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May 22, 2008

Exam reflections and grading update

I have now read all the exam answers (twice), and I have been really impressed with everyone's work.  It is clear to me that you all learned a lot in this class (though some more than others), and I have learned a lot from your answers (though some more than others).

I am now finishing up assigning/reviewing raw scores for all the answers.  I fear, however, that I will not be able to get all the raw scores calculated and then run them through the official computer grading/curving system in order to establish (and get official approval for) the final grades before the long weekend.  In short, I expect that final grades for the class will be ready for release early next week.

I have two recommendations for those extra eager (or extra worried) about their final grade: (1) take a deep breath and try to enjoy the good weather predicted for the long holiday weekend, (2) re-read your answers to the exam and reflect on what you did well and what could be improved.  As I tried to stress all semester, you should recognize that your personal development as a lawyer and as a person is much more important than your grade in any one class.

Post-Weekend Update:  All the blind raw scores were submitted today (Tuesday) and now I just await the computer spitting out the curved final scores for my final approval.

May 22, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 01, 2008

Seeking feedback on final format

Congrats to all on formally completing the course.  I am hoping to keep this class blog running so that I can continue to learn from you about all sorts of stuff.  And, right now, I especially want to encourage students to provide feedback on the final format. 

From my professor-biased perspective, the combined take-home/in-class format was the best of both worlds in light of my deep concerns with traditional in-class 1L exams.  I can imagine, however, that it might seem like the worst of both worlds from a student perspective.  Thus, I am eager to read comments about the format (and only the format) while it is still fresh in your mind.  (After I grade the exams and submit the class grades, I may then seek feedback on the content of the exam.)

Thanks in advance for feedback on the format (and feel free to post anon if that makes you feel more comfortable with criticisms).

May 1, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 28, 2008

Question 1 of exam

Word Limit: 1500 words

You are an aide to a newly elected Ohio state senator, Senator I.M. Sensibal. Senator Sensibal has just heard from some irrate constituents about the Ohio Supreme Court's recent ruling in Hyle v. Porter, 117 Ohio St.3d 165, 2008-Ohio-542 (Ohio S. Ct. Feb. 20, 2008) (available here).  Senator Sensibal tells you that these constituents are part of a new public policy group calling itself Parents Energized to Remove Violators of Sexuality so Our Universe is Terrific (PERVS OUT). Senator Sensibal hands you a piece of the group’s printed literature that describes Hyle v. Porter as "a horrific travesty of a judicial decision in which a bunch of activist Ohio Supreme Court justices flagrantly lied about the intent and goals of the Ohio legislature’s efforts to keep Ohio children safe from repeat pervs like Gerry Porter."

Senator Sensibal tells you that the PERVS OUT group is asking every member of the Ohio state legislature to explain what he or she thinks about the Hyle v. Porter decision and how he or she plans to respond to the decision. Senator Sensibal explains that she told the PERVS OUT group that she would be studying the opinion together with her staff and would respond to their inquiry shortly. Senator Sensibal, in turn, tells you that she wants you to write a memo that (A) describes briefly the Hyle v. Porter ruling (which Senator Sensibal has not had a chance to read) and sets out the strong possible justification or legal explanation for the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling. Then, after this brief review of Hyle v. Porter and its possible merits, the Senator wants your memo to (B) suggest and assess how the Ohio legislature in general and how Senator Sensibal in particular ought to respond to Hyle v. Porter. (Most of your memo, Senator Sensibal emphasizes, should be devoted to part B because she wants you to briefly describe both the pros and cons of whatever suggestions you make for responding to Hyle v. Porter.)

Senator Sensibal explains to you that she is a new state senator who, after making lots of money in college during the first dot.com boom, ran for office based on a campaign focused on the need for the state to promote and display fiscal and tax responsibility. She also explains that, because she is single and does not have a family, she has not given much thought to sex offenders in general or to the issues raised in Hyle v. Porter. She further explains that the most vocal leaders of the new PERVS OUT group come from her state senate district, and thus she believes that her views on and reactions to Hyle v. Porter could readily become a focal point of the group’s attention.  Finally, Senator Sensibal also explains to you that she is very interested in "doing the right thing" for the citizens of Ohio, but that she is also interested in preserving her political power and energies to focus on the fiscal and tax issues that drew her to the state capitol.

April 28, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Basic instructions for take-home final question

The first question of the final exam (Question 1) will be available via a new post scheduled to appear at 4:30pm, Monday, April 28.  Here are the basic instructions for the exam:

April 28, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 23, 2008

The format for the final

Here is the first instruction from the cover page of the final:

This is combined take-home/in-class examination. You will find the first question of exam (the take-home portion) on the blog and available from my secretary as soon as you complete your Constitutional Law final exam.  This first question (Question 1) has a strict word limit, and you must come to the in-class portion of the exam (which starts 10am on Thursday, May 1) with your answer to Question 1.  You will then have two hours to complete the in-class portion of the exam.

April 23, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2008

Finalizing mid-term paper and final concerns

After reviewing all the blog comments and hearing from various students in other ways, I want to bring finality to the mid-term paper assignment and also set out my current expectations for the final exam:

1. Mid-term paper:  I am now officially finalizing the 1000 word-limit and topics for the mid-term paper (as outlined here and here), but I will push back the paper due date to March 31 to relieve any break/Easter worries.  Though I hope students interested in the optional oral experience will try to schedule a talk during the break, I'll try to find non-break times for the optional oral experience for those who need an alternative.

2.  Final exam:  I am officially declaring that the final exam for this class will have a (word-limited) take-home essay question along with an in-class timed section.

3.  Grading the mid-term:  The mid-term paper will not be blind graded, and it will be combined (in a student-beneficial way) with my grading of class participation ("CP") to comprise 25% of the total class grade.  Students who do well on the paper, but poorly on other aspects of class engagement, will have roughly 20% of the 25% CP grade come from the paper.  Student who do less well on the paper, but better on other aspects of class engagement, will have roughly 10% of the 25% CP grade come from the paper.

4.  Grading the final exam: The final exam will be blind graded, and right now I expect the  (word-limited) take-home essay question to make up 40% of the total class grade and the in-class timed section to make up 35% of the total class grade.  (I reserve the right to tweak these percentages depending on student feedback concerning the "success" of the mid-term paper.)

I have been meaning to wrap all this up in class, but you all have provided me with so many other exciting discussion topics.  And, as I highlighted at the end of class, what you learn and write as a student is so much more important than worrying about grades.  After all, everyone can now go read, thanks to Politico.com here, Michelle Obama's senior year thesis at Princeton University, titled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community."   But, as I suggested in class, while I have seen a lot of talk about the content of this thesis, I cannot seem to find what grade she got. Hmmmmm....

February 27, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

February 21, 2008

Seeking clarity and suggesting certainty on assignments

In the hope of creating some clarity and certainty, here's my latest view about our graded class assignments and the final:

1.  The "mid-term paper": Because there seems to be, despite some (minor?) confusion, significant support for this proposed first assignment, I am now declaring that this assignment is officially part of the class requirements.  I am now going to label this assignment the "mid-term paper."

2.  Established parts of the mid-term paper: Every student will be required to submit a word-limited short paper due sometime before the end of March which explores, from a "who" perspective, either a structural legislative process reform OR some aspect of Congress's investigation of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.  In addition, any student may schedule an optional oral experience to discuss her or his paper, and this discussion can slightly help (or hurt) a student's grade on this particular assignment.

3.  Grading:  I have now decided, because I do NOT want to grade this paper assignment blind, that this assignment will be (a large) part of the 25% of the total grade for the class that is considered "class participation."  In other words, this assignment will not impact the 75% of the grade that will be based on the "traditional" final (which will be graded blind).

4.  Still (slightly) open to debate:  I am not sure that 1000 words is an ideal word limit, or that March 24 is the ideal final due date, for the mid-term paper.  But, absent strong support for an alternative word limit or due date, I plan to make these features of the assignment official very soon.

5.  Still to be determined:  The exact nature of the "traditional" final will depend upon our collective assessment of the virtues and vices of this mid-term paper assignment.  As of this moment I am thinking that the "traditional" final may end up having a small take-home component and a small in-class component (all of which will be graded blind and will comprise 75% of everyone's final grade).

Thoughts?  Reactions?  Concerns?  Complaints?  Remaining uncertainty?  Remaining desires?

February 21, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

February 14, 2008

More specifics on my proposed first assignment

Here is a quick outline of the assignment I have in mind for the class to "wrap up" our discussion of structural issues and the legislative process:

Format:  I will expect a written paper to be submitted no later than March 24 and to be no more than 1000 words.  Earlier submissions are welcome and encouraged.

Expectations:  In the 1000 words, you need to state and explain your "who" choice (which you can be changed for this paper) and then, from the perspective of that "who," either (1) set forth and defend any (small or large) structural reform proposal that you think would improve the American political and legal system, OR (2) provide a critical commentary on any aspect of how Congress has investigated the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.  The best papers will be sure to draw in some way on (a) casebook readings, and/or (b) class discussions, and/or (c) blog readings and comments.  The best papers will also be thoughtful, cogent, well-written and polished, as all formal documents produced by lawyers should be.

Grading: Papers will be graded on a 10-point scale, and this assignment will count up to 20% of each students' final grade for the class.  Any student interested in having the assignment include an oral component can schedule a time during Spring Break for a "paper discussion."  Performance during any such discussion can raise or lower a student's grade on this assignment by no more than 2 points on the 10-point scale.  (And students can get a 10 without any "paper discussion" by producing a really good paper.) 

Impact on the final:  I am still expecting to have a take-home final for the class, but the exact nature and format of that final likely will depend in part of the "success" of this first assignment (and on expressed interest of students).

Key aspects of this proposal are certainly subject to adjustment -- especially the word-limit, the exact due date, and the assignment's percentage of the final grade.  And, as suggested in class, if there is a clear consensus against this proposal in any form, I will eliminate this assignment altogether.

I look forward to reading any comments here on this proposal and also to discussing this proposal more fully during our next class on Wednesday, February 20.

February 14, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

February 11, 2008

The challenges and revelations of intense debate concerning something that really matters

With their permission, I am posting parts of two e-mails I received from two students this weekend about the intense debate raging over our final in this class.  Though both students indicated a willingness for me to identify them by name on this blog, I am eager to validate/share their comments while keeping them anonymous in this posting of their comment:

From an e-mail received from one student early Sunday afternoon:

I am writing you today because I just wanted to express my views on what is currently transpiring on the Legislation blog and in our class sessions. I am always supportive of innovation and interesting ideas in the classroom and I appreciate the approach you have taken on teaching Legislation.  For once, the notoriously "boring" class at law school is definitely not boring.  I believe of the classes we are taking this semester, yours has given us the most real world application of the material and I really have enjoyed the provocative ideas that we have presented on the blog and in class.  That being said, I feel that while controversial ideas and the juxtaposition of competition and debate are at the center of the legislative process, certain elements of the academic process are being severely abused within our class....

With respect to the final exam, the tone that has been taken on the blog in response to the propositions for evaluation is a choose-your-side tug-of-war where the people with the most biting comments and harshest tenacity are seemingly victorious.  The worst parts of law school are being exploited and taking control of the discussion: cliques, gunners, and arrogance. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I don't want to offer my comment on the blog because I don't want to get on some group's wrong side. I don't want to be cut down with maliciousness because honestly, I didn't pay for this.  I realize the dark side of politics, law and the world in general are being well exemplified by this discussion, but I feel it is just taking away from my educational experience. I read the posts and comments and I dread entering the classroom, I truly question what I have signed up for.

I wanted to write you because I believe things can improve if you take a more active role in moderating these discussions and perhaps my experience can improve.  I hope you can help me to regain my confidence in law school.

From another e-mail received from a different student Sunday night:

I am sure you foresaw a lot of what's happening on the blog in terms of the final exam debate.  I think it's fascinating.  And as I was just discussing the exam debate with someone (not in law school), it made me think of a Dispatch article that appeared in today's Insight action (it originally appeared in the Washington Post.)  The article describes a Yale law prof whose research shows that people often reduce complex policy matters to simple questions of personal value....

[It is interesting] to see how some people are thinking about the exam in terms of what they'd do best on; how some are reluctant to have something different or unexpected; how some are looking at the proposals as a way to take the power back, in a sense, etc.  Anyway! Oh, ...some of this is coming down along Section party lines.

I certainly did not foresee that the debate over the final would become so intense so quickly, and I am saddened that it has led one student (and many more?) to "dread entering the classroom."  That said, I now view the final debate to have quickly become an extraordinary learning experience concerning not only the political and legislative process, but also concerning how 1L students process law school during the Spring semester.  I have been intrigued to discover, for example, that posts about the exam format have received so many more thoughtful comments than any posts promising Berman bonus points for thoughtful comments.  Hmmmm....

in any event, as I have noted in a prior post, I plan to provide leadership on the final debate very soon, and I am hopeful to do my little part to "regain [everyone's] confidence in law school."  That Said, as perhaps some of you may realize, I am not sure I want law students to have undue confidence in some of the long-standing but questionable traditions of law school.  Hmmmm....

February 11, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 09, 2008

More details on a Proposal #3 version of the final

On Friday, Adam Primm sent me this more formalized version of his final proposal (known in this post as Proposal 3).  Here is the full text of his proposal:

I would estimate that the grading breakdown for written to oral would be 75/25 or 80/20, but ultimately that would be up to Professor Berman. 


·         We would be given a topic to write about, just like in proposal 2 posted on the blog. 

·         We would then write a paper from the perspective of our “who”, like in proposal 1.

·         There would be a word/page limit on the length of the paper, like in proposal 1.


·         After submitting our paper, each student would have 15-30 minutes (depending on time restraints and what Professor Berman thinks is appropriate) to discuss the topic with Professor Berman

·         We would have to defend our answer, possibly elaborate on it, with Professor Berman

For the complaints on the blog:

·         “This is not Spanish class nor am I interested in my Ph.D. dissertation defense.”à lawyers need to make oral arguments in the real world

·         “Unless Prof Berman plans to get use some voice disguising technology and set up some kind of confessional booth type thing to protect anonymity”à grading doesn’t have to be anonymous.  Legal writing isn’t and components to Criminal Law weren’t either because Dressler had the discretion to raise and lower our grades by 3% if he felt it was necessary.

·         “#3 is not feasible and wouldn't go with the overall focus of the class particularly well.”à #3 is most closely related to class because it incorporates not only the readings and preparation for class (the writing portion) but it also incorporates the discussion (in-class portion). 

·         “Allows some forgiveness for a "bad day" or week on any single paper”à the dual component of a paper and an oral discussion can make up for a bad day, and actually even enable the student to further explain the paper if it is unclear. 

Debate away in the comments, dear students.

February 9, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack