Review: Teaching That Emphasizes Active Engagement

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By Rory Bahadur from Washburn University

Peter Lorain, Teaching That Emphasizes Active Engagement: Improving Learning for Middle School Students (+ bonus article), National Education Association website [Read fulltext of Lorain article]

Two excerpts found on the National Education Association’s website may be short but they offer very useful insights to law teachers.

“Teaching that Emphasizes Active Engagement: Improving Learning for Middle School Students” can be found at

This short article reminds us that classroom presentation is only one aspect of effective teaching. To teach effectively, you must do the following:

  1. Prepare effectively including:
    1. Thoroughly learn/understand the curriculum.
    2. Identify teaching objectives and strategies that engage students and build understanding.
    3. Ask yourself these planning questions:
      1. What is the goal?
      2. What order does the teaching need to follow?
  • What do the students already know?
  1. What do you want them to learn?
  1. Prepare the lecture or instruction of the concepts and skills, based on your goals.
  2. Construct processing/learning activities that match the concepts, skills, and goals.
  1. Make Effective use of classroom time which includes:
    • . More than lecturing; and
  1. Designing classroom presentations in a way that “help[s] students draw on their experiences to build a scaffold on which they can hang new ideas.”
  1. Engage in Processing Activities that “cause students to pose questions, manipulate information, and relate the new learning to what they already know.”

“12 Principles for Brain-Based Learning” is also available on the NEA website at

This article lays out twelve principles for effective teaching based on neuroscientific research. The similarity between these principles and the recommendations made by the Carnegie and Best Practices reports is worth examining. For example the article and the reports both imply, “Any complex subject is given meaning when embedded in real experience” and “Effective education must give learners an opportunity to formulate their own patterns of understanding. That means learners need a chance to put skills and ideas together in their own way.” In other words the article provides neuroscientific support for many of the recommendations of the Carnegie and Best Practices reports.

These two articles should at least give us pause before we conveniently dismiss learning theory which also strongly and inconveniently suggests that, as law professors, we need to do more work to be effective teachers.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning