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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some Mid-Afternoon Whining, I Mean Observations, About Class Preparation

I just Googled my name and "class preparation" to see if I had ever blogged on this subject before, and found an entry from July 2006 on this very blog, posted only a few days before I hit the road to take up my visiting post at Tulane.  I was thinking about class prep because I'm into about the eighth hour of preparation for what will ultimately be about 120 minutes of class on mistake doctrine in contract law (with still two of the three cases yet to go), and I feel like procrastinating by whining about it.  Here are a few random observations now five years (and scores of teaching blunders) later:

1.  In 2005, the summer before my first venture into full-time teaching, I prepared most of the class notes for the entire semester of the two classes I was to teach at Wake Forest in the upcoming fall.   That now strikes me as a elevation of insecurity over effectiveness.  With experience, I'm cavalier enough to be a week or two ahead of the students in a new prep for the full year contracts class, but I know the subject well enough to be able to anticipate future material in the present preparation.   I could see, if somebody asked me to teach an entirely new subject, that I'd feel insecure again about prepping the stuff at the front end if I didn't know anything about the back end (like prepping on creation and attachment of security interests without knowing anything about perfection).  But I think I'd just read up on it over the summer.

Slide12.  I am far more brutal in deciding what and what not to cover.   One red flag:  if it's not clear to me why I'm doing it, I don't.  Nobody will ever miss it.

3.  In addition to the syllabus, I divide the material into units, and post the outline of the unit, into which my notes are organized, on TWEN ahead of the class as a Word document.  This means that sometimes I have to update the posted outline if I change it.

4.  I still write out my notes, including where it's question and answer (I don't like the term "Socratic"), in full sentences.  See Point #2.  Doing this is a rehearsal of the class in my head.  If it doesn't make sense in my head, it will likely not make sense in class.  Also, back many years ago when I was a litigator, I used to do the same thing with deposition and trial questions.  Same point on rehearsing in my head.  Also, it allowed me to freelance whenever I wanted (as the notes do in class) knowing that I could always come back to the script if I got lost.

 5.  I used to be a Power Point Luddite, but I've made my peace with the medium.  I never use the "bullet point" format.  Nor do I very often use it for cutesy pictures or entertainment (a little bit of that goes a long way).  I do use it to provide conceptual frameworks, whether by way of Venn diagrams (Carter Bishop now calls me the "Venn Master"), flow charts (my masterpiece is UCC 2-207), or diagrams of the fact patterns in cases (the same way I would diagram the relationship of the parties when doing a deal).  I also keep the unit outline in a scroll on the side, with the present topic in bold face, a la the scrolls you now see on ESPN's Sports Center or Pardon the Interruption.  Also, I save the slide as a JPEG and embed it in my class notes so that I never (or as much as I can avoid it) turn to face the screen. Again, a measure of my anality is that I write out in my notes when to hit the CLICK to advance the animation.  The picture above is what I'm presently working on in connection with the various factors that work for or against relief for mistake in contract law.

6.  I use the "Custom Animation" feature in the Power Point quite a bit so that students aren't trying to figure out the whole thing ahead of me.  On the other hand, I post all the slides on TWEN ahead of the class so students can get a sense of where we're going.  It's another reason not to ban laptops, because I would just as soon they have access electronic access during the class.

7.  For a new prep, it's still 8-12 hours per hour of class.   I still have to use a lot of Saturday and Sunday.  It's a corollary to the old saw about not having enough time to write a short paper.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on February 20, 2011 at 02:49 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Posted by: Franz V. Hurtado | Apr 25, 2011 3:58:43 AM

Someone even more obsessive compulsive about class prep than I am. Kudos, Jeff. Kudos.

Of course, I'm only giving you the nod because of the part about Venn diagrams.

Posted by: David Case | Feb 21, 2011 8:33:47 AM

Rule #2 is the best, although it's very difficult to convince new law professors of its importance. If I can't answer for myself why I'm teaching something (other than it's in the casebook) why should I expect my students to know it?

Posted by: GSM | Feb 20, 2011 3:32:06 PM

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