September 2, 2015

Teaching Decedents' Estates With Popular Culture

Camille M. Davison, Charlotte School of Law, is publishing Problems, Music, and Popular Culture: How I Teach Theory and Practice in Decedents’ Estates to Our Next Generation of Lawyers in volume 28 of the Quinnipiac Probate Law Journal (2015). Here is the abstract.
In this essay, I discuss my approach to teaching Decedents’ Estates. I hope to inspire each professor who reads this article to find his or her authentic self in the classroom and use it to motivate students to find their passion in law school and beyond. I also share my approach to show the various ways to engage and assess students. The methods that I outline may be adjusted to fit any course -- law school or otherwise. At my institution, Charlotte School of Law, the Decedents’ Estates course is a required upper level course. My approach is to motivate students and inspire active learning and deep thinking in a large classroom. Although I have an assigned casebook, I supplement it with additional materials. By blending problems, music, and popular culture with the traditional cold-call Socratic method, I am able to engage different types of learners. While I would love for each of my students to be as passionate as I am about the subject of Estates and Trusts, my goal is not so far-fetched. Like any other law professor, I want them to understand how to identify legal issues and how to apply the law to various fact patterns in an organized way. Additionally, I want them to understand the importance of the subject for both legal and practical purposes because this is an area where many of them might actually find work. I strive to demonstrate my passion for the subject area *395 because it is the passionate teacher who “motivate[s] students to take their courses more seriously” and “inspire[s] them to explore the subject matter further outside of class.” I try to find a healthy balance between teaching the students to “think like lawyers” and having them “do like lawyers.” Since I cannot teach them everything that they will encounter in practice, I use some of my time to help them transfer what they know to novel situations that they may encounter in practice. My students are not only prepared for the bar examination, they are also prepared to use the knowledge both personally and professionally. In this article, I outline the approaches that I use to reach large numbers of students and encourage active learning. I use visual aids, music, problems, and simulated legal activities to “show” rather than “tell” the classroom. My approach promotes rigor, but not fear. I attempt to make cold calling fun and I encourage active learning through simulated exercises and the use of popular culture references in the fact patterns. The students become team players in the classroom when I engage them with relevant stories from newspaper headlines or have them perform oral arguments using the lyrics of a song to identify legal concepts. Active participation helps students achieve “content mastery,” “higher-level thinking skills,” “professional skills,” and “[p]ositive attitude.” As Denise Knight states, “[f]ew instructors would quibble with the notion that promoting active participation helps students to think critically and to argue more effectively.” Part I of the essay reminds law professors that they are educators who teach law and Part II discusses the design of my course.
Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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