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Engaging your students: Four social science mechanisms

The social sciences/tikanga a iwi Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration [BES] (pp. 56–224) identifies and describes four mechanisms that are most likely to facilitate students’ learning:

Connection: Making connections to students’ lives

To help students to connect their learning in Legal Studies to their lives, teachers will:

  • establish students’ prior knowledge, interest and experiences in order to make connections to these
  • encourage students to understand the fundamental importance of knowing that the law impinges on every aspect of their daily lives
  • understand that connection in Legal Studies may involve students exploring legal systems other than that of modern day New Zealand which could include the legal systems of other countries or Maori tikanga. 

Teaching models

Teachers should choose teaching models that will support student connection to the learning. Teaching and learning models that facilitate this include: the experiential learning cycle, problem-based learning, direct-instruction and inquiry-based learning.

Experiential learning cycle – The experiential learning cycle was developed for teachers of health and physical education, but the approach is effective for teaching and learning in many school subjects, including legal studies. This cycle clarifies the teaching and learning process.

Problem-based learning – Students assume primary responsibility for researching a problem. They can have a part in deciding the problem to be researched and hence connect learning to their own interests.

Direct instruction – Teacher explanation and modeling in which teachers choose examples and tasks directly related to students’ learning level and connected to their lives.

Inquiry-based learning – An inquiry involves both asking questions and making systematic attempts to answer them. Students become connected with their learning through designing an inquiry. For further information, see Approaches to Social Inquiry.

Alignment: aligning experiences to important outcomes

To help students align their experiences in legal studies to important outcomes, teachers should:

  • ensure learning activities, tasks and resources align with the learning outcomes
  • build conceptual understanding through multiple opportunities to scaffold student learning
  • promote critical thinking, for example by arguing both their own viewpoint and an opposing point of view
  • reduce coverage and focus on key ideas and concepts.

Teaching models that support conceptual understanding and critical thinking in legal studies

Teachers can help their students to gain deeper conceptual understandings of, and think critically about legal studies by using teaching models that support this type of learning.

Teachers can use models such as ‘guided discovery’ in which they present examples that illustrate content and then guide students to find patterns and relationships in the information. Students have active involvement in the construction of their own understanding of concepts that promote deeper understanding of the content and develop student thinking.

Conceptual attainment can also be aided through associating concepts with examples, through developing essential characteristics of the concept and suggesting learners form idealised prototypes of the concept.

Learning about legal studies through a conceptual focus enables students to broaden their understandings beyond simple facts. A focus on concepts also offers the opportunity to develop those understandings in ways that connect to the interests and experiences of the students.

Learning legal studies related concepts also supports learning across curriculum areas. For example, a student may learn about the concept of democracy through a social and cultural context in history and then develop further knowledge and understanding through a legal studies context.

Community: Building and sustaining a learning community

To help legal studies students build and sustain a learning community, teachers will:

  • create a cooperative learning environment where students support each others’ learning
  • use teaching models that involve students working collaboratively to reach common goals
  • create a classroom culture of respect and inclusion, where learning is the focus and expected of all students.

Teaching models

Group interaction models allow students to construct ideas through dialogue with peers and to articulate their thinking.

While the classroom will be the main learning community, there is ample opportunity to expand the students’ learning environment beyond this and into the local community. Contacts with local lawyers and organizations, such CAB or other legal help agencies can provide the real-life contexts that make the learning authentic.

Interest: designing experiences that interest students

In legal studies this might include:

  • past and current legal issues, such as cases or law-making of particular interest to adolescents
  • local legal issues
  • using authentic legal situations that students experience, such as employment, contract and consumer laws
  • allowing students freedom to explore own areas of interest in legal studies
  • build in practical experiences, for example, visits to courts and other legal institutions such as a Waitangi Tribunal hearing.

Teaching models

Teaching models that support and create student interest include problem-based learning models and inquiry learning models. Both of these models allow the students to follow areas of interest and to be actively involved in their own learning. These areas of interest can be directly linked to relevant legal concepts.

Last updated June 14, 2018