I have just returned from Washington, D.C., where I spent the last week fully immersed in clinical teaching methods at the second Summer Institute for Clinical Teaching at Georgetown University Law Center. There were approximately 25 attendees, many with years of teaching experience, who came from all over the country to engage in four days of intensive learning.
One aspect of the experience that will help me the most as a teacher was putting myself back into the role of being a student. I noticed how I felt as a learner. As a student, I paid attention to my thoughts. I tried to stay in my “role” but also stepped out a bit to think about the Wizard of Oz “man behind the curtain” and why certain levers were being pulled at particular times. Which was the point.
“What are we doing next?” “Are we going to get a copy of these Powerpoints?” “Do I understand the instructions for this exercise?” The whole institute is a model for good teaching, so we were talking about techniques and experiencing their effect at the same time. It was valuable to be a student again, and to have the space to think carefully about what kind of teaching results in learning that students can apply in other contexts.
We spent a day working with nationally recognized educator Grant Wiggins, co-author with Jay McTighe of “Schooling by Design: Mission, Action and Achievement.” We studied and practiced “Backward Design,” following Wiggins and McTighe’s specific process, Understanding by Design, which is a way of thinking purposefully about curricular planning.
Planning for a class is done “backward” from the desired results. A teacher first establishes the mission or goals of her class. What understandings or knowledge and skill should students gain from the class? What results are desired? Defining mission is one of the three “M” questions that Best Practices addresses: What is your Mission, What Method will you use, and How will you Measure results?
After defining mission, the next stage of Understanding by Design is determining the kind of evidence that will establish that the desired results have occurred. After a teacher has carefully considered the first two stages, she can begin to develop a learning plan that will result in achievement of the desired results.
While it is certainly easier to look at the casebook table of contents and plan a course around the topics as organized by the author, Wiggins notes that this kind of teaching may result in aimless activity, and that we should be organizing our teaching not around topics but around outcomes.
It was illuminating to be in the shoes of a student for a while, and share the experience with a group of enthusiastic learners. It will definitely shape how I teach going forward.