Narratives as method in Law School

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

Introductory Narrative Methods is the course that Prateeksha Sharma, a classical musician who works in mental health and communications, taught a group of 24 students within a span of 11 days at our law school. This elective subject was offered to the students from the second year till the final year, fifth year, students. According to us, the elective was unique in that it was a one of a kind elective that had never been taught at a law school. With lessons that related law with narratives and also made the students interpret a few events in a holistic view the elective was offered as a one credit course to the students. We think ,the idea behind the elective was to enable storytelling – recounting experiences and using your own experiences to understand and relate to other people’s experiences. Also we felt that, the course aimed to develop the skills of expression and listening that are pertinent to the practicing of the legal profession.

 Our  survey will focus on the Introductory Narrative Methods classes itself and opinions from various group of students as well as the course instructor and will conclude with whether the course helped the students arrive at a synthesis to their thesis and anti-thesis and whether the elective was really something that should be advised for law students or not.

THE METHOD

 The primary method of collecting our data was through surveys. There are three different types of groups that were interviewed by us : the people who were given the opportunity, the people who were not given the opportunity and the course instructor. Within the people who were given the opportunity there were two different groups- the students who opted for the course and the students who did not opt for the course. Our  group of three allocated specific roles for ourselves and we worked towards reaching those goals and in the end everything was collectively edited and made. One of us interviewed the people who were not given the opportunity, the people who are in the second year including the second year students who attended the elective and the course instructor herself. One among us interviewed the people who are in the third year and the fourth year including the people who took the elective from those years; and the one of our member  interviewed the people who are in the fifth year and also the fifth year students who opted for the elective.

For this blog post a total of 40 students were interviewed by us and this blog post will cover all the different views and opinions shared by them.

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THE ACTUAL NARRATIVE:

People who were given the opportunity:

  • People who took the opportunity;
  • People who did not take the opportunity

People who were not given the opportunity: The first year students were not given the opportunity to elect this course. As the first years are not given the opportunity to take part in any electives they are the group that comprise of people who were not given the opportunity.

While interviewing the first year students, our member gave them a basic outline of what the elective is about and also showed them the brief description of the course, which was provided to the other students before the start of the elective. They were then asked whether they would be interested in taking part in such an elective or not and asked for their honest opinions about it.

We see that ,Nathan was not too excited when he heard about the elective. His goal is to work at a corporate firm and so he thought that the course would be of no help to him especially since it doesn’t even deal with any legal aspect.

“I don’t see any point in doing such a course which is not even related to law. I mean what more can this course teach me than the saying that there is always more than one side of a story?”

Willa replied to us that she did seem interested in the topic but the only drawback that she thought the course had was that the course instructor was a music teacher and had no legal background. She also mentioned “without a legal background I don’t think the course would be of any help to me because she wouldn’t know the laws that go behind let’s say arbitration which has been pointed out in the brief description given by the teacher.”

We got some other responses like , Kate did not want to be a part of any elective as she was already busy with all of her other credits and she did not think that she would be able to give enough time for the elective.

Shyaak told us that he did not want to take any elective, as he wanted to just enjoy life and live in the moment. He was satisfied with everything he has as a compulsory subject and he did not want to sit in a classroom for another 2 hours every day just to earn one more credit.

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We have also interviewed the second years to delve deeper into the reasoning behind the students’ interest in the Introductory Narrative Methods course. We have divided the second years  into three categories to gauge their opinions. The groups were:

  • Students who applied for the course but later dropped down.
  • Students who applied for the course and continued it.
  • Students who did not apply for the course.

Neil told us that he opted for this course as it was took relatively lesser time and efforts when compared to other law school subjects.He even felt that he developed a new perspective on law school and legal writing.

After speaking to Emma we felt that she was exposed to newer forms and techniques in writing. She wanted  to take this learning further. She also said that the course instructor introduced her into a new world.

Armaan said that taking this course was an enriching experience for him. He put down his unexpressed thoughts onto paper with the self-narrative writing task. He also felt glad that he interacted with a varied set of people.

Sara applied for this course. Later, she opted out of it due to some health issues. But told us that she was really interested in doing the course and would have done it if she had been feeling well.

Zayan attended the first class and later decided not to do the course because he was expecting the course to be more law oriented. The course did not appeal to him because it was mostly arts oriented. We understood from his words that he felt wanted to do a course which would be  more in consonance with what he was studying at law school.

We had some unique response too.Sasha’s was one such. She expressed that the course description was too abstract for her liking. She felt she might not give her best to the course as she was packed up with a lot of other work. The writing task mentioned in the description also did not interest her.

And Juliet  replied to our questionnaire saying that she heard about the course before it started and found it interesting. But she chose not to do it as she had booked her tickets to go home. And she wanted to spend time with her family during the festive time.

We found a contrasting opinion in Jennifer’s response , she said that the course description was not appealing. She also disliked writing tasks and so did not choose the course.

The third year, fourth year and fifth year students mostly overlapped in their criticism and appreciation of the course. This is what we could comprehend from their responses. As far as the assignments are concerned, a few people were a little uncomfortable at the personal nature of the self-narrative. Even people who are open about their thoughts and feelings draw the line at people they are close to and comfortable with. They even shared that, the foundation of the course being connecting with people and finding your comfort space, people were not willing to extend their personal space to people they otherwise don’t interact too much with were reluctant in taking up the course. With the self-narrative, there were concerns as to how they could be completely honest about their experience in narrating it to a stranger. Secondly, an experience has no objective standard of grading. How then will the self-narrative be graded as an assignment? How can a third person evaluate your story? And if the point was just to enable one to write his/her story/experience, it comes down to it being a personal choice of values.

Some students replied to us that, if the course was to be conducted earlier in the semester, they would have enrolled for it as October being the month of submissions, exams etc. tends to get quite hectic.

There were others who didn’t sign up because they didn’t find the course relevant to legal studies or to their choice of field.  A few others feltthat this sort of learning need not come through a course. Some people were just not open to the idea that this course might bring in something new in terms of learning and did not consider it important to their goals in law school. Some people were busy with other things and could not take out time for this course even though they desired to do so. The timing was an issue for quite a few people because after full day class, an extra class can be quite exhausting. Logistical issues were quite prominent among the issues people raised. We observe that apart from the first years, the students from other batches had expressed similar concerns.

This was the aggregate of the opinion collected by us from who attended the course.Among people who took the course, apart from those who raised concerns about their personal space and thus not being able to realize the purpose of the course, it was described by a few as a fresh course that was fun and extremely relaxed. The new activities and ideas that the course introduced them to was a welcome distraction. Prateeksha Ma’am especially was appreciated for her kindness towards the students and her own openness. Some people feel that even if they are not sure what the learning from the course is at this very moment, they can keep drawing from it in the future. The course wasn’t one with a definite end, but is about ongoing experiences.

THE COURSE INSTRUCTOR:

Prateeksha Sharma was invited to University of Law to teach the students. With a specialization in mental health she wanted the students understand that every word such as “criminal” and “victim” have more than one way people can view it. Since she works with stories and since stories have a lot of possibilities. Moreover, law is also full of stories include law Introductory Narrative Methods was the course to teach. To see your own story as an outsider was an objective that the students were to understand during the elective. The first year students should have been given this opportunity as it would help them make the connection. It will make the students more sensitized. While we felt that she was expecting a little more stories and interaction from the students, Prateeksha found the class a little dampening and thought that the students were looking at the elective through the lens of academics and grades and no fun. However, she was happy to see a few people’s earnest effort to write. She also found the 4:20 to 6:20 timing a littleodd, as the students were burnt out by the time class started.

Prateeksha had to take a 3day leave from her daily life to come to our college and teach us. The repetition of such an elective occurring next year is not plausible as it takes a lot of her time and she would prefer that students come to her and learn, which could be done during the semester breaks or during a 3 or 4 day break within the semester.

After an interaction with her , we could get  more useful insights about the course from her. She said that it was  a ‘challenge’ for her to mould her research experience into teaching of narrative methods. Her experience in teaching prior to this course was mainly in the field of music. But she has been constantly working in the realm of narratives in mental health. Her efforts were to bring narrative tradition into law school. We understand that her main concern after beginning teaching was that this course should be introduced as early as the first of law school. She even believed that a teacher’s learning undergoes fine tuning with teaching. We comprehend that she meant that she was learning with us too. She even had to try hard to link the subject to real life narratives , as this would make every student engaged in the lecture. We felt that this was an appreciative way to evoke responses from the students. On being asked about where she found motivation to teach. She replied to us that she felt it as a responsibility to carry forward the energy and efforts put in by the students. That’s what kept her moving.

Reaction to the course

Me: So why did you think narrative methods would help us law students?

Prateeksha: See basically I work in mental health and I’m always looking into stories of people. If I look at people from the same framework as society is labeling them, is that enough- like when I say  like “criminal”. Is that all or is there more to it? Do I want to listen to the label as a finality, or should I look at their subjective experiences? I am interested in looking into the stories of other people and since I do I thought whether it could be related to law. I had a choice of choosing whatever I could do here. She (the academic convenor) said I could do something which would make students understand life with a new perspective, which made me look up ways to take my knowledge into a law school; and I read a paper of how law is all about stories. So I thought of teaching this course.

The Course Material

Me: So about the course material. Did you teach everything that you have expected to teach us?

Prateeksha: I came with the idea that I should give an introduction into what narratives are. When I thought about the course, I structured it mentally as an exercise which produces a reflective attitude within learners. When we work in stories and mental health anybody who becomes a therapist should learn to look at their own story in an objective way first, otherwise one never develops a distance from one’s own subjective reality. Should lawyers not be open to this and see justice and injustice first within their own lives? Learn to see their stories as outsiders or should they see everything without delving into their subjective truths, which are always changing? One of the key objectives for me was to help students develop a self distance from their narratives and believe that they are experiences that belong to a human domain, not just their personal truths.

  • Shaemus thought that the course material hitting the objective of what was supposed to be taught in a narrative methods class.

“The course material was, see it was good. Good as in substantial as in it was relating to narrative methods. It was hitting the target.”

  • John was happy when we asked him about the course material because it had actually helped him in writing a better narrative.

“The course material helped me in understanding how to write a narrative but since I was absent I can’t comment over its application in law.”

CONTROVERSIES:

Our interaction with anumber of students has reiterated the fact that there were no controversies related to the elective course “Introductory Narrative Methods.”

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CONCLUSION:

The conclusion is an amalgam of our convictions and our learning . introductory narrative methods course was a unique elective course offered in a law school. After doing this course we have learnt a new of way of viewing every legal issue. For instance, in every single legal case there are various perspectives, and each perspective is a narrative. As law students we would be benefitted by the knowledge of narratives to understand various existing narratives.Though the course seemed to be off track, the element of law was not absent. The essence of law is language. The impact that words can have through writing was highlighted to us.This could be taught to the law students in their initial years at law school. They would be hugely benefitted by it because they will develop a holistic perspective in viewing everything. Most of the students were impressed by the course description. But some of them could not opt as they had time management issues and other workload. Most of the students who have taken the elective course found it to be a rewarding experience. They even expected to have contours drawn and a framework to be set to the course as the intended results would be delivered better then. They even opined that the given course time could have been used more a effectively and productively to imbibe more valuable information from the course instructor. We felt that the  sessions were highly interactive and the course instructor was flexible with the students too. We even learnt that every issue in law has a social , penal and legal perspective to it. This made sure that elective course was not cumbersome. So all together, it was a joyful learning experience for us. We would also like to express that there was a legal angle to this course which was not noticed by many. It might have been underplayed. But trying to understand the legal aspect of this course was the main objective.

Note from examiner: The responses that have been included here from me, prateeksha, are changed from the original submission, without affecting the grades of those being marked for them. I thought it was best to write my own language here, because young students may not be able to represent what I am saying to the extent I can do so. But that need not impact on how anyone has to respond to this narrative. 

Sorry, due to my inability to do so, I am unable to upload video clip.

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Published by

prateeksha sharma

Recovery Specialist in Mental Suffering- via counseling. Non Profit Founder. Love to write, tend to dogs, manage a little garden. Largely a hermit. Equally as much- classical musician with fingers in many pies. Parallel work in applied musicology-in particular pedagogy. Also...a Phd researcher

One thought on “Narratives as method in Law School”

  1. This is a nice narrative. It sums up the diverse range of thoughts and ideas about courses that are not very law based very well, and my sentiment that students look at education for largely instrumental reasons as opposed to just for the sake of learning is portrayed clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

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