Teaching summarizing to LLM students: Some recent thoughts

i-love-to-summarizeAs I’ve discussed in a previous post, teaching LLM students to summarize can be deceivingly difficult. Summarizing requires control of language as well as an intuitive understanding of what is expected the relevant audience in a summary. Additionally, it’s difficult to explain to others how we learned to summarize–somehow we just learned it–and that, in turn, tends to further inhibits our ability to teach summarizing to others.

And now I have one more layer of complexity to add that I hadn’t previously considered: The category of “summary” actually consists of a number of different kinds of summaries, each with their own purposes, contexts, structures, styles, and expectations.

The source of this new thought (for me) was a presentation I recently watched (viewable on YouTube) titled “Teaching Effective and Varied Summarizing” by Ann M. Johns, Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. In the presentation, Professor Johns makes a point of listing some common summary forms in the academic community such as a functional summary detailing the structure of a written or spoken text, the one-sentence summary of content (often of a paragraph or paragraphs which can lead to a full summary of the text), an abstract, a problem/solution summary, an argument summary, a plot/story summary, a summary + critique, and synthesis, among other types.

As I contemplated this list of summary types, I started to think and wonder about Continue reading

Thoughts on teaching paraphrasing to LL.M. students

Does this advice work with your LL.M. students?

Does this advice work with your LL.M. students?

Paraphrasing, i.e., conveying the same meaning using different words, is (like summarizing) a critical skill for any student in law school. It is frequently expected and requested of international LLM students, yet it is rare for students to be taught exactly how to do it, and even rarer still for students to be provided with opportunities for practice.

Sure, LLM students are often encouraged (or admonished) to “use your own words.” And we typically treat it as something that’s second nature, that you just do. But how exactly do you paraphrase? How did you learn to do it? How do you know how to do it?

The reality is that paraphrasing means Continue reading

Activity: Summary of the Day

quill1Summarizing is one of the most crucial skills in law school. To make this point to my students, I like to turn to my Teaching Assistant and ask him how much he uses summarizing in his judicial clerkship, to which he solemnly responds: “All the time.”

However, teaching summarizing to international LL.M. students can be extremely challenging. Think about it: How did you learn to summarize? Personally, I can’t identify any one moment when I figured it out. And I can’t point to any specific and helpful strategy that was ever explicitly taught to me for summarizing. I just figured it out over time through trial and error and have internalized it to the point where it’s difficult to explain how I know how to do it. (I imagine this is the same for others. But please share if you have a different experience.)

I think one aspect of good summarizing is Continue reading