By MAURA SULLIVAN, Concord Monitor staff, July 20, 2009
FRANKLIN PIERCE Law Center's Sophie Sparrow is sharing her 11 years of experience as a law professor in her new book, Teaching Law by Design: Engaging Students from the Syllabus to the Final Exam. Professors Michael Hunter Schwartz and Gerry Hess, co-directors of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, also co-authored the book, which was published in June. Sparrow, a graduate of Harvard Law School and writing professor at Pierce, told us a little more about the book:
What is the focus of your book? The book is meant to synthesize the literature about teaching and learning and translate it into a legal setting. . . . It gets people to think comprehensively about how they could do a better job in the classroom to promote student learning.
How did you get into teaching? When I was working as an administrator here at Pierce Law, I taught part of a course and realized that I really loved teaching. I got certified and taught in a public elementary school for a couple of years and then became a law professor. I love being part of the process of empowering people to give them knowledge and skills.
How did your own teaching experience influence the book? My experience when I was in law school was that how the classes were taught really affected how I learned. I tried to apply what I know about teaching and learning at lower levels to law school. If you are teaching first grade and the students aren't learning how to read, it's your fault. At the graduate level, people say it is the students' responsibility, but I came from the approach that we are accountable. Students must be responsible and invested, but we have to give them the tools to get there.
Did any of your law school professors' teaching styles influence you? One teacher I had my first year was very passionate about her subject and, when relevant, would talk about her personal experience. She didn't eradicate the barrier between student and teacher; it was still clear that she was in charge of the classroom. But she was willing to share who she was as a person. . . . When I first saw her teach, I thought, "Wow, maybe I can be a professor," and I had never thought that before.
If you could give other law professors one piece of advice, what would it be? Start small, take chances and keep learning. Take baby steps; try one new thing a semester.
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