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Starting off on the Right Track: Avoiding Mistakes New (and Not-So-New) Instructors Make
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Starting off on the Right Track: Avoiding Mistakes New (and Not-So-New) Instructors Make


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Slides from American Association of Law Libraries 2010 session D-5: Starting off on the Right Track: Avoiding Mistakes New (and Not-So-New) Instructors Make

Slides from American Association of Law Libraries 2010 session D-5: Starting off on the Right Track: Avoiding Mistakes New (and Not-So-New) Instructors Make

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  • The first two mistakes I see as interrelated. Relying on one way of teaching – whether that is lecture or activity, discussion or what-have-you – is easy to do. It can also be a huge mistake. A lot has been said and written about learning styles over the past several years, including the differences in the way “Millenials” learn. Like it or not, people learn in different ways. Different material is absorbed in different ways. What works for you won’t necessarily work for your audience. It’s easy to look at this chart and say that – as long as you’ve got time in the schedule to cover material more slowly – lecture is all bad, and activity is all good. Don’t be fooled, though. That said, it’s important to do what you do effectively. For lecture, that means keeping in mind your audience and paying attention to your objectives (which sara will talk about in a few minutes.) it also means not assuming prior knowledge, not going too fast, and checking in with your audience as you go. I think we’ve all sat through enough lectures to know the elements of a good lecture and a bad lecture, even if we have trouble putting them into practice. So rather than spend time there, I want to show you a classroom activity I’ve used to avoid lecturing.
  • Imagine that you’re first year legal research students. Think back. You’re just learning about administrative law for the first time. You may or may not have read a chapter in a legal research text about regulations and agencies. What we’re going to do is look at a couple information resources that deal with administrative law. And we’re going to think about what information we’re looking at, and how we’d use it.
  • What is the resource? What information is included? How can we use this site/information? You can search, browse, pull up by citation. If we type in “alcohol tobacco firearms” into the search box, we get a list of results that leads us to this
  • Clicking on the PDF link under #5 gets us….
  • So we can get to the full PDF text of the regulations as well.
  • This is the kind of answer we’re looking for.
  • Now you do one. Here’s an agency website – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. When you came in, on your seat there should have been a quarter sheet of paper with some questions on it. Take a look and see if you can answer the same questions we looked at for the CFR: What is it, what is included, and how do you use it? Jot down your answers as you look at the site. For anyone who has a mobile device that can get the internet, there should be wireless in here – take a minute to look at the site. Otherwise, see what you can tell from the menu headings here. [wait 60 seconds]
  • Now, pair up and compare your answers. In a few moments, we’ll ask for volunteers to describe what their group found. [Wait 45 seconds] Can I get one group to briefly share their answers? [30 sec] In real life, the class would have been split into groups looking at different resources. When I used this in class, I had one group look at the CFR, another look at the Federal Register, and another looking at an agency website. Of course, they had actual access to the agency website, so they could explore it at will.
  • The first step is in designing the activity: you have to know what you’re trying to do, and how an activity can get the information you want across. Here, I wanted students to become familiar with administrative agency websites. That’s pretty straightforward. Sometimes the objective isn’t as obvious. A comparison between two methodologies, for example: print and online case research, can really drive home situations in which one is better than the other. And Sara will discuss this next. Framework: Depending on your prior classroom work, this may require a short lecture. I’ve run into trouble when I rely on the students having read the text (even tho I give quizzes and they know it). Part of me wants to punish them for not taking the class seriously, but I’d rather have class run better. If I can smooth out the activity by giving 5 minutes of lecture and calling it a refresher – which assists even the prepared students – I’ll do that. Basically, you want to make sure that all your students have a basic understanding of the background of your activity. For the prior activity, I would preface it with a quick review of administrative law (for 1Ls, at any rate) – what agencies are and how they fit into the big picture of what we’ve studied previously. Instructions are key. I’ve given written and oral instructions, and I find it works better to have them written down for students to refer back to. Either on a handout or projected for them work equally well (at least for me). Beware of ambiguous questions – make sure what you’re asking for is clearly indicated. Time is a difficult one for me. I, and I think many people, tend to rush through. We don’t like to hear silence in our classrooms, and we underestimate how long it will take students to complete a task. I try to set a generous amount of time, and then SET A TIMER. (I use an ipod – literally, set a timer.) Because even 60 seconds is way longer than you think it’ll be. Any guesses as to how long we spent looking at the ATF website? It was 60 seconds, and another 45 to discuss your answers. For law students, I’d give more time. For that exercise, I gave the students 5 minutes to look at it on their own, to get the level of detail I was looking for. Being available ties into the time thing. You want to give yourself enough time to check in with each group, in case there are questions. My practice, generally, is to set my timer, and then walk around the room. (particularly around the back of the room.) This also helps keep people on task. If I hear unrelated conversations, I can check in and see if they’re finished with the project; if everyone is finished I can pull the class back together before the end of the allotted time. I don’t believe I’ve ever run an exercise where there were no questions. (From Sara S. ) Guiding the discussion is also important. While you’re walking around, identify groups that have encountered common problems or have used good methods to find things (points that you might mention in a lecture or did mention). This gives you people to call on if there aren’t volunteers. You might even have a checklist of things you want to cover in the discussion, including what questions to ask. A word about questions- make sure they are clear. Don’t ask “what do you think” “What did you learn.” Those are too vague. Develop a tolerance for silence- don’t get in the habit of answering your own questions.
  • You should identify what your students should be learning BEFORE you do anything else. (Explain this more) Doing this will also make sure that your expectations are reasonable given the restraints your students (and you) face. That is, the time in class, the amount of work they should do for your class. It helps to accept that they may not be able to learn everything they need to know about legal research from your class!   How do you do this? There are lots of ways, but in Understanding by Design, the authors suggest doing it backwards. That is, identify the results first. What should the students know and be able to do? (Also known as learning outcomes or objectives). The course gets them there.   At Georgetown last summer, all of the advanced legal research instructors met to talk about this. We had an hour long session on caselaw, statutes, legislative history, admin law, secondary sources, and legal research methods. In the sessions, we identified what skills and knowledge the students should have on each subject and identified ways to do that- we shared our lectures, assignments, etc. We also identified what we could cut or what types of assignments didn’t get our students to the learning outcomes.   So, ideally, you want to identify learning goals or objectives for the whole course, for each class session and for each assignment. Be sure to communicate these goals to your students in some way. You may include the course goals in the syllabus (example?). Identify class goals at the beginning of each session. I begin each of my classes with an “Agenda” and end it with a “What’s next” slide or handout. (examples). This puts the class in the larger context of the course. (Kate’s example of a lesson plan) For assignments, particularly group assignments, decide why the assignment is important and each question or task fits a particular goal. (example) This can prevent complaints of “why are we doing this?”.
  • This is an example of some concrete objectives for a particular subject.
  • Evaluations   Your students will be evaluating you in many ways. One way is the formal evaluation at the end of the semester. Don’t fool yourself into thinking these aren’t important. They are. If used correctly, they can help you improve your teaching. But don’t teach exclusively to the evaluations- teach to your objectives. You will also want to use other types of evaluation to improve your teaching as you go along. First, try to spend a few minutes after every class session to think about what went well, what didn’t and what you would change next time. By the time you teach again, you may have forgotten these insights. I try to keep a binder for my classes and just make hand-written notes on the front page of my notes for class. I also note how the timing went. Did we have extra time? Did I have to rush to finish? Make sure that you read your formal evaluations. Don’t stress over every comment. Instead, look for patterns. You may want to classify the comments into subjects. Example- next slide. Here I’ve taken some sample comments from my own evaluations and organized them into these 4 Finally, be prepared for some negative comments or even some bad reviews. Both Kate and I have had some bad evaluations. That doesn’t make you a bad teacher.   Tips: Get a copy of the evaluation BEFORE you begin teaching. See what the criteria are. Our first question @ Georgetown is whether the class is organized, so I try to be uber-organized in my teaching so that the first question doesn’t put them in a bad mood. If you’re worried, or even if you aren’t, do your own evaluations throughout the semester. This can help you improve your teaching. Daily Sheet Kate’s cards- 3 things you like; 3 things you didn’t like (We have them evaluate us)  
  • This last semester I taught a new class at a new school (a library school class at University of Maryland). At mid-semester, I wasn’t sure how things were going. So I did a mid-course evaluation- Just a sheet of paper with several of these questions. Their responses were really helpful. I had been lecturing/demoing for the first 90 minutes and then spending the last hour on in-class activities. Several of them asked for a more integrated format and more lecturing. You can also check in at the end of each session and ask them what the most important thing they learned was.
  • Be prepared I can’t stress this enough. Know what you’re teaching. Read the textbook. Read outside materials. Practice your demos. Plan class discussions. Practice. Write out discussion questions. Even if you’re prepared, things will go wrong. If you’re prepared, you’ll handle the unexpected better. Be Yourself I tend to be a casual open person, so my classes are that way. My students interrupt me without raising their hands and call me “Sara.” I tend to crack jokes, admit when I don’t know something, correct the occasional mistake and am ok with people wandering in and out of class as they need to. I know that this would drive some of you nuts, so I wouldn’t advocate that you do this! I also expect my students to act like adults and take responsibility for their learning. If they work hard, I will do whatever it takes to help them learn. This is part of who I am. Being myself makes teaching easier. I don’t have to remember to “act like a professor” and everything else. Set clear expectations I also tell my students about my expectations. I tell them what to call me and how I expect them to behave in class. I think of the syllabus as a contract, so it’s very detailed. Clear expectations help when problems arise as they inevitably do. Be reasonable and consistent So I don’t care if assignments are a few days late. Once I post a key to an assignment, the students can’t get full credit and they know this from day one. I make NO exceptions to this rule. If they need an exception, they have to ask BEFORE the key goes up. I’m a generally nice, laid-back person. The first time I taught I was WAY too nice and the students walked all over me. The next year, I’d learned my lesson and was WAY too strict. Now, I’m reasonable and consistent. Seek advice No matter how prepared you are, you will have crazy and difficult things happen in and out of class. You may have a student break down crying in class. You might find that the class is bullying one of the students. My hardest moment in teaching was when 2 male students were about to fight over a seat in class. Kate’s was when a student started crying. Now you can’t prevent these things from happening, but you can think about how you will deal with them and then talk about it with the appropriate person. Your school probably has people who help troubled and struggling students. Students who are having a tough time in their personal lives or who just can’t learn the material. I don’t feel qualified to help these students, so I always refer these students to the appropriate person. The difficult ones, we have to deal with. I like to get ideas for how to handle these students from my colleagues.
  • Transcript

    • 1. D5: Starting Off on the Right Track: Avoiding Mistakes Common to New (and Not-So-New) Instructors Meg Butler, Kate Irwin-Smiler, Sara Sampson, Joan Shear,
    • 2. Goals
      • Discuss common mistakes made by instructors
      • Provide tools & techniques to counter these mistakes
    • 3.
      • Common Mistakes
        • Relying on one method of teaching
        • Ineffective guidance of in-class activities
        • Lack of concrete learning objectives
        • Worrying too little or too much about student evaluations
        • Poor classroom management
    • 4. Exclusive One Method of Teaching Lecture Activities Convey large amounts of information quickly Less information conveyed One-way information flow Information flows from instructor, other students, and self Passive learning Active learning Enables “coasting” Requires student engagement Less information retained Greater student retention
    • 5. Activity: Administrative Law
      • What is this resource?
      • What legal information is included here?
      • How can you use this resource?
    • 6. Example
    • 7.  
    • 8.  
    • 9. Example: CFR
      • What is this resource? Codified federal regulations, on a website
      • What legal information is included? Regulations governing agency activity, past & current
      • How can you use this resource? Browse through titles, perform a keyword search, pull up by citation; get to the text and page image of the regulation
    • 10. Activity: Administrative Law
    • 11. Activity: Administrative Law
      • Pair up with a neighbor
      • Share your answers
      • Explain what you found to the rest of the class
    • 12. Pedagogy
      • See one-Do one-Teach one
        • Medical school methodology
        • Teaching forces a greater level of understanding
      • Think-Pair-Share
        • Face saving for shy students
        • Requires the students to discuss and defend their assessments
    • 13. Insufficiently Guiding Classroom Activities
      • Decide on your objective
      • Set up the framework for an activity
      • Provide clear instructions (preferably written)
        • Test the instructions just like you would test an assignment
        • Preferably guide through an example
      • Allow time to complete the activity
      • Be available to assist when there are questions
        • There WILL be questions
    • 14. Lack of Concrete Learning Objectives
      • Identify learning goals or objectives for
        • the whole course
        • each class session
        • each assignment or activity
      • Ready-made objectives
    • 15. Example of Assignment Objectives
      • Legislative History In-Class Exercise
      • Legal Research Skills for Practice
      • Objectives:
      • Students will locate a Public Law when given the P.L> number.
      • Students will locate the references to the law’s legislative history and the legislative history documents in USCCAN.
      • Students will recognize that while USCCAN is an important source of legislative history, it is not the comprehensive source that the CIS Index is.
      • Students will use LexisNexis Congressional to locate references to legislative history when given a Public Law number.
      • Directions: Work in groups of 2 or 3 to answer the questions below. First, find the text of P.L. _________________ in USCCAN online or in print. If you use the print version, be sure to use the legislative history materials as well. If you use the online version, you may not be able to find some of the answers – when that happens, note that the information is unavailable.
    • 16.  
    • 17.  
    • 18. Legal Research Course Objectives: Legislative History
      • Students should be able to
        • Explain the general federal legislative process
        • List the types of documents produced during the legislative process
        • Identify the most important and persuasive type of legislative history document
        • Locate prior versions of a statute
        • Use LexisNexis Congressional to generate a comprehensive list of legislative documents when given a statute citation.
    • 19. Evaluations
      • Don’t over or under estimate how important these are.
      • Tips
        • Get a copy of your school’s evaluation form before you begin teaching.
        • Do additional evaluations
          • Index card- 3 things you like/ 3 you don’t
          • Mid-course corrections
        • Read your formal evaluations
    • 20. Schemata from: Karron G. Lewis, Making Sense (and use) of Written Student Comments. Subject Matter Organization & Clarity Interaction Enthusiasm Spend more time on terms and connector searching - going through difficult examples. Ran class well She was so helpful when I went to her with questions I had about the assignments. She created a friendly and supportive environment in which to learn these essential skills. I wish we spent a little more time on researching cases. I felt that we went a little too fast through this portion. Did an excellent job explaining multiple methods of achieving our goals. Very approachable She made me feel more comfortable as a researcher.
    • 21. Mid-course evaluations
      • What has been taught that is still confusing or unclear and do you feel it needs more coverage in class?
      • How would you rate the learning climate in class?
      • What’s going right?
      • What should change?
      • What would help you get more out of this course?
      • What aspect of the class has been most useful for helping you learn the material?
      • What aspect of the class has been least useful for helping you learn the material?
    • 22. Classroom Management
      • Be Prepared
      • Be yourself (don’t adopt a persona)
      • Set clear expectations
        • Syllabus as contract
      • Be reasonable and consistent
        • Extensions & lateness
      • Seek advice when dealing with difficult students
        • Dean of Students- troubled students
        • Academic Support- struggling students
        • Colleagues- difficult or demanding students
    • 23. I forget what I was taught. I only remember what I have learnt. - Patrick White
    • 24. A Learning Exercise
      • 7 8 5 5 3 4 4 6 9 7 8
    • 25. Reinforce and Review
      • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself; what may seem old to you is still new to your students
      • Stop assuming that students can jump from specific to global knowledge.
      • Help students make connections to gain a deeper understanding
    • 26. Use Multiple Teaching Methods
      • Match the method to the material, not to personal preferences – yours or your students
      • Teach the facts of legal bibliography
      • Challenge your students to do some actual legal research – not all learning takes place in the classroom
    • 27. Use classroom time productively
      • Planning is key
        • Clearly articulated goals
        • Clear instructions
        • Clear examples
        • Ample time
      • Provide meaningful feedback
    • 28. Articulate Learning Objectives
      • Adult learners need to know why they should learn something
      • Students should be able to gauge their own learning (or lack thereof)
      • Include both
        • lower order learning – memorizing facts, e.g. legal bibliography
        • higher order learning – making connections between things, e.g. applying techniques to new situations and research effectively
    • 29. Feedback Improves Performance
      • Don’t think of it as an evaluation, think of it as an opportunity to better teach your students
      • Supplement school’s evaluations with your own
      • Read evaluations critically
    • 30. It’s Your Classroom
      • Each class has its own personality
      • You are still the most important factor in establishing tone, respect, and the level of learning that goes on in your classroom
      • Be true to yourself
    • 31. Contact Information
      • Meg Butler,
      • Kate Irwin-Smiler,
      • Sara Sampson,
      • Joan Shear,
      • Slides available at #AALL2010