Focus On

Statement on teaching methodology | C. J. Shaw

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 @ 8:52 AM | By C. J. Shaw


C. J. Shaw %>
C. J. Shaw
The motivation to write this article is my teaching experience of always being supported by kind and polite law students, welcoming faculty members and very capable program administrators. I want students to receive a wonderful education in law school (as I did). I want instructors to enjoy providing students with a worthwhile legal education (as I do).

When teaching law, I commence building a team spirit at the initial class meeting. I assure my students we are all learners together and I am just further ahead than some or most of them. And I announce that the class roster, including me, is our team.

Teaching methodology — I aim to create and maintain a positive learning environment.

When explaining my teaching style (lecture and class discussion), I inform students that I will intermittently direct questions to them as a group and I expect someone to answer. To motivate students to answer in class I say, “I will allow time for someone to answer.” I learned that an instructor must have patience and allow time for an answer to be given.

At the initial class meeting (and intermittently during the term) I say, “Please stop me at any time if you have a question (or if I am speeding).” To motivate students to ask questions in class, I say, “Thinking about a question you might want to ask is an excellent beginning.” I believe students being reluctant to speak out loud in class is due mainly to politeness, not shyness or unpreparedness.

Doing a think-pair-share activity (a collaborative learning strategy for answering a question) will have my students chatting vigorously among themselves. Based on feedback from my students, I know they are having a lot of fun while discussing the assigned topic and learning.

Teaching knowledge and skill set — Good lawyers who are teaching law for the first time were hired because they are recognized content experts. But content expertise alone does not guarantee successful teaching in the classroom. If one liked the initial teaching experience (or is reluctant to quit too soon) one can pursue the formal instructor training available at their university.

The instructor training will teach approaches to enhance student engagement and learning, learning styles, making efficient use of teaching preparation and delivery time, student assessment and constructive feedback, and will ideally include teaching observations using video recordings and in-person classroom observations (mine did).

I participate in university instructor training programs offered at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (formerly The Teaching and Learning Centre). I completed the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) and graduated with the Faculty Teaching Certificate (FTC). A fundamental component of the ISW carried over to the FTC is the “BOPPPS” method of planning lessons, which is focused on the following six components:

B Bridge-in: Begins the learning cycle, gains learner attention, builds motivation and explains why the lesson is important.

O Objective or Outcome: Clarifies and specifies the learning intention; clarifies what the learner should know, think, value or do by the end of the lesson, under what conditions and how well.

P Pre-assessment: Answers the question, “What does the learner already know about the subject of the lesson?”

P Participatory Learning: This is the body of the lesson, where learners are involved as actively in the learning process as possible. There is an intentional sequence of activities or learning events that will help the learner achieve the specified objective or desired outcome. The lesson may include the use of media.

P Post-assessment: Formally or informally demonstrates if the learner has indeed learned and is linked directly with the objective or outcome.

S Summary/Closure: Provides an opportunity for the learners to reflect briefly and integrate the learning during the closing of the learning cycle. (Source: Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) Handbook For Participants, May 2006, 19)

My lesson plan for each class meeting is BOPPPS compliant. I usually present the learning objective to my students in this way: “You will be able to critique (do detailed analysis and assessment of) a fact scenario to [achieve or determine a specified law result].”

Teaching aids — I include references to recent and ongoing law reform in my course outlines, syllabuses and lesson plans, including reports prepared by the Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI) and several Canadian parliamentary committees.

I sometimes refer to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in class for the ordinary meaning of an important word in an enactment or a document. My rationale is that an important word is any word used for an important purpose. And I believe showing reliance on a good dictionary may influence my students to use plain language.

I occasionally quote a short excerpt from biographical material about a recognizable businessperson, jurist or statesperson, or refer to a news report or something from the entertainment world as an icebreaker for certain topics in the syllabus. I believe it is popular with my students.

Here are some examples: Conrad Hilton’s autobiography Be My Guest (1957, 158), about the stigma of bankruptcy; John D. Rockefeller, Sr., a self-made and self-imaged Gilded Age mogul, on having humility enough to be able to learn from what others tell you (an example of active listening); Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, pan-European diplomat and iron-willed leader, on legislative lawmaking; Lord Mansfield as the originator of the law of preferences; The Shadow, an old radio show drama, concerning “motive” for going bankrupt; The Globe and Mail reporting on the sale of a financially restructured NHL franchise, the Dallas Stars; Maya Angelou, American poet and author, who reportedly said, “If you don’t like something, change it, if you can’t change it, change your attitude,” which can apply to one’s intuitive dislike of an aspect of the current law (and motivate reflective thinking).

Parallelism — Like when practising law in a courtroom, boardroom, meeting room or workroom, I know that thorough planning and preparation (concerning what to do and how to do it) are the essentials for me to perform well in a classroom.

C. J. Shaw is a Calgary lawyer and legal educator. Recently he was a facilitator “live” in a virtual classroom for the Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) Foundation Workshops offered by the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED).

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