Metaphors for an Integrated Curriculum

Between the Building on Best Practices book project and a new role this year as Chair of Curricular Innovation, I’m pondering what we mean by integrating our curriculum. I’ve been playing with potential metaphors. Permeable box? Didn’t resonate. Suitcase — still playing with that one. Garden — potential but maybe too complicated for everyday conversation.

One that seems to work for many people — my dean loves it! — is a cake metaphor. Two contrasting images this metaphor brings up:

Think of the curriculum as a layer cake:
— in the first year we teach vocabulary, basic concepts, legal analysis and argumentation
— in the second year add in some simulation based skills courses like interviewing and counseling, negotiations, trial advocacy.
— in the third year, add real experiences representing clients, or capstone courses bringing together a range of substantive material, skills and opportunities for professional formation.

Or view it as a marble cake: incorporate each of the different aspects of legal education throughout all three years of the curriculum — building the knowledge foundation, developing a professional identity, learning professional skills, acting in role, including real experiences with clients.

I’m a fan of the marble cake myself. (Or perhaps it’s almond cake with chunks of almond paste & toasted almonds –oh, the perils of blogging while hungry.) If we emphasize only 1 side of becoming a lawyer in the first year — the intellectual, analytical side — we lose, or skew, too many of our students.

I’ve argued for years that “early and often” for clinics and other real experiential opportunities is the best strategy to give students context for their learning to help them understand and remember, maintain their passion (or enthusiasm, if you prefer), and teach lawyering skills. Colleagues such as Russell Engler and Susan Brooks reach similar conclusions.

Whichever approach to curriculum you prefer, does the cake metaphor help you in understanding our choices?

2 Responses

  1. The frosting on the cake — graduates who have the theoretical foundation, the professional identity and the practical skills to competently and zealously represent their clients.

  2. I love the cake, but I have a colleague who loves sports analogies (no gender perspective here! LOL). So…fundamentals, technique, strategies and practice! Thanks for the post, you made me hungry too!

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