Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Something Borrowed: Interdisciplinary Strategies For Legal Education

Deborah L. Borman (Arkansas) & Catherine Haras (Cal State-L.A.), Something Borrowed: Interdisciplinary Strategies for Legal Education, 68 J. Legal Educ. 357 (2019):

The focus of this article is “Borrowed Strategies,” education theories and techniques from other disciplines that encourage faculty and students to achieve better learning in law school to ultimately become better practitioners. We address some of the faulty learning theory that pervades the legal academy, i.e., neuromyths, dismissing learning styles as unsupported scientifically. We provide healthy recommendations for teaching and learning based on techniques both inside and outside of legal education.

Conclusion.  To achieve progress in learning in legal education, we need to abandon tired neuromyths about learning styles, multiple intelligences, multitasking, left-brain and right-brain theories of personality, and other fallacies that do not advance teaching or learning in law classrooms. These neuromyths stymie law education at a crucial time in the academy Instead, law andragogy, which embodies the Socratic method of dialogue, can and should leverage this powerful self-regulating practice to enhance law learning. Law can also adopt the literature on cognitive psychology and institute an evidence-based teaching and learning focus on the following concepts explored in detail above:

  1. Connect with prior knowledge
  2. Enhance learning transfer
  3. Use practice and feedback strategies
  4. Teach and value habits of mind
  5. Identify metacognitive structures and barriers to learning
  6. Engage in healthy retrieval practices for long-term memory
  7. Activate a growth mindset
  8. Engage in reflection
  9. Teach the art of question formulation
  10. Practice the dialogue

Professors also might consider the vital role “mindset” plays in terms of effort and learning. Since the publication of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset in 2006, many scholars in the academy have discussed and promoted adopting a growth mindset in legal education. Dweck writes that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” Dweck defines the fixed mindset as the belief that your inherent qualities are carved in stone, that you “have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character.” By contrast, the growth mindset is based on the belief that you can cultivate your basic qualities through your efforts, and that you can change and grow through application and experience. If we operate with a fixed mindset, Dweck opines, every new situation we encounter challenges our ability to succeed. A fixed mindset therefore can create an inaccurate self-perception and cause us to give up or settle unhappily into a situation or circumstance that is not productive.

When professors activate a growth mindset, we model the changes necessary for student learning. We believe that students can achieve lasting learning with hard work and effort. Our challenge is to revisit the legal landscape we create for our students. Do we believe that only the most brilliant students succeed in law? How do we help students with fixed mindsets who struggle with learning when we may possess fixed mindsets ourselves? What would a growth mindset look like in law? These questions are beyond the scope of this Article, but worth reflecting upon, as mindset affects both the teaching and the practice of law.

Law education possesses the tools necessary to create outstanding classroom experiences. It remains for law to incorporate these borrowed education strategies mindfully into legal education. To do so will enhance and improve the teaching and learning process and build law education into a training ground for the finest critical-thinking practitioners.

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