Robert Leckey: Tracking progress

Robert Leckey

"... I make it clear that learning isn’t just about grades."

Robert Leckey has taught family law and constitutional law - his primary areas of research - since he arrived at McGill in 2006 and has also taught the first-year transsystemic course in contractual obligations. Beyond undergraduate teaching and graduate supervision, he has also been a co-facilitator of professional development workshops on course design, graduate supervision and creating safe space for discussion in the classroom.

Among the recognition he has received for his work on teaching and education, Robert was twice nominated for - and was the 2009 recipient of - the McGill Law Students' Association's John W. Durnford Teaching Excellence Award and was also the 2010 recipient in the assistant professor category of McGill's highest honour for teaching, the Principal's Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

How do you evaluate your students’ learning and what kind of assessment strategies/techniques do you use?

I evaluate my students in a number of ways. For writing assignments, I do both ungraded and graded evaluations. For my first-year students, there are optional ungraded assignments where they submit a paper and I return it with comments. I also prepare a general memorandum for the whole class, explaining how the group did. I go over what the stronger papers did, issue by issue. I also cover issues in the weaker papers because I think we don’t talk enough about that. So, through optional papers and the general memorandum I make it clear that learning isn’t just about grades. This is a no-risk assignment where you get to practice and you’ll get my feedback.

Another type of evaluation I do is in-class quizzes, which I started giving several years ago because I got a sense that my students were not reading closely enough. Perhaps we were giving people a large volume of reading and, in many cases, we were sending signals that they should be skimming to get the big picture. But part of lawyering also involves being able to read very closely. So, with the quizzes – which are scheduled, not imposed as a surprise – I give them a particular text and some very precise questions. And I believe those quizzes work very well in terms of learning. As the course progresses, I feel a change in the class discussions and the nature of the questions that students ask because they are reading more closely.

Another assessment strategy I use in my first-year course is that I only count the best three of the four quizzes. The weakest one gets tossed out. So, if there’s a "bloodbath" and some students do terribly on the first quiz, it’s nice for me to be able to say, "I know that you may not be used to these kinds of questions. This is probably going to be your weakest quiz. Think how you would study differently for the next one. This score doesn’t count." While the quiz format stays the same over the year, I really see the learning kick in as they get better and better at them.