I have become interested in progression and ordering lately. Not so much with chickens and eggs, but more with respect to progressions used in the classroom. Traditionally, I would start a class with a case and deploy it to open up an area of substantive law, utilizing questions, problems, canons of interpretation, and other cases to explore the meaning of concepts presented in the initial case or topic. The substantive areas depended on the course and ran from appurtenant easements (Property Law), to impeachment by prior untruthful acts (Evidence), to searches incident to lawful arrests (Criminal Procedure). My interest in ordering made me aware of the fact that I approached each class with a duality of teaching and learning. Teaching usually was first in my progression. The spotlight was on me as the teacher; I opened and conducted the class and then ended it when time ran out. I had many assumptions. I assumed student motivation existed; that students started, followed, and ended the class with me; that students had effective practices of adding information to their understanding; and that students readily retrieved the information when needed.
But I wondered what would happen if I reversed the norm of ordering? What if I placed learning first in the progression, especially in reference to motivation? Motivation in law school is a lot like a roller coaster (at least it was for me) – it ebbs and flows quite a bit, sometimes within the same day. Motivation is often invisible to the classroom, but weighs heavily on learning. Early in the first year there is a surfeit of it, and by the third year, well, lets just say there is not as much of it.
This reversal of progression, with learning first, changed a lot for me in the classroom. In the past year or two, it has allowed for more variation, for greater focus on student improvement, for more experiential “doing” as part of basic courses, and for more direct consideration of student motivation. For example, in this new progression, students fill out cards explaining what motivates them to learn the most and the least. Students also start each class by indicating where we are in the tapestry of subject matter – something they were used to me doing. Since experiences often are helpful motivators, many more experiences are blended into the course — students now interview real world participants in law (e.g., police officers in a Criminal Procedure course) or Evidence (trial lawyers) and create short but deep PowerPoint presentations or videos in all courses about a point in the course that was worth further exploration. These presentations served to recap what people had learned and to offer a combined “outline” of sorts for exam preparation. Further, classes now end (at the students’ request) with a brief synopsis of what we did, to see if everyone finished around the same place.
In all, I found that focusing on learning generally, and motivation in particular, were very worthwhile. I enjoyed the new way of guiding the course even more than I did the old. There were different assumptions made, but I think they were more accurate. Priorities can inform progression.