We recently decided to set up a Reading Support program for our LLM students. This was in response to a recent conversation I had with a student I had taught in our summer course who is now full swing into our LLM coursework. Her comment echoed the challenges that a number of her classmates have voiced: It’s hard to keep up with and comprehend all the reading.
“Professor, for question number one, I actually see two questions here!” My student leans over my desk and frowns over his writing prompt, seemingly worried he is hallucinating.
Later, during an in-class critical thinking exercise, there is a kerfuffle about framing the issue presented: “Professor, the question on the paper asks whether the cyclist broke the park’s rule, but she [another student] says that the issue is whether her [hybrid] bicycle was a motor vehicle. Which one of us is right?”
The object of this week’s lessons was supposed to be about using the facts: weeding out irrelevant information, and using relevant information in support of a legal conclusion. But the conversation has evolved into the issue of questions. They are grappling with the idea that one question can yield one or more sub-questions, and they wonder whether to choose one or harmonize both. In return they get more questions from me: “How did you see that second question? Do you need to answer it to get an answer to the original question? How does your answer to that second question help you to answer the original question? OK, so now that you have an answer to the first question, and an answer to the second question, can you write a two-sentence conclusion that answers both? How about a one-sentence conclusion?” Some chuckle, as though this is a game we’re playing. Others wrinkle their brows, looking very unsatisfied. I think this is a struggle worth having. Continue reading →
One challenge of introducing international LL.M. students to legal writing is coaxing them to evaluate and comment on examples of English writing. This is a necessary practice in my writing course; students look at model answers for format and organization, notice cohesive devices and subject headings, and read examples of strong and weak analysis to compare to their own work. Students also conduct peer reviews, and revise and resubmit drafts of their work, incorporating comments from the professor and their
teaching assistants. So, students should start learning to critique, and to respond to critique, early in the course.
Critique is often daunting to international students, I think for two reasons. First, they do not have enough confidence in their English writing and reading skills to believe they can improve upon any example. Second, they might feel uncomfortable finding fault with a classmate’s work, particularly if that classmate is a lawyer, judge, or other professional in their home country.
Credit: Louis Henwood via historyofenglishpodcast.com
A bit of a digression, but since July 2013, a lawyer named Kevin Stroud based in Raleigh, North Carolina has been producing the History of English Podcast. In addition to answering a large volume of “why the heck” questions about English language, Stroud is also an engaging storyteller, explainer, and organizer of the disparate strands of the history of the English language aided by an unpretentious, soothing voice with a slight Southern lilt. Interestingly, Stroud is neither a linguist nor a historian. (I had no idea until I was already about halfway through.) The podcast is currently up to Episode 72: The Dark Ages of English.
I learned of the podcast in Spring 2015 and began listening to it, mostly on my daily commute to work, and have finally just about caught up at midway through Episode 71: On the Hunt.
Despite my great appreciation and enjoyment of the podcast, I have to admit that it has not contributed to my “legal English” teaching in any direct way that I have been able to transfer into the classroom. But it does usually leave me inspired and excited about the field in which I teach–particularly when he references law-related words.
Try it out if you have a chance and share your reactions here if you feel so inclined.