AALS and Modeling Best Practices in Teaching

Reflecting on the recent AALS conference, a colleague and I were speaking about how engaging we always found programs presented by the Academic Support and Teaching Methods section because the presenters always try to model good teaching along with conveying interesting ideas and insights. This year’s program, co-sponsored by these sections, was a particularly good example. The program was “Teaching to the Entire Class: Innovative and Effective Instruction to Engage Every Student” and it delivered what it advertised: after three hours, the roomful of professors remained energized and educated.

I was especially struck by two of the presentations that modeled some tried-and-true
teaching methods that we sometimes too easily overlook.

The Power of Props

Professor David Sokolow of University of Texas modeled the teaching of doctrines from commercial law courses and did so by walking off the podium, into the audience, and handing his “students” oversized mock stock certificates, real $20 bills (always sure to catch attention of students), and toy cars as props to demonstrate the code section he had displayed on powerpoint. The class reminded me once again of the power of visual aids and “manipulatives” in teaching. In our technological times, we sometimes forget that visual aids don’t need electricity.   My colleague Jeffrey Berman here at UMKC uses “Beanie Babies” to teach joinder concepts in civil procedure — a delightful visual alternative to the endless graphs of lawsuits upon which civil procedure teachers so often rely.  It would be fascinating to collect a list of “useful props” for teaching various legal concepts.

The Power of Teams

Professors Ruthann Robson of CUNY demonstrated how she invites her academic support colleague Professor David Nadvorney into her Constitutional Law class to help students learn about how to learn. After teaching some background to Constitutional Law cases, she stepped back and invited in Professor Nadvorney to talk with the students about what they were putting in their notes. One professor in the audience asked “How do you get your colleagues to come into your classes?” “Just ask” was the answer. I think his question reflected the degree to which many faculty find the concept of true team teaching to be foreign. Yet, if we want our students to learn the benefits of collaboration, we can model that collaboration in our teaching. I know some of the most exciting learning environments I have experienced and some of the most powerful lessons about teaching I have received have come from team teaching.

The session was recorded and you can listed to these and the other excellent presentations by Professors Kris Franklin, Alison Nissen, Emily Randon, and Michael Schwartz at the AALS website https://memberaccess.aals.org/eWeb/DynamicPage.aspx?webcode=SesDetails&ses_key=9bb09487-322f-400b-8033-2b2b22009b58.


One Response

  1. Thanks so much for giving we BLOG readers the heads up on this useful program! I was unable to attend that program and hope to be able to catch up on the AALS website. Your point about tried and true methods and simple props is a good one especially in a day in which we sometimes think we need to resort to technology to be creative. One of my colleagues, Terry Deutsch, once gave a brilliant sample teaching demonstration for a UCC class where his only PROP was an egg but it captured everybody’s attention and helped him lead teach not only the substantive law but more importantly statutory analysis. Although he did this presentation more than a decade ago, I still remember that egg!

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