Variety is the Spice of Life — and the Classroom!

“One size fits all?” Not in the world of education! Four faculty members from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School have put to rest any thoughts that any one single approach to teaching can bring success in the law school classroom.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Social Science Research Network published “The Value of Variety in Teaching: A Professor’s Guide” in the Journal of Legal Education (Vol. 64, No. 1) authored by WMU-Cooley faculty members Tonya L. Krause-Phelan, Kara Zech Thelen, and Heather Garretson, and former faculty member Jane Siegel. In the 28-page article, the professors show that the storied Socratic Method of teaching is just one of more than 80 ways law school faculty can use to get their message across.

The professors created a practical, how-to guide, organized by skill so that it’s easy for readers to use.

“You’ll enjoy what variety can do for your teaching,” the professors wrote. “And your students will thank you for it.”

Teaching students with a variety of methods helps them both in the classroom and in their career, the professors explained. Just as they learned in a number of different ways in school, the students-turned-lawyers will find themselves having to use a number of alternative methods to convey important legal points to their clients, jurors, and even judges and opposing counsel. With the variety approach, students can draw both on the substantive material they learned and the different methods used to get the points across.

Skills addressed in the helpful article are speaking, writing, concrete learning, organization, practice skills, comprehension, self-assessment, working together, professionalism, student participation, and student feedback.

The article combines practical ideas with a bit of humor here and there. Readers are directed to help their students avoid ambiguity by taking on Medicaid eligibility rules. Which part is unclear? “Pick a provision by throwing a dart at the code,” the professors advised.

The article goes on to address such areas as:

  • Dry classes
  • Obscure wording
  • How to break up issue spotting instruction by having students dissect a few selected songs
  • How to demonstrate the elements of attempted crime with a comparison to baseball, and
  • The benefits of not starting an email with “hey” to illustrate professionalism in communication.

We invite you to read this outstanding article and think you will enjoy learning what these experienced teachers have to say.

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Filed under About Cooley Law School, History, Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, Skills, Ethics

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