By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law
Many law professors assert that, because they cannot teach every doctrinal rule and case in their fields, they instead seek to produce students who are expert in learning in their fields. In this outstanding article, Anthony Niedwiecki of John Marshall Law School in Chicago explains how law professors can train their students to be expert learners. He argues that practice-ready law school graduates are prepared for lifelong learning, a trait he asserts “goes to the core of what it means to be a lawyer.” The article therefore articulates how law professors can use the formative assessment process to improve the metacognitive skills of law students so they are more successful at transferring their learning to the situations they will encounter in the practice of law.
The article explains the concept of metacognition and its role in preparing students to be self-regulated learners. It discusses the components of metacognition, its role in law school, and the current push to include better metacognitive training in law school. The article then details how formative assessment can be better utilized in improving the metacognitive skills of students. The core of Niedwiecki’s recommendations is altering law schools’ focus from products (exams, memos, briefs, etc.) to process (the metacogniitive processes involved in learning these skills). Niedwiecki argues that formative assessment provides data law professors can use to improve their teaching, and that, by providing optimnal feedback, law professors can “provide an opportunity for the student to engage the professor in a discussion about the learning and the assignment, correct misunderstandings, develop a deeper understanding of the goals of the course and assignment, and provide immediate clarification and help with any difficulties.” Particularly crucial, according to Niedwiecki, is using tools that allow students to engage in self-assessment, which helps students build their metacognitive skills. In particular, he explains how law teachers can use pre- and post-evaluation assessment instruments and portfolios to help their students build these skills.
For law teachers who really do want to produce expert, lifelong learners, this article is a must.