Law Student Learning Gains Produced by a Writing Assignment and Instructor Feedback
David J. Herring
North Carolina State University - College of Engineering; University of Pittsburgh - Learning Research and Development Center & Intelligent Systems
June 14, 2012
Legal Writing, Vol. 19, 2014
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-16
A line of previous studies indicate that, while the traditional case-dialogue method of law teaching does not diminish students’ skill of legal reasoning, it fails to produce any significant learning gains. The study reported in this paper examines the impact of introducing to a traditional law school course a short writing exercise accompanied by formative feedback from the instructor. The study involved 82 students from a single section of the first-semester Legal Process (Civil Procedure I) course. All students completed a pre-test, mid-test, and post-test. Each test used multiple choice questions designed to assess students’ legal reading and cross-case reasoning skills. Half of the class (Group 1) completed the writing exercise before the mid-test and while they were in the midst of the personal jurisdiction unit which was the subject of the assignment. The other half of the class (Group 2) completed the writing exercise after the mid-test and prior to the post-test, two weeks following the completion of the personal jurisdiction unit.
The study results indicate that both Group 1 and Group 2 achieved some significant learning gains. This finding supplements the findings of previous studies that indicate that no significant learning gains result when the traditional teaching method is used exclusively. It is noteworthy that Group 1 achieved significantly greater learning gains than Group 2, indicating that a writing exercise completed in the midst of a unit of study is more beneficial than an exercise completed following the completion of a unit of study. This finding held true across the entire span of the study. Thus, students in Group 2 failed to catch up to students in Group 1 even after completing the writing exercise. In addition, LSAT scores failed to predict the learning gains for Group 1, while these aptitude scores did predict gains for Group 2. Thus, low LSAT students in Group 1 benefited as much as high LSAT students in Group 1, while this was not true for students in Group 2.
In summary, this study indicates that the introduction of a modest educational intervention (i.e., a short writing assignment accompanied by formative feedback) within the context of a traditional law course produces greater learning gains than those produced by the traditional teaching method alone. This was especially true for students who completed the writing exercise while they were in the midst of struggling with the relevant substantive law material.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 24
Keywords: legal education, educational assessment, student learning outcomes, teaching, teaching outcomes, law students, case-dialog, legal education reform, legal education innovation, traditional teaching methods, legal writing skills
JEL Classification: K19, I21
Date posted: June 17, 2012 ; Last revised: March 20, 2015