Charity Scott’s Reflections on Stone Soup

I have been getting in touch with lots of friends and colleagues encouraging them to consider using a Stone Soup assignment in one or more of their courses next year.

Charity Scott, Georgia State, who used Stone Soup last year once in Negotiation and twice in Mediation, responded with this lovely email.

“Nice to hear from you!  I like the idea of a format for student papers, so it’s easy to review them.

“For my summer mediation course, I require a reflection paper on two mediation observations.  Students have always appreciated the opportunity that Stone Soup offers to compare the classroom experience to the real-world one, whatever they learn.  Sometimes what they see holds up a mirror to their learning.  Other times, students have seen a cracked mirror and been troubled by what they view as power imbalances between the parties, time constraints to move cases along, and mediator over-deference to attorney-represented parties.

“As for my spring negotiation course, I was again surprised at the students’ finding the themes in the course picked up by the attorney negotiators they interviewed.   I require that their two interviewees be out of law school at least five years, and preferably more than 10, and so most of them have never taken a course on negotiation.  And yet they seem to have naturally coalesced around themes of relationship, civility, interests, problem-solving, etc.  This is not true in the criminal law context where the rule seems to be take-it-or-leave-it among prosecutors with little to no room for negotiation. For students who interview civil attorneys (whether litigation or transactional), however, the school of hard knocks seems eventually to lead thoughtful attorneys to a GTY starting point for negotiations.

“I don’t think that the negotiation students are just “giving me what I want to hear” – I stress that this is part of the Stone Soup Project and folks with the project are genuinely interested in what’s going on in the real-world of negotiation, and the students are my scouts, and I’m interested in the good, the bad, and the ugly in whatever form their interviews take.  I value the students’ frankness, whether they find consistency with the teaching or whether they say that they didn’t see what they were taught (and that what they were taught made better sense in terms of process and justice than what they saw).

“The de-briefing of the negotiation interviews was an amazing experience.  I told the students that they each would have to lead their discussions with the “top three lessons learned” from their interviews, then illustrate those lessons with points from the interview.  I should have taped this discussion!  Leading with the “lessons learned” – before they say anything else – is something I’ve adopted in the debriefings of the role plays, too, during class.”

Charity has made Stone Soup work in her courses exactly as we hoped it would.  She and her students really want to know how things actually are – good, bad, and ugly.  Sometimes, students’ observations are consistent with our theory and sometimes not.  Charity is doing some practice-to-theory hypothesizing based on her students’ interviews.  She sees her students as her “scouts,” helping her – in addition to her students – learn more about how things actually work in practice.  With each new semester, they can dig deeper into the issues and/or check how the responses compare to prior years.

I think it is great if students learn about discouraging such things as power imbalances, problematic processes, or excessive deference to the lawyers and, in some cases, to the mediators.  Of course, our job is to educate students about the real world, not to sugarcoat it.  If students report credible, discouraging findings, this is valuable knowledge about real problems in practice.  Obviously, each interview is a sample of one, and people should not generalize from a single interview or observation.  Nonetheless, they may suggest valuable new ideas and insights.

We want to be more systematic in sharing students’ papers.  We will probably post more papers on the blog, as we did here, and there may be additional ways to do this.

We have developed the model format (linked above) to encourage more uniformity in the structure of the papers.  As with all our materials, this document provides some ideas, and we encourage colleagues to tailor the format for their courses.  We welcome comments and suggestions, and we may circulate a revised model format.

There is no expectation that any faculty or student would submit papers to be shared publicly, though we hope that people will be excited to share their best work.  We use this consent form for students, who can share their papers without identifying themselves.  If you assign students to write a Stone Soup paper, please let them know at the outset of your course about the possibility that we would post their papers (with their consent).

For more information, check out the Stone Soup website or email me.

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