Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Teaching Corner: Normalizing Struggle
We immprofs necessarily spend a lot of time keeping up with substantive law that is shockingly fluid compared to other fields of study. As my favorite immigration meme of all time bemoans "law changed half an hour ago." So true.
Sometimes, however, we need to step back and think about the "prof" half of our moniker. We don't just need to keep up with the state of immigration. We need to keep up with the state of teaching.
On that front, I heartily recommend an article by Cassie Christopher (TTU) called Normalizing Struggle, 73 Ark. L. Rev. 27 (2020), which I just had occasion to re-read. Cassie's central thesis is this:
Legal educators need to acknowledge that students struggle, to expect it, and to convey to students that their struggle is normal. In fact, it’s productive— learning is hard, and lawyers learn and struggle throughout their careers.
Her paper is well organized and thorough. Here's the preview:
Part I analyzes the ways in which traditional legal education disapproves of student struggle and conflates struggle with failure. This marginalizes and alienates students who don’t succeed on the first try, an unnecessary overreaction. Part II discusses the pervasiveness of struggle among law students. Part III is for law students; it seeks to reframe struggle generally as not only normal but productive, and it demonstrates the effectiveness of study strategies that encourage struggle. Part IV is for the individual law professor. This section reviews the literature on current legal pedagogy and illustrates how the best practices for a law professor include creating opportunities for students to struggle with material. Part V makes broader recommendations as to how law schools can normalize struggle, treating it as an ordinary and expected part of learning to be a lawyer.