Teaching in Reverse: A Positive Approach to Analytical Errors in 1L Writing

64 Pages Posted: 24 May 2013

Date Written: May 21, 2013


This article proposes a new approach to managing first-year law students’ analytical errors in legal writing assignments. Rather than viewing errors as pests to be eradicated, we adopt a positive view of error and accept it as essential to the learning process. But viewing error as inevitable is not synonymous with putting ourselves at error’s mercy. Because legal audiences expect upper-division students and law graduates to have achieved some analytical proficiency, legal research and writing (LRW) professors must find ways to embrace error while simultaneously helping students to spot error and to develop strategies for avoiding error in their own writing. Thus, we recommend pedagogies that regard error dualistically – as a necessary growing pain, but also as a potential obstacle to communicating with a legal audience.

We examine existing treatments of analytical error in the LRW field, as well as in the closely related field of composition. We also review cognitive psychology and composition theories that account for novice law students’ most profound thinking challenges. Supplementing this theoretical foundation are the results of our own small-scale error analysis, documenting common errors in objective writing assignments prepared in our first-year legal writing classes. To harness the power of error revealed by our research, we suggest "teaching in reverse": pedagogical strategies that use error as a starting point, then work backwards to investigate thought processes that may have led to the error, helping the writer to make better analytical choices while her writing is still in progress. The ultimate goals are to encourage student writers to spot, name, and correct analytical errors at critical stages of the writing process, and to become more proficient, self-sufficient legal analysts earlier in their law studies.

Keywords: legal writing, pedagogy, composition theory, cognitive psychology, error analysis, transfer of learning, expert learning

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Provenzano, Susan E. and Kagan, Lesley, Teaching in Reverse: A Positive Approach to Analytical Errors in 1L Writing (May 21, 2013). Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2007, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 13-17, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2268735

Susan E. Provenzano (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Lesley Kagan

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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