Teaching and Assessing Metacognition in Law School
Journal of Legal Education (Forthcoming)
39 Pages Posted: 13 May 2019 Last revised: 5 Jun 2019
Date Written: April 1, 2019
As law schools in the United States reevaluate the content and teaching methods of legal education, legal educators have begun to rethink not only what to teach, but how to teach it so as to best position students for success in law school, on the bar exam, and in the profession. Law students must also understand themselves as learners and commit to learning about their learning. Metacognitive skills, which involve awareness of one’s learning and the ability to regulate one’s learning, are an essential part of the repertoire of lawyering skills that enhance the learning process for law students and better positions them for practice. This article contributes to growing body of research focused on improving law students’ learning.
The article discusses a mixed methods empirical study of first-year law students to determine whether instruction and prompts to engage in metacognition would influence students’ selection of learning strategies and their ability to regulate their learning during the semester. In addition, it explores the relationship between students’ metacognitive skills and their academic performance. As a corollary, the article assessed the methods for measuring metacognition in the context of a semester-long law school class.
As we discuss, we found a correlation between our quantitative and qualitative methods. In addition, students who demonstrated strong metacognitive skills were more likely to perform well in the class. Moreover, adding instructional intervention throughout the semester prompted students to use more active learning strategies that require them to engage with the material they have learned, such as writing out a sample essay response, talking about it or teaching it to peers, or testing their understanding by responding to questions. However, we did not see significant differences in the metacognitive development of students who received more instructional intervention. Anecdotal evidence shows that students may be more likely to make changes to their strategies when they are prompted to do so in conjunction with feedback from formative assessments. The mixed methods approach provided useful snapshots about student metacognitive knowledge and regulation, but was less effective for assessing changes in metacognitive development over time.
The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the study’s findings for legal education, focusing on teaching and assessing metacognitive skills in law schools, as well as proposed areas for future research on the metacognitive skills of law students.
NOTE: Appendices are available upon email request from the authors.
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