kitchen table math, the sequel: the Keller Plan at law school

Thursday, March 15, 2007

the Keller Plan at law school

I have been meaning to post this link for at least a year now.

I'm finally doing so in reaction to Redkudu's question about what Direct Instruction in high school might look like.

I took two courses taught by the Keller Method in college, one at Wellesley and one at Dartmouth. They were fantastic, and I still remember the material I learned in the Keller Method statistics course to this day.

Why did the Keller method come and go along with every other effective form of instruction?

Part of the answer is here:

In a profession as conservative as ours, any new development is viewed with suspicion, and it is necessary to lay carefully the groundwork for any innovation.[44] We did this by circulating information to our colleagues and conducting seminars describing the method and our particular implementation. The stratagem was successful, and the experiment has been received with interest, although it is also fair to say that the interest is coloured by a healthy scepticism.

The major political problem is the distribution of grades. Keller himself warned that the Plan is not suitable for any teacher "...who believes that, because of genetic or environmental factors, only a handful of his pupils can ever be deserving of an A or its equivalent."[45] We anticipated correctly that this would be a problem. The Dean and Teaching Committee approved our assessment scheme in advance and on the understanding that our mark distribution might very well be skewed. The actual results were much better than we anticipated (see the section on statistics), but this just makes the political problem worse! There are several solutions to this problem, none entirely satisfactory. It is possible to modify the "no penalty for failure" rule. This would discourage students from using the examination system as a tutorial method. It would also dramatically increase student dissatisfaction with the examination system, particularly if the computer examination system is used.

Another solution is to reduce the marks given for completion of modules, mark the final examination ruthlessly and scale the final marks if necessary. There is little educational justification for this, but it is the most direct response to the problem. We intend to argue that successful completion of all modules is at least worthy of a credit,[46] so that the Keller Plan course would still be outside Faculty guidelines.

One strategy that might be a solution is worthy of exploration. Students would not receive full marks for a module, but instead a percentage of full marks based on their performance in the module examination.[47] The difference from the first solution is that students could re-examine until they reached a level which they found satisfactory. A class of very ambitious students could still yield a grade distribution which would leave the Faculty foaming.

time to order my hard copy of this article

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