Essay Workshop with Professor Gash

Professor Jim Gash had an idea just over a year ago that turned into a successful academic support event in January 2013.  We rinsed and repeated the event yesterday afternoon.

Professor Gash noted that upper division students often continue the same essay-writing mistakes on final exams that they made during their first year of law school.  His thesis was that these students, for the most part, never get the opportunity to compare papers that receive high marks with those that receive low marks.  So, we invited all 1Ls who were interested to attend a workshop to give them this exact opportunity.

Professor Gash made copies of anonymous student essays from last semester’s Torts exam, ranging from high scores to low scores, and handed them out to the 1Ls that chose to attend the workshop, along with the essay exam and scoring sheet.  After a brief lecture on essay-writing, Professor Gash gave the students quiet time to read all of the essays and rank them.  Professor Gash’s initial thesis held true — that it is possible for every student to see the difference in essays that will receive more points than others.  The next step is that students who can see the difference can DO it, too!

I thought yesterday’s session was a wonderful opportunity for students, and I am indebted to Professor Gash for the idea and for the time devoted to serving our students.  I am convinced that it will prove beneficial for many.

Al Sturgeon
Assistant Dean for Student Life


2 thoughts on “Essay Workshop with Professor Gash

  1. Greg says:

    Why were 2L’s not invited ? Why are not these anonymous paper not published for the entire student body , even those studying who could not attend this meeting. All NFL football players review tape to improve there game

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Al Sturgeon says:

      Hi Greg. Thanks for your comment/questions. I like the sports analogy. True, NFL players get to review their game tapes and those of their opponents. In law school (and generally speaking, all types of schools), students can review their own performances, but it is rare indeed to have the opportunity to review your classmates’ performances. At times, professors publish anonymously “best student answers,” which I find enormously helpful. But Professor Gash’s idea is novel — I don’t know of any other law school that has done this.

      As to why 2Ls were not invited, first, this was a Torts exam that 1Ls took last semester. Second, there was a pure space issue — there are 200+ 1Ls, and our largest classroom seats 140 (we were hoping to squeeze the 1Ls in). Third, as intimated in the blog post, the first year is critical for “getting it” in terms of essay writing on law school exams — academic support programs hone in on 1Ls to help them survive the first year and develop the skills necessary for their upper-division years. (And finally, the 2Ls had this exact same opportunity last year when they were 1Ls.)

      With all that being said, I should also mention that we’d like to do more. (If you have friends with significant money to donate to a good cause, I can introduce them to our fundraising department at the law school!! 🙂 ) At present, in addition to my multifaceted role as dean of students, I am the only person in the academic success program (ASP). Right now, I am teaching a class of 60 first-year students on one end of the spectrum plus a bar exam early prep course for over 100 third-year students. This is all great and more intentionally-programmed academic support than ever, but it would be great to extend our reach. There is some movement on providing greater support for our 2Ls in particular, but this requires more human/financial resources.

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