Mar 24 2008

New Casebook Series

Published by under Innovation

This week, I will have two postings on teaching-related projects I hope you blog readers will find interesting. Later this week, I will announce a very interesting research project I am starting this month—for which I need your help.

Today, however, I will focus on a new series of law school casebooks to be published by Carolina Academic Press. The casebooks are being designed to implement the contextual and effective learning emphases of CLEA’s BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION (2007) and of the Carnegie Foundation’s EDUCATING LAWYERS (2007). For example, BEST PRACTICES recommends that law professors set high expectations, “engage the students in active learning,” “give regular and prompt feedback,” “help students improve their self-directed learning skills,” “choose teaching methods that most effectively and efficiently achieve desired outcomes,” “employ multiple methods of instruction,” and, in particular, “use context-based instruction.”

Accordingly, books in this series will:

•    Emphasize active learning;
•    Make it easier for professors to create multiple opportunities for practice and feedback;
•    Use multiple methods of instruction;
•    Focus on the application of concepts in simulated law practice contexts with a particular emphasis on problem-solving;
•    Guide students’ development of self-directed learning strategies; and
•    Be explicit about the structure of the body of law, the text and public policy.

More concretely, here are some common features of the books:

Problem-Solving Focus : Each subject area will be introduced with a practical, law practice problem (presented as a memo from a partner, an e-mail query from a client, an excerpted transcript of a deposition or trial, a complaint that needs to be answered, etc.). The research shows that, when students read cases with such problems in mind, they are more likely to engage with the materials; they read the cases looking to learn things they feel they need to know. This approach is consistent with constructivist learning theory and research, which argues that students learn better in more authentic settings. It also provides context, which all students need so they understand why the things they are learning are valuable to learn.

In addition, at least one chapter in the books will be a “problem-solving” chapter that will focus on helping students weave together what they have learned to analyze more complicated problems a lawyer in each field might encounter.

Summary of Area of Law and Connections to Students’ Prior Knowledge : To provide the background knowledge the research shows expert legal readers need to develop before they read cases and because practicing lawyers develop background knowledge before delving into cases, the texts will provide an overview of the doctrinal area reflected in the cases before presenting the cases.

Inclusion of Learning Objectives and Lesson Overviews and Guidance as to the Big Picture of the Body of Law the Students are Learning : To empower students to control and evaluate their learning, the texts will provide students with learning objectives and overviews of how students will be learning form the text. Studies show that students learn better when they are told what they need to know and be able to do, how what they are learning fits in with what they already have learned, and how they will go about learning the new material.

Emphasis on Active Learning : The texts will engage the students in actively interacting with and thinking about what they are reading. Readers will be prompted to write, question, reflect, and analyze as they read their assignments.

Emphasis on Developing Students’ Self-Regulated Learning Skills : Studies of learning across all educational disciplines strongly suggest that students are more likely to move towards expertise when their instruction facilitates their application of cognitive strategies to learning their course material. The texts will include exercises that ask students to create their own graphic organizers, classroom note-taking guides, self-generated problems, visual concept metaphors, problem-solving methodologies, checklists, etc. First-year texts will provide greater scaffolding for students’ use of these strategies, and upper-division texts, while continuing to emphasize the need for such activities, will place greater responsibility for them on the students.

Use of Multiple Instructional Strategies : The texts and teachers’ manuals will make it easy for users to adopt multiple instructional strategies, including small group work, think-pair-share, free writing, Socratic questioning and discovery sequence instruction.

Careful Sequencing of Cases and Materials to Help Students Build Towards Mastery : The texts will be carefully sequenced with a focus on building students’ skills.

Integrated Opportunities for Practice and Feedback : Practice and feedback are crucial prerequisites to mastery; the texts will provide multiple opportunities for practice and feedback with respect to the core skills on which students will be tested—spotting issues, applying the rules, applying and distinguishing cases and analyzing with policy. Many such problems will be included in the texts and teacher’s manuals. By providing such questions and answers as a resource to professors and students, these texts will encourage professors to integrate such questions on their course webpages and classroom PowerPoint presentations.

You should not be surprised to learn that all of the law professor bloggers for this blog are authoring casebooks for this series: Steve Friedland will be writing a criminal law text; Barbara Glesner-Fines will be writing a professional responsibility text; Gerry Hess will be writing a civil procedure text; Sophie Sparrow and I will be writing a remedies text, and I will be writing a contracts text. I expect the Contracts text will be finished by November 2008.

No responses yet