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What the Best Law Teachers Do

What the Best Law Teachers Do

Michael Hunter Schwartz
Gerald F. Hess
Sophie M. Sparrow
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    What the Best Law Teachers Do
    Book Description:

    This pioneering book is the first to identify the methods, strategies, and personal traits of law professors whose students achieve exceptional learning. Modeling good behavior through clear, exacting standards and meticulous preparation, these instructors know that little things also count--starting on time, learning names, responding to emails.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72813-4
    Subjects: Law, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Who was your best teacher, law or otherwise? What made that teacher so effective?

    For the past four years, we have posed these questions at conferences, law schools, and to groups of Chilean, Georgian, Iranian, and Turkish law teachers. In response, law teachers have described their best teachers’ attitudes, expectations, teaching methods, mental habits, beliefs about students and learning, personal qualities, teaching emphases, and anything else that made their teachers so noteworthy. The results have been strikingly similar. Across cultures and schools, the best teachers distinguish themselves by their thoughtfulness, caring about their students, high expectations, commitment to student learning,...

  4. 2 What Is Exceptional Learning in Law School?
    (pp. 23-36)

    While the primary goal of this project was to learn more about the twenty-six law teachers we studied, we had a secondary goal of enriching our conception of what exceptional learning meant in the law-school context. Consequently, we asked the approximately two hundred law professors, deans, students, alumni, and other nominators to articulate their views on what constitutes exceptional learning in law school. We prompted nominators with a working definition of exceptional learning (Box 1). We based this definition on Ken Bain’s definition of exceptional learning inWhat the Best College Teachers Do.

    We invited nominators to suggest their own...

  5. 3 What Personal Qualities Do the Best Law Teachers Possess?
    (pp. 37-75)

    The outstanding law professors we studied are thoughtful, authentic, and passionate. These attributes resonate throughout this book because who these teachers are shapes what they do. Some qualities, such as enthusiasm and empathy, the teachers intentionally cultivate; others, such as humility, are noticed by students and colleagues.

    These teachers also have lives outside the classroom. They coach their kids’ sports teams, care for elderly parents, have hobbies, and tackle serious health issues.

    These twenty-six teachers also make mistakes, as they freely admit. One told us how he arrived for his first day of class, having prepared the course using a...

  6. 4 How Do the Best Law Teachers Relate to Their Students?
    (pp. 76-122)

    All teachers begin to establish a relationship with their students on the first day of class. The teachers we studied are particularly thoughtful and intentional about the messages they send at the very beginning of a course.

    Nancy Levit explains how she prepares to build a positive relationship from day one: “The most important cornerstone of how I teach begins with establishing a relationship with each of my students. This begins before the first day they are in my class. When I get the class lists, I look up how to pronounce each student’s name and make it a point...

  7. 5 What Do the Best Law Teachers Expect from Their Students?
    (pp. 123-150)

    Expectations matter. Students respond positively to the teachers we studied, who have high expectations, demand much of them, and challenge them. These expectations include mastery of complex doctrine, critical thinking, and acting like a professional. Those same teachers respect their students, care about them, and have confidence in them. They also model their expectations through their own hard work. Their students are inspired to excel—they do not want to let down the teacher, their peers, or themselves. Ultimately, these high expectations include deep levels of student preparation, fully engaged class participation, and conscious, reflective thinking as well as the...

  8. 6 How Do the Best Law Teachers Prepare to Teach?
    (pp. 151-176)

    The teachers we studied prepare themselves for every class as if they were doing so for the first time. They reimagine themselves as novices in their fields and consider the student perspective. They prioritize their most important learning goals, and they plan teaching strategies to achieve those goals. They reflect on their role as teachers and role models as they prepare. Andy Liepold describes his thinking about class preparation in a way that epitomizes the teachers we studied: “Taking teaching seriously means working very hard to prepare for class. . . . The hard part is to do the scud...

  9. 7 How Do the Best Law Teachers Engage Students in and out of the Classroom?
    (pp. 177-259)

    The classes of the twenty-six teachers we studied sometimes seem almost magical, suggesting that good teaching is more art than science. Overall, these teachers share four core behaviors in the classroom. They (1) consciously structure their class sessions to achieve their learning goals, (2) show they care about students, (3) make classes relevant, and (4) are extremely effective with their chosen teaching methods. In addition, they extend their teaching outside the classroom, effectively handle teaching challenges, and begin and end classes and courses well.

    Most of the teachers we studied provide their students with explicit learning goals at the beginning...

  10. 8 How Do the Best Law Teachers Provide Feedback and Assess Students?
    (pp. 260-286)

    The exceptional teachers we studied integrate feedback and assessment to help students learn complex course material. As Julie Nice states, “I don’t know how to do assessment other than as another learning opportunity.” Paula Lustbader echoes this point: “They learn by doing. They learn by practicing again. They learn by getting a lot of feedback and tweaking and coming back. . . . They learn different ways. Not just that different students learn different ways, each student learns from different stimulus.”

    Many of the teaching behaviors, expectations, and personal qualities depicted earlier in this book also describe how these excellent...

  11. 9 What Lasting Lessons Do Students Take Away?
    (pp. 287-312)

    Chapter 2 offers a definition of exceptional learning in legal education. Our definition synthesizes the views of the law deans, teachers, and students who nominated outstanding teachers for our study (see Chapter 2, Box 2).

    Exceptional learning includes both intellectual and personal development. Exceptional intellectual development includes deep understanding of legal doctrine, policy, and theory. Intellectual development also encompasses of a wide range of skills, such as legal analysis, critical thinking, professional judgment, writing, counseling, and advocacy. Exceptional personal development includes self-understanding, confidence, intrinsic motivation, and the commitment to lifelong learning. Professional identity, professionalism, responsibility, and the thirst for justice...

  12. 10 Suggestions for Using this Book
    (pp. 313-324)

    Working on this project has been an awe-inspiring experience. Talking to the selected teachers, reading their materials, reviewing their student evaluations, hearing from their current and former students, and observing these teachers in the classroom have deeply moved and inspired us.

    All readers can learn from the words and actions of the teachers in this book. Whether you have been teaching for years, aspire to teach, work with teachers, teach a course on legal education, or are just interested in teaching, we invite you to reflect upon and develop your approach to teaching and learning by reading about these teachers....

  13. APPENDIX A Initial Solicitation E-mail
    (pp. 325-326)
  14. APPENDIX B Subject Questions
    (pp. 327-328)
  15. APPENDIX C Questions for Students and Alumni
    (pp. 329-329)
  16. APPENDIX D List of Subjects’ Works Related to Teaching and Learning
    (pp. 330-342)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 343-344)
  18. Index
    (pp. 345-356)