For many years, I wrote a crossword puzzle for my students to use as a vehicle for reviewing what we had just covered (either at the end of each week or, less ambitiously, at the end of each chapter). I used commercial software that took my clues and answers and formatted them into the familiar grid and arranged the clues in the usual columnar display. The program also arranged the squares so as to create the maximum number of intersecting letters, which probably allowed students to spend less time on the puzzle without (I hoped) materially affecting their learning.
The result was a puzzle that looked great, and the students seemed to enjoy this outside-the-box approach to reviewing material. It took very little time for me to write the clues and answers, maybe 30-40 minutes for 30-40 items. It was also flexible enough to allow me to include clues about things that were discussed in class but not covered (or not covered in the same depth) in the readings. Will Shortz’ day-job is secure, but the result looked pretty darned good.
For some classes, this might be a good review option. It’s great for vocabulary (e.g., “jurisdiction over things” (answer: inrem)), concept identification (“standard of appellate review of questions of law” (answer: denovo)), and even some black-letter rules (“number of defendants who can have the same citizenship as one or more plaintiffs in a federal suit based upon diversity” (answer: zero)).
A 2009 article in the on-line Journal of Effective Teaching by Davis et al. compared outcomes for two classes in a Sociology course. Each class used crossword puzzles to review for two tests and multiple-choice questions to review for two other tests. One class did better on tests for which the review was done by crossword, the other class did worse. The authors’ conclusion: “The differing results between the two classes used in this study suggest that further research on this topic needs to be done.” Clear as mud. (Answer to title of this blog: notknown.) The inconclusiveness of this study allows me to cling to my belief that the crossword puzzle works well for certain kinds of reviews, but it’s just a belief at this point.
Meanwhile, I’ve moved on to a review vehicle for all my classes that I think works better for the kinds of things I want law students to get some practice doing: making arguments by applying legal rules to fact patterns, which requires a knowledge of the rules, creativity in formulating arguments, judgment (to accept some arguments and reject others), and writing skill, all in a fifteen-minute exercise. (It’s also the format for my final exam, so students get multiple opportunities to practice this type of question before they encounter it for real.) The device is a multiple-choice question with short-essay explanation. More on that, perhaps, in a future blog.