Review: Better Thinking

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By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law

Mary Beth Beazley, Better Writing, Better Thinking: Using Legal Writing Pedagogy in the ‘Casebook’ Classroom (without Grading Papers), 10 Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 23 (2004) [Read fulltext at Journal of the LRI website (7.6 MB PDF)]

Mary Beth Beazley’s 2004 article is one of those works that is worth not only an initial read but also a second visit years later. After articulating and explaining the forces that have led legal writing professors to broaden their teaching methods beyond the Socratic focus of the their casebook colleagues, Beazley identifies a series of core principles of legal writing pedagogy that are readily transferable to casebook classrooms, heuristic strategies (techniques that guide students through the process of completing particular skills), modeling, coaching (using hints, feedback and cues when students begin to walk through the process of performing skills), and articulation (meta-writing that reveals the student’s mental process in solving a problem). She then weaves these four teaching principles together in showing how legal writing teachers use these principles, guided by writing process theory, to teach students legal writing.

These explanations set up Beazley’s carefully constructed argument for bringing legal writing principles into casebook classrooms. She begins this part of her argument by debunking the reasons some law teachers might assert as grounds for rejecting legal writing methodology: Law professors do grade writing because writing reflects thinking; hiding the ball is not essential to the curve or, much less, to legal education; and the fact that lawyers often work on their own does not justify law teachers in leaving novices, their students, to learn on their own.

The rest of her paper is even more valuable than the parts that preceded it. Beazley provides a series of concrete ideas, drawn from legal writing pedagogy, that can improve learning in casebook classrooms. First, just as they label the parts of case briefs, casebook faculty can label analytical steps so that students see the process of legal reasoning more clearly. Second, casebook faculty should articulate exam criteria, i.e., rubrics, to help their students understand what they need to be doing to do well on exams. The article concludes with three additional suggestions, each of which is worth its weight in gold. But you will have to read the article to discover those insights yourself.

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