Collaboration Experiment: Letting the Students Teach

In response to several inquiries of Albany Law School’s Family Violence Litigation Clinic students concerning tax issues related to separation and divorce, we decided to engage in an experiment that turned out to be a huge success.   The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (“LITC”) and Family Violence Litigation Clinic (“FVLC”) students were asked to prepare and present an interactive class to share the knowledge that they had gained throughout the semester in a manner targeted to the unique issues faced by each Clinic. We followed a Best Practices approach of integrating substantive doctrine, skills, theory and social science all in one class and the feedback from the students was very positive.

In preparation for the class, the LITC students were asked to collaborate, research and prepare a presentation on tax issues that most commonly affect survivors of domestic violence.  The FVLC clinic students were asked to collaborate, research and prepare a presentation on the challenges faced by survivors of domestic violence.  The goals of the exercise were (i) to provide an environment for the students to collaborate, (ii) to give the students an opportunity to exercise their public speaking muscles, (iii) to provide a forum to express what they had learned throughout the semester and (iv) to cross pollinate.  

During the first hour of class, the LITC students discussed issues such as filing status, dependent exemptions, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Innocent Spouse Relief and entitlement to refunds.    The FVLC students asked questions of the LITC students that were targeted and practical, which required the LITC students to apply doctrinal tax rules to practical questions in a concise and expeditious manner in front of a room of their colleagues.  Throughout the second hour of class, the FVLC students presented a Power Point presentation entitled Domestic Abuse and Financial Abuse for Tax Professionals.   The FVLC students explained various domestic violence issues as they might arise in family law, such as custody, child support orders of protection and financial abuse.   Of particular relevance to the LITC students, the FVLC students discussed financial abuse and explained how to recognize when a client is being abused.   

If you ask the students, it was the best class of the semester and they snicker because they taught it.  Little do they know, by encouraging collaboration we taught them a thing or two as well.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for sharing this experience and the excellent results. I am developing interdisciplinary classes between medical students and law students and have been considering doing something similar. Each group serves the same low income population, and I have been looking for new ways to explore how to help students understand poverty and the constellation of medical and legal issues that often come with it. I would love to hear more about how others are giving students opportunities to teach one another.

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