Washburn’s First Week Best Practices Curriculum

Integrated into one of each entering students’ regular courses, Washburn’s First Week Curriculum consists of one full week of instruction (twelve hours of classroom instruction plus another ten hours working in small, carefully-constructed, and closely-supervised small groups) aimed at several of the goals addressed in Best Practices.

The students work onenhancing their self-directed learning skills (Best Practices, pp. 66, 127) in the context of preparing for a simulated client interview and writing up an objective analysis of the client’s problem (Best Practices, pp. 97, 141).  This context provides an excellent vehicle for teaching students case reading and briefing skills not only because it helps students begin to develop their professional identities but also because studies show students read cases more effectively when they do so with a problem in mind. 

The professors teach using a wide variety of teaching methods, including Socratic, cooperative learning, free writing, provide students with multiple opportunities for practice and feedback (Best Practices, p. 125), and explicitly deconstruct the Socratic instruction by explaining the purposes underlying the questions asked in a just-completed class and the professor’s expectations as to what students should have learned from the Socratic interactions (Best Practices, p. 218). 

The students also learn to explicitly invoke self-efficacy (Best Practices, p. 72) and begin to develop their sense of professionalism (Best Practices, p. 79) by reading materials attending lectures on professionalism and professional identity and then working in small groups to construct a set of rules of professional conduct by which they will govern themselves.  Finally, they engage in constant reflection (Best Practices, p. 66) in all of their legal work by keeping a journal in which they respond to specific queries relating to their professional identity and learning processes.

3 Responses

  1. I am really impressed with this idea.

  2. Albany Law school is undergoing a revision of its first year curriculum. Hopefully that revision will allow us to then take the next step of introducing more creative integrated opportunities like this one at Washburn or the first week second semester program offered at Georgetown. It would be interesting to have folks at Washburn and Georgetown compare notes and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of doing a week long program in the Fall or Spring of the first year.

  3. As a 2L at Washburn, and a former collegiate teacher with a Masters in Communication, I can attest to both the Professor Schwartz’s excellence in applying what is in “Best Practices” and developing a first week cirriculum that immerses the student not only in the law, but in the legal EDUCATION process. Some students are reluctant, and have given negative feedback about the process, but as they become more experienced they understand what it was about, and now encourage the younger students to take advantage of the opportunities it provides.

    It is a testimony that those students in Professor Schwartz’s section the first year he implemented it were the vast majority of those 2L students who this year served as small group instructors. We “bought in” to the process and wanted to help 1Ls get their feet on the ground and jump ahead in becoming expert learners.

    To everyone changing their cirriculums, Washburn is doing great things. I hope everyone continues to share what works. Good luck!

    Kenneth DeLaughder
    Washburn Law

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