Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scholarship alert: "Moving from First to Final Draft: Offering Autonomy-Supportive Choices to Motivate Students to Internalize the Writing Process"

This one showed up in the 'ol scholarship dude's mailbox this a.m. so I wanted to pass it along to all of you.  The article is by Professor Carol Wallinger of Rutgers-Camden and can found at 54 Loy. L. Rev. 820 (2008).  From the introduction:

This Article discusses a year-long project I conducted during the 2006-2007 school year of nineteen first-year law students. New empirical research shows that law students who perceived more "autonomy support" from their faculty fared better psychologically while in law school and scored better on the Multistate Bar Exam after law school. The purpose of this project was to observe and document students' responses to two autonomy-supportive curricular choices, provided as part of their Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (LAWR) class.

Autonomy support theory is one of many tools available when applying the self-determination theory of human motivation.  Self-determination theory proposes that all humans have universal needs for feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with other humans. When any of these needs are unmet, motivation suffers. Law students have been shown to suffer extreme declines in their motivation during their first    year, even though they start law school highly motivated.  My personal experience showed that first-year law students often submitted LAWR final drafts reflecting their failure to complete the writing process, despite appearing highly motivated to do so at the beginning of each semester.

I wondered what caused students to hand in incomplete, unpolished drafts, especially after repeatedly emphasizing in class that their grades would be determined by how well they moved their drafts through the writing process. Was it simply that some students procrastinated or underestimated the amount of work involved in the project, then fell behind, and failed to catch up? Or had law school in general, or possibly some teaching method or LAWR course-design issue in particular, affected their motivation?

Research on human motivation led me to the rich psychological theory of self-determination and to Sheldon and Krieger's research about the positive effects of providing law students with autonomy support. However, that research reported only that students felt more autonomy support from the faculty; it did not provide specific examples of autonomy supportive teaching techniques that faculty can implement. Therefore, in this project, I took the next step by designing and offering the students two choices I hoped they would find to be autonomy-supportive. First, I offered them three to five thirty-minute conferences immediately before their final graded drafts were due. Second, I offered them the opportunity to submit the final draft for a provisional grade, if it was completed before the due  date. I also collected some pre-law school data about them, as well as documenting their choices and grades in my class.

This Article has three parts. Part II explains autonomy support and the self-determination theory of human motivation in detail and discusses the studies which have applied the theory to law students. Part III analyzes the results of the project and discusses the implications for LAWR teaching as well as directions for future research. Part IV, the Appendix, describes the project's design and procedures in detail.

I am the scholarship dude.



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