Understanding the Metacognitive “Space” and Its Implications for Law Students’ Learning


This article builds upon our prior work, contributing to the growing literature addressing development of metacognitive skills in law students. Metacognitive skills include knowledge of strategies that impact thinking and learning, and regulation of thinking and learning related to specific learning tasks. Metacognitive skills are important for learning in law school as well as for successful lawyering.

Herein we describe an empirical study of first-year law students that addresses four primary research questions:
(1) What level of metacognitive knowledge and regulation do law students demonstrate when they enter law school?
(2) Do law students’ metacognitive knowledge and regulation change during the first semester of law school?
(3) Is there a relationship between law students’ academic performance and metacognitive knowledge and regulation?
(4) Does instructional intervention impact law students’ metacognitive knowledge and regulation?

In addressing these questions, we refined the qualitative instruments from our prior study to better capture the interplay between metacognitive knowledge and regulation. In so doing, a metacognitive “space” emerged that provides a visual tool for other researchers interested in assessing student metacognitive skills. We posit that the metacognitive “space” may further serve as a tool for instructors to promote development of metacognitive skills in students, and for students to self-reflect and intentionally regulate their learning.

We found that most students enter law school lacking metacognitive knowledge but with some metacognitive regulation skills. The majority of students ended their first semester with knowledge. However, metacognitive knowledge was not associated with course performance nor was there an effect of instructional intervention on metacognitive knowledge. Metacognitive regulation, specifically use of strategies identified as most effective in law school, was associated with course performance, as was overall level of metacognitive regulation. While there was no effect of instructional intervention on the level of metacognitive regulation, intervention did result in more students reporting use of strategies such as fact patterns, hypotheticals, and working practice problems, strategies supporting both success in law school and successful lawyering.

The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the work for legal education and future directions for study and practice of metacognition.

Gundlach, Jennifer A. and Santangelo, Jessica, Understanding the Metacognitive “Space” and Its Implications for Law Students’ Learning (July 1, 2021).
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