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August 25, 2013


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Has anyone done a study to establish that faculty members are afraid of discussions about changes in pedagogy? Can this at least employ qualifying language? I would guess that many faculty members are skeptical of talk of transformative techniques whose efficacy has not be tested, or proven. I recall presentations about learning styles and how every person is either a "visual learner" or "auditory learner" and we were supposed to adjust our styles to accommodate this. A couple of years later we learn that there was no scientific basis for the notion that there were 2 drastically different learning styles that teachers had to attend to. Many things that seem intuitively right, often turn out not to be right-- or not right in the way people think. I don't doubt that there are people who don't want to change, but I am not convinced that represents a large number of people, particularly if they are presented with plans of action that have proven effective along with help to implement changes.


I too remember the presentations about "visual learners" "auditory learners" etc.
The problem, as I see it, is that there is an effort by some to excuse the inability of some students to apply the analytical aspects of the law. Many students would prefer to pretend that it is some "learning disability" to be accomodated, but that doesn't make that view correct.
Very brilliant people can find it hard to reason in the manner that the "law" requires!
And, yes, one must be able to read and write as lawyers and judges have for thousands of years (yes, thousands) in order to then apply the reasoning one has distilled to cases, real or hypothetical.
The post as I read it basically advocates "reduc[ing] reading assignments ..." "skip[ing] sections of a casebook that place too much emphasis on obscure aspects of the law" in order to provide more space to "creat[e] new classroom exercises."
Again, I think that practice experience is helpul here. Those who have practiced know that "how to draft a contract" is usually, to begin with, getting a form and modifying it. Secretaries used to teach new associates how to format and prepare pleadings - again, using the firms form bank. (I recall seeing a mortgage that Lincoln "drafted" that used basically, verbatim, the language in use today.)
What law schools need to innovate won't be addressed by practice exercises and "discussions" among newbies, especially those in their first year who know so little about the law (and from whom one hears the loudest complaints mentioned). ("Why do we need to learn the rule in England four hundred years ago instead of learning how to draft a contract?")
Law schools need to innovate. They need the insights of practitioners. But, more legal exercises? (We are not speaking now about clinics - another subject entirely.)
I don't find very convincing much of the talk about how "innovative" some classroom activity is. The activities described rarely are "innovative" (what really is new: a PP slide crammed with text that the prof reads to the class?) and often are just wasting time.
We began this discussion on another thread, and I believe most agreed that, contrary to what I've stated above, frequent "quizzes" can be useful. Internet technology can enable this activity. Other truly new uses of previously unavailable technology exist.
But, in my view, arts and crafts like finger painting, although always the kindergarten favorites, are not for law school unless the law school is training paralegals.


There actually have been studies done suggesting that frequent quizzes on the material taught helps students retain information. Certainly the one big test at the end of the year model is something that could be improved upon.


If not clear above, my fault.


Its all very well and good to say we shouldn't teach obscure points of law- and for a state-accredited school that's a perfectly reasonable point of view.

But the ABA keeps ratcheting up what they expect of ABA schools on bar passage rates, which means schools have to teach ever more obscure points of law and require ever more subjects in order to appease the God of Teaching to the Test.

Mitch Winick

ML-- You raise a very valid point regarding the relationship between bar tested subjects and law school curriculum. I consider this issue, and worry about it, every time that a curriculum or pedagogy change is considered for bar-tested subjects. I can't say that I have a universal answer, but I generally fall back on the following reasoning. Passing the difficult California Bar Exam only requires consistent question scores of 65 or above. This means that even if an examinee misses a relatively obscure part of a specific legal topic, they still have a very likely chance of adequately answering the core question with a passing grade. I have many other issues with the California Bar Exam, but I do not believe that the exam is based on tricky obscure questions. In addition, every bar-tested subject is reviewed again through the bar review process. Don't take this wrong, I am not abdicating legal education to the bar review companies. However, I believe that a fundamentally sound substantive course and a comprehensive bar review program provide an adequate foundation for a successful bar exam result. Finally, I don't think that making room for a few hours of practical exercises within a 90 hour (two semester) substantive course diminishes the substantive content to the level that places student bar exam results at risk.

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