Monday, October 1, 2018
The book Building a Better Teacher confronts the myth of natural born teachers. Some early researchers in the academy thought some teachers just had “it”, and poor performing teachers lacked innate ability. The book proceeds to explain how teaching is like any other skill and can be improved. Our students need to understand that not only is teaching them a skill, taking our exams and demonstrating legal analysis is a skill to hone as well.
Most of us talk ad nauseam about growth mindset to our students, and many of them understand the basic idea. They can logically understand throwing a baseball can be improved and working out builds muscles. However, too many students forget that logic when thinking about cognition and her/his law school experience. I hear students say “I am just a bad test taker” or “I can’t do multiple choice questions” every week. Law school grade curves perpetuate this internal dialogue, and unfortunately, we don’t get to help as many students because of these thoughts. Our communication with students needs to bridge the gap and help students understand cognition and legal analysis is a skill.
One of the steps from ASPers is to communicate previous success stories. We can illustrate improvement with before and after practice problems where a student took a test, received feedback, and improved with the next practice problem. Personalized stories either from us or former students can help stimulate growth. We don’t want to promise results, but hearing about other students overcoming a bad exam or LSAT can plant the seed that improvement is possible.
For students, you all should start treating legal analysis and cognition as a lump of clay. Left alone, the clay will stay the same shape and end up less useful than if molded. Molding clay into a pot takes time, effort, and precision. Every touch impacts the whole pot. Practice problems with feedback produce the same effects. Timing a question, spotting issues, writing the answer, and seeking feedback will not only help learn the law but also determine where to improve. Your legal analysis shape changes a little. More practice with feedback molds legal analysis even more and starts to produce the desired pot.
Legal analysis develops every day from now until retirement. Every brief, motion, or argument changes the advocate’s skill. Don’t let your legal analysis clay stay stagnate during a semester. Start now writing out at least 1 essay answer each week. Seek feedback to mold your skill, and then, take another question. Issue spot and outline a couple more essays in each subject. With approximately 8 weeks left for most students, practice now can have remarkable impacts on exam performance.
Nothing in the law is static, including our legal analysis skills. All of us in ASP should continually communicate how improvement is possible, and students need to start molding their professional skills now with practice and feedback.