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Reflection in the Legal Research Classroom

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning.  We see in ABA Standard 303 that experiential courses must include multiple opportunities for self-evaluation.  Self-evaluation is critically important to legal research.  Students must reflect on and assess their research methodology each time they research to continue becoming more efficient legal researchers and to determine what research strategies work best in which situations. [1]

Reflection relates to several ideas found in cognitive theory that have been shown to result in stronger learning and retention:

Retrieval: recalling recently-learned information; Elaboration: finding a nexis between what you know and what you are learning; and Generation: putting concepts into your own words and/or contemplating what you might do differently next time. I've been contemplating how to better incorporate reflection into legal research classes. At the beginning of this semester, at the recommendation of a workshop I attended …
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Changing the Narrative About Legal Research

I attended an interesting talk by a colleague and friend recently that has me thinking about re-writing narratives. Specifically, I've been considering how to re-write the narrative about the importance of legal research in legal education.

Legal research instruction has long taken a back seat in the legal academy.  It's even been described as the "stepchild in legal education."[1] As a skills course, it's traditionally been considered of less import than doctrinal courses, though thankfully this seems to be improving. Even within the first years skill course, the dedicated time for students to learn legal research, research often takes a backseat in time and emphasis to legal writing and oral arguments, despite being the foundation needed to be successful at both. This happens despite those hiring new attorneys commenting regularly about their discontent with students' research skills.

It's unlikely in most cases that more time is going to be formally al…

The Effect of Personalization on Student Learning

A group of ten separate studies illustrated that conversational cues can have a deep impact on student learning, particularly for deep learning that allows students to transfer their learning to new situations.[1]Students presented with information in a less formal and more personal manner performed significantly better on problem-solving tests than students hearing identical information presented in a more formal manner.[2]
In her article, Legal Education in the Age of Cognitive Science and Advanced Classroom Technology, Deborah Merritt provides three reasons why personalization deepens learning:
“First, encouraging listeners to think of themselves as a reference point may enhance their interest in the subject, which produced more active cognitive processing. Second, personalizing information may help listeners relate new data to existing mental schema; extending mental frameworks in this manner encourages deeper learning. Finally, listeners may respond to the social cues of convers…

Desirable Difficulties in Legal Research Instruction

Challenges that result in stronger long-term learning are known as "desirable difficulties." Studies in how the brain works provide solid evidence that struggles in learning can actually be beneficial to the learner.

So how does the brain work? Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown et al., gives a concise version, explaining that first the brain undergoes encoding to create memory traces, "converting sensory perceptions into meaningful representations in the brain."[1] Next comes consolidation, during which the brain has to solidify these not fully-formed memory traces; this involves "deep processing of the new materials, during which scientists believe the brain replays or rehearses the learning, giving it meaning, filling in blank spots, and making connections to past experiences," which helps learners to organize and strengthen their learning.[2] 

When you allow space out your learning, as opposed to practicing something y…

Spaced Repetition & Interleaved Practice in Legal Research Instruction

Researchers refer to single-minded practice as "massed practice." This concentrated practice is thought to embed skills into memory. Unfortunately, while many students and teachers believe this to be the best way to learn, research doesn't support that idea. The problem with massed practice is that it is often accompanied by quick forgetting. Practice is important, but it is considerably more effective when it's spaced out--there's better retention and mastery.

It can be tough to convince our students of the benefits of spaced repetition. As Brown et al. point out in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning:

 "[T]hese benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort. You feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces. Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and you don't get the rapid improvements and affirmations you're accustomed to seeing from massed practi…