Preparing for the Three Ring Circus (But Not Yet)
Many, many thanks to Dan and the other CoOp regulars for having me back this month. For Court watchers, June can feel like a vigil for the term’s final, big decisions, but this year that tension is heightened in anticipation of all that may occur in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To wit, SCOTUSblog has issued what is effectively an emergency preparedness plan. I am working on a presentation and a workshop paper for two conferences related to the spending and healthcare action this term and will turn to my favorite topics soon. But, as Gerard noted recently, many are suffering from healthcare reform overload, malaise, exhaustion… . Accordingly, as I am coming up for air after grading 70 Constitutional Law essay exams (what is that, at least a thousand pages of grading?), I am thinking about the semester’s high and low points and ways in which I can improve my classroom performance.
There is nothing like the marathon of grading to initiate this kind of reflection, which I think is a useful exercise before diving into the pleasures of summer research and conferences. I imagine we have all experienced the gratification of seeing that our students have learned something well and rose to the challenge on an exam, and the disappointment of realizing that no one understood a word we said on a particular topic. It can be hard to self-correct during the semester except to clear up the immediate points of confusion (though I do make notes in my syllabus when topics don’t proceed as planned). But, the next year’s students can benefit from the prior year’s lessons, some of which can be learned from student evaluations, and some of which can result from ‘exam reflection.’ Taking a moment to reconsider can result in fruitful actions such as better exams, rewriting part of a syllabus, restructuring a class to introduce material better, considering supplemental materials, or revisiting casebook choices. Sometimes a deliberate choice not to act occurs to see if the issue is a blip or a trend.
In light of these musings, I have two questions, one general, and one more specific to Con Law:
1. Do you use exams to reflect on the success of the semester’s teaching? If so, how? What kinds of issues do you think warrant attention given the limitations of the law school exam structure?
2. Do you provide any background materials that are the equivalent of the civics lessons of yore? Every year I have students come to my office concerned that they will be left behind in Con Law because they know virtually nothing about American history, politics, civics, or the Constitution. My first assignment is always to read the Constitution, which levels the playing field a bit (funny how many poli sci majors think they know everything but have never actually read the document). But, I have yet to find a good, concise background reader for my nervous con law newbies. I don’t think this lack of background affects exam performance, but I would like to find a good resource. Suggestions?