Evaluation is important to:
- ensure program accountability,
- provide law students with feedback to increase professional development, and
- implement law-related education best practices.
Evaluating Law Students in Credit-Bearing Programs
Programs using the credit-bearing model have several opportunities to evaluate law students.
- Seminar participation: Seminar attendance should be required. Law students will be required to participate in a variety of activities in class, complete written materials, and ask appropriate questions. A law student's participation in seminar should be a component of their grade.
- Demonstration teachings: Many law schools devote a portion of seminar time to student-led demonstration teachings where student teams model a lesson and receive feedback from their peers. This provides an evaluation opportunity to focus on the content of the lesson, the teaching methods, the preparation time for the teaching, and the seminar reaction to the teaching.
- On-site visits and post-visit debriefing conferences: Conducting an on-site visit is the best time to evaluate student performance in Street Law. Ideally, classroom visits should be held two to three times during the semester. While in the classroom, it is helpful to bring a standard form from which to take notes and later include in the student's file. Additionally, focusing on how the students react to their lesson is an excellent way to evaluate the effectiveness of the materials. After each visit, the student instructor (or team) should meet with the professor to debrief the classroom performance (e.g., What went well? What would you have done differently? How did you prepare for the class? What happened today that impacts your professional development as an attorney?) Law students tend to respond best to this debriefing session if it is student-centered (i.e., the law student arrives at the conclusions through his or her response to professor questions). The tone of the debrief should be positive and supportive. Law students are putting an extraordinary amount of time and work into Street Law and will be more responsive if they are encouraged in a positive manner.
- Lesson plans: Many professors require that law students submit monthly lesson plans. The plans provide faculty with a broader window into day-to-day classroom teaching and an opportunity to give feedback at an early stage. Visit the section on lesson plans for details about evaluating lesson plans.
- Journal entries: Requiring students to keep journals helps law students reflect on improving their teaching, connecting their Street Law experience to professional growth, and memorializing worthwhile anecdotes. You may opt for a journal approach through guided questions, such as "What connections are there between your teaching and the attorney/client relationship?" or "How are ethical issues you face in the classroom similar or dissimilar to those you might face as an attorney?"
Evaluation examples from other law schools
- Professor Margaret Fisher, who directs the Street Law program at the University of Seattle, allocates different percentages to Street Law clinic requirements for calculation of a final grade (e.g., 45% field component, 20% planning and preparation, and 35% seminar). Variations in teaching environments should be taken into consideration.
- Some Street Law programs require a paper. For example, the St. Louis University School of Law's Youth and the Law Program at one time required a paper as follows: The goals of the paper-divided into three parts-were to reflect on how the course impacted a law student's ability to communicate with lay people, the use of teaching strategies, and the understanding of a selected area of the law. The first part took the form of magazine article, pamphlet, or another creative format geared toward a lay audience and responsive to a particular need of that audience. The second part was a legal memorandum containing the law and resources used to produce the first part of the paper. The third part was a lesson on how to present this material to the audience.
- One excellent approach to on-site visits is to provide law students with a form detailing the criteria to be observed and assessed. At each observation, the form is completed and a letter grade assigned for that class. The observations are videotaped so student instructors can review the class with the critique form. At the scheduled observation, the professor and the law student meet 15 minutes before the class for the professor to receive a lesson plan and information about what will take place. Professor Margaret Fisher has used this approach.
- Professor Paul Bergman of the UCLA program noted that students should be rewarded for putting knowledge and ego on the line a couple of times a week before tough crowds. Consequently, Professor Bergman tells students that they will receive a certain grade if they attend all the seminar meetings, fulfill their teaching duties, and complete a term paper. Students whose effort is extraordinary - rich contributions to seminar, excellent class preparation, a particularly insightful paper - will receive a higher grade. On the other hand, students who do not attend seminar regularly or who take a half-hearted approach to teaching will receive a lower grade. Students are not likely to enroll just for the grade because the course is too much work.
Evaluating Law Students in Non-Credit-Bearing Programs
One of the challenges of non-credit-bearing models is the evaluation of law student performance. Here are some suggestions to help provide useful feedback on assessing law student’s performance when you have a limited budget and minimal staff time.
- Require law students to complete forms that will give you some insight into their teaching.
- Make on-site visits when students are teaching. You may consider hiring student directors who can do this.
- Communicate with cooperating teachers or site managers to ascertain how law students are performing.
- Offer bi-monthly brown bag lunches for law student participants to discuss common issues.
Evaluating Law Student Lesson Plans
There is no substitute for on-site class visits to see law students teach. However, reviewing lesson plans can provide a window into what happens in the classroom. Evaluating lesson plans is one way to help ensure the quality of your Street Law program.
Criteria for evaluating lesson plans should include:
- Knowledge of substantive law and community resources
- Ability to set realistic objectives and to plan activities to achieve those objectives
- Ability to translate legal concepts into materials that their students can use and understand
- Creative approach
Check for continuity from goals through objectives and methods. Make sure that the stated goals are related to the objectives and served by the methods.
The objectives need to state specific, measurable outcomes. This is almost always a failing of plans written early in the term. Additionally, a key evaluation point to address is whether the chosen topic meets established selection criteria.
The methods should be assessed focusing on the level of student participation. Many first time teachers list a series of "points" to be made in class without addressing any of the methodology. The methods should be the most detailed part of the lesson plan. Questions presented to the students should indicate the answers to be sought.
Also review lesson plans to ensure that the same methods do not get used time and time again.
Evaluation of lesson plans should also take into consideration whether the materials are appropriate for the given audience; e.g., are the handouts appropriate for the given reading level; are the materials presented in a sensitive manner; are all sides of a controversial issue raised, etc.
Margaret Fisher, Professor at Seattle University Law School, uses an activity for her seminar that focuses on instructing about and evaluating lesson plans. During a seminar, student instructors are required to evaluate other student instructors' lesson plans. The professor pairs up student instructors on the basis of who can learn the most from the approach of another. For instance, the student instructor who uses few participatory methods is paired with one using creative and participatory methods. Student instructors are free to use any information (handbook, assigned readings, etc.) to complete the exercise. The sample form below guides the student instructors in such an evaluation.
EVALUATING LESSON PLANS
Evaluated the Lesson Plan of: _________________________
Directions: You will have fifteen minutes:
- to determine whether the learning objectives stated in the lesson plan are measurable. If they are not, rewrite them based on the content presented by the methods.
- to determine whether the methods supply the content addressed in the objectives. Indicate what, if anything, is missing.
- to analyze the evaluation section of the plan to see how and to what degree the evaluation strategy measures the objectives stated. If the evaluation strategy is not sufficient, design a evaluation.
I will collect and evaluate this exercise. My purpose is to determine to what extent each of you has learned the requirements of good lesson planning. Please note that your analysis of a fellow law student's lesson plan will have no bearing on that law student's grade.
- LEARNING OBJECTIVES ARE/ARE NOT MEASURABLE. Please explain your answer, rewriting any objectives to be measured.
- METHODS DO/DO NOT SUPPLY CONTENTADDRESSED IN OBJECTIVES. Please explain your answer, indicating what, if any, objectives are not addressed by methods.
- EVALUATION DOES/DOES NOT MEASURE OBJECTIVE STATED. Please explain your answer, stating how and to what degree the evaluation measures the objectives stated. If the evaluation strategy is not sufficient, design an evaluation to fit this lesson