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11 Law Tchr. 1 (2003-2004)

handle is hein.journals/lawteaer11 and id is 1 raw text is: GONZAGA

Institute for Law School Teaching

Try peer teaching
By Louis Sirico

Sometimes a teacher cannot get an idea across to
his or her students. And sometimes a teacher
cannot understand what is preventing students
from catching on.
Thinking back to my law school days, I remember
instances when a teacher tried to explain some legal
rule or application of a doctrine and then faced a sea
of perplexed faces. The students might ask questions
and, despite the teacher's best efforts, remain confused.
Sometimes one student would understand what the other
students were missing and come to the rescue. I wish
I could say that, as a teacher, I have never faced this
problem. However, I suspect every teacher has.
The problem seems to arise most acutely when
a course is reaching a particularly difficult concept.
Every course seems to have certain hard knots. For
Torts students, the hard knot may be proximate cause;
for Evidence students, it may be the hearsay rule. My
Property students, however, face a number of these
knots, principally estates and future interests, covenants
running with the land, and land recording acts -in other
words, nearly one-quarter of the course. Over the years
I have improved my methods for teaching these topics;
nonetheless, I inevitably fail to reach some students.
At the same time, students often help one another
understand difficult material in settings outside the
classroom, perhaps in a study group. However, students
who do not study together miss out on this opportunity.
Why not, I thought, enable students to teach one another
in the classroom? In that setting, I am available to clarify
and steer students away from misunderstandings.
Many of us already employ peer review exercises
and small-group exercises. We can build on these
methods by encouraging students to help one another via
peer teaching in class.
Here is my procedure for peer teaching. After I work
through some difficult material and take questions, I say,
Now, I'm going to give you a few minutes to talk with
one another and explain to one another the material that
we just covered. The students always comply readily. I

think these moments also provide a welcome break from
the intensity of the standard classroom routine.
Once the students start their conversations, some of
them inevitably call me over to answer a question. Their
questions give me some insight into what is troubling
the class and, in turn, teach me how to improve my
presentation of the material. When the class discussion
seems to be getting too relaxed and students are clearly
talking about other things, I reconvene the class. I then
try to clarify the material, based on the conversations I
have just had, take more questions, and move forward
with the course.
Because we have become professional teachers and
have delved deeply into our subjects, we sometimes find
it difficult to place ourselves in the position of novices
grappling with difficult concepts for the first time. To
reach novices, we sometimes must invite the novices to
become teachers as well as students.
Louis Sirico teaches at Villanova University Law
School, 299 North Spring Mill Road, Villanova, PA
19085; (610) 519-7071;fax (610) 519-6282; sirico @

Fall 2003


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