Teaching Self Reflection

Self reflection is a valuable skill which should be taught across the law school curriculum.   Engaging in self reflection will serve students’ life long personal and professional development.  While self reflection is perhaps not the first topic that comes to mind when thinking  of a typical law school curriculum,  it may be one of the most important, as self reflection aids learning in all areas.  To reflect, we process information, synthesizing and evaluating data with the hope of translating what we’ve learned about ourselves to contexts beyond the original situation in which we learned.  That is what lawyers do with every new client or situation.   Shouldn’t we teach this important skill alongside others fundamental to lawyering?

Students may not have thought concretely and specifically about their learning processes prior to entering law school. They may view their academic successes and failures as isolated and unrelated events.  However, upon reflection there likely are threads which run through those successes and failures which could prove instrumental to further development.  Law school requires higher order thinking, which may not have been required of students before.  To allow students to develop these abilities, in addition to teaching black letter law, we must also teach students to reflect:  on their work to enhance its meaning and on their experiences to encourage insight and complex learning.

While self reelection might appear to be an inward and solitary process, that is not always true. Reflection can be enhanced by thinking about our learning with others and the classroom is a perfect place to introduce it to students.  In fact, the ABA has opined in relation to revised standard 302(d) that self evaluation may be one of the “[o]ther professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession”. While clinicians have been teaching self evaluation and reflection for some time, it is a skill which can be taught and practiced in any law school classroom.

Some easy ways to introduce self reflection into a class include:

  1.  Ask students to complete a self reflection of the content of their graded work–what did they do well, what do they plan to improve upon, etc.  This helps students to actively internalize their role in the learning process, rather than being passive recipients of grades and information.
  2. Have students reflect on the process of doing the work itself– what came easily, what did they struggle with, and why.  This allows students to become better learners as they implement changes in response to their own observations. This can be done in writing or orally in class if time permits.  If your class is too big to allow every student to share their reflections, have students volunteer or randomly select a sampling of students.  This way students can also appreciate others students’ learning process.
  3. After students receive a graded assignment back and have had time to review it, have students comment on something they have now “learned”, after looking back at their work.  To the extent a common thread appears in the students’ reflections, the teacher can identify topics with which students may have collectively struggled.  The teacher can model self reflection by commenting on how their teaching of those topics could be adapted in the future.  Even better, the teacher should continue to reflect and make appropriate changes as needed.
  4. One of my favorites:   I ask my students to identify questions they wish they had asked me before an assignment was due. This helps students once again recognize that they are not merely passive recipients of information, but rather, that they can and should control the process and seek guidance when appropriate. If they recognize this, it will allow them to ask for help and take charge of their own learning more appropriately in the future.
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3 Responses

  1. Well becoming a lawyer is a very hard job, well as they get aware of different law and how to deal with cops and other stuff, from my experience I was arrested at drunk and drive case and my friend helped me out

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Professor George that we should be teaching students to be self-reflective about their processes. When we are successful in doing that, I believe we simultaneously teach them to be curious and more open-minded. One of my favorite courses to teach puts this skill into the spotlight and is a large part of the students’ summative assessment. The course is popular with the students. They spend the semester learning about persuasion at a cognitive level–aspects of ethos, logos, and pathos. What is priming and why is it persuasive? How does it translate into lawyering? What are the elements of story? How does one build a narrative line, from the way facts are presented to the way rules of law are explained? Why do we take delight when we see or read a literary allusion? What persuasive functions are involved? How does someone effectively manage adverse material? What are the choices and how does one choose? These are the sorts of questions raised in the course.

    Throughout, students are rewriting something they have already completed for a course, externship, or job–redacted as necessary. But it is the self-reflection process that makes this different. in addition to the rewriting, students heavily annotate their persuasion process. They write about why they decided to change in a particular paragraph or section; what technique they used for the revision, along with any counterbalancing considerations; and how those techniques are designed to work. Because there are something like 40 concepts to choose among, and because the annotations also have enough information in them that the students’ future-selves will understand them, the final documents tend to double in size: 1/2 substance and 1/2 annotations. The goal, I tell them, is not just to revise that existing document–although that’s certainly a useful writing sample–but to think about how the student will approach the *next* writing project.

    In the end, the annotations often talk about doing independent research to fill in gaps the students themselves identified in their originals. A few students over the years have added in research about persuasion not discussed in the class. One source for that is the very good Persuasive Litigator blog, http://www.persuasivelitigator.com/

    And studentsg have gone on to use two or three annotations as part of their writing samples. They explain in a cover sheet why they did so, i.e. to highlight that they have a persuasion process to their communications. They typically receive positive responses. Best of all, I have heard feedback that they can no longer write or edit without mentally annotating as they go along. I consider that a success.

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