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Capital Area Legal Writing Conference

Wednesday, March 13, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Prof. Crisarla Houston
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On Friday, March 1st, Professors Crisarla Houston and Nancy Brown presented at the Capital Area Legal Writing Conference at the American University Washington College of Law on "Helping Students Find Their Voice: Teaching Advocacy to Legal Writing Students.” They discussed methods used to teach students written and oral advocacy skills. These instructional methods enable students to become effective advocates and include the following: case and statutory analysis exercises; in-class analysis drills; analogical reasoning exercises; peer and self evaluation exercises; CIRAC exercises; oral argument exercises; and other written and oral advocacy assignments.

Professors Houston and Brown use these exercises in their legal writing classes because learning theorists encourage educators to provide frequent opportunities for students to apply abstract principles in concrete, hands-on exercises as an effective means of aiding and enhancing students' comprehension, learning, and retention.Many of these exercises incorporate clever and memorable hypotheticals and familiar factual circumstances, which provide schema (or cognitive frameworks) students can use to comprehend complex, new concepts by relating them to familiar concepts.They also discussed how to use these exercises to enhance students’ learning through peer-to-peer learning experiences, application, and active learning techniques.

They concluded by sharing feedback from students and professors on the effectiveness of these methods for teaching written and oral advocacy skills. They also solicited ideas on teaching written and advocacy skills from their peers in the audience.

On Saturday, March 2nd, Professors Cris Houston, Thea Davis, and Jarred Reiling also presented at the Capital Area Legal Writing Conference on "Making a Dollar out of Fifteen Cents: Meeting the Demands of the Labor-Intensive LRW Course as an Adjunct Faculty Member.” A 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education article noted that adjuncts comprise roughly half of the entire professoriate.Legal academics typically agree that adjunct professors are essential for the delivery of diverse course offerings, smaller faculty/student ratios, and a cost-effective, sound curriculum at many law schools.Panelists discussed how adjunct legal writing professors are able to effectively teaching legal research and writing courses, when this job easily consumes a forty-hour work week for full-time professors and when adjuncts often have full-time jobs or other major time commitments.

Panelists also explored the labor-intensive character of the legal research and writing course as well as the time management strategies necessary to teach LRW as a part-time professor.The panelists also highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with adjunct law teaching.Panelists also discussed ways that law schools and legal writing programs can provide support to adjuncts, who are expected to provide full coverage of course content and, in many instances, office hours to the same extent that full-time faculty members are expected to provide these things.

Panelists also solicited ideas from the audience on ways to capitalize on the opportunities and address the challenges experienced by adjunct legal writing professors.

On Saturday, March 2nd, Professor Victoria Moshiashwili also presented at the Capital Area Legal Writing Conference on "The Only Message That Matters: Overcoming Barriers to Providing Effective Feedback to Students”

Providing effective feedback on a student's writing and legal analysis is arguably the most important task of the legal writing professor. However, writing comments on student papers can create numerous communication barriers. Students may not read the comments, or they may misunderstand them. Professors may misdiagnose the student's problem and write a well-crafted comment that would effectively address a different problem. Students, especially those who need the most feedback, can become overwhelmed and discouraged by the number of comments.

On the other side of the communication barrier, dedicated professors spend time and energy writing thoughtful comments designed to help students truly learn and grow. This time and energy is wasted when the message doesn't get through. Professor Moshiashwili discussed how "live commenting" effectively conveys feedback without creating these barriers. It is also overwhelmingly preferred by students. The bottom line is: The only message that matters is the one that gets through.


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