Assessment Experiment: Letting Students Teach, Part Deux

As a sequel to the June 16, 2009 blog “Collaboration Experiment,” I wanted to share a great experience one of my students had last semester. I teach a clinic at Albany Law School that handles unemployment insurance cases. We get referrals from a legal aid office under their Private Attorney Involvement initiative and early last semester, I was asked to train a volunteer attorney who offered to represent claimants (those denied benefits) in unemployment cases. Because of the high demand for representation by claimants and the low financial incentive for private attorneys to take these cases, I was pleased to agree to this task.

After some thought, I took this request as a teaching opportunity for one of my students. I told him, I will call him John Doe, about the training request and asked him to create an outline for the attorney. I picked John because he was taking my clinic for a second time and I was comfortable with his research skills and substantive knowledge. I had two goals in mind when I assigned this task: (1) to assess the breadth of John’s substantive knowledge, and (2) to give him a chance to organize such knowledge in a written manner. We discussed a rudimentary outline and I gave him suggestions, the most important being that he think about when he first started learning unemployment insurance law and what information he would communicate to someone, albeit more seasoned, about how to represent a claimant.

Much to my delight, John’s outline exceeded my expectations. Not only did he include basic information such as what to ask a claimant during an initial interview and evidentiary considerations in an administrative hearing, but he also included client-centered anecdotes such as how a client might react to an initial telephone call from a student-attorney (anxiously).

After reading the outline and editing it a bit, I decided that he was ready for more responsibility. Therefore, I gave him the opportunity to meet the attorney in person to go over the outline and share some experiences with him. This gave John a chance to work on his oral organizational skills, an area that he needed practice in and one of the goals that I had highlighted for him during his participation in the clinic. I supervised the meeting and got tremendous feedback from the attorney about John’s performance.

As outlined in Chapter 7 of “Best Practices of Legal Education”, the primary reason to administer assessments is to find out whether students are learning what we want them to learn. The training outline and subsequent meeting with the volunteer attorney gave me a validity tool and gave John the chance to understand his level of professional development. I submitted his outline for inclusion in a training manual for private attorneys who attended a bar association/legal aid sponsored training on unemployment insurance representation in May 2009. The outline will also be valuable to future clinic students as well.

2 Responses

  1. What a wonderful story and model.

  2. Asking students to teach can be a great active learning technique, as well as an assessment technique. For instance, in my unemployment law clinic I do one double session on the relevant law and another mostly on the procedure for these cases. In advance of the procedure class, I assign each of the students the task of preparing a visual, i.e. something that isn’t all words, to represent a part of the process. Requires the students to pay attention and assimilate material that can seem very dry. And, as Benjie Louis, noted in the original post, provides feedback on what the students do and do not understand.

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