As the academic semester begins, law students enter the classroom with sharpened pencils and charged laptops. Law professors enter the classroom with prepared notes and tabbed casebooks. But how will law professors ensure that the learning of each individual student is supported? Students do not take one path to law school. From English majors to engineering majors, students enter law school immediately upon graduating from college or years after graduation with various professional experiences. Despite criticism that legal education is resistant to change and over-relies on the Socratic Method, law school educators know that learning is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Yet, law school educators need to do more to respond to the needs of all learners. Adapting to the needs of student learners while adequately preparing them for the challenges of the bar exam, and the demands of practice, may seem impossible. This Article shares a theoretical framework built from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and educational theories that legal educators can use. That theoretical framework, commonly referred to as an instructional strategy, is differentiated instruction.
This Article first describes differentiated instruction, which originated in K-12 education and has now been translated into higher education. Second, this Article explores the value that differentiated instruction would add to the law school classroom. Third, this Article situates differentiated instruction within the context of popular teaching and learning theories to share how differentiated instruction is compatible with what law professors do now and how some modifications in current methods can amplify the learning process. Finally, this Article applies differentiated instruction in the law school classroom by presenting concrete examples that translate differentiated instruction to the law school classroom.
This Article presents a series of modifications to commonly used law school instructional strategies to enhance the ability of the professor to respond to the needs of learners. In addition, this Article presents a series of more innovative instructional strategies that use student choice to leverage learning potential and achievement. Law students have a range of experiences, preparations, and interests. As this Article demonstrates, differentiated instruction is a framework that allows law school educators to adapt and respond to the needs of all learners rather than forcing square pegs into round holes.
Karen J. Sneddon, Square Pegs and Round Holes: Differentiated Instruction and the Law Classroom, 48 Mitchell Hamline L. Rev. 1095 (2022).