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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Graded assignments

In Fed Courts and Civil Rights, most grading is based on a written assignment and oral arguments as SCOTUS reviewing lower courts. Each student argues one case, serves as justice for one case, and writes an opinion on one case. From a list of cases, I assign each student the case to argue and the case to judge; they choose their third case from the remainder of the list.

First problem: More than 1/3 of the class--13/30--wrote on the same case (standing to challenge North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban).  Part of the reason for doing it this way (rather than giving an exam) is not having to read multiple versions of the same answer; this undermines that. Is this a problem and is there anything I can or should do about it?

Second problem: Two students reversed the lower court; everyone else affirmed. Even when the political valence of the lower court went against what I imagine would be students' preferences (e.g., finding moot a challenge to a limit on absentee voting). And even when the lower court included a strong dissent. Part of me thinks it is easier to affirm (the starting point for the analysis is there). The alternative is to require the authors to reverse, but that makes the assignment too difficult (and gives an edge to those working with cases that have dissents). Again, is this a problem and is there anything I can or should do about it?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2021 at 02:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


Glad to see this post about teaching methods. Humbly I respond:

First problem: maximum number of writers per case in proportion to cases/ class size. Assignments go first come first serve. There's an issue with student anonymity: maybe a sign in sheet kept with a school administrator so students can see what is taken and what's available? No penalty for the hapless student that fails to sign in or pay attention to the preclaimed cases because 1) the purpose is only to increase a diversity of response and 2) it wouldn't be possible for the evaluator to know who the gratuitous author was anyway.

Second: I think this a problem only if the student plagiarizes the lower court without added work.

Thank you again for this blog forum.

Posted by: fan of this process | Dec 6, 2021 10:50:47 AM

I thought this was clear from the OP. They had a list of 15 cases. Two were taken off the table for each student (one argued, one judged). So everyone could choose from 13 cases. The problem is 13 of them chose the same case from a long list.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 2, 2021 4:39:31 PM

You can give them a list of acceptable cases to write about?

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Dec 2, 2021 3:52:01 PM

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