Teacher control vs student control in legal English

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

Giving students more control and more voice makes teaching so much more effective. Yet figuring out how to do it is a process that takes time and effort and does not necessarily come naturally. (At least for me anyway.)

I’m thinking about this topic because of an excellent post on the EAP Essentials blog by Prof. Olwyn Alexander titled “They have to talk and you have to listen: The importance of collaborative conversations in online classrooms.”

The post explains that “Without student talk, the teacher has no immediate way of knowing whether the students understand the materials and tasks and therefore no opportunity to adapt to the in-the-moment needs of the students.”

I think as legal English teachers, most of us intrinsically understand that. We want our students to talk. We want to know what’s going on in their heads. But we’re not always sure how to make that happen. And when it doesn’t happen, it’s easy to shift responsibility to the students, particularly students from certain countries or cultures that teachers perceive as not as talkative in class.

Consequently, I think it’s helpful to be aware of the ways that we, as teachers, get in the way of ourselves and our students. And I think this may be particularly heightened in a legal environment where lawyers and law professors are expected to be sources of knowledge and much of one’s identity as a lawyer or law professor is connected with the ability to share knowledge that others seek or need. In my own experience, this is very true in law schools where the professors–even when they use Socratic method–still often maintain full control of the dialogue and shift frequently from questioner to explainer and knowledge-distributor.

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Among Us as a teaching tool with LLM students?

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

My 11-year-old daughter plays Among Us frequently these days, as apparently does every other pre-teen I’m aware of.

I have yet to play it, though I understand it’s a multiplayer, social game you can play on a smartphone or tablet. It’s set on a spaceship, you play with a group of 10 people (could be people you know or random people you don’t know or a mix), and the aim is to solve problems or complete certain tasks with your crewmates. However, one of you is an impostor who apparently sabotages the crew’s efforts by killing crew members. And each time a crew member is killed, then everyone stops and has a discussion about who might have done it and tries to figure out who did it.

Question: How could this be used as a teaching tool? Especially given the desire and potential to engage students, particularly in the context of online or remote learning?

According to high school teacher Angelique Gianas, Among Us is an excellent vehicle for teaching students about argumentative writing. (“How ‘Among Us’ Helps Students Master Argumentative Writing“) It requires students to devise claims and then support them with evidence and analysis.

But could this also be appropriate and helpful in working with LLMs and other non-native English speaking law students?

My initial thought is that Among Us could be used as a first-day-of-class activity for a legal writing class or during orientation. And then in subsequent classes, the process in which students engaged can be referenced in discussing the discourse of legal writing or when providing feedback to students who tend towards conclusive statements.

This could be particularly helpful to students from other countries or cultural backgrounds who are accustomed to a different approach to argumentative writing. At the same time, some of this could get flushed out in the initial playing of the game if students from different backgrounds have different approaches to the problem solving and communicating entailed by the playing of Among Us.

Of course, I have yet to try any of this. So if you or anyone you know has incorporated Among Us into a class with their students, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it and hopefully writing about it in a future post.

Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

How do you pronounce the names in Supreme Court cases like D’Oench, Duhme & Co. v. FDIC, The Ship Virgin v. Vyfhuis, or Ylst v. Nunnemaker?

Well, thanks to a diligent group of Yale Law students, there now exists the Pronouncing Dictionary of United States Supreme Court cases.

According to the website, “The purpose of the Pronouncing Dictionary of United States Supreme Court cases is to help conscientious lawyers, judges, teachers, students, and journalists correctly pronounce often-perplexing case names.”

For each case, there are two or three phoneticized spellings to help with pronunciation. Plus, if you click on the phoneticized pronunciation, you get an audio clip of the tricky name being pronounced.

Now if they could just teach us how to pronounce certiorari. 😉

https://documents.law.yale.edu/pronouncing-dictionary

Special thanks to Kirsten Schaetzel, English Language Specialist at Emory Law School, for bringing this great resource to my attention.

Video on American regional accents

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

This is a really fascinating video on American regional accents published by Wired, and also a decent primer on how pronunciation works. Also, it gets into various Black, Latinx, Native American and various creole accents in America which isn’t something I’ve seen in other videos I’ve come across on American accents.

And it sounds like there’s a Part 2 coming in the near future. Very much looking forward to that one!

Special thanks to my friend and creative exhibit developer Lee Patrick for making me aware of this video.