Achieving the ABA's Pedagogy Mandate, with a Focus on Assessment

Cara Cunningham Warren, Associate Professor of Legal Writing & Research at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, has written a forthcoming paper titled "Achieving the American Bar Association's Pedagogy Mandate: Empowerment in the Midst of a Perfect Storm." In it, Professor Warren discusses the new ABA standards and the “quantum shift” they mandate in legal education, which essentially moves law schools' focus from what is delivered to students to what students take away from their educational experience.

Professor Warren opines that much of the mandate will fall on the shoulders of professors—after their institutions begin to implement changes—and, therefore, much of the change will be dependent on faculty actions. The ABA's new "outcomes" approach expects professors to create meaningful learning opportunities that effectively teach students both practical skills and doctrinal knowledge. In order to do this, professors will have to come up with new approaches to assessing student learning—something that was recently discussed thoroughly at the 2014 Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Conference, “Accelerating Competency: Assessment in Legal Education.”

Professor Warren suggests professors adopt a teaching effectiveness framework created by experts in education from the National Research Council of the National Academies. The main Principles of the framework include:

  • Focus on Knowledge: Identify what is to be taught, why it is taught, the relationship between the learning goals and teaching methods, and what mastery looks like.
  • Focus on the Learner: Encourage attention to preconceptions and begin instruction with what learners think and know.
  • Focus on Assessment: Provide frequent opportunities to make students' thinking and learning visible guides both for the teacher and for the learner, and promote self- regulation of learning.
  • Focus on Community: Create a classroom environment that encourages questioning, respect, and risk taking.

Riley Combelic is a third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.