Vernellia R. Randall, Increasing Retention and Improving Performance: Practical Advice on Using Cooperative Learning in Law Schools, 16 Thomas M. Cooley Law Review 201 - 272 (Trinity Term, 1999) (285 Footnotes Omitted)



Imagine, please, taking a class in piano playing. Assume the teacher focuses all of her effort on analyzing sheet music of great musicians. At each class, students are called on to dissect, digest, analyze and compare various works. Occasionally, they are asked to play very short snippets, but most of the time they read and discuss. At the end of the course, when the students have learned everything there is to know about the treble and base clefs, timing, notes, beats and rhythms, the student is asked to take a final exam, which consists of playing a piano piece that they have never seen before. They are given no time to practice the piece. The piano is wheeled in and the students proceed. Assume the professor discloses to the students this testing practice, but adamantly assures the students that if they prepare for class diligently they will be prepared for the exam. Who will do well on the exam? Will it be the person who never sat down to a piano before this class? Will it be the student who ignores the professor's assurances and takes piano lessons independently? Will it be the person who has taken piano as a child or during college?” What obligation does the professor have for teaching the student who has never sat down to a piano before?


I. Introduction

We struggle to be better teachers. But like parenting, we haven't been trained and we often repeat the teaching patterns of our teacher. We look at our own accomplishments and we assume that the system can't be that bad. We did well, didn't we? So with small modifications, if any, we merely repeat the teaching pedagogy of our teachers. Yet, traditional pedagogy has problems.

The dominant pedagogy in law school is competitive and hierarchical. A pedagogy built on intimidation, competitiveness and, to some degree, passive learning. We do not clearly tell our students what it is that they need to know or what they need to do in order to excel in law school. Therefore, the students who are best able to figure this out on their own, and, not necessarily, the students who understand the law the best will succeed. Certainly, the students who question or do not accept the pedagogy will not succeed. We teach basic legal analytical skills in extremely large classrooms. We primarily teach one set of skills (oral analytical skills); we test another (written analytical skills). Typically, we provide little opportunity for students to practice the skills we do teach and model (oral analytical skills). We provide no opportunity for students to practice the skills we test (written analytical skills). Law faculties generally evaluate students based on only one or two exams a semester. We evaluate students using a method (essay exams) with dubious reliability and validity. We assign grades not based on actual criterion-referenced performance (learning objectives), but on norm-referenced performance (performance compared with other students). The question is: Is there a pedagogy that can increase retention, improve performance, improve social adjustment, and increase appreciation for diversity without throwing out the baby with the bath water? The answer is yes: Cooperative Learning does this and more.

Cooperative Learning is a structured, systematic instructional strategy in which small groups work together toward a common goal. However, in Cooperative Learning, professors structure the small groups more carefully than they would structure other small groups. Cooperative Learning is more than putting students in groups or sitting the students side-by-side at the same table to talk with each other. For Cooperative Learning to be effective, the teacher must assure the following components: a well-designed instructional task, significant positive interdependence, considerable promotive interaction, substantial individual accountability, appropriate group social skills, and frequent group processing.

The benefits of Cooperative Learning have been well documented. Considerable research shows that Cooperative Learning produces higher achievement, reduces student attrition, increases critical thinking, betters attitudes toward subject matter, increases social support, improves social adjustment, and increases appreciation for diversity. My use of Cooperative Learning has demonstrated that the often elusive and uncertain goals of increasing retention and improving performance for minority and other “at-risk” students can be attained.

In this paper I describe the philosophical and educational differences between traditional legal pedagogy and Cooperative Learning. I define Cooperative Learning, discuss why we should use it in law schools, and review the components of effective Cooperative Learning. Based on my experience using Cooperative Learning for the last six years, I discuss the problems of using Cooperative Learning in an adversarial educational environment such as law. I describe the response of both the students and the faculty to Cooperative Learning. I recommend strategies for using Cooperative Learning in a competitive, adversarial environment, including discussing the role of faculty.


II.Current Paradigm versus New Paradigm

A. Current Paradigm

Rapid change, technology, diversity, global competition, increasing presence of adult learners with learning disabilities, and the growing problems in the profession have challenged legal educators to adopt teaching methodologies that meet the needs of individual students and the profession as a whole. To successfully meet the challenge, legal education must undergo a paradigm shift similar to the one that has been happening in higher education generally.

In the current legal education paradigm, the faculty is the focal point—“Sages on the Stage.” Johnson, Johnson, and Smith articulated the characteristics which define faculty teaching under the current paradigm:

· transferring knowledge and skills from faculty to students;

· filling “passive” students with knowledge and skills;

· classifying and sorting students into categories;

· maintaining a competitive organizational structure;

· conducting education within a context of impersonal relationships; and

· assuming anyone with expertise in law can teach without training.

Transferring Knowledge and Skills From Faculty to Students. The use of the Langdellian teaching method has characterized law school teaching and creates a highly competitive environment. The Langdellian teaching method, also known as the Socratic Method, has been the dominant pedagogy in law schools for more than 100 years. Under the Socratic Method, law students read cases and the faculty engages them in a question and answer exchange regarding those cases. The near exclusive use of the Socratic Method places the faculty at the center of the classroom.

Filling “Passive” Students With Knowledge and Skills. First year law classes usually have between 70 and 90 students. It is through the faculty's skill at questioning that we assume the students develop analytical skills. However, even the best of socratic questioners can only actively and effectively engage four to eight students per fifty minutes. Thus, within the typical socratic classroom environment, most students are passive participants in the learning process.

Classifying and Sorting Students Into Categories. Under the dominant teaching methodology, we classify and sort students not on what they learn (criterion-referenced), but on how they compare with other students (norm-referenced). Typically, law professors give students one exam per semester. From that one exam, faculty curve the grades, rationing out the limited “A's” and “B's” that students can receive. Thus, law professors engage in testing to decide who gets the rationed “A”, law review, moot court, access to large firms, high paying jobs, court clerkships, and the opportunity to become law professor's themselves.

The system's quasi-religious adherence to ranking devalues human beings, distorts the legal system into a cultural compactor, and diverts scarce resources from truly legitimate educational goals. In short, ranking students on the curve, arguably once a useful technique for screening unprepared students, deserves a quick administrative death.

Maintaining a Competitive Organizational Structure. We conduct this sorting methodology within a competitive environment. Most law schools use some form of grading curve or grade normalization. Both grading curves and grade normalization limit the number of “A's” and “B's” that are given in each class. Such limitation guarantees competition among students for the limited resources. Perhaps more importantly, grading curves include “failing” grades. Thus, the competition is fierce to avoid failure.

Conducting Education Within a Context of Impersonal Relationships. Law professors often treat students as interchangeable. Law professors teach as if prior education, experiences, background, learning styles, race, gender, class, culture, religion, and sexual orientation are irrelevant to learning. Thus, we rarely modify our teaching methods based on the characteristics of any particular class.

Assuming Anyone With Expertise in Law Can Teach Without Training. The only requirement for teaching in law school is superior academic grades from top rank law schools, law review experience, prestigious judicial clerkships, scholarly publications, and having most of the current faculty believe you will fit in. Law schools require no prior training to teach, no prior teaching experience, and sometimes no experience practicing law.

Summary. There are many proponents of the current paradigm. They continue to use a classroom pedagogy that requires students to sit passively and silently and to compete with each other for an artificially constructed scarce resource. Faculty may conform to the Langdellian method because we do not want to appear stupid, unfit, and because we are afraid to challenge the collective judgment about how best to teach. Thus, we carry the current paradigm of law school teaching on through sheer momentum; while, like the emperor without clothes, we persist in pretending that all is well. Nevertheless, all is not well!

Traditional legal pedagogy is under attack. Some scholars believe that it warps personality, undermines ethical and social values, and fosters cynicism. Many scholars believe that traditional legal pedagogy causes significant psychological distress in students that continues into the practice of law. Students who come to orientation happy, eager to learn the law, and eager to make a difference, become isolated, angry, suspicious, and bitter. They focus not on improving their knowledge and skills, but on what they need to do to earn an “A.” Law students become obsessed with grades.

The problem with traditional legal pedagogy is that it is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Traditional legal pedagogy does not teach relevant skills to varying levels of entering abilities. Traditional legal pedagogy fails to clearly identify for students what they need to know and need to be able to do to succeed in law school. Thus, the proliferation of “how to succeed in law school” books. Moreover, traditional legal pedagogy fails to teach clearly and precisely the thinking skills embodied in the phrase “thinking like a lawyer.” Students are placed at a disadvantage not because of lack of ability or their effort, but because traditional legal pedagogy fails to provide adequate opportunities for students to learn and improve their skills through practice and critique. Further, the current paradigm disadvantages certain groups of students (minorities, women, extroverts and feelers, and the learning disabled) more than others. These students are often isolated, alienated, and disenfranchised.

Arguably, the current paradigm does not adequately serve the purpose of training lawyers for the practice of law. It does not prepare lawyers for the practice needs of the 21st century, lawyers who can help a multi-cultural and diverse world mediate and arbitrate their differences.


B. New Paradigm

Legal education is making a change. Ever so slowly, professors are dropping the old paradigm of teaching and adopting a new paradigm. Many legal educators hunger for a change. They are actively discussing alternatives. In one survey, 29 percent of the law faculty said that they used new approaches “very often,” 56 percent said “sometimes,” and 15 percent said “rarely,” none said “never.” However, the issue is not merely whether we use the case method or the problem method; whether we use discussion method or Socratic Method; or whether we teach in small classes or large classes. We need to shift our thinking and paradigm about student learning and faculty teaching. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith have articulated the principles on which such a paradigm would be based:

Students construct, discover, transform, develop, and extend their own knowledge and skills;

· Students construct knowledge and skills actively, not passively;

· Faculties aim their efforts at developing students' competencies and talents;

· Education is a personal transaction;

· Only a Cooperative Learning environment can achieve all of the above; and,

· Teaching is the complex application of theory and research that requires considerable instructor training and continuous refinement of teaching skills and procedures.

Students construct, discover, transform, develop and extend their own knowledge and skills. Law professors must put more of our effort into creating the conditions within which students can construct their own meaning and develop their own skills. Students will need to do this through their own cognitive structures. Because students not only have different skill levels, but also different cognitive structures, we cannot continue a “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching. Certainly, many upper-classes are in small groups. However, Cooperative Learning is not about merely having students in small groups, but about being involved in a structured learning environment that promotes cooperation.

Students construct knowledge and skills actively, not passively. Learning is an activity within the control of the learner. Learners must be actively involved in the classroom in order to bring forth their existing cognitive structures or to construct new ones. Learning is not a spectator sport, yet we know that in whole class questioning, students respond only 50 percent of the time.

Faculties aim their efforts at developing students' competencies and talents. Law schools should be “adding value” to students' skills and ability. That “added value” should be based on cultivating and developing all students. Instead, law faculty and law schools engage in a process of quality control reliant upon selection and weeding out. That is, law schools equate the quality of students education not with the educational process, but the admission process. Median LSAT and UGPA become the measures of quality. Law schools admit the highest achieving students possible and become a holding ground for most of the other students. Law schools give almost no attention to developing law students with marginal skills. Once admitted, law schools attempt to assure quality by “weeding out” the “unqualified.” Many law professors look at a student's failure as evidence of the student's lack of intellectual ability to be an attorney. Few professors take students' failures as evidence of the failure of the educational process. Under the new paradigm, law professors would monitor the performance of students throughout the semester, provide help and support when students falter, examine educational and teaching practices when students fail, and modify practices to prevent student failures in the future. Under the new legal paradigm, law schools would not focus on classifying and sorting students into categories seen as fixed and unaffected by effort and by education. Law schools would focus on developing the potential of all students.

Education is a personal transaction. Education, by its nature, is a social process that we cannot effectively conduct except through interpersonal interaction. The law school must become a community of committed scholars by building personal relationships with students. Law schools must create the conditions where individuals have the necessary social support to achieve. This is particularly important because law students are under significant pressure to achieve. The knowledge is difficult to learn, the skills are hard to develop, and many law students cope in inappropriate ways.

Only a Cooperative Learning environment can achieve all of the above. The competitive environment of the law school causes students to reduce communication with each other and faculty and to provide other students with misleading and false information. Many professors and students view helping or receiving help as cheating or as spoon-feeding. Students are isolated, and the relationship between professors and students is often negative. Competitive and individualistic learning situations discourage “active construction of knowledge and the development of talent by isolating students and creating negative relationships between classmates and with instructors.”

Teaching is the complex application of theory and research that requires considerable instructor training and continuous refinement of teaching skills and procedures. The new paradigm would require professors to view the development of teaching skills as a lifetime effort. Helping students construct their own knowledge and develop their own skills, in an active, cooperative way with classmates, requires training and skill development.


III. Research on Cooperative Learning

Under the new legal education paradigm, the role of the faculty is to construct classroom conditions that will promote learning for all students. Professors choose instructional activities based on their learning goals for the class and the learning structure. A professor's choice will result in one of three basic learning environments: competitive, individualistic, or cooperative. However, the learning environment can vary by task, by lesson, by class, or even by course. That is, within a given course, the learning environment will shift and change based on the professor's choices. The professor's choice will be based on many different factors including a wide variety of academic and cultural diversity in the class.


A. Comparing Learning Environments

Students working against each other to achieve a goal that only a few can obtain characterizes the competitive learning environment. In a competitive environment, not only do students work alone and strive to be better than their classmates, they perceive that what benefits other students, deprives them, and vice versa. Students in a competitive environment celebrate their own success and others' failure. The rewards of the class are the “A's,” and are limited. Professors grade the classes on a curve. In competitive learning, students believe, correctly, that if “I swim, you will sink; if you sink, I will swim.” This belief can cause students to either work hard to do better than their classmates, cheat in order to do better, or take it easy because they do not believe they have the chance to earn an “A.” Many law students resign themselves to getting mediocre grades and putting forth mediocre effort. This problem is particularly evident in the second and third years when the attitude of many students is: “C equal J.D.” With very few exceptions, law schools are overwhelmingly competitive learning environments.

Students being unconcerned about the success or failure of other law students characterize individualistic learning environment. Students working alone also characterize an individualistic learning environment. Generally, they strive for their own success. They view rewards as unlimited. While they celebrate their success, they ignore the success or failure of others. Faculty structure the learning environment so that students, working by themselves, can accomplish learning goals unrelated to those of other students. Professors evaluate students by comparing the students' performance with some preset criteria. In individualistic learning environments students believe that, “I am in this alone.” The individualistic learning environment in law schools is most clearly expressed in “independent studies.” Professors grade individualistic learning activities on a criterion-reference basis. The availability of independent studies varies significantly between law schools. The availability is based on the willingness of the faculty to sponsor them. Further, law schools may vary on whether they view “independent studies” as acceptable learning environments.

Students working together to maximize their own and each other's learning characterizes Cooperative Learning environment. Students work together to achieve shared goals. They work in small, often heterogenous groups to ensure that all members of a group master the assigned materials. Group members strive for each other's success. They believe that what benefits them, benefits others. Students view the reward (“A” grade) as unlimited. The faculty evaluates students by comparing performance to preset criteria. In Cooperative Learning situations, positive interdependence exists among students. While some law faculty may use small group exercises, most choose to structure their classrooms as competitive learning environments rather than cooperative environments, where the grade is still based totally, or in large part, on individual work.

Summary. Each learning environment has it place. “In the ideal [law school], all students would learn how to work collaboratively [and cooperatively] with others, compete for fun, [profit] and enjoyment, and work autonomously on their own.” It has been suggested that law schools already have an ideal learning mix in that the first year is competitive, but second and third year is not in the same way. However, that argument misses the point. While first year might be the most competitive, second and third year is still very competitive. The dominant learning environment in law school is competitive throughout all three years. It is up to law professors to decide how to construct and achieve the ideal learning environment.


B. Review of Research

The benefits of Cooperative Learning have been well documented. Research on Cooperative Learning began in the late 1800s. Over the past 100 years, researchers have conducted more than 600 experimental and 109 orrelational studies comparing the effectiveness of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts. A variety of researchers conducted studies in different decades, with subjects of different ages, in different subject areas, and in different settings. The research suggests that compared with competitive and individualistic learning, Cooperative Learning has many benefits.

Legal researchers have conducted no empirical studies of the Socratic Method or Cooperative Learning conducted in law schools or their effects on the legal profession. While empirical studies in the law school environment are important, we can learn and obtain insight from other studies. We should not wait for the result of law school empirical studies to make changes. This is especially true because we have singularly failed to study the Socratic Method empirically, and the weight of the evidence in other areas supports the use of Cooperative Learning. The discussion that follows is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather descriptive of the research currently available.

Cooperative Learning Produces Higher Achievement. Researchers have conducted hundreds of studies on the comparative effect of competitive, individualistic, and cooperative efforts in promoting achievement. In general, the studies show that students in Cooperative Learning environments have higher achievement than students within a competitive environment or individualistic environment. Cooperative Learning is more effective in developing higher-level reasoning. Students generate more new ideas and solutions, and are better able to transfer what they learned from one situation to another. Cooperative Learning is particularly effective where “retention is important, the task is complex, or students desire conceptual, problem-solving, divergent thinking, or they desire creativity, they expect quality of performance and higher level reasoning strategies, and they need critical thinking.” Cooperative Learning has also proved effective in small as well as large classes.

Cooperative Learning Reduces Student Attrition. Studies of Cooperative Learning have shown that Cooperative Learning lowers attrition rates. In particular, studies show that Cooperative Learning is effective with minority students. For instance, the five-year retention rate of African-American students involved in Cooperative Learning in math andscience was 65 percent compared with 41 percent of African-American college students not involved.

Cooperative Learning Increases Critical Thinking Competencies. The primary focus of law school is teaching critical thinking skills, “to think like a lawyer.” Critical thinking skills involve application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis of knowledge, and other higher-level reasoning skills. Students from Cooperative Learning environments have demonstrated greater use of higher-level reasoning strategies and critical thinking than students in competitive or individualistic environments. Students in Cooperative Learning environments have more frequent insight into, and use of, higher-level cognitive and moral reasoning than students from individualistic or competitive learning environments.

Cooperative Learning Increased Social Support. Cooperative Learning environments have more social support than competitive or individualistic enviromental. This greater social support is extremely important where pressure to achieve is high. Greater social support is also important for students from non-traditional backgrounds. Educational environments should match the level of social support with the level of pressure. “Challenge and security must be kept in balance.” A law student's high level of psychologicaldistress may be directly related to the general lack of social support. Cooperative Learning alleviates feelings of isolation and has positive effects on self-esteem. As to social support, studies found that students had increased social support in Cooperative Learning environments.

Cooperative Learning Improves Attitude Toward the Subject Matter. Students in Cooperative Learning environments show more positive attitudes toward their subject area, a more positive attitude toward the instructional experience, and more continuing motivation to learn the subject than students from competitive and individualistic learning environments.

Cooperative Learning Leads to Healthier Psychosocial Adjustment. Cooperative Learning environments promote much healthier psychosocial adjustment than competitive and individualistic learning.

Cooperative Learning Increases Respect for Diversity. The recent focus on developing diversity within law schools has created new challenges for faculties. Law school classrooms consist of students with multiple cognitive, social, emotional, and learning needs. Cooperative Learning can help the professor teach a diverse student group. More importantly, Cooperative Learning contributes to the ability of a lawyer to work with a diverse group of people. The ability to work in diverse groups is a skill that will be increasingly necessary in the 21st century. Cooperative Learning environments improve gender and racial interactions. Cooperative Learning teaches tolerance based on respect. Research shows that Cooperative Learning results in students liking each other more “regardless of individual differences in ability level, sex, disabling conditions, ethnic [and racial] membership, social class differences or task orientation.”

Summary. The goal of legal education should be to help a diverse student body to achieve (that is, become lawyers) to develop positive interpersonal relationships, and to promote the psychological health of the students. These goals are reciprocally related—each influences the other. Caring and committed relationships among students increase their efforts to achieve. Joint efforts to achieve mutual goals promote psychological health and social competence. The more psychologically healthy students are, the more able they are to contribute to the joint effort. The more psychologically healthy students are, the more able they are to build and maintain caring and committed relationships.


C. An Example of Use of Cooperative Learning: Results of Using Cooperative Learning in an Academic Support Program

Beginning in the late 1980s, the University of Dayton, along with other law schools, began to make a concerted effort to increase its enrollment and retention of minority students, particularly African-American students. Despite the combined efforts of the law school and the local minority bar association, the attrition rate of African-American students remained at approximately 50 percent. During the summer of 1990, in an attempt to improve the situation, the Dean appointed an ad hoc committee whose charge was as follows: “[T]o propose . . . and then develop preliminary and subsequent stages of an academic support program aimed at the academic needs of minority students (though not exclusively available to . . . [them]).” The ad hoc committee implemented a program called Academic Excellence Program (AEP) during the Fall 1990 semester directed only toward entering minority students. The program was expanded to other “at-risk” students during Fall 1991.

From 1991 through 1993, the program format included a two-hour-per-week exam-writing course. In 1993, the program began to use small groups and teaching assistants. In 1994, the program was changed to emphasize the use of small groups built around Cooperative Learning theory, and expanded the AEP Orientation to seven days and increased the use of teaching assistants.

The goals of the AEP were to improve the retention and maximize the academic performance of minority law students; and assist any entering student who may have a disadvantage which is likely to affect their performance in law school. The specific objectives of the AEP were: to assist participants in developing the legal study skills and habits that will enable them to perform to their potential; to develop the participants' exam-writing and analytical skills; to provide social support; reduce isolation; and provide positive reinforcement to the participants that they can excel; and, to provide a means of identifying those students who are having problems, and assuring that they are appropriately referred to the right resources for assistance, such as the professor teaching the substantive course, the learning center for remedial writing and reading assistance, and the counseling and medical centers where appropriate.

Academic support programs are of three basic forms: student directed, faculty directed, and full-time director. The University of Dayton has a faculty-directed program. The faculty director is responsible for the design and the execution of a proven educational process (Cooperative Learning) with increased emphasis on student performance and retention. AEP utilizes advanced group-learning techniques for skill mastery that incorporate hypotheticals and problems that stretch students' analyticalcapabilities beyond the normal curriculum. AEP is a disciplined learning environment in which students demonstrate subject mastery to peers and learn test-taking skills. Furthermore, the teaching assistant initiated processes reinforce the value of, support and initiation of, skills necessary for effective student-led study groups. Finally, AEP is a program focused on helping students build skills and not on avoiding failing grades.

To understand what AEP is, it is important to understand what AEP is not. AEP is not a remedial program. By remedial, we mean helping students whose skills fall below a minimal acceptable standard for incoming law students. Areas of remediation generally focus on reading, grammar, and writing. Generally speaking, the overwhelming majority of AEP students have the necessary minimal skill level. However, when the occasional student is suspected to have remediation needs, that student is referred to the appropriate support network (such as The University of Dayton Learning Assistance Center). Similarly, if a student is suspected of having serious emotional or stress issues those students are referred to the Counseling Center.

While AEP is a supplemental learning experience that is closely related to specific first-year courses, it is not a substantive teaching environment. That is, the focus is not on teaching the students black letter law. Rather the focus is on developing students' written analytical skills relating to legal issues. Furthermore, AEP helps to develop the ability to work effectively in groups and encourages students' interaction with professors. AEP is not a substantive tutorial program. Thus, not only are students constantly encouraged to talk with the instructor of their substantive course, one of the primary roles of the teaching assistants is to get the student to seek substantive help from the appropriate resource-their teacher.

The Academic Excellence Program has six major themes. First, AEP is based on psychological and cultural adaptation NOT compensatory education. The lineage of many aspects of law school in American comes from northern-European cultures emphasizing “rugged individualism.” The crux of “rugged individualism” is “self-assertion, individualism, and aggression.” Many students come from backgrounds which stress different cultural norms. Furthermore, minority students often suffer from isolation, language issues, writing difficulties, socioeconomic disadvantage or cultural issues which the academic support program must address.

If all students came to law school from similar backgrounds, possessed similar tools and resources, and followed similar career objectives, then providing academic support only to some might well be unfair to those not chosen. Such homogeneity does not exist.”

Second, AEP stresses encouragement and empowerment, never sending a message of incompetence. Empowerment can be of vital importance to law school success. Third, AEP is highly structured, as poorly structured programs may make things worse for students. Fourth, AEP promotes confidence, because much of success stems from a sense of confidence. Fifth, AEP encourages risk-taking in the classroom, because it is through mistakes, and correction of mistakes, that students learn. Finally, AEP encourages students to articulate their analysis in writing, as law school exams confront students with a problem and demand presentation of arguments. The purpose of the AEP is to develop skills with a focus on the students' strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Creating an environment of comfort, support, acceptance, and encouragement is of major importance.

The University of Dayton's AEP accepted a diverse group of students in the program: students-of-color, students from educationally/economically disadvantaged backgrounds, disabled or handicapped students, students from small colleges, students who are readmitted to first year of law school after dismissal, and students who are admitted by the dean rather than the admission committee are also included in the program. Students who clearly fit in any of the above categories are automatically admitted into the program if the student applied to the program. Other students are admitted to the program on a space available basis. For instance, students have been admitted to the program because they have a non-writing undergraduate major (nursing, art, or music), because they have been out of school more than 10 years, because they have family circumstances which indicate a need for support, or because they are international students who speak English as a second language. Admitting students to the program based on “an other” category serves several important objectives. First, it makes AEP accessible to all students who may feel they have a disadvantage. Making the program accessible reduces both the stigma of the program and resentment toward the program. Reduced stigma and resentment are of significant benefit to the targeted participants by reducing their environmental stress. Second, by having a program which includes students from a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds, we assure a high level of diversity. That diversity is an important way to meet cultural adaptation needs. Notwithstanding the availability of the program to a number of other categories of students, the primary emphasis of the program remains on minority retention and performance.

From Fall 1991 through Fall 1996, AEP had 171 participants. Of the 171 participants, 93 (54.4%) were admitted to the program as students of color, 11 (6.4%) were educational and economically disadvantaged, 7 (4.1%) were handicapped or disabled, 7 (4.1%) were Dean's Admit, 7 (4.1%) were Readmits, 11 (6.4%) were Other and 12 (7.0%) were admitted as Probationary students in the second semester. Students were admitted to the program based on how they self identified for purpose of admission to the program. A minority student would not necessarily be classified as a “student of color.” Consequently, the racial and ethnic breakdown is different from the number of “students of color.” Of the 171 participants, 16 (9.4%) were Asian-American/Pacific Islander, 61 (35.7%) were African-American/Black, 71 (41.5%) were European American/ White, 19 (11.1%) were Hispanic/Latino-American and 2 (1.2%) were Native-American/Eskimo and 2 (1.2%) were international students.

The success or failure of the program can be directly measured by academic dismissal rates in the first and second semesters. Dismissal rates in subsequent years are indirect measures of its success. Although skill-building is a long-term undertaking, we offer no support programs for second and third year students. The AEP program has undergone significant change so that the program will be evaluated in two parts: AEP Part I (Pre-Cooperative Learning) (1991-1993), and AEP Part II (Cooperative Learning) (1993-1996). A difference is considered statistically significant if the probability (p) is less than or equal to .05 (p<.05); that means that the probability of the observed _ difference occurring by random chance is less than five times out of a hundred. For the purpose of evaluating the program, I focus on African-Americans because we have pre-program statistics on that group.

First Semester Academic Dismissal. Reducing dismissal in the first semester of law school is the first step toward increasing graduation rates. AEP has been highly successful in decreasing the academic dismissal rate in the first semester. The overall dismissal rate (1991-1996) was 10.1 percent. The academic dismissal rate for participants for 1991-1993 (Pre-cooperative Learning) was 13.9 percent; the rate for participants for 1994-1996 (Cooperative Learning) was 6.3 percent. The overall dismissal rate (1991-1996) for African-Americans was 18 percent and for European-American 8.3 percent (p=.066). AEP was started because African Americans had an almost twenty year average dismissal rate of 50 percent. From 1991-1993 (Pre-Cooperative Learning), the African-American dismissal rate in the first semester was 30 percent. The 1994-1996 (Cooperative Learning) academic dismissal rate was 6.5 percent. The difference in dismissal rate for African-Americans between pre-Cooperative Learning and Cooperative Learning was statistically significant (p=.008).

Second Semester Academic Dismissal. The program has been equally successful in decreasing the academic dismissal rate in the second semester. The overall (1991-1996) second semester dismissal rate for participants in any part of the program is 3.3 percent, with three years (1991,1992,1995) having no students in the program dismissed. This change is statistically significant (p=.001).

Second Year and Third Year Academic Dismissal. Obviously, it would not be a good outcome to have students pass the first year and then have a significant portion of those students fail in the second year. That has not been the case. The overall (1991-1996) second year dismissal rate for participants in the AEP program is 2.8 percent For, three years there were no dismissals (1991, 1992, 1995). There were no academic dismissals of third-year students who went through the program from 1991-1993.

First Semester Grade Point Average (FSGPA). The mean GPA for the first semester for all AEP participants was 2.318 (C ). The University of Dayton is on a C (2.3) curve for first year courses. FSGPA for participants from 1991-1993 was 2.308, while the FSGPA for participants from 1994-1996 was 2.327. There was a statistically different FSGPA for African Americans and European Americans based on program design. African American FSGPA from 1991-1993 (pre-Cooperative Learning) was 1.969 (C-), while the FSGPA for African Americans from 1994-1996 was 2.312 (C ) (P=.004). The FSGPA for Other Minorities was 2.48 (C ) and there was no statistically significant difference between the years of the program. The FSGPA for European Americans was 2.39. The FSGPA was higher (2.53) from (Pre-Cooperative Learning) 1991-1993 than from Cooperative Learning (1994-1996) (2.20) (P=.038).

Second Semester Grade Point Average (SSGPA). The mean GPA for the second semester AEP participants was 2.448 (C ). The SSGPA from 1991-1993 was 2.477, while the SSGPA from 1994-1996 was 2.395. Students admitted from small colleges had the highest SSGPA (2.767) and students admitted from an educational/ economically disadvantaged background had the lowest (2.249). There was a statistically significant difference in GPA based on reason for admission to AEP. (P=.03). There was a statistically different GPA for African-Americans based on year of the program. African-American SSGPA from Pre-Cooperative Learning (1991-1993) was 2.24, while the SSGPA from 1994-1996 was 2.177. The SSGPA for European-American was 2.59. The SSGPA for European Americans was higher (2.68) from 1991-1993 than from, 1994-1996 (2.39). However, this difference was not statistically significant. (P=.069)

First Year Grade Point Average. First year GPA (FYGPA) was calculated on 106 cases. The mean FYGPA for all AEP participants was 2.453. The FYGPA from 1991-1993 was 2.475, while the FYGPA from 1994-1996 was 2.414. Students admitted from small colleges had the highest FYGPA (2.738) and students admitted as readmits had the lowest (2.277). Thus, there was a statistical significant difference in GPA based on reason for admission to AEP (P=.029). African-American's FYGPA from 1991-1993 was 2.200, while the FYGPA from 1994-1996 was 2.330. The Other Minorities FYGPA was 2.48, and there was no statistical significant difference between the years. The FYGPA for European Americans was 2.58. The FYGPA was higher (2.67) from 1991-1993 than from, 1994-1996 (2.37). For European Americans, there was a statistically significant difference between the two parts of the program. (P=.028).

Correlation of grade point average with Law School Admission Test (LSAT) / Undergraduate Grade Point Average (UGPA). Coefficient of correlations were used to show the relationship between law school GPA and admission statistics. The correlation coefficient carry not only information about the strength of the relationship, but also the direction of the coefficient. Correlation studies were done with UGPA and LSAT. A result was considered statistically significant if (p< .05). For African-Americans, there was no statistically significant correlations between UGPA, SSGPA, or FYGPA. Furthermore, where the correlations exist, they were in an unexpected negative direction: between LSAT and SSGPA (-.5395, p=. 006); and between LSAT and FYGPA (-.4908, p=.012). That is, as one variable decreased (such as LSAT), the other variable increased (such as first semester grade). Translated this means that in the second semester of their first year, African-American students with lower LSAT scores made better grades than African-American students with higher LSAT. Finally, FSGPA (.3658, p<.002) was correlated with the year of the program. African Americans FSGPA were higher in Cooperative Learning phase (1994-1996). For other minorities, there were no statistically significant correlations between UGPA and FSGPA, SSGPA, or FYGPA; or between LSAT and SSGPA. There was a significant correlation between LSAT and FSGPA (.4152, p=.025) and between LSAT and FYGPA (.2973, p=.090). Unlike African-Americans and other minorities, for European-Americans LSAT was positively and significantly correlated with FSGPA (.4774, p=.001), SSGPA (.3216, p=.026), FYGPA, SYGPA and TYGPA. The only variables that were not correlated were UGPA and FYGPA (.4073, p=.006). UGPA was correlated only with FSGPA (.2941, p=.019).

Summary. Since 1990, the University of Dayton has had an academic support program. Since 1994, the program has used Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning has resulted in significant improvement in student dismissal rates and overall performance of students who participated in the program. This has been particularly true for African-American students.


IV. Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning

A. Cooperative Learning

Teachers often equate any group activity with Cooperative Learning. This is not an accurate understanding of Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning is a structured, systematic, instructional strategy in which small groups work together toward a common goal. Cooperative Learning is not natural; it does not just happen. Professors using Cooperative Learning must take painstaking efforts to structure and develop the method. Professors using Cooperative Learning must more carefully structure and delineate the activity than they would for other forms of small group learning.

Small groups may exhibit several problems if not properly planned and conducted. Among the many ways small groups can be ineffective: (1) Social Loafing or The Free Rider Effects, (2)The Sucker Effect, (3) Rich-Get-Richer Effect, (4) Helplessness, (5) Ganging Up, and (6) Dysfunctional Division of Labor. Professors can avoid these problems with properly structured Cooperative Learning groups. Cooperative Learning is not putting students in groups or sitting them side-by-side at the same table to talk with each other as they work on their individual assignments. “Seating students together can result in competition at close quarters (pseudo-groups) or individualistic efforts with talking (traditional learning groups).” For Cooperative Learning to be effective, the program must assure the following components:

· Well Designed Instructional Objectives;

· Appropriate Groups;

· Clearly Perceived Positive Interdependence;

· Considerable Promotive Interaction;

· Clearly Perceived Individual Responsibility;

· Frequent Use of Interpersonal and Group Social Skills, and

· Frequent and Regular Group Processing.

B. Cooperative Learning Requires Well-Designed Instructional Objectives.

The Professor must clearly identify the objectives of the lesson or the task. The objectives can be both academic and social skills. Academic objectives must be set at the appropriate level of instruction to the conceptual or task analysis. Sequencing objectives is important for effective legal learning. The basic sequence has four steps:

1st Factual learning

2nd Conceptual learning

3rd Principle learning

4th Problem solving.

Each higher-learning level is dependent on the law student having mastered the related lower level of learning. In developing objectives, the professor must be sure to sequence the course from lower-level to higher-level objectives. Too often law professors expect students to develop higher-level thinking skills before they have learned sufficient knowledge.

Professors can handle basic knowledge in several ways. A professor could assign readings (non-cases) that clearly lay out the rules of law or basic knowledge (i.e., Hornbooks or outlines). Professors could provide students copies of class notes or other notes with the rules-of-law. Professors could start the unit with a lecture that emphasizes the rules-of-law. To the extent that the goal is improving analysis, then professors need to ensure that students understand the law so that they can focus their attention on that objective. On the other hand, if the professor's initial objective is to develop critical case reading skills, then the professor's focus should be less on analytical skills and more on case reading. Law professors can effectively help students develop either skill by using Cooperative Learning.

C. Cooperative Learning Requires the Faculty to Set Up Appropriate Groups.

After setting the instructional objective, the faculty member needs to decide group size, group membership, and method for selecting members.

Group Size. The group can range in size from two to six. Smaller groups are more effective because they take less time to get organized, they operate faster, and they allow more time for each member to participate. Furthermore, larger groups require the group members to have better developed social skills to be effective. As a person new to Cooperative Learning, a professor should probably start with smaller groups. The groups should be large enough to ensure that students can meet instructional goals and small enough to ensure that all its members can engage in mutual discussion. “Be cautious about group size!”

The group size will also depend on the Cooperative Learning strategy the professor wants to use. Each structure has at least one of the following “ domains of usefulness:” Team-Building, Class-Building, Mastery of Content, Critical Thinking Skills, Communication Skills, or Information Sharing. Table 1 identifies some structures best suited for law school.


Heterogenous vs. Homogenous Groups. Like group size, whether to use heterogenous and homogenous groupings is an issue that a professor must decide based on his or her instructional objectives. Heterogenous groups are more likely to result in increased tolerance for diversity. Further, heterogeneous groups promote the cognitive disequilibrium that the students need to stimulate learning and development. On the other hand, homogenous groups are more likely to reach higher levels of social cohesiveness and group productivity. Another alternative is to form groups in a way that is homogeneous with respect to one criterion (e.g., college major) and heterogeneous characteristic with respect to another criterion (e.g., race). To assign students to a group based on abilities, professors can use different information about the student, depending on what year the student is in. For first year students, the professor can use information about the students LSAT. For second and third year students, the professor can use the student's overall grade point average. For upper-division students, the professor could use their grade in the professor's course for the second semester of year-long courses. When assigning members based on achievement, I assure that each group has a high-achiever and a low-achiever.

When forming heterogenous groups, professors also need to decide how to distribute the individuals. That is, should students be distributed so that at least one student of the under-represented students is in each group to assure diversity? Or should professors distribute students to avoid isolation of students from under-represented groups (that is, at least two students in each group)?

Even as professors work to assure diverse groups, they should make sure that they do not isolate certain individuals whom the law school process has traditionally silenced. That is, the professor should consider never putting just one woman or one minority in a group of four. The professor might also want to avoid isolating Feelers or Introverts on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Avoiding isolation is especially important if the groups are to be kept together over a long period. Cooperative Learning is a very intense and personal learning situation. Isolating women in a group with three men, minorities in a group with three whites, and Feelers in a group with three Thinkers, and Introverts in a group dominated by extroverts can have a significant silencing effect on the individual.

Group Selection. Another question is whether to allow students to select their own groups. Most of the time a professor will want to select the groups, so they can assure the best mix of students. When students select group members, they generally select members that are similar to themselves. Furthermore, student-selected groups are often less able to stay on the task.

Group Form. The use of Cooperative Learning groups does not have to be a replacement for other teaching methods. Professors can use Cooperative Learning between fifteen to twenty minutes of a 50-minute class in first-year courses and between twenty to thirty minutes of a 50-minutes class in upper-division courses. Thus, a professor can use Cooperative Learning groups with lecture, case method, discussion method, or the problem method of teaching. Professors can also integrate the use of Cooperative Learning with socratic exchange. A final question is whether to use formal Cooperative Learning groups, informal Cooperative Learning groups, or base groups.

Formal Cooperative Learning groups are heterogenous groupings that last for the duration of the semester/quarter. In large, impersonal classes, with complex subject matter, formal Cooperative Learning groups provide support, encouragement and assistance in mastering the content and skills. Formal groups also provide ongoing feedback. Students gain assistance in learning to think critically. Finally, formal Cooperative Learning groups personalize the course and provide a mechanism to hold each member accountable for striving to make academic progress. Formal groups are excellent vehicles for helping students not only learn information, but also composition, concepts, problem-solving, and other critical thinking skills.

Informal Cooperative Learning groups are temporary groups that last for only one discussion or one class period. Informal groups can: help to focus the students' attention on the material or on skills development, set a mood conductive to learning, help organize in advance the materials, and ensure that all the students cognitively process the material being taught and provide closure to an instructional session. One way to use informal Cooperative Learning is to use it intermittently with other teaching methods. Thus, in a fifty-minute class utilizing the Socratic Method or Whole Class Discussion, a professor could use the following format:

· Introductory Cooperative Learning Pair Discussion 5 minutes

· Socratic Exchange or Whole Class Discussion I 20-30 minutes

· Intermediate Cooperative Learning Pair Discussion 5 minutes

· Socratic Exchange or Whole Class Discussion II 10-15 minutes

· Final Cooperative Learning Pair Discussion 5 minutes

This method is an effective way to ensure that all students are actively involved in understanding what they are learning. The method also reaches students with different learning styles and is especially helpful in longer classes to keep extroverts alert and engaged. It also provides a mechanism for the professor to “gather your wits, reorganize your notes, take a deep breath, and move around the class listening to what students are saying.” Listening to student discussion is an important teacher task. Listening to students gives the professor direction and insight into how well the students are understanding the concepts.

In a fifty minute course using the problem method, the following format is useful:

· Introduction to Lesson 5 minutes

· Informal Cooperative Learning Group Discussion of Problem(s) 20-30 minutes

· Whole Class Discussion of Problem or Socratic Exchange 10-20 minutes

· Lesson Closure 5 minutes

Base Cooperative Learning groups provide “a structure to manage course procedures, such as homework, attendance, and evaluation.” Professors use base groups for academic tasks such as completing an assignment, routine tasks such as taking attendance, and personal support tasks such as giving each other advice about relationships and nonacademic problems. During the year, the base groups focus on reinforcing law school study skills, such as: reading cases, briefing the cases, note-taking, outlining, and test preparation.


D. Clearly Perceived Positive Interdependence is Essential to Effective Cooperative Learning.

With clearly perceived positive interdependence, each student feels that she or he is part of a team and is responsible for the other group members. Students believe that they “sink or swim together.” Students have two responsibilities: to learn the assigned materials and skills, and to ensure that all members of their group have learned the material and skills. Positive interdependence promotes each group member's efforts for group success; and a situation in which each group member has a unique contribution to the joint effort because of his or her resources, role, or task responsibilities. In fact, group membership and interpersonal interaction among students does not produce higher achievement unless professors clearly structure positive interdependence. The decision on how to construct positive interdependence depends on whether the goal is the production of some tangible, jointly-constructed product, or the achievement of group consensus or behavior. The choice also depends on instructional goals. Several strategies for creating positive interdependence exist: Goals, Resources, Role, Task, Group Grades, Group Product, Group Spirit, Jigsaw, and Reward.

Goals Students must perceive that they can achieve their learning goals if, and only if, all the members of the group also attain their goal. Consequently, some clearly stated group goals such as “do the assigned problem and make sure that all members of your group learn the assigned material” is important to group interdependence. A group goal must be a part of every lesson. Goal interdependence can be set up by requesting one product from the group, and by randomly evaluating the product from one group. Other ways of building goal interdependence are to keep a group progress chart on the performance of the group members, to have different members complete different tasks, and not to accept any work until the project is completed.

Resources The simplest way to get students to work together is to provide only one set of materials or resources, or to provide each member only part of the information, resources, or materials. Depending on the instructional goals, the students can take turns with the materials, or the students can take different roles with one set of materials. For most of the instructional goals, having the students undertake different roles with one set of materials may be the most effective. Consequently, for each major problem or question, a professor can provide a “problem form” for the group to write down their answer. Another method of building in resource interdependence is to give a writing assignment in which each member must write a sentence in each paragraph.

Role Interdependent and complementary roles for each member can create positive interdependence. Several ways roles can be structured include: (1) (1) Functional (such as a recorder), (2) Centered around resources (such as making each member responsible for some resource or piece of information), (3) Based on perspective (where the professor assigns each member a point of view,) (4) Cognitive (where each person is responsible for part of the critical-thinking process). For instance, in a four-person group, a professor could routinely instruct the groups to assign the roles of reader, recorder, timekeeper, and encourager. A professor can also use other roles beyond the traditional legal role-playing. For instance, the professor can assign students to take on other players in a problem, such as a legislator, an administrator, a community activist, or a religious leader. Finally, in my upper division class, the professor can leave the question of how to assign the roles and role rotation up to the students. In the first year of law school classes, the professor may want to assign roles to assure that individual students have the opportunity to practice the same role repeatedly so she or he can gain a higher level of proficiency. On the other hand, the professor can also rotate the roles so that students can learn new skills.

Task Give “each group member a part of the task to complete” to promote interdependence. The division of labor is such that the actions of one group member must be completed in order for the next group member to complete his or her responsibilities (factory-line model). For instance, when teaching students how to use IRAC, a professor can have each student write one part of the answer to a question and then combine them into one answer. Professors can create task interdependence by having one student in each group learn a concept or information and be responsible for teaching it to other group members. When using task interdependence, building in individual accountability is very important so that students are interested in the total results rather than just their parts.

Group Grades The essence of Cooperative Learning is positive interdependence. The most common way to structure positive interdependence is with group grades. Many ways exist for structuring grading to assure positive interdependence. A law professor could: 1average the members' individual grades so everyone receives the average score, 2total the students' individual scores and everyone receives the total, 3provide a group score on the paper or product, 4randomly select one member's paper/exam to score and everyone receives that score, 5give individual scores plus a group bonus or give individual score plus group average, 6give all members the lowest score in the group, 7average academic scores plus collaborative skills performance scores, and 8provide academic and nonacademic rewards.

Group Product Students can create a single product, such as a memo, or a presentation. In the informal Cooperative Learning environment, each group completes a Cooperative Learning form. Having a group product for every class increases the likelihood that individual students will behave responsibly and that the group will stay on the task.

Group Spirit Establishing a group identity is another mechanism for promoting positive interdependence. For instance, if a professor put students in base groups, the professor can use the first meeting to allow them to develop a sense of group identity.

Jigsaw Jigsaw is a very complex strategy. It involves dividing the information and making each base group responsible for a different set of information. The professor instructs the students to learn the information and to be prepared to teach it to their classmates (or others). The professor then brings the students together into “expert groups.” The “expert groups” review what they have learned, clear up any confusion, share what they have written, and come to agreement on what is important to teach. They plan how they will teach, and then they teach their classmates. I have used this technique very successfully in my Health Care Law Class where students have made presentations to the school and to the community on a variety of topics.

Reward One popular strategy for fostering interdependence is to give rewards when a group accomplishes a goal. This strategy is frequently used with children. However, the Cooperative Learning community debates whether rewards are an appropriate strategy. Some professors believe that extrinsic reward can be effective if used in moderation; while others argue that extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation.

Use as many strategies as possible for promoting positive interdependence within one lesson. “Positive interdependence provides the context within which promotive interaction takes place, group membership and interpersonal interaction among students do not produce higher achievement unless positive interdependence is clearly structured and . . . goal interdependence is present.”

E. Considerable Promotive Interaction is a Trademark of Cooperative Learning.

Promotive interaction is a process in which individuals encourage and help each other's efforts to achieve, to complete tasks, to produce and to reach the group's goals. Promotive interaction needs to be face-to-face. In the typical law school, students talk to each other's back. Having significant promotive interaction when students talk to each other's back is not only difficult, but impossible. When promotive interactions are appropriately structured, students:

1. Provide each other with efficient and effective help and assistance;

2. Exchange needed resources, such as information and materials;

3. Process information, more efficiently and effectively;

4. Provide each other with feedback to improve subsequent performance;

5. Challenge each other's conclusions to promote higher-quality decision making;

6. Advocate the exertion of effort to achieve mutual goals;

7. Influence each other's efforts to achieve the group's goals;

8. Act in trusting and trustworthy ways; and

9. Are motivated to strive for mutual benefit.

Most law school classrooms do not easily allow for face-to-face interaction. However, if the chairs in the classroom are movable, the room can be situated with little disruption to the class. When using either base groups or formal groups, assign the students to seats so that the two students sitting in front can turn around and face the students in back quickly. In addition, professors can ask to be assigned to a classroom larger than the class size would ordinarily dictate. For instance, if the class size is thirty, a room large enough to hold forty-five or sixty would be appropriate. The students can quickly move into groups without too much disruption.

The typical law school classrooms. All eyes are on the teacher who is the center the learning processes. The teacher is a “sage on the stage.”


The Cooperative Learning Classroom. In the Cooperative Learning environment, a large portion of the interaction is between students. As the figure below shows, by having the students turn in their seats so they can talk face-to-face, knee-to-knee, the role of the teacher is to be a “Guide on the Side.”


F. Clearly Perceived Individual Accountability is Essential to Effective Cooperative Learning.

The purpose of Cooperative Learning groups is to make each member a stronger individual. Accountability is the key to ensuring that all group members are, in fact, strengthened by learning cooperatively. Accountability exists:

1. when the professor assesses the performance of each individual student;

2. when the professor gives the result of the assessment back to the individual and gives the group average back to the group; and

3. when students hold other group members responsible for contributing his or her fair share to the group's success. Individual accountability is necessary to avoid the free rider effect. Individual accountability can be assured in several ways: group size, signature, sampling, checkpoints, observing, journals, peer evaluation, and testing.

Group size. The smaller the group, the greater the individual accountability. A person can consistently come to class unprepared in the typical law classroom, because the chances of someone discovering it is very low. However, in a small group, the other group members will know when a person is not prepared, in part because the individual is necessary for the group to do its part.

Signature. Have students sign any group work. However, the professor should clearly explain what the student signature means. For instance, place a statement on the form that “your signature says that you were prepared for class and that you fully participated in your group discussion.” Requiring a signature will not guarantee that everyone is prepared, however, it sends a message on the importance of individual responsibility. Law students take their signature very seriously and will not sign the group product when they cannot attest to the fact.

Sampling. Call on students at random to discuss part of their group's work. This technique easily combines with the typical Socratic Method.

Checkpoints. For long projects, such as a group presentation or paper, build in checkpoints where each student must turn in part of the task completed. Checkpoints hold the students accountable. Checkpoints also help develop the student's organizational skills.

Observing. Observe each group recording the frequency with which each member contributes to the group work. For instance, in a problem-based course, the professor could require students to keep a “problems journal.” The professor could then observe how many students have their journals, their books, and other signs that they prepared for the lesson. Of course, for the observation to have an impact on the students, it is necessary that the faculty member explain his or her role, what the professor is observing, and why the information is relevant.

Journals. The professor can ask students to keep journals or write reflective papers after each lesson. In journals, students reflect on the substantive knowledge and skills that they are learning. In addition, students reflect on their contribution to the group, what they are learning about working with others, or the skills they need to be a better group members.

Peer Evaluation. Having students evaluate their team members is another mechanism for assuring individual accountability.

Testing. Besides promoting individual accountability, regular testing can be a means of assessing students' skills, comprehension, and thinking. The information from the testing can help us to structure our course around the students.

“There is a pattern to classroom learning. First, students learn knowledge, skills, strategies, or procedures in a cooperative group. Second, students apply the knowledge or demonstrate the skill, strategy, or procedure alone to demonstrate their personal mastery of the material. Students learn it together and then do it alone.”

G. In Cooperative Learning, the Professor Must Assure That Students Have Appropriate Group Social Skills.

To work cooperatively to achieve mutual goals, students must (1) get to know and trust each other, (2) communicate accurately and unambiguously, (3) accept and support each other, and (4) resolve conflicts constructively. We are not born instinctively knowing how to interact effectively with others. These skills do not magically appear when students need them. Consequently, the professor must teach the skills. The professor may be inclined to assume that students in law school will have the necessary social skills, that would be a mistake. No assurances exist that individuals at any educational level have the social skills for cooperating effectively. “The more socially skillful students are, and the more attention instructors pay to teaching and rewarding the use of social skills, the higher the achievement that can be expected within the Cooperative Learning groups.” Professors need to teach skills that fall into the following categories: forming skills, functioning skills, formulating skills and fermenting skills.

Forming Skills Forming skills include the initial management skills needed to establish appropriate behavior norms such as, encouraging everyone to participate, calling group members by name, making eye contact with the speaker, eliminating “put-downs.”

Functioning skills Functioning skills include the skills necessary to assure a functioning group. Students evidence these skills by stating or restating the purpose of the assignment, setting time limits, suggesting procedures for how to most effectively complete an assignment, and energizing the group when motivation is low.

Formulating skills Formulating skills include the mental processes needed to build deeper understanding of the subject being studied, the use of higher quality reasoning strategies, maximizing mastery and retention of material, and providing methods for processing the material.

Fermenting skills Fermenting skills are those skills that stimulate reconceptualization of the material being studied, cognitive conflict, the search for more information, and the communication of the rationale behind one's conclusion. “The most important aspects of learning take place when group members skillfully challenge each other's conclusions and reasoning.” To coordinate efforts to achieve mutual goals, students must: 1) get to know and trust each other, 2) communicate accurately and unambiguously, 3) accept and support each other, and 4resolve conflicts constructively.

Steps to Necessary Interpersonal and Social Skills


H. Frequent Group Processing is Important to Cooperative Learning.

Group processing involves reflecting on a group session to describe what member actions were helpful and unhelpful and to decide what actions to continue or change. Group processing clarifies and improves the effectiveness of the members in contributing to the collaborative effort. Two levels of group processing exist, small group and whole class. Small group processing occurs at the end of each class session for each cooperative group, helping them process how effectively the groups worked together. Group processing is an important part of the Cooperative Learning process. Studies show that students who work in Cooperative Learning groups that use group processing have increased achievement. Group processing enables learning groups to focus on maintaining good working relationships among members by:

1. facilitating the learning of cooperative skills,

2. ensuring that members receive feedback on their participation,

3. ensuring that students think on the meta-cognitive and the cognitive level, and

4. providing the means to celebrate the success of the group and reinforce the positive behaviors of group members.

Professors can use several strategies to promote effective group processing, such as, faculty observation, self-monitoring, or student observation.

Faculty Observation Faculty can monitor students' interactions and give them feedback regularly by collecting information as they observe groups.

Self-Monitoring Students can complete question(s) about how their group interacted. Students can answer the questions individually or as a group.

Student Observation In a class with more than eight groups of fours, consider using student observers. Professors can hire student observers as teaching assistants or students in the course can be observers.

VI. Issues Relating to Using Cooperative Learning in Law Schools.

Faculty using Cooperative Learning in law schools will be confronted with a number of issues including: the faculty's role in using cooperative learning, grading, faculty response, student evaluations, coverage issues, problem student behavior, and impact on tenure.

A. Faculty's Role in Cooperative Learning

The role of the faculty in the Cooperative Learning classroom is very different from the traditional classroom. In Cooperative Learning, the professor is truly a “guide on the side,” not the center of attention.

However, it would be a mistake to think that Cooperative Learning is less work. It is not. Professors using Cooperative Learning will have more work before and after class. The teaching role of the faculty necessarily expands when using Cooperative Learning. With Cooperative Learning, the teacher makes the decisions, develops the lesson, monitors and intervenes, evaluates and processes.

Professors using Cooperative Learning have many difficult decisions to make. What are the specific academic and collaborative objectives? What group size shall you use? How should you assign students to groups? How should you arrange the room? What material should you use? Finally, what roles should you assign?

Once a professor has made the decisions it is then the professor's responsibility to set the lesson. Setting the task involves structuring positive interdependence, individual accountability and intergroup processing. The professor must explain the academic task, explain the criteria for success, specify the behaviors wanted from the groups, and teach collaborative skills.

After setting the lesson, the professor is responsible for monitoring the lesson and intervening when necessary. Monitoring and intervening involve several different approaches: 1)arranging face-to-face interaction, 2)monitoring students' behavior, 3)providing task assistance, and 4)intervening to teach collaborative skills.

Finally, it is the professor's responsibility to evaluate the process. Evaluating the process involves: 1)evaluating student learning, 2)assuring group processing, and 3)providing closure to the lesson.

B. Grading

The most significant problem facing a teacher wanting to use Cooperative Learning in law school is the grading system. First, law school uses norm-referenced grading rather than criterion-referenced grading. Second, law faculties generally do not provide interim grading opportunities or a grade for class participation. Third, anonymous grading is a problem in Cooperative Learning. Fourth, some faculty may object to grades based on collaborative work.

Norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced grading. In norm-referenced grading students received their grade, not on whether they have met the teachers' learning objectives, but on how they compared with the performance of other law students. “In other words, B, C, D, and F grades today are not determined by reference to external standards of performance or professional promise, but instead are determined by the relationships between the points earned by A papers and the points earned by all other papers on a particular examination.”

Such a grading system can undermine Cooperative Learning. The message to students in Cooperative Learning isthat by working together everyone can improve and achieve. That is, no one needs to fail and the potential exists for everyone to excel. The message in a norm-reference system is that it does not matter how hard a student works or how much growth a student makes, if the student is on the bottom, the student gets the lowest grade. Most law schools have some form of grading curve or grade normalization and many faculty believe this is necessary, except at the elite schools where all the students are deemed capable. However, even at the elite schools the top grades, “A's” are rationed. Such a system sends an additional message that undermines Cooperative Learning. The message is “A's” and/or “B's” are scarce resources.

Ideally, law schools would move to criterion-referenced systems where students' grades would be based on meeting a communicated set of performance goals and where there were no limits on the number of “A's” and “B's” that professors could award. Law schools could adopt the Harvard model of 20 percent A's, 60 percent B's, and 20 percent C's; or the more flexible grading patterns at other national schools that would, at least, adapt more readily to Cooperative Learning. A third alternative would be to allow the faculty member who teaches using Cooperative Learning to petition not to be subject to the curve or grade normalization.

Short of achieving the ideal, one of the professor's first tasks is to find a way around the message that good grades are scarce. One way around that message is to inspect the school's curve carefully and construct a message that gives students reassurance. For instance, if a law school's curve does not require that a professor give any “D's” or “F's” then that professor could set a criteria reference system that assures everyone who meets the minimum criteria will receive a C . This message would be consistent with the message of Cooperative Learning.

At the end of a grading period in a Cooperative Learning class, students will have grades from Cooperative Learning efforts and individual efforts. When the professor adds these grades, the high achievers get “A's.” The students who are middle and low achievers receive higher grades than they would in a purely individualistic or competitive environment because of the increased achievement due to Cooperative Learning. Therefore there are increased numbers of “B's” and “C's,” but the number of “C-'s”, “D's” and “F's” decrease, since the team members refuse to allow uninspired students to stay uninvolved.

This effect creates another problem. Other faculty members may perceive the professor using Cooperative Learning as an “easy grader.” Other professors may hold that perception because they do not understand the ideas of Cooperative Learning. One approach to dealing with faculty perception is to do a workshop on Cooperative Learning for the faculty. Another alternative is to subscribe to “Cooperative Learning and College Teaching” and circulate it among your faculty. At any rate, dealing with that perception will be a significant issue, especially if the Cooperative Learning professor is untenured and uniformity in grading is important at the law school.

Students may also perceive the Cooperative Learning professor as an easy grader as they look at his or her posted grades. However, the first few weeks of class usually dissuade people from believing that Cooperative Learning classrooms are easy. In fact, they require much more sustained effort than the traditional classroom. Students quickly figure out that they will earn any grade they receive, and you can expect a significant percentage to drop the class.

No interim grading opportunities/class participation grades. Another grading issue is thenecessity of setting criteria and having multiple grading opportunities. Law faculties typically provide only one exam per semester. Exams once a semester are not a sufficient opportunity for law students to learn from their mistakes. Such a practice gives a significant advantage to some students based upon behavioral characteristics brought into the law school environment. A Cooperative Learning environment is based on the opportunity for students to have multiple evaluations and feedback. Faculty adopting the new paradigm in more doctrinal courses should be providing more instruction, more practice, and more individualized feedback on student writing. Many methods are available to professors for increasing evaluation and feedback:

1) several times a semester students can write short ungraded essays,

2) cooperative learning group discussions of the problems,

3) class discussion of the problems,

4) written self-critiques by students, after class discussion,

5) peer review of students' work,

6) using teaching assistants to review student essays, outlines, and self-critiques, and,

7) random review of some written work to assure good faith effort.

Anonymity in Grading. Clearly, providing completely anonymous grading in a Cooperative Learning environment is impossible. Even in required courses, students seem to accept, without comment or hesitation, the need for you to know who is doing the work throughout the course.

Basing Grade on Collaborative Work. Some faculty may argue that the ABA's Standards for Approval of Law Schools required the use of evaluation techniques that focus on the work done by individual students. Standard 304(b) provides that “[t]he scholastic achievement of students shall be evaluated from the inception of their studies. As part of the testing of scholastic achievement, a written examination of suitable length and complexity shall be required in every course for which credit is given [with exceptions irrelevant here].”

Furthermore, a 1975 interpretation of that standard states that “[t]he examination should be by either written examination or term paper. The examination should not be an oral examination, nor should it be a progress report graded by fellow students. The intent of the Standard is to have a meaningful faculty assessment of the student's work product.”

Some argue the definite article in the final sentence of the 1975 interpretation required an evaluation based on each student's work alone. However, the ABA aims the standard and the interpretation at “ensuring that students produce written work of a relatively complex sort, which faculty members, rather than others, evaluate.” The individual accountability component of Cooperative Learning allows, in fact requires, that professors evaluate students, at least in part, based on their own work.

C. Faculty Response

The faculty may be unwilling to abandon their role of “sage on the stage” in order to become “guide on the side.” This a radically different role, and one for which most faculty member are unprepared. This role requires professors to make significant changes in their underlying value assumptions about student learning. Cooperative Learning requires that faculty return to students a significant portion of the responsibility and assistance for the learning and teaching function. Furthermore, a person has a difficult time changing behavior on which his or her self-esteem is built. Most law professors do not have the experience of being outsiders, a feeling that would temper their feelings of certainty about the current legal education process. Law professors have an interest in maintaining a system based on Socratic Method and norm-referenced grading. It is a system under which they earned “A's” and a system under which they have been deemed to teach adequately. Few law professors have training in education. Few professors have taught themselves about the principles of learning and teaching. Nor is it deemed useful by the majority of the law faculty.

Professors could respond negatively to Cooperative Learning because having students as partners may expose that “basic source of [our] expertise for what it really is: a process that is not terribly complicated or intellectually sophisticated, even if its effective performance requires experience, practice, and repetition along with common sense, practical judgment, and a talent for nuance.”

The faculty may respond with comments such as “I have done that and it does not work”, or “I have done that and you are not doing anything special.” This may mean that they have tried small groups in their classrooms. However, after a discussion of the principals of Cooperative Learning, it becomes clear that they have not engaged in Cooperative Learning. As suggested above, educating the faculty about Cooperative Learning is a very important step.

D. Student Evaluations

Cooperative Learning with increased feedback to student and increased workload may have adverse effects on the students' subsequent formal evaluations of the professor's teaching. It is very likely that a non-traditional teacher in first year law school will see a negative impact on his or her evaluations. Furthermore, as the semester goes on, Cooperative Learning is clearly “a lot more work” simply because it is very difficult for a student to come to class unprepared. Even if the professor does not know that they are not prepared, their team members will. Most students will find it emotionally difficult to be consistently unprepared in a small group. This is particularly true if the teams are functioning properly, since team members will apply pressure to each other to be prepared.

Professor's concerns about adverse impact on student evaluations of their teaching are understandable. If a faculty purports to accept or encourage academic freedom, then law schools will need to adopt methods of student evaluation that do not penalize professors for good teaching practices. In any event, individual teachers, especially if tenured and experienced, can get around this obstacle at little permanent cost.

Further, the law school could take steps to legitimize different teachingmethods. During orientation, the school could have students attend both a traditional class and a non-traditional class. Also, during orientation, we could tell students that professors use a wide range of teaching methods from the traditional Socratic Method to Cooperative Learning. By presenting only the traditional method in a demonstration class, and by not commenting on the wide range of teaching methodologies available for use in law schools, we set students up to believe and to expect that within the law school environment the Socratic Method is the only legitimate teaching methodology.

E. Coverage Issues

Professors are legitimately concerned with whether they can get the same amount of coverage of substantive course material using Cooperative Learning. The answer is mixed. Initially when a professor first starts using Cooperative Learning, he or she may not get as good as coverage as in the traditional course. However, this may be primarily because the professor is learning a new skill. As a professor becomes more proficient, coverage increases. One way to avoid significant coverage problems is to start using Cooperative Learning exercises judiciously. For instance, start doing only one or two five-minute pair exercises per class.

As a professor moves into longer Cooperative Learning exercises (15-20 minutes), he or she can extend coverage by having groups work on different parts of the lessons. Every group does not have to be working on the same problem. In a class of 30, the professor can have six groups doing three different problems. After the groups meet to discuss the problems, the professor can either randomly select a representative or have the group select a representative who will report. When the group reports, the professor can quiz them and ask questions just as the professor would in a socratic exchange. Even though the different groups work on different problems, they all have prepared for class by writing a good faith answer to all the assigned problems which orients all the students to the work of each group. These good faith answers are given individual grades.

Another way to assure coverage, is to give the students the rules of law that they need to learn. This increases your ability to focus on skills development.

F. Problem Student Behavior

Some students will engage in unhelpful behavior when they first start working with Cooperative Learning. The three most common forms of unhelpful behavior are passive uninvolvement, active uninvolvement, and taking charge. Professors can generally handle those behaviors through how they structure the Cooperative Learning experience. However, professors must handle the behavior early because such behavior can destroy the functioning of the group.

Passive uninvolvement is recognizable by a student who physically turns away from the group, does not participate, does not pay attention, says little or nothing in groups, shows no enthusiasm, or does not bring their work or materials to class. Some ways of handling passive uninvolvement include dividing the roles and assigning the passive uninvolved student an essential role, jigsawing the materials, or rewarding the group based on their average performance.

Students display active uninvolvement by talking about everything but the assignment, leaving the group without permission, deliberately giving wrong answers, or refusing to work with other group members. Professors can address active uninvolvement by offering a reward to the student or group, and structuring the task so that the student must work in order for the group to succeed and attain the reward or by reminding the student that active positive participation is part of the overall grade.

Students take charge by doing all the work, refusing to let others participate, and bullying or making decisions without checking to see if others agree. Professors can address this behavior by assigning the most powerful roles to others or by rewarding groups based on the lowest two scores or grades on a unit test or project.

G. Impact on Tenure

A significant issue involved in the decision to teach Cooperative Learning is how a non-traditional teaching method might affect the tenure process. That depends entirely on how your faculty views teaching and academic freedom. Clearly, Cooperative Learning is a well-established teaching methodology that a professor is entitled to choose to use. Nevertheless, despite issues of academic freedom, teaching in a non-traditional style can effect how the faculty and student body perceives the quality of your teaching. Educating your faculty might help them overcome some legitimate concerns which come from lack of knowledge.

If a professor has problems, it may be due to the faculty's inability to evaluate teaching based on Cooperative Learning because they don't understand it. However, evaluating Cooperative Learning is much like evaluating any course. First, evaluate the Cooperative Learning structure. Has the faculty member developed the appropriate structure? Was there a well-designed instructional task? Was there significant positive interdependence? Was there considerable promotive interaction? Was there substantial individual accountability? Were there appropriate group social skills? Was there frequent group processing? Of course, this presumes that the faculty accepts the premise that Cooperative Learning is a legitimate teaching methodology.

The professor being evaluated should assess their own performance and explain how the elements worked in the class. Second, like any other class, the faculty can observe student participation. Are the students actively involved with each other? Are they talking about the problem? Finally, the faculty can assess student learning in the same manner that they assess student learning under other methodologies.

Some people recommend to untenured professors to be traditional until tenured. I do not recommend that route. Untenured professors are teachers with an obligation to be the best teachers possible. Consequently, untenured professors have an obligation do whatever it requires to be the best teacher possible. To do this, the faculty person using Cooperative Learning may need to find a support system outside his or her faculty. For instance, a professor could join the AALS Section on Teaching, join SALT, join the Section on Women in the Law, join the Section on Academic Support Programs, or join the teaching development resources of your University. Finally, a faculty member can join the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education (IASCE).


IV. Conclusion

Learning to use Cooperative Learning, like learning to teach effectively, is a lifelong endeavor requiring constant assessment, evaluation, and change. Though I have used the technique for years, I am still perfecting my craft. As I wrote this article, I uncovered several areas where I needed to improve. Donot feel frustrated by the time it takes to become proficient. Generally, it takes at least three years of training and experience to become proficient in the integrated and flexible use of Cooperative Learning.

Despite the time and effort, the reward is worth it. For example, a professor using Cooperative Learning will see IMMEDIATE improvement in students' participation, in their preparationfor class, in their involvement, and in their skill development. As students learn more sophisticated social skills, the faculty member will see improvement in how they work together to maximize their learning.

The beauty of Cooperative Learning is that professors do not have to abandon other methodologies (i.e., Socratic Method) for it to be effective. Professors using Cooperative Learning can structure their course so that Cooperative Learning supplements rather than replaces other methods. Such structuring will move all students to higher levels of reasoning and thinking while providing a considerable increase in energy and fun.

Finally, the typical learning environment of law school reinforces “individualistic and meritocractic attitudes.” In a diverse, multi-cultural society, dispute resolution need not only come from a consensus, but it must be designed to maintain relationships. Individualistic, competitive attitudes are not only impediments to producing effective lawyers, but are also impediments to our society. Cooperative Learning teaches students, on a daily basis, how to negotiate their differences and mediate each other's conflict. Those skills are essential in a legal system that must serve a diverse society and world.

In Cooperative Learning students are “teaching each other, assessing each other, filling the gaps in each others' understandings, wrestling with the ideas behind whatever they are learning, and motivating each other to learn and teach.”