Review: Increasing Retention and Improving Performance

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

Vernellia R. Randall, Increasing Retention and Improving Performance: Practical Advice on Using Cooperative Learning in Law Schools, 16 Thomas M. Cooley Law Review 201 (1999) [Read fulltext (4.6 MB PDF)] (Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Thomas M. Cooley Law Review, © 1999; reprint courtesy

Professor Randall provides a thorough introduction to the whys and hows of cooperative (small group) learning in law school. She reviews the extensive literature (over 700 studies) that establishes the benefits of cooperative learning, including student mastery of complex concepts, development of problem solving and thinking skills, positive attitudes toward the subject, closer relationships among students, and respect for diversity.

Professor Randall articulates seven elements for the design of effective cooperative learning activities and applies them to legal education:

1. Instructional objectives – the teacher clearly articulates the objectives (which could include knowledge, attitudes, and skills) of the activity.
2. Set up groups – the teacher decides group size, membership (heterogeneous or homogeneous), and the method for selecting members.
3. Positive interdependence – each student feels part of a team, responsible not only for her own learning, but for the learning of other group members as well.
4. Promotive interaction – students engage in face-to-face interaction to explore issues and to work toward achievement of instructional goals.
5. Individual accountability – each student is accountable for contributing a fair share to the group’s success.
6. Group social skills – students get to know one another, communicate accurately, support one another, and resolve conflicts constructively.
7. Group processing – students reflect on group processing and give one another feedback on individual and group effectiveness.

Professor Randall’s article is an excellent resource for law teachers new to cooperative learning and those who want a refresher to improve their students learning via small group methods.

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