Montana’s Article to be Published in the Southern Illinois University Law Journal

Professor Patricia Montana’s article The Cognitive Power of Analogies in the Legal Writing Classroom has been accepted for publication in the Southern Illinois University Law Journal.  The article explores how new law students traditionally learn better when they can connect what they are learning to a familiar non-legal experience. Therefore, integrating the use of analogies into the teaching of legal analysis and writing is an obvious way to facilitate a student’s connection between the new and what is already known. Thus, the article proposes that faculty incorporate analogies into their classroom teaching, experimenting with interesting and engaging ways to connect all parts of the curriculum to the students’ existing knowledge base.

This proposal has its roots in cognitive learning theory, which expounds that experts use prior knowledge or contexts, referred to as schemata by cognitive psychologists, to facilitate problem solving. When applied to student learners, students will assign a new experience meaning according to how it fits into their existing schema. As students refine their understanding of the new information, they begin to identify connections between the concepts. This, in turn, enables them to expand or modify existing schemata or create new ones. Then, as they recognize the relationships among these concepts, they begin to develop domain-specific patterns of thought and, with practice, eventual mastery over the relevant domain. Hence, the basic principles of cognitive learning theory confirm not only the relevance but the great value of utilizing analogies as a teaching tool.

Patricia Grande Montana
Professor of Legal Writing & Director, Street Law Program