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Meet M.A. TESOL graduate student Drew Sowers
Meet M.A. TESOL graduate student Drew Sowers

This past summer M.A. TESOL graduate student Drew Sowers had an amazing opportunity to develop a curriculum and teach at an English-medium law school in Shenzhen, China. This project arose from previous work by Professor Alissa Hartig, and was guided by a curriculum design course with Professor Nike Arnold.  Drew and his class team developed a curriculum for incoming 1L (first year law school) students for Peking University School of Transnational Law (PKU STL). 

Using Professor Hartig’s preexisting data from focus groups and observations, Sandi Thomas, Kelsea Pinkston, and Drew conducted a needs analysis.  Through informal Skype interviews, they sought to learn all they could from STL Associate Dean and the Director of Transnational Legal Practice and Academic Support.  By gaining a deeper understanding of the academic and cultural context, the team was able to understand the specific needs of the school.

Kelsea, Sandi and Drew then found out all they could about law school and the specific linguistic characteristics of legal language. They consulted titles like Reading like a Lawyer, and Strategies for Legal Case Reading and Vocabulary Development. They learned about the main practices of a law school education, specifically the Socratic method and extensive case-reading loads. They developed lesson plans that fell within two categories: language and pragmatics. The language lessons dealt with case-reading strategies, legal vocabulary development, rhetorical structure of various sub-genres, grammatical improvement, and legal news discussions. The pragmatics lessons dealt with academically appropriate emails, office hour exchanges, interactional classroom dynamics, and note-taking strategies.

The group presented a finalized curriculum at the end of spring term.  Drew sent all materials to STL, and began planning for implementation.  The “Legal English Boot Camp” date was set for the beginning of August, one week before STL students embarked on their first year of law school.  Drew’s summer was thus filled with further research and continued refinement of the curriculum.

On July 30th, Drew arrived in Hong Kong and was driven across the border into mainland China. The first week consisted of observations that were quite useful.  He watched American law professors in action, observed student’s English language features, and continually adjusted my lesson plans.  

Finally the first day of class arrived. Together with law professor Christian Pangilinan, they initiated the boot camp plan. Drew was impressed by the eagerness and tenacity of the students, and amazed at how much legal, linguistic, and pragmatic content they were able to grasp in one week’s time.  Most of Drew’s lessons ran smoothly, but there are certainly changes he would make for next year. The Inaugural English Language Boot Camp was a success and Drew has been invited back again for next year. It was satisfying to put to use all that he learned as a graduate student. Drew look forward to building on what he’s learned about legal discourse as well as furthering the relationship between STL and PSU.