Individuals or teams? Some Street Law programs have their law student instructors teach solo while others teach in pairs. This decision often depends on the number of law students and sites you have. Some advantages to each model are considered below:
Some advantages to teams include:
- Law students often will bring different strengths and weaknesses to the classroom. Teams increase the likelihood that strengths will be maximized and weaknesses minimized.
- Law students may disagree with each other reinforcing the notion that there is not "one right answer."
- Law students gain professional development skills such as learning to work together for a common goal, negotiating problems and incorporating different viewpoints.
- Law students can alert law faculty to problems at their onset such as a law student who misses classes or is chronically tardy.
- High school students have two, rather than one, role models.
- Some disadvantages to teams include:
- A strong partner may over-shadow the weaker one.
- One partner may do a disproportionate amount of the work.
- The program is able to reach fewer sites.
- More time is needed to prepare and plan for law students collaborating.
Advantages and disadvantages to solo teaching:
Teaching solo provides law students the opportunity for more control over class direction, more "on air" time to improve teaching skills, and less time spent on dealing with potential team friction. The key drawback to solo teaching is the occasional law student with inadequate teaching skills. An extreme example would be a law student who teaches in an autocratic style, tolerates no disagreement, and refuses to incorporate faculty feedback. Solutions to this unlikely problem could be co-teaching with a former Street Law participant, who would model exemplary practice, or, in truly extreme situations, removal from the program.
Working towards high quality instruction
- Focus on quality of instruction rather than quantity: set realistic goals for the number of classes law students will teach. Law students may seem extremely eager in September to teach twice a week but come exam time, this eagerness may give way to exam anxiety.
- Use sample materials from Street Law or other tested curricula (available here): When you are first starting out, encourage students to use time-tested materials. This allows you to better monitor the quality of instruction and spend less time creating lesson plans from scratch.
- Hold an orientation and training session for your teachers. See our tips and sample agenda here.
- Use Peer Teaching: it gives student instructors a chance to try out a lesson with a friendly audience, learn the substantive law, receive feedback on their teaching style, and demonstrate a particular teaching strategy
One method for peer teaching is to assign all law students (singly or in teams) to a particular topic and method to be modeled at a future seminar. For example, a student team may be assigned to teach search and seizure by using a case study; another to teach free speech in school using a role play; another to teach right to trial by jury using a cartoon; another to housing law using a visual aid. Alternatively, you may wish to assign law students to a particular substantive area and have them decide which teaching method to model.
Prior to the peer teaching event, the law students attend a "tutorial" with the professor. At the tutorial, student instructors are expected to present a written lesson plan and demonstrate a knowledge of the substantive law and method. The tutorial allows the professor to make suggestions so that the best possible peer teaching will occur.
Law students are generally given 30 minutes to present their lessons. They should set the stage before beginning the actual demonstration by describing their student body, the way this particular lesson fits in with the overall curriculum, and why it should be of interest to their audience.
Then the law students should begin teaching their lesson. The other law students in the seminar should view the demonstration through the eyes of typical members of the law student instructors' audience; e.g., high school students, prison inmates, or community members.
Afterwards, the law students presenting the lesson should be given an opportunity to discuss how they thought the class went, what they liked, and what they would do differently if they had the opportunity.
Then the law student audience should comment on what went well and discuss areas for improvement. The tone should be supportive and constructive.
Track Law Student Progress
- Consider creating a simple form and require law students to complete it. The form could be a chart asking law students to track the dates classes are taught, topics, reflections on teaching, and materials used.
- Host brown bag lunches: A good way to check on the progress of law students is to have set meetings one to two times a month. Often, these are powerful brainstorming sessions where law students give and receive excellent advice. Consider having an educational specialist conduct one of the sessions.