Wednesday, December 23, 2015
I have emphasized several times on this blog that for legal education to change we need to produce casebooks that better educate our students by following the latest research in how learning works. Professor Carol L. Chomsky has written an important article on this subject.
"Contracts teachers have long relied on the casebooks they adopt to help them build and shape both the content and the pedagogy of their contracts classes. The Knapp, Crystal, & Prince casebook has been particularly noteworthy in this regard, helping generations of new and experienced law teachers learn and explore contracts doctrine under the guidance of Chuck Knapp and his co-authors. As casebook authors take seriously the forces and trends in academic publishing, the casebooks are bound to change in significant ways, leading to innovation and even transformation of the course itself. Driving the change are at least six developments and concerns: (1) recognition that the course must include more attention to the concepts and skills that matter to practicing lawyers; (2) new accreditation standards that require identification of learning outcomes expected from our courses; (3) the need (if not yet the reality) to have the bar exam be focused less on knowledge and more on skills; (4) perhaps most importantly, increasing knowledge about what good learning practice requires in the classroom; (5) availability of new technologies to deliver more dynamic content; and (6) changing demands from publishers and students, partly as a result of the other forces mentioned. Our teaching is already adapting to the new law school environment, and visionary casebooks, in contracts as elsewhere in the curriculum, can and should lead the way."
Professor Chomsky has summarized the principles of effective learning:
1. Learning is deeper and more durable when it is effortful and when it is active.
2. Students learn better when new facts and concepts are connected to what they already know and experience.
3. To learn effectively, students need to identify what they do not yet know or have not yet mastered.
4. Testing helps students learn because it interrupts forgetting. It forces information retrieval, which results in more durable memory. Repeated testing reinforces learning, especially if time elapses between learning and testing, and between first testing and later testing, so that retrieval is from long-term rather than short-term memory.
5. Students learn better if multiple topics are interwoven in presentation, and students retain more of their learning if they “jump around” through multiple concepts as they practice or apply their knowledge.
6. The kind of retrieval practice that proves most effective is one that reflects what you’ll be doing with the knowledge later.
7. Self-reflection—after attempting to solve a problem, considering what went right, what went wrong, and what to do differently next time—is a form of information retrieval that reinforces learning the facts and concepts, in addition to helping develop analytical skill.
8. Students learn better by trying to solve a problem before knowing the solution and then filling in the knowledge necessary to solve it.
9. Students learn better when both visual and verbal channels are accessed together.
10. Reading anything, and particularly reading legal materials (cases, statutes, Restatements, and contract documents), is a skill that can be taught through attention to and articulation of the often unspoken methods experts use to read.
11. Students need to progress through increasingly demanding and complex stages of learning, often described by reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which specifies that mastery of a subject requires accessible knowledge, comprehension, and the ability to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.
12. And, finally, students need to understand these principles and research results so that they will appreciate what is asked of them and approach their own studying in a way designed to produce effective results.