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LawReady: An Instructor’s Perspective

By Anthony Shiver

LawReady’s academic program is organized around five skill areas that most contribute to undergraduate students’ preparedness for law school: reasoning, argumentative writing, speaking, active listening, and conscientiousness. Faculty who teach in a college or university’s LawReady program adopt subsets of LSAC’s skill standards as learning objectives in their courses and use LawReady’s rubrics and multiple-choice assessments to give students consistent feedback on their progress in pursuit of those objectives. The LawReady team fields many questions from faculty about working with the LawReady standards. In this post, I'll share some thoughts on the LawReady experience from my point of view as senior academic program manager on the LawReady team and as an undergraduate faculty member at the University of South Alabama.

Like most instructional work, teaching a LawReady course is heavily front-loaded. Usually, faculty know well ahead of time what courses they’ll be teaching, and before a course begins, they put considerable work into designing a set of readings and assignments that will maximize students’ opportunities to learn. What students should learn is mostly course- and discipline-specific and mandated by official curriculum tied to accreditation standards. Some things, you just have to teach. But in practice, there is room for artistic license in determining what you want your students to get out of your class. I teach introductory philosophy courses, which gives me freedom to draw from thousands of years of material and organize it in ways I think will help achieve my main non-mandated course objective: get students to explore their justifications for, and the logical relationships between, their beliefs about the world and their place in it. That is, I want them to practice philosophy, if only for the semester. Designing courses to achieve that kind of goal is the best sort of nerdy fun.

But I also have practical goals that are not specific to my academic discipline. I’d like my classes to help students become more effective writers and more conscientious members of the academic community. For those extradisciplinary goals, I’d prefer to rely on an external standard rather than my own parochial views, which may clash with advice from faculty in other disciplines or even my own department. If my course has been billed to students as part of a program that prepares them to meet the baseline expectations of law school faculty, it makes sense for me to adopt the LawReady standards for these more general academic skills and calibrate my feedback to them.

There are 31 standards in the LawReady framework. One question I get is: "Which of these do I choose to adopt for my course?" It depends on the nature of the course material and what kinds of feedback opportunities most naturally complement it. I’ve taught a logic and critical thinking course, as part of the LawReady pilot, where it made sense to adopt all of the reasoning standards as learning objectives because they happened to align well with my university’s curriculum requirements for the course. However, it also seemed natural within that course to have students apply what they had learned about arguments in a series of formal debates. To maximize that learning opportunity for my aspiring law school students, I adopted the LawReady standards for speaking and active listening. This allowed me to give feedback on the logical aspects of their debate that were squarely in my academic wheelhouse, and also to use LawReady’s rubrics (both before the debate, as feedforward on grading expectations, and after the debate, as feedback on how to speak and listen more effectively) to comment on some dimensions of my students’ performance where I otherwise would have been guessing or would have been better off remaining silent.

One of the great virtues of LawReady’s programmatic approach is that the feedback I gave those students in those assignments informed the approach they took in the next LawReady course I taught, and I was able to build on that earlier feedback in the next set of assignments. Students need consistent feedback for effective learning. A school’s prelaw faculty can use the LawReady framework in designing and teaching their courses to speak with one voice on extradisciplinary expectations for law school preparation. I can say on behalf of LSAC that we are thrilled to help undergraduate faculty support their aspiring law students in this way.

Tony Shiver

Senior Program Manager, Product Development

Tony Shiver is a senior program manager in Product Development, tasked with developing the academic and assessment components of LawReady.