Bringing Real-Life into the Classroom

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By Sandra Simpson from Gonzaga University School of Law

Bringing real-life experiences into the classroom is a powerful technique to enhance student learning, involvement, and retention of knowledge. These real life experiences, which we share with our students, allow the students to think about the abstract concepts they are learning in deeper more meaningful ways. There are many ways to bring real-life into the classroom including: photos, field trips, guest speakers, videos (my students love YouTube), news events, and personal legal experiences.

Occasionally, real-life presents itself when we least expect it; having the flexibility as a teacher to seize those opportunities and incorporate those opportunities into teachable moments or projects is key to helping our students develop into thoughtful lawyers. Recently, I was faced with just such an opportunity when I was asked to help a person with her end-of-life documents. Concurrent to this request, I was teaching a two credit course on contract drafting. So as my students were focusing on and experiencing frustrations with drafting for their client’s objectives, drafting for clarity, drafting for simplicity, etc., I was also drafting a document and facing similar hardships and frustrations. We began each class period with a “shake-out” five minutes where I described what was happening with my drafting and the difficulties I was facing, and the students shared their frustrations which were very similar to mine. While I was careful not to breach my client’s confidentiality, I was able to share enough generic details about contract drafting in general to bring real-life and meaning to my students and their work. After they and I finished our drafting assignments, one student said, “I never realized until this semester that our drafted words actually had people behind them.” Another student thanked me for “making it real for them.” Not surprisingly, my students performed exceptionally well on their contracts.

After thinking about this experience, one thing is clear, we can take five minutes to begin each class with something “real” to fully engage our students. This small step will go a long way in enhancing their learning, engaging them in their work, and helping them retain the knowledge they are learning.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning