Friday, August 14, 2015

Reflections On The Similarity Of Teaching Goals In Clinical And Non-Clinical Classes

Over the past few years, I have been thinking a lot about ways that clinical and non-clinical teaching are connected. It started with an assignment I got from the AALS Clinical Section to help with a program for the national meeting on how non-clinical teachers might use and are using clinical methodology in their classes. But whether we can use similar methodologies or whether non-clinicians can borrow some of what clinicians know about teaching in their classes is different from whether we are teaching toward the same goals. Perhaps some of my questions come from my familiarity with the goals clinicians have, which we have been expressing for a long time. Clinicians did not need ABA Standard 302 or 315 to tell us that we should be setting out explicit learning outcomes and provide formative and summative assessments—we have been doing so more explicitly that I am familiar with non-clinical teachers doing the same. We can roll them off—among other goals, I want my students to learn to learn from practice; to learn to understand their clients’ goals and to learn to see and consider the value of their clients’ and their collaborators’ view of the law and facts; to practice intentionally and effectively; and to work as a team with other professionals and with their clients. I have wondered how clinical teaching goals like these mesh with what might be taught in a non-clinical class limited to substantive law, and whether our learning goals are and could be the same.

This fall, I have been given the opportunity to consider this first hand as I cross over for the first time to teaching a non-clinical class in poverty law. It is part of Temple’s curricular requirement that students take a class writing serial short papers, a requirement designed to help students learn to express themselves in writing to legal and non-legal audiences in a concise manner. As such, it is a little “skillsy”. However, it also designed to give students in-depth substantive knowledge on a particular subject matter. I found myself describing the following goals, among others: leaving the class with a working knowledge of the law and how the law connects to other laws; developing critical analysis skills to see issues from many sides and why another might view the law differently; writing effectively; understanding the role of the lawyer not just as an observer of the law but as a player who can identify strategies for change; and understanding the needs of a client group and particularly a legally under-served one. It strikes me that many of these goals are quite similar to ones that I would have for my clinical students.

That some of these goals are similar implies that both clinical teachers and non-clinical ones have things in common and also that it would make sense to think through whether some things can be taught in clinics that have traditionally been taught in non-clinical classes. For example, I teach a community lawyering clinic in which among other things we help people with welfare benefits. Could I teach poverty law through a clinical setting where instead of writing papers, we were working with poverty laws more directly? Couldn’t I achieve the goals of learning substantive law, critical analysis, teaching writing, and considering multiple legal strategies for legal work in my clinic? I think I do! My clinical students would not gain the depth of knowledge that they might by reading legal thinkers in the area and might not get the same breadth of coverage. However, wouldn’t it achieve my course goals?

I would be interested to hear from clinicians who are veteran teachers of non-clinical classes about how they see the goals of the two teaching methods as different.

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