Skip to main content

Four Aspects of Effectual Teaching (& Why Instructional Design Is the One Missing In Many Law Courses)

There are four general components of teaching, which all must come together for a teacher to be successful:
  1. Knowledge of the Subject Matter: Most instructors in higher education have this covered. The largest potential hurdle of this aspect of teaching is perhaps remembering to view the material from the perspective of the beginner learner, as opposed to from the teacher's own advanced learner status. In my first year of teaching, I found this to be an issue, as I jumped over steps that were so obvious to me that I didn't even notice them anymore. It was only by students asking questions that illustrated I was missing an important step in their comprehension and by watching the legal writing professor I co-taught with that I began to break down my material into pieces that were more digestible for my students.

  2. Interaction with Students: Instructor-student interaction can take a myriad of forms. As L. Dee Fink writes in Creating Significant Learning Experiences,

    "Teacher-student interactions is an umbrella term that refers to all different ways teachers interact with their students: lecturing, leading class discussions, meeting with individual students during office hours, communicating by e-mail, and so on. This aspect of teaching . . . is a skill that runs the full spectrum from poor to excellent. Some faculty members have a personality and a set of social skills that make it easy for them to interact naturally with students in a way that enhances learning. Others need to learn how to be more dynamic, establish better credibility, and otherwise relate better with their students."[1]

    Generally speaking, however, if instructors practice fairness, respect, charity, and civility in their classrooms and take their students seriously, students are likely to view them favorably--regardless of their ability to be "entertaining."

  3. Managing the Course: Instructors must be organized in their presentation of course material. This includes things like distributing assignments on schedule, returning feedback on assessments in a timely manner, and demonstrating that they are prepared for class. This is not a major issue for most instructors in higher education, but when it's a problem, it can damage an instructor's credibility.

  4. Instructional Design: Most faculty members follow the example of their academic discipline in how to teach. Unfortunately, many of these methods not align with pedagogical best practices.  As Fink notes,

    "Design of instruction, in contrast to interacting with students, is a skill which few college-level teachers have extensive training. Some have been fortunate enough to learn about the design of learning experiences because they went through teacher training as an undergraduate, had a course on this subject as a graduate students, or have participated in an in-service faculty development program on instructional design. But most faculty members simply follow the traditional ways of teaching in their discipline. They lack the conceptual tools they need to significantly rethink and reconstruct the set of teaching and learning activities they use."[2]

    Neither my undergraduate degrees in history and philosophy, nor my graduate programs in library science and law, included any course work in instructional design--and this seems to be true of most law faculty I have encountered. While we're experts in our fields of expertise, we are not experts in how to teach effectively unless we work at it. As such, it is important that our institutions provide training in pedagogical best practices--or that we seek other opportunities to train ourselves, whether at our own universities, at conferences, or by reading on the subjects of instructional design and educational theory. It is clear that lecture is not the best means by which students learn and having other teaching tools in mind when we design our courses is critical to maximize student learning in law school.

    While many law librarians do incorporate exercises ("active learning") into our research courses, lecture is still a significant component in many of our classes. Exploring resources on instructional design might be one way to develop ideas on how to better engage our students.


[1] L. Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Revised and Updated: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses 26 (2013).

[2] Id. at 27.

Popular posts from this blog

Making "Thinking Time" for Curricular Development

In academia, we often hear faculty discuss the need to find time to write.  I've recently been reading Helen Sword's Air & Light & Time & Space, in which she discusses the need for those very things in writing.  In the first chapter, she notes, "[A]cademics talk constantly about making time, finding time, carving out time to write. We fantasize about having more of it, and we bemoan our chronic lack of it."[1] 

I find the same is true for developing and assessing curricular programming. As librarians, true public servants, our profession is rooted in our service to others. Even if we are not scheduled for the reference desk or to attend a meeting, our "availability" is our calling card and in some cases our badge of honor.  It's expected that we will stop what we're doing should a patron come to our door or call on the phone.

The problem is that without free time to think, to think uninterrupted, we cannot innovate.  We keep with the sta…

Revamping the Lecture

Lecturing has a bad name in today's world of experiential learning, but it's an often necessary component to legal research classes as students have to have some bibliographic information before we jump into the databases. As I conclude one semester and begin prepping for the next, I've been doing a lot of reading on how I can make my lectures more effective and engaging learning experiences for my students.

As Todd Zakrajsek notes in his 2017 Teaching in Higher Ed podcast on Dynamic Lecturing, "You can't just take bad examples of something and claim that the whole concept is bad." Instead, we should focus on what makes a lecture compelling for our students in our course planning and evaluate our lectures after our classes for their efficacy, reflecting on what worked well and what didn't.

So how can we make the most of our lectures?  Here's a few ideas I've come across:
Make your objectives clear to your students. Don't hide the ball--let you…

Battling Law Students' Fixed Mindset

Many students show up to law school with fixed mindsets--the belief that each person is born with a particular intellectual ability and that they there is little to nothing one can do to surpass that innate intellectual level.  A large proportion of law students were classified as smart early on in their learning experiences and have been academically successful their entire educational careers.  Many faculty members had a similar experience as they advanced from primary school to secondary school to undergrad and finally to law school--where most continued to succeed academically.

For some law students, however, law school is the first time in their lives that they have struggled to succeed immediately.  This can have a disastrous result, because those with fixed mindsets have a tendency to equate mistakes with failure.  These students then have a tendency to avoid challenging themselves, to ignore constructive criticism, and to give up or not try.[1]  In their minds, they are just n…

Embracing Learner-Centered Pedagogy

Most educators pride themselves on putting our students first and try to make teaching decisions with our students' best interests in mind. But, what does learner-centered teaching really mean?

In their 2017 book, Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice, Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook set out to answer this question--and how it can be applied to teaching in a librarianship context. When asked to articulate what having a learner-centered approach means, most point to individual exercises or classroom techniques they employ or try to avoid, but are unable to describe the philosophy as a larger concept.

Ultimately, Klipfel and Cook's definition of learner-centered pedagogy is "who we are as people matters."[1] They explain it in further detail as: "Our conception of learner-centered pedagogy encourages library educators to encounter the learner as an individual with personal interests, preferences, and motivations, and uniquely human set of …

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 …