More on Challenges in Motivating Law Students to Learn

Thanks for your response, Robert.  I definitely agree that the Socratic method and other common teaching practices, such as use of casebooks, can reduce students’ motivation to learn (though some faculty use these methods successfully).  I certainly found them counter-productive when I was a law student.

I taught dispute resolution courses where the reading and class discussion emphasized the practical application of the material.  I didn’t use the Socratic method or assign students to read cases and I still had problems with the motivation of a substantial proportion of my students.  Part of the problem in my courses was that I didn’t call on students to recite cases and I usually didn’t have exams, so some students probably felt that they could “blow off” the reading assignments without jeopardizing their grades.  I generally relied on volunteers to speak in class, though I periodically called on students who didn’t contribute much.

I agree that students merely reading the assignments is not the same as their actual learning the material – but usually it is a pre-condition for learning.  Students who don’t do the reading assignments are less likely to learn as much as those who do the reading.

While the content of my quizzes didn’t fully capture what students needed to perform well in class and written assignments, I chose questions that focused on useful building blocks for what they needed to know.

Your suggestions for how to conduct quizzes make sense to me.  I can also imagine that faculty could design quizzes in other ways to both help motivate students and give formative feedback.

The larger point of my post was to identify problems of (lack of) student motivation to learn and to stimulate thinking about various techniques, not limited to quizzes, to elicit students motivation.  In the first instance, it’s students’ responsibility to be motivated and perform their obligations as students.  No one is holding a gun to their heads to attend law school.  That said, given the current realities of legal education, dealing with lack of motivation by some students is a fact of life for many faculty.

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