Report on Crossroads III — the Denver Conference

Just back from a fantastic conference on assessment.  Check out the great program, including materials and eventually video of the sessions (keep checking the site)

Noting the patting self on the back aspect of the following, I must say, we had a fantastic Best Practices Players session.  Officially, it was called Incorporating Effective Formative Assessment Into Course Planning: A Demonstration and Toolbox.  [Materials]

But really, it was a Play in Three Acts, by Barbara Glesner Fines,  Carolyn Grose, Peter Joy, and Mary Lynch.

As the program described, the “workshop will provide attendees with the methodology and tools necessary to incorporate effective formative assessment into any course. The workshop will take the form of an interactive role play in which a faculty member who wants to incorporate formative assessment into a doctrinal course consults with faculty members who are familiar with both Educating Lawyers and Best Practices for Legal Education. Through the consultation, workshop attendees will be exposed to and involved in developing a toolkit that they can then use to incorporate formative assessment into their own courses. By focusing on the goals of the course (what is to be learned) and the goals of each assessment (how each assessment will evaluate whether students are learning what is being taught), the consultation will demonstrate how the teacher should structure the assessments to be criteria-referenced (focused on the learning outcomes) and not norm-referenced (based on how students perform relative to each other). The discussion will also highlight how the teacher can use the assessments to inform students of their level of professional development, how this process relates to their proficiency in the subject matter, and how formative assessments assist students in maximizing their learning. We will emphasize the points that formative assessments are feasible, there are multiple methods for assessing student learning throughout the semester, and faculty can ensure that summative assessments are also formative assessments.”

And that’s what we did, using a combination of highly dramatic and poignant skits that took place in various settings within the legal academy (faculty lounge, associate dean’s office, clinic workspace), and one-minute audience free writes centered around pointed questions from the Narrator (Barb Glesner-Fines).  Here, for this one Best Practices Player, anyway, were the primary take-aways: 

  • One small step at a time — you don’t have to rework your entire course from start to finish THIS SEMESTER.  Just pick one thing and see how it goes.
  • Find the joy — Mary Lynch discovered community theatre recently, and boy did it show in her dramatic portrayal of both Frustrated Teacher and Clinical Teacher.  We do what we do, or at least we started doing what we do, because we love it.  Let’s remember that, and reconnect with the fun parts of teaching.  Assessment should be fun!
  • Collaboration among clinical faculty, doctrinal faculty, and administration is essential as we undertake these kinds of internal reforms — the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing, and both hands need to support each other in what each is doing.
  • There are lots of different ways to think about how to shift your thinking from that of an “activities designer” to that of an assessor, so you can pick the ways that work for you.
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel constantly.  There are lots of resources and people doing this.  Check out the conference website, this blog, and the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching (at Albany) website

And now for some homework.  For those of you who weren’t at the session, here is what we had our “audience” do: 

Think of a course you are teaching or preparing to teach. 

Now, spend one minute writing your thoughts about your one goal for this course.  If your students leave your course having learned only one thing, what would it be; if you had only one day to teach this course, what would you teach?

Okay.  Stop writing.  Now, get another piece of paper.  Spend one minute writing about one thing you can do in that course to determine whether you have achieved that goal.  What exercise or activity or project can you use to assess whether your students have learned or are learning the one thing you want them to?

Have fun, and keep us posted!

2 Responses

  1. Carolyn’s right – check out the amazing materials and videos of the conference. VERY HELPFUL STUFF.

    For me, planning the workshop taught me so much more about assessment. And the fact that Carolyn used our planning to help redesign her own Trust & Estates course made the “reality” all the more present to both performers and our audience. I hope carolyn lets us know how the implementation goes when she teaches the T & E class next Spring!

  2. […] Carolyn Grose’s report on the conference is available here; it is published on the Best Practices in Legal Education blog. […]

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