The most fun grading ever, really

The words “fun” and “grading” rarely appear in the same sentence.  However, my large section civil procedure and evidence students’ extra credit projects really are fun to grade.

 The Assignment

Students get extra credit if they develop a creative way to explain one of the more complicated concepts we cover in class.  Students receive the following instructions:

You may work alone, or in a team of up to four people, to create a video, comic book, song, game, poster or some other creative way to explain any one of the following concepts: relation back of amendments; work product; expert discovery; summary judgment; claim and/or issue preclusion [in Evidence the list includes hearsay, character evidence, expert testimony and impeachment]. You may choose to focus on particular aspects of these concepts or the entire concept. 

The project will be worth up to 6 raw score points toward your final raw score total. [The most raw score points available in the class toward a final grade, excluding extra credit, is 100].

Points for the extra credit project will be allocated based upon: creativity; content chosen and explained [i.e. if you take a very simple portion of a rule and explain that, you will likely not get many points]; demonstrated understanding of the applicable rule[s]; communication of the rules to other students. Your project will be part of the review session in the final class.

The Projects

About two-thirds of the class normally turns in a project.  The grades usually are between 4 and 6 points, although I have given some projects a 1 or 2.

Some students developed projects based on television shows or movies. For example, in civil procedure, students developed this game show video on work product

The student actors all imitated various faculty members – complete with wigs, hand gestures, and hair flips. Another group of students in civil procedure did a spoof on the Back to the Future movies to explain relation back.

Other students developed a twitter feed on work product.  Some students used board games for inspiration.  A group of civil procedure students produced an elaborate game entitled “Battleship Preclusion

bp photo

The next year, many of those students took my Evidence class and created a new game: “Escape from the House of Hearsay

 bp photo1

Others developed projects using music and poetry.  For example, in Evidence, students developed a song to help explain hearsay, “The Hearsay Saga of Johnny and Sue”:

This stanza from a poem on character evidence made me laugh:

Hope you enjoyed this poem, I sure had fun.
I hope character evidence no longer makes you want to run
Despite this poem I’m sure we will still all cram
So that we do not fail this godforsaken Evidence exam.

These are just a small sampling of the wonderful creative projects.

It’s Not Just Fun and Games

The Best Practices suggestion that doctrinal faculty use multiple methods to assess student learning [chapter 7] prompted me to develop this creative extra credit assessment.

The assessment has multiple learning objectives.  First, the projects require students to learn the material because they cannot communicate creatively if they do not fully grasp the underlying doctrine.  Anecdotally, when polled via anonymous clickers about the assignment, most said working on the project was either very, or somewhat, useful to their learning.

This assessment also seeks to develop students’ abilities to communicate complex material beyond how they would do so in class or on an exam.  Using different mediums to communicate information is a useful skill.

Additionally, this project allows students to express themselves creatively.  Creativity and innovation are amongst the Shultz/Zedeck lawyering effectiveness factors.

Finally, assessing students on what largely end up being visual presentations provides an opportunity to assess the students’ grasp of the material in a format that may be used by tomorrow’s lawyers to communicate information.

The Impact on the Final Grade

Why make it extra credit rather than required?  Although I believe the projects have educational value, I make them extra credit because some students get anxious at the idea of having to engage creatively with the material.  Also, I want students to have some degree of autonomy about where they spend their time and energy.

I have been asked if this type of extra credit project “changes the curve”.   Underlying that question is the assumption that the way we traditionally grade has a validity that may be skewed by a project such as this one. I question that assumption.

This project measures students’ ability to understand, and communicate that understanding, in a different, but not less valid, way than a multiple choice or essay exam questions.  In some ways, giving extra credit for these projects is analogous to giving class participation credit.

Additionally, those who do not participate presumably can use the time students spent on the projects to study the doctrine.  Thus, the non-participants at least theoretically might have a leg up in terms of the material to be tested via a traditional final.

The Take Away

As we explore ways to prepare our students for practice in tomorrow’s world, we should consider alternative ways to assess knowledge and communication skills, and we should encourage creativity and outside the box thinking.  These projects do that.  And, they are fun to grade.

3 Responses

  1. Awesome project. Its shows the creativity of students :-)

  2. Andi – Professor Andi Curcio, a new contributing author- this is amazing course and assessment work on your part! Great first post!

  3. Good for you! I did something similar with Civ Pro students for several years. I didn’t take the step of grading the projects, as opposed to giving a small number of extra credit point. Quality varied and grading on the criteria you note would have made sense.

    Some years the task was to create a creative conceptual framework for personal jurisdiction. Other years students could create an overview of civil procedure. I displayed the results on a table in the school’s galleria and in a couple cases colleagues asked to use the materials.

    The submissions, ranged from songs, such as a recording of Jurisdiction: The Personal Kind sung to “I Shot the Sheriff” and words to Can’t Get No Jurisdiction — to poems, such as The Power of Personal Jurisdiction and Ode to Civil Procedure, to board games to books, like the Civil Procedure is like the World Series in Baseball book,

    Many students really appreciated the opportunity to use the creative side of their brain, though some struggled with the sense that it was one more thing to do.

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