Grading, Take 4: What Approach Do You Use for Questioning Students?

As noted in a previous post, "a staggering ninety-seven percent of those teaching first year classes reported using the Socratic method, with the use of alternative teaching techniques decreasing as a teacher became more experienced or tenured!" The defining feature of the Socratic method is that "the professor calls upon a student and engages that student in a colloquy, either about a case or about some other problem." Jeffrey D. Jackson, Socrates and Langdell in Legal Writing: Is the Socratic Method A Proper Tool for Legal Writing Classes, 43 Cal. W. L. Rev. 267, 272-73 (2007). The Problem method, which is apparently more popular than I thought, also involves law professors engaging students in Q & A. And my sense is that even law professors not using either of these methods teach primarily through questioning rather than lecturing.

This post asks how readers choose which students to question, an important question for any professor, but especially professors boosting or docking grades based upon class participation. I use the alphabetical approach, calling on students from A to Z as their names appear on the class roster. Under this and the similar "snake" approach (going from left to right in a row, moving to the next row, and moving right to left), students roughly know when they will (and won't) be called upon, leading to decreased student stress and (I think) better answers, but risking the Warren Zevons of the world being unprepared when I am calling on the Billie Joe Armstrongs of the world.

There's the all volunteer approach, which also minimizes stress but might lead a select few to dominate class discussions. The converse is the (Russian) roulette approach, where anyone is fair game for any question, which maximizes student preparation but also maximizes student stress. There's the Solomon approach, where the professor splits the class in half (or thirds, etc.), with half the class "on" one day and the other half "on" the next. The way I see it, this cuts student stress in half but might cut student preparation in half. Finally, there is the consortium approach, where a certain number of students are "on" in a given class session and responsible for carrying the discussion that day. This can positively lead to collaboration before class, but it also means that fewer voices will be heard in a given class. 

There might be other approaches, but these are the major ones that I have seen. So, how about you? What approach do you take to student questioning and why? Once again, you can respond by leaving a comment and/or responding to the following poll.
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-Colin Miller

Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on March 18, 2010 at 03:25 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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