Leading the Horse to Water Without Teaching It How to Drink: Giving 21st Century Law Students the Tools to Receive and Implement Feedback
Posted: 9 Jun 2017
Date Written: June 1, 2017
In recent years, much of the focus in legal education has been on assessment - measuring student learning outcomes through a variety of tools designed, in part, to assure that students can gauge what skills and concepts they have (and have not) mastered. This is not a passing trend, as evidenced by the most recent amendments to the ABA Standard 316 mandating the use and reporting of multiple types of assessments by all law schools for all students. Yet, as those of us who teach first-year law students have seen, most students arrive at law school with little-to-no idea of how to receive the results of these assessments, or how to implement those results to improve their learning. In particular, too many students interpret feedback as criticism and evidence of failure, rather than as a necessary and desirable part of the learning process.
The problem is that many of our current students, particularly those coming to law school right from college, have never been taught how to receive and work with feedback - and any feedback that they've gotten in the past has been summative (to measure learning) rather than formative (to achieve learning). Two concepts in cognitive psychology can help: Mindset (Carol Dweck, PhD., et al.) and Grit (Daniel H. Pink, et al.). We need to teach students to approach law school with a growth mindset – viewing intelligence not as a fixed quantity, but as a quality that can be developed and cultivated – and to have the commitment and the determination to succeed in law school and beyond.
This article will address the disconnect between how we in law schools are teaching and how our students are learning, with the goal of leveraging the psychology to propose specific strategies for empowering students to engage with feedback – and with the faculty giving it – to achieve greater success in law school and in their legal careers.
Keywords: Legal Education, Assessment, Cognitive Psychology, Mindset, Grit
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