Friday, September 22, 2006
- Students need to know they also can excel in law school if, instead of outlining, they create mindmaps, hierarchy charts or even make flashcards and store the flashcards in hierarchical categories. The keys are the synthesis and the mental effort involved in identifying and depicting the relationships among the concepts. This approach gives students a schema for remembering the doctrine, holdings and policy. That’s why I put the word “outlining” in quotes.
- Going against type—visual learners creating outlines, read-write learners creating mindmaps—can actually strengthen the mental trace because of the extra mental effort required.
- It's valuable for students to depict their knowledge in multiple ways; the more mental paths to knowledge students have, the more likely they are to recall it when they need it. I use the metaphor of driving to work in California; if, under the stress of traffic (or exams), one way is blocked, having a second way to get there helps.
- Any such experience should be an active learning one. I think it's best to establish an admission requirement—they have to bring their notes and briefs and texts for a specified class and read assigned materials on outlining (I just assign the organizational strategies chapter of my text). Here's how I run my session: I start with a cognitive think aloud as I outline or create a hierarchy chart or mindmap for a small portion of the doctrine (a cognitive think-aloud involves speaking aloud every step of your mental process as you perform an intellectual task or solve a problem); I try to make sure I highlight my choices and efforts to depict relationships and hierarchy. Then, I have the students add to the outline on their own or in pairs. Finally, I have them exchange their outlines to compare what they have done.
- I always hold such workshops as part of my regular torts or contracts class (I have taught both) based on the research (from within and outside legal education) that intergrated academic support is most likely to produce permanent change.