Apr 01 2008

What Does Mastery Look Like?

Published by under Innovation

In designing a classroom environment, the book, “How People Learn: Bridging Researech and Practice” (National Academy Press 2007), argues that “attention must be given to what is taught (information, subject matter), why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery looks like.” Id. at 21. I am intrigued by this assertion, especially as it relates to mastery. While I think I know mastery when I see it – on exams, in classes, and in a courtroom — I generally do not articulate what mastery is for students or spend time explicitly modeling what it looks like, other than having students write in class and then reviewing it. In thinking about mastery for law students, I think at least three things are useful for cognitive advancement: (1) a knowledge of “big picture” frameworks or maps of a subject area; (2) a deep understanding of rules (i.e., what they mean, not just what they say); and (3) application of the rules and principles to different fact settings (a transfer of knowledge).

The question still remains for me as to what competency looks like in different subjects like Torts and Criminal Law (and whether there are substantive components required for competency) and more generally what mastery looks like in the classroom, in preparation for classes or even on exams. In response to these ruminations, I have started inserting “metacognitive moments” in classes, where I try to explicitly describe what I am trying to achieve and what success looks like. Whether these “moments” are helpful (or just senior moments) remain to be seen.

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