WRITING-INTENSIVE COURSES ACROSS THE LAW CURRICULUM: DEVELOPING LAW STUDENTS’ CRITICAL THINKING AND WRITING SKILLS
Keywords:writing-intensive courses, law curriculum, write in law
This article will explore the use of writing-intensive courses across the law curriculum, vested in the belief that writing, as an articulation of thinking, enhances learning where it is meaningfully and intentionally embedded into a course structure. The article commences by pointing out that law students often regard the writing process and the critical thinking process as mutually exclusive and therefore fail to appreciate that writing is in fact the end-result of a process of argumentation or analysis. As a result of students‟ inability to engage effectively in a process of critical thinking, they tend to reach closure too quickly when presented with a critical-thinking problem. Consequently, students often fail to engage in a process of exploratory thinking, enabling them to suspend judgment and to enter into the spirit of opposing views. The article specifically focuses on the writing strategy recently implemented by the Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University with the primary aim of establishing a coordinated approach to the development of research and writing skills within the LLB programme as an integral part of legal education within the Faculty. The Strategy is intended to enhance the writing and research skills of LLB students through a number of interrelated interventions implemented across the entire LLB programme. A principal aim is to inculcate both generic and specific writing skills in LLB graduates in a manner that is integrated into the curriculum. A key component of the Strategy, on which the article will focus, entails the identification and development of writing-intensive courses in terms of which writing and research assignments are integrated into substantive courses. Writing-intensive courses support the notion of “writing to learn” as opposed to “learning to write” and thus encourage critical thinking. They are assignment-centred rather than text- and lecture-centred; they are structured so as to enable exploratory thinking (and thus writing); they encourage students to become actively involved in their own learning processes; and they consist of assignments that require students to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards, justifying their ideas in writing or other appropriate modes. In these courses, students are instructed on writing skills alongside the substantive content of the particular course and given exercises to develop such skills with reference to the substantive content of the course. Each course is focused on specific writing skills and successive courses are focused on developing these skills. The article concludes by dealing with the practical difficulties and benefits associated with the development of writing-intensive courses, one of which is the fact that students not only develop generic writing skills, but they also develop specific writing skills within the academic discourse of our environment – they therefore do not only learn to write, but to write in law.
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