Using the Pro Se Court Discussion Strategy

Our first Pro Se Court was a success. A Pro Se Court has students acting as plaintiffs, defendants and judges. In this case, a third of the class had to argue about the cons of zoos, the plaintiffs. A third of the class outlined the pros, the defendants; and the rest of the students acted as judges.

We spent part of the week reading about the pros and cons of zoos from four different perspectives. We annotated text and highlighted the most relevant evidence from each text. This is what allowed all students to be prepared for our Pro Se Court.

We had seven different judges and they ruled 5 to 2 in favor of the defendants.

Our Pro Se Court on Zoos

We finished our fifth week of instruction with a Pro Se Court. After spending the week reading through four different articles on the value of zoos, students were divided into three groups: petitioners, respondents, and justices. The petitioners had to argue that zoos needed to be closed, respondents had to explain the value of zoos, and justices had to weigh the evidence and the strength of the arguments. In turn, the justices had to rule in favor of either the petitioner or the respondent.

There were eight groups and the justices were split 4 to 4 on closing zoos.

Our Pro Se Court

Today we did our first Pro Se Court. This was the culmination of reading through four different sources on zoos and identifying evidence to support claims about the value of zoos. All of the source material (here) is written at the 7th grade level and this required students to navigate complex text and work with challenging vocabulary.

The term pro se is Latin and means “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.” Students became defendants, prosecutors, or justices before creating triads to allow for rich discussions.

Ultimately the justices ruled 6 to 3 in favor of the defendants; that is, zoos were causing greater harm than good.