It’s now mid-semester and students are finally getting the swing of things (we hope, at least). “Things” in your legal research class might be specific research tools or the process of locating both mandatory and persuasive authority. In my class, students’ work product is a research log or trail which documents their (almost) every step and analysis of materials reviewed. By mid-semester, they have typically completed at least three research logs (two small research projects and one longer log for a larger project).
In my last post, I noted this part of the semester is a good time for students to self-evaluate whether they are getting the swing of things. Specifically, I discussed the benefits of having students write a traditional reflection paper on their own performance – Personally, I like to assign this kind of reflection after their first large research project. An alternative, which I find works wonders, is to ask students to evaluate another student’s work. I know, this might not seem like self-evaluation, but I promise their comments and subsequent work-product proves otherwise.
Assigning Peer Evaluation
I assign peer evaluation after the first major project only (whereas a personal reflection paper can typically work after any assignment). If you are going to assign a peer evaluation, it works best if students have something meaty to work with. For this reason, I have students evaluate a partner’s major research project where their logs for this project are 10+ pages. Also, by this point, students have had multiple opportunities to perfect their own work-product, so they are in turn handing over something of value to their peer.
For the actual peer evaluation, I ask students to make at least three positive comments and at least three comments of constructive feedback on their partner’s research log. Finally, they must write a few sentences about something they liked in their peer’s research that they will try to implement on their next project.
Example commentary I have seen in peer evaluations includes:
- Bolding and underlining good cases and analysis helped me as the reader easily identify key answers to the problem.
- Your research trail shows a smooth, and therefore efficient, transition from secondary sources, to primary law, to cases, and then finally to persuasive but on-point authority.
- I can see you started with AmJur first, which seemed to confuse you based on your subsequent search queries. But when you started over and narrowed down to secondary sources specific to our jurisdiction, your first results were directly on point. This is a good reminder to first narrow sources by jurisdiction.
- I like that you included your google searches in your log – I can see that this initial free research helped you craft a better search query when you then moved to Westlaw.
- Your case citations should include dates and court information so that later you can easily determine just how relevant and reliable the cases are to your analysis.
- Your analyses of each resource are concise, but not helpful. They lack detail and application to our facts – if you provide a little more detail, you may find it easier to draw your conclusion.
People, these are REAL student comments! YES, that is me riding my wave of self-adoration and excitement that I might possibly (actually?) be a decent instructor…
They get it. And the best part is, I can see major changes and improvement in their next submission by incorporating into their work-product the things they liked from their peer’s work. To me, there is no better evidence of self-evaluation than this.
Have you incorporated any of my self-evaluation suggestions in your course? Or perhaps you have suggestions of your own. I’d love to hear what you are all doing in your classrooms on this front and if it’s working – please share!