Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Explicit Instruction In Legal Education: Boon Or Spoon?

Beth Brennan (Montana), Explicit Instruction in Legal Education: Boon or Spoon?, 52 U. Mem. L. Rev. ___ (2021):

Legal education too often teaches students how to be lawyers by teaching them as though they already are lawyers. Like other disciplines, legal education fails to consistently recognize the meaningful cognitive differences between novices and experts. Novice learners use their existing schema to make sense of what happens in the classroom. Blinded by the curse of knowledge and loathe to ruin students’ future as creative thinkers, law professors frequently teach novice learners as though they are mini-experts — assuming, omitting, rushing. 

Explicit instruction is an important pedagogical tool that should be used intentionally and thoughtfully in the law school classroom. Law is not so special that it has its own pedagogical rules. Cognitive psychology research supports initial explicit instruction in new domains — even law.

To the extent law schools expect students’ background knowledge and skills to buoy them through their first year of law school, they are allowing students’ privilege to leverage them into higher grades and more prestigious jobs. Consciously integrating explicit instruction into doctrinal classes can make our pedagogy more intentional and our law schools more inclusive.

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