TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Empirical Case For Increasing Assessments And Individualized Feedback In Law School Classes

Karen M. Henning (Detroit Mercy) & Julia Belian (Detroit Mercy), If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: Increasing Assessments and Individualized Feedback in Law School Classes, 95 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 35 (2017):

Our law school students and graduates need to have sophisticated critical thinking, writing, and problem-solving abilities to tackle the increasingly complex and higher-level thinking demanded of them in law school and the practice of law. Yet, a large number of law students are arriving at law school without those skills, and even more alarmingly, many of those students do not even realize that they are missing these skills or actually believe themselves to be more skilled than they are. Many law students are coming to law school with an inflated view of their own competency, and this overconfidence interferes with their learning by both encouraging them to belief that they know more than they actually do know and by limiting their ability to use feedback effectively. Thus, while the American Bar Association now mandates that law schools incorporate formative assessments into their courses, the formative assessments may not accomplish the goal of developing students’ critical thinking and communication skills unless these assessments are designed to address students’ shortcomings and to assist them in effectively using this feedback. This Article examines the authors’ attempt to address these issues by incorporating regular, bi-weekly short essay quizzes with individualized written feedback into traditional podium law school classes.

In the first part of this article, we explore the reasons for deficits in critical thinking, problem-solving and writing in this current generation of law students. In the second part of the article, we discuss basic principles of cognitive science and how these principles help us understand why short essay quizzes with individualized feedback may help law students develop the critical skills and knowledge they need. Finally, in the last section, we explain in detail how we incorporated frequent low-stakes essay quizzes with individualized feedback into our classes and discuss our results. These results, while not entirely consistent, show that student performance can improve through the use of these assessments and individualized feedback.

 

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