Saturday, September 1, 2012
For the Labor Day weekend, I thought I would post this video of Henry Rollins, an American singer and artist who has continually reinvented himself since he left his job as a manager of a Hagen-Daaz ice cream store in 1981 to become the lead singer in Black Flag.
The point of posting this video is not to glorify Henry Rollins, but to consider, on its own terms, the life narrative of one interesting person. Rollin's formula of "application, discipline, focus, repetition" sounds a lot like deliberate practice. Based on my own research, I have broken this process into two steps:
- Identifying the core elements needed to be become an expert or master in a specific domain -- Jeff Lipshaw was alluding to this in his post on Donald Schon and reflective practice;
- Practicing, through thousands of hours of effort, on elements that one lacks in order to move along the continuum to mastery. Number 2 works best when the person has the benefit of feedback and coaching. Of course, they also have to be willing to do the work.
For an individual, it may not be necessary to formally break down the core elements into specific pieces. Instead, these pieces can be obtained iteratively through trial and error and reflection. I think this is what Rollins has done. It is a formula that works for one highly determined person. But can it be scaled?
As an educator, I am interested in making the components of practice mastery more explicit and transparent--this is step #1 above. To accomplish step #1, we still need to do foundational research that deconstructs the careers of outstanding lawyers into sets of specific skills, abilities, and competencies--i.e., the things to be practiced. (Notice I said "sets" -- outstanding lawyers often master different domains.) At present, the Shultz-Zedeck Effective Lawyering study is the only solid published research that is even adjacent to this topic.
Once these components of effective lawyers are identified--i.e., a law school identifies the skills, abilities and competencies it wants to develop over the course of three years--we move to step #2. This step raises complex questions of order (which competencies first, which come second, etc.) and pedagogy (best and most cost-effective methods) and measurement (how do we know we have made progress?). I think the answers would have to come iteratively, through trial and error.
Any educational institution pursuing this strategy would have to commit itself to studying and continuously improving the educational process. For law schools, this would be new. At the vast majority of law schools, we mostly teach legal knowledge, we don't articulate our intended educational outcomes, we let students pick their courses ala carte with minimal guidance, and we don't engage in serious measurement. But we could. I think this is the next great frontier--an enormous opportunity for any law school willing to think for itself, to experiment and to change. The data needed would come from one's own alumni, ideally supplemented with data sharing within a law school consortium.
[posted by Bill Henderson]