Monday, September 21, 2020

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Article Index

INTRODUCTION

It is often said that many individuals, having been high achievers before entering law school, are surprised and dismayed when they receive Cs in law school. That was neither my experience nor my expectation. I fully expected to graduate in the bottom half of my class. I expected to work extraordinarily hard. Yet, I also had confidence that I could accomplish my goal of avoiding probation and possibly dismissal. My experiences taught me that it was not only what you knew that was important to succeeding in most educational environments, but understanding that a pedagogical and political nature is essential. I also learned that the ability to express what you knew in a manner acceptable to the instructor was important.

Entering law school with these goals, I was both surprised at my success and dismayed at the general incompetency of the legal education system. Law school became a source of inspiration and frustration. I was inspired because my prior years of experience and skill building helped to make me successful. I was frustrated because of the confusing, humiliating, and demoralizing effect that traditional legal pedagogy had on students.

Although I enjoyed my success, I was disheartened by the implied notion embodied in traditional legal pedagogy. Namely, that only those individuals who have an extremely high level of the requisite skills upon entering law school can succeed in law school and will become good lawyers. Legal education's failure to teach skills to varying levels of entering abilities displayed this attitude. Traditional legal pedagogy fails to clearly identify for students what a student needs to know and be able to do to succeed in law school. Moreover, traditional legal pedagogy fails to teach clearly and precisely the thinking skills embodied in the phrase thinking like a lawyer. Traditional legal pedagogy fails to provide adequate opportunities for students to learn or improve their skills through practice and critique.

Thus, success in law school is dependent not only upon the quality of the educational system and the efforts of the students, but also upon students entering with sufficiently high levels of the requisite skills so that the legal educational system's failures minimally affect their success. Many students who fail in law school do so because legal education, through its failure, does not attempt to educate as much as it attempts to weed out students and to rank the students who remain. Thus, the problem of an educationally unsound legal pedagogy leads many students to failure (or poor performance) where failure (or poor performance) may have been avoidable.

Intuitively, if not consciously, recognition of this dilemma causes many first year law students to become overwhelmed by a fear of failure. The initial fear intensifies as the semester progresses until some students become paralyzed by failure anxiety. Failure anxiety is the condition represented by the following statement: I am so concerned about failing my examination that I am unable to study. The causes of failure anxiety can be traced to four factors: (1) high expectations, (2) the method of law school instruction, (3) the subject matter and method of study, and (4) the importance of first semester grades.

First, many students who enter law schools have done well academically in the past and have high expectations of how they will do in law school. When such students perceive themselves as being in the middle of the class, because they received only Cs, they consider themselves failures.

Second, the student must adjust to a method of instruction that provides very little feedback or opportunity to practice developing skills. The so-called Socratic method results in many law professors making few evaluative comments about a student's classroom performance. Thus, typical first year classes provide little, if any, opportunity for feedback of written analytical skills such as issue-spotting, analysis, and writing. As a result, many law students enter their exams not having had any feedback on the skills needed to do well. In fact, most students will go through the entire semester not knowing how effective their method of study was and having even less information on how to improve their method of study.

Third, most first-year law students do not know how to study successfully. In part, this is due to the significant change in teaching methods and expectations between college and law school -- a change that is more significant than the one between high school and college.

The first semester in law school is like the first semester in college. You don't know what the hell you are doing, with the exception that you don't have any interim exams [in law school] to help you out. I suppose I betray something when I say I don't know how much I should study. I don't know how much we have to know, in what depth we have to go, what analysis we'll have to do, and how much of an acquaintance we have to have with certain points.

Finally, while one bad semester does not drastically influence an undergraduate's entire educational career, it can in law school. For instance, students who get poor first semester grades may not be able to recover sufficiently to be chosen for law review, moot court, judicial clerkships or prestigious summer job interviews. Given the lack of evaluative feedback, a student's generally poor study habits, and grading curves, it is a rare student who can offset a poor first semester.

Nevertheless, student anxiety can be lessened with improved legal instruction and with a legal pedagogy that is consistent with the principles of learning. Such a pedagogy includes understanding how students learn and helping students to develop strategies for learning that are consistent with their learning styles.

Legal education prides itself in being an educational system that demands that its students be self-motivated learners. The student with poor study skills will not perform well. The student who has a poor understanding of how to achieve academic success will not do well. Yet, law schools do very little to assure that their students understand what it means to be a self-motivated learner or to possess the necessary study skills. I am convinced that this failure is because legal education actually knows very little about self-motivated learning or learning styles. There have been only a few articles written in the last ten years on how law students learn or learning style theory in legal education. The only study published on law students' learning styles utilizing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is almost thirty years old. As far as I can determine, no legal article has discussed improving students' performance by incorporating an understanding of the different learning styles of students into the development of teaching methods. Furthermore, despite changing demographics that have resulted in a more diverse student population, only one article addresses differences in learning styles of law students in the context of the issue of diversity. Because performance in law school is so important, this lack of self-study is a major deficiency.

This study was done to explore the relationship between learning style and performance. In particular, its purpose was to discern the MBTI for first year law students and to describe the relationship between the MBTI and performance.

A. Learning Style

Some researchers believe that learning is the most important concept to demand attention in education in many years . . . , others have called it the foundation of a truly modern education. The phrase learning style first came into use when researchers began to search for specific strategies for matching course presentation and materials to students' needs.

Learning style is a student's way of responding to, and using, stimuli in the context of learning. It refers to a person's characteristic style of acquiring and using information in learning and solving problems. Using the layers of an onion as a metaphor for the different levels of a person's learning style, the core of a learning style is a person's basic characteristics of personality. Personality models of learning styles deal with the basic characteristics that a person brings to the learning situation. Personality characteristics are the most stable and the least subject to change in response to intervention by a researcher or instructor. Personality models include: (1) field dependence and independence; (2) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; (3) reflectivity versus impulsivity models; (4) Omnibus Personality Inventory; and (5) The Holland Typology of Personality.

The second layer of the learning style onion is the person's information processing style. Information processing models of learning styles deals with how people take in and process information. Information processing models include: (1) comprehensive learners versus operation learners; (2) conceptual versus factual learner (sequencing of information) models; (3) deep-elaborative versus shallow-reiterative models; (4) Kolb's Model of Experiential Learning; and the (5) Gregorc model.

The third layer of the learning style onion is the person's social interaction styles. Students learn better in settings that meet their social-emotional needs and in social situations that are attuned to their predominant pattern of behavior. Social-interaction models of learning styles include: (1) Mann's Research based on personality clusters; (2) Grasha-Reichman Student Learning Style Scales; (3) Furmann-Jacobs model; and (4) Eison's Learning and Grade orientation.

The final layer of the learning style onion is the person's instructional preference and learning environment. Instructional style models are concerned with students preferences for particular teaching methods. Instructional style models of learning style include: (1) cognitive mapping; and (2) Canfield Learning Style Inventory.

The traits identified by the different learning style measures are not discrete and each level influences the other. Nevertheless, information from learning styles can help faculty become more sensitive to the diversity among students. In particular, this information can help faculty to design a broad range of learning experiences to meet the needs of the varied learning styles of students. Perhaps most importantly, in a self-directed learning situation, learning style information can help a student to become a better student. The more students know about their own styles, the better they can study and thus also increase their chances of succeeding. Learning style information gives students a greater appreciation of their strengths and helps them become more deliberate in their learning. Once law professors and law students understand the student's learning style, they can work together to help the student develop strategies for learning in styles different from their own.

This study used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) primarily because it is a personality model that is less susceptible to changes in the legal education environment. The MBTI has been widely used in over 100 research studies. Researchers have found that, while it is not comprehensive, this model has many strengths that other instruments do not possess. For instance, the MBTI is better normed than most learning style instruments. Furthermore, the MBTI is more sophisticated and complex in that it identifies more approaches to learning.

B. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The MBTI is a validated, reliable inventory that assesses a person's personality type. The MBTI makes the theories of Carl Jung more accessible to people. Jung believed that what seemed to be random behavior is actually predictable based on the differences in how individuals use their perception and judgment. Questions on the MBTI are designed to classify individuals according to four basic preferences: (1) extraversion versus introversion; (2) sensing versus intuitive; (3) thinking versus feeling; and (4) judgment versus perception.

Extraversion (E) versus introversion (I) are two opposite preferences used to describe a person's orientation of energy -- where a person likes to focus his or her attention. Sensing (S) versus intuitive (N) are opposite preferences that describe the perceiving function -- the way in which people prefer to acquire information. They deal with how a person goes about finding out about the world around them. Thinking (T) and feeling (F) are the judging function. These opposite preferences reflect the different means that individuals use to reach conclusions, make decisions, form opinions, and arrive at judgments. Judgment (J) and perception (P) describe a person's orientation to outer life -- the way a person deals with the outer world. Each of the four preference types represent a habitual choice between rival alternatives. A person's preferences affect not only what they perceive, but how they draw conclusions about what they perceive.

There are several uses of learning styles as determined by the MBTI. For instance, the MBTI has been used to predict and develop the different teaching methods and environments best suited to each type. The MBTI can be used to predict the preferred patterns of mental functioning, such as information processing, idea development, and judgment formation. The MBTI can be used to foretell patterns of attitudes and interests that influence an individual's learning situation and to predict a person's disposition to pursue certain learning circumstances and avoid others. In addition, the MBTI can be used to predict a person's nature to use certain learning tools and to avoid others. While the MBTI has been used to predict academic performance, it cannot effectively foretell a student's actual study behavior. Consequently, it cannot be used effectively as either an admission tool or an ultimate tool for predicting the success of particular students.

C. Data Collection

At orientation, all members of the entering first year class of law students were asked to participate. They were asked to complete the MBTI Form G, which has ninety-two self-scoreable items. Each item offers a forced choice between two opposing answers that equate to one of the four opposing preferences. The choices are between every day events and word pairs selected to evoke a choice between the competing preferences. A person's type is based on which pole of the four preferences the person prefers, with the four preferences combining to render sixteen possible types.

The items are weighted 0-2, and scores are given for each pole based on the points totaled from the responses. The result allows a person to determine not only which pole is preferred, but by how much. The level of a person's preference can be slight (1-9), moderate (11-19), clear (21-39), or very clear (41 or higher). For example, a person might score 43 on extravert items and 20 on introvert items. His score would be E 23. The E indicates that he has a preference for extraversion, and the 23 indicates that his preference is clear.

D. Data Interpretation

Throughout this paper, I compare different groups, such as: males v. females, white students v. students of color, and extraverts v. introverts. When comparing groups, the question arises whether the groups really represent populations that are different from each other. It is possible, some may say even probable, that different groups given the same treatment (i.e., extraverted law students versus introverted law students) could make different grades merely by chance. That is, any observed difference could result merely from sampling error. Thus, as a researcher, I wanted to test the null hypothesis that the groups being compared are really only two samples from the same population and any observed difference is due to chance or sampling error. In short, the null hypothesis establishes that the real difference between groups being compared is zero.

So the question becomes: How large does an observed difference have to be before a researcher is justified in rejecting the null hypothesis? I used Tests of Statistical Significance to answer those questions. Significance is designated with the symbol p. Most social scientists treat results with a statistical significance of .05 or less as significant, or meaningful, and treat a statistical significance of .01 as very significant. A statistical significance of .05 means that only five times out of a hundred will the observed result come from chance or some random process. A statistical significance of .01 means that only one time out of a hundred will the observed result come from chance. Consequently, lower significance levels indicate a higher probability of real or reliable results.

While conventional research reports significance at three levels (<.05 or <. 01 or <.001), I reported the actual probability. I did so, in part because I believe conventional significance levels may be too conservative in interpreting the practical significance of differences in grade point averages. While results greater than .05 are not as statistically reliable as results meeting the .05 test, they do indicate possible non-random differences in the population. Such differences would be extremely important in a population where even very small differences in grades can result in substantial differences in treatment in the job market, in selection to law review, and most importantly, in being placed on probation or being dismissed.

E. Description of Students

Initially, all 170 students in the entering class completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. However, the study was limited to the 154 students who had first semester grade point averages (FSGPA). The students were overwhelmingly white, male and young. The average undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) for the entering students was 3.069. The students' mean law school admission test (LSAT) score was 155.040.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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