Urban law schools present rich opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Our ALDA and TLP LLM students recently had a wonderful class trip to the United Nations Headquarters, located just across the East River in Manhattan. In addition to the standard tour of the building, meeting rooms and General Assembly, we arranged a private briefing by a United Nations legal officer on the topic of the Court of International Justice.
Professor Piper and I knew that once we were at the U.N. we would have little control over the flow of the program. So we prepared in our respective classes the day before the trip by first having our students talk about what they do know about the United Nations as a way to aggregate shared knowledge and build background knowledge for the tour and briefing. Professor Piper had her writing class research the different U.N. bodies, and the briefing topic. Following their research, students predicted things they would see and learn during their tour, and composed a list of questions they wanted answered on the trip. ALDA students also developed questions they had about the U.N. that they might like to ask. I then turned the list into a checklist which I handed to ALDA students on the day of the tour. The students’ task was to check off any questions or topics that were answered or addressed during the course of the tour.
This type of prediction/question activity can function as
a good reading or listening strategy, something that students can learn to do before reading a text as well as before listening to a class lecture. Doing this helps activate schema (i.e., stimulating whatever background knowledge they already possess) as well as provide some focus to the reading or listening.
To further prepare, I had my ALDA students also watch two short videos about the U.N. (both taken from YouTube) in class and take notes on them. Then, based on their notes and what they remembered, they were tasked with identifying similarities and differences between the information in the two videos. This activity was designed to build background knowledge about the U.N. prior to developing the list of questions.
The other preparation activity we did in my ALDA class was to review a biography of the legal officer who would be conducting the briefing. We talked about who he was, his career path, his areas of interest, etc. And then the students developed a list of questions for him, which they subsequently used as a checklist during the briefing to help guide and focus their listening. Professor Piper similarly tasked her students with researching the briefing officer and discussing the topic and his expertise.
These are simple activities. But for a situation where we had very limited control over the content, they enabled us to enhance our students’ learning by providing some structure to the tour and helping the students stay more focused throughout.
Post-tour writing activity: How to harness that post-field trip inspiration and excitement into a quality reflection assignment? Professor Piper’s writing classes are working on explaining terms and giving detailed explanations to different audiences: including clients who do not have legal expertise. Their post-trip assignment is to write letter to someone (real or fictional) who is not a lawyer and doesn’t really understand much about the United Nations, its bodies or its functions. In addition to explaining the function and significance of the United Nations, students will have to explain in their letter what they predicted they would experience on the trip, whether those predictions came true, and what information or experience most impacted them as students of transnational legal practice. Perhaps more meaningful and interesting than an office memorandum assignment, my hope is that students will take care in explaining to their audience their personal reflections on a unique experience. I look forward to reading their thoughts.
Post-tour note of interest: Upon exiting the U.N., which sits across the street from Trump World Tower, one of our LLM students actually saw Donald Trump himself going into the building surrounded by his entourage and the media.