Bar Exam Language Support Course: Things we learned

Professor Kathryn Piper and I just finished the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course this past week and we wanted to share a few takeaways and things we learned given that this is a new course and, we believe, the first ever bar prep course at a law school that incorporates language learning pedagogy and perspective.

  1. Working with familiar topics: By using bar exam prep questions that the students had already studied and written answers for in a separate bar preparation course, we cleared away most of the obstacle that is background knowledge. This meant that we had the luxury of being able to truly focus on helping them with their writing. If we had used unfamiliar questions, and they in turn wrote poor answers due to lack of comprehension of the question or topic, or inability to remember the rule, then we would not have been evaluating their writing, but rather their knowledge or their comprehension. And it would have meant that we would have spent time teaching the relevant bar exam topic rather than working on writing. Working with familiar topics to enable a better focus on writing opened the door to identify and work on the actual writing issues faced by our non-native English speaking students (NNES).
  2. Speed is king: By the end of the first day of class, discussion of the bar exam writing process with our students made clear to us that speed and language processing were the biggest challenges for our students, all of whom were NNES. The speed issue manifests itself Continue reading

New: Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) Course

bar-examMy colleague Katy Piper and I have the opportunity to try something new and exciting for our Summer 2016 semester: a course focused on language support for non-native English speaking students who will be taking the New York bar exam in July 2016–the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course. We’re not aware of any similar type of course or program at a U.S. law school. (If you know of one, please let us know. We’d love to hear about it.)

While most of our interaction to date has been with the Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) and American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) LLM Programs, we’ve also had some opportunities to work with some students from the U.S. Legal Studies (USLS) LLM Program. All USLS LLM students are foreign-trained lawyers focused on passing the bar exam. Some are international students and others are immigrants living in the New York area. Given our location in Queens (the most ethnically diverse urban place in the world), this group often includes speakers of Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic (among other languages) as well as speakers of various World Englishes.

The idea sprung from a conversation earlier this semester with beloved St. John’s Professor Continue reading