Sunday, July 29, 2018

Critical Reading

Summer is my opportunity to go back to books I have quickly perused on arrival from the publisher and take a more in-depth look. I attended an excellent session at AASE that was presented by Jane Bloom Grise (my apologies, but I cannot figure out how to get TypePad to do an accent over the "e" in Grise). So, I decided to pick up Jane's book Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond (West Academic Publishing, 2017) for another look.

One of the strengths of the book is that it explains not only the "what" of reading strategies, but also the "why" of reading strategies. Too often new law students will focus on what they think is wanted (a case brief) without understanding why lawyers read cases, why the sections of a case brief are there, , why cases need to be synthesized, etc. This book explains court structure, parts of a brief, the basics of civil and criminal procedure, and more to give the students greater context to the importance of their reading.

Another strength is that the book compares expert legal readers to novice legal readers, top students to struggling students, and proficient competency to developing competency. The comparisons help to illustrate for student readers where they fall on these continua.

I was pleased to see that the book looks at critical reading of statutes as well as of cases. (So often statutes are left out of skills volumes as though they are afterthoughts or not needed until upper-division courses. However, statutes have been embedded in first-year courses for years and deserve coverage in books aimed at new law students.) 

The book has a number of features that make it user-friendly for law students:

  1. It breaks down reading into before, during and after stages rather than lumping critical reading into one overwhelming process.
  2. It breaks down reading strategies for each stage into smaller steps, so that the reader can build incremental understanding and application.
  3. It includes a number of textboxes and tables to summarize the strategies visually.
  4. It provides exercises throughout the chapters for the student to complete (with answers at the end of the book).
  5. It includes an appendix of cases often seen in 1L year for use throughout the book as examples and exercises.

Notice that the title includes success beyond law school. If a law student uses these strategies to become an expert legal reader now, future practice will only enrich the skill. (Amy Jarmon)

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