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January 22, 2007

Ditching the Syllabus

Today was a big red-letter day for Doug and I, since we focus on federal sentencing:  The Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cunningham, which has major implication for the federal system.  When an opinion like that comes down, I sometimes will ditch my syllabus, run into class with the hot-off-the-press opinion, and riff off of that instead.  [Not today, though-- I'm not teaching sentencing this quarter, and I'm in Philly for a 3d Circuit argument on a related topic]

Is it worth it?  On the plus side, covering the hot case offers the advantages of immediacy and the obvious excitement of the prof.  It also allows for a more free-wheeling discussion, particularly in a seminar.  On the minus side, it means other material may not be covered as thoroughly, and there may not have been time to properly digest the opinion itself.

As with so many things, the key may be moderation.  It can be worthwhile to spend some time talking about the hot new case, but not the entire hour, or even most of that time.  This can take some self-control from the excited prof to cut off discussion of the hot case and refocus on other matters, but in the end may be necessary to create a proper balance.

-- Mark Osler

January 22, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Teaching a case hot off the presses is a great idea. It shows that the field is dynamic and helps one understand contemporary issues.

More importantly, it subtly tells students that they can become masters of the field themselves--because the cases that will form the canon 10 years from now will have occurred during their watch.

Posted by: Anupam Chander | Jan 24, 2007 12:17:12 AM

Those of us interested in *state* sentencing are equally excited about Cunningham--when I taught my sentencing seminar yesterday, it sparked a great discussion. I was especially pleased that about 1/3 of my students had found it and read it on their own.

Posted by: Laura Appleman | Jan 24, 2007 2:28:03 PM

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