Four-Star Assignments & Legal English Skills

Four Star Assignments

Engaging in a Four-Star Assignment with a student in my TLP Legal Writing I course, focused on the art of crafting counterarguments. Fall 2015, St. John’s Law School.

One of challenges for legal English educators is handling students’ frustration with the difficulties inherent in improving skills that may come naturally to American-born JDs. So at the beginning of my course, I tell my students that there are four skills relating to legal English that they need to develop over the course of our studies. I then ask them to rank the four skills below (listed alphabetically), based on how comfortable they already feel using each one.

LISTENING to legal English
READING legal English
SPEAKING legal English
WRITING legal English

Without fail, the skill they feel most comfortable already using and the skill they feel the least comfortable using are always the same.

SKILLS (weakest to strongest)
1.       SPEAKING legal English
2.       LISTENING to legal English OR WRITING legal English
3.       WRITING legal English OR LISTENING to legal English
4.       READING legal English

Students feel that they are weakest speaking legal English and strongest reading legal English. My observations strongly support this self-assessment. I can give students a complex fact pattern on the first day of class and they will be able to read it and for the most part, understand what happened. But when I ask them to explain in their own words what happened, many students fail to be able to do so. I then put all four skills up on the board and we discuss why students are better at reading legal English than speaking legal English. Over the course of my posts, I will discuss some of the reasons my students and I think that is the case.

After going through this discussion, I explain how during each class, each hour, and each exercise, students will improve each of these skills. In my next post, I will use one 45-minute exercise as the basis for improving each of these four skills, and how students leave the exercise being able to assess what they did well and what they need to improve. I call these four-star assignments. My goal is for every 45-minute block of time (how my classes are organized in China) to contain at least one four-star assignment.

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