When incoming students arrive for First Week, their undergraduate grade point average and LSAT score become old news. At that moment, students need to quickly harness or develop the skills necessary for success in law school—the ability to manage the heavy law school workload, the motivation to work hard, and the ability to study and learn law and legal analysis skills effectively and efficiently.
Our BEST Program for 1Ls, which includes First Week and Structured Study Groups, is designed to help you develop autonomous, reflective learning skills needed to succeed in law school, on the bar exam and in law practice. Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz is the designer of the program and author of Expert Learning for Law Students and What the Best Law Teachers Do.
Structured Study Groups are groups of four to six entering students who use cooperative learning strategies to achieve common goals. At Bowen, those common goals are law school success for every student attending the law school and students who are independent, autonomous learners.
Study group members meet for two hours per week under the supervision of a carefully trained and supervised upper-division student known as a Dean’s Fellow. Also, study group members principally police themselves, holding each other responsible for group work, efficient use of the Dean’s Fellow’s time, and the success of each member of the group. The Dean’s Fellow is tasked with making sure the group and the members of the group:
• engage in the behaviors characteristic of successful law school study groups,
• stay on task,
• contribute equally to all group work, and
• collaborate in a way that encourages everyone to succeed in law school.
In an effort to develop skill mastery, the Structured Study Groups use cooperative learning techniques that incorporate hypotheticals and problems that stretch students’ analytical capabilities while developing law school study and analytical skills students can use to maximize their success throughout their legal education, while studying for the bar, and in law practice.
Principles of Cooperative Learning
A series of educational studies found that using cooperative learning techniques to work on building and mastering these skills is the best way to maximize students’ chances to succeed in law school.
Cooperative learning is NOT simply putting students in groups or sitting them side-by-side at the same table to talk with each other as they do their individual assignments. Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams of students with different levels of ability use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Research reveals that the more students work in cooperative learning groups:
• the more they will learn,
• the better they will understand what they are learning,
• the easier it will be for them to remember what they learned, and
• the better they will feel about themselves, their classes, and their classmates.
Cooperative learning tends to produce higher achievement, reduce student attrition, increase critical thinking competencies, facilitate development of better attitudes toward subject matter, to increase social support, and facilitate healthier social adjustment.
Students may elect to take a one credit-hour course titled “Professionalism and the Work of Lawyers,” which will incorporate the work students will be doing as part of their Structured Study Group. This includes attending two hours of weekly sessions during the fall semester, completing assigned readings and activities, and achieving satisfactory ratings on peer and Dean’s Fellow evaluations.