Oh my, folks, it’s August. Where did the summer go? Send help.
If you’re suddenly concerned about your preparation (or lack thereof) for the fall semester, fear not. Allow me to introduce the first of many tips to come for implementing elements of self-evaluation into your legal research courses. This first tip comes in handy on exactly Day 1 of classes.
If you didn’t know—or maybe forgot—the ABA has implemented new curriculum requirements. To graduate with a J.D., a student must now earn at least six credit hours of experiential learning. For a course to satisfy this requirement, it must provide opportunities for self-evaluation. While the ABA requires experiential courses to meet several other criteria, my goal here is to focus on methods of implementing self-evaluation. If you require a refresher on the other requirements, I recommend reviewing ABA Standard 303(a)(3) and Alyson Drake’s past blog post, An Experiential Learning Primer.
Side note: If you’re reading this and thinking “but I’m not an academic instructor” or “but my class isn’t marked as an experiential learning course,” self-evaluation is still a critical part of any adult’s learning process. With some adaptation, the assignment described below could apply in any setting—for example, with new attorneys or summer associates.
Typical self-evaluation assignments take the form of a reflection paper. While I believe reflections have merit, my experience has shown that students view these as busywork if not used strategically and transparently. Rather, I suggest kicking off Day 1 of class with a pre-assessment. I typically give students 15-20 minutes at the start of class to complete this “pop quiz.” Example questions include:
- What is a secondary source?
- Name one specific title of a secondary source you have heard of or have used.
- The citation “Pub. L. No. 103-3” refers to what? Why would you want to find this kind of source?
- What will you find in the Statutes at Large?
- What does it mean for a law to be codified?
- One resource for finding a complete legislative history for a state or federal law is…
- Which legislative history document is most valuable to determine legislative intent?
- Name one official document that may be created in each branch of government (Executive, Legislative, Judicial).
- What is the difference between a statute and a regulation?
- When would you review or cite to a regulation?
- Where can you find regulations that are “final” but have not yet been codified?
- Do you know what stages a regulation goes through before becoming final?
- How can you stay current with the regulation process?
- Where can you find codified regulations?
- Where would you look for municipal laws/ordinances and related cases?
- Name one free resource (online, print, or physical institution) for legal information:
- After answering the above questions, are you wondering if you should even be in this class? Are you questioning what you learned in 1L legal research and writing?
Ah, a good old-fashioned shock-and-awe approach.
What better opportunity for self-evaluation than a non-graded quiz? Students realize by question 3, give or take, how little they understand about research and available resources. I can see the self-evaluation on their faces. But perhaps the most important question is the final one: it gives students the opportunity to reflect on their sudden “oh s&*t” moment. An added bonus: the final question communicates my understanding and sympathies. It shows the students that I do not expect them to have all the answers. This is when I establish the class as a “safe space”—we’re all going to learn a lot together this semester and it’s going to be so much fun! (As fun as research can be.) And all of the questions shed light on where students are starting and where I expect the class to ultimately be, an important step in establishing course learning outcomes.
Congratulations! You’ve just implemented the first opportunity for self-evaluation and the class is only twenty minutes deep.
I tell the students the assessments are ungraded and just for me to better understand their level of knowledge. However, I typically grade the pre-assessments but don’t return them; I save them until roughly the last day of class. On this last day, I return the students’ graded pre-assessments—a little surprise from me to them. If they can correct—or greatly improve—at least one answer, I’ll give them an extra credit point on their final course assignment. Who doesn’t love extra credit?
More importantly, this one assignment just turned into two opportunities for self-evaluation—one at the beginning and one at the end. It’s remarkable to see how much they’ve learned in just one semester, and it’s quite rewarding, too.