Learning and Teaching by Sharing Mistakes

Learning and Teaching by Sharing Mistakes


I would like to share some key teaching techniques that I have found effective. I'll give you a hint - you've got to start with assumption busting.

In the course of running Greenhorn Legal (and now Greenhorn Bold), I have researched and adopted various teaching techniques and styles.  Each of these can be summarized in one easy notion: as teachers, it is imperative that we teach for our specific audience.  This requires us to truly know our audience, as well as think deeply about the ways our audience learns. 

With this in mind, there are a number of specific techniques that are highly effective when teaching any audience: 

1. Assumption Busting 

This is a technique I learned by way of materials out of Iowa State University.  And it is especially important when teaching or mentoring lawyers.  As lawyers, we are conditioned to issue spot, to see problems, to make assumptions that often create obstacles in moving forward.  As teachers of lawyers, and in order to reach our lawyer-audience, it is our responsibility to challenge the assumptions, demonstrate when the assumptions are not true, and clear a path for learning.    

2. Inquiry Teaching 

When teaching for a sophisticated audience, often an inquiry is more effective than a statement.  Frame what you know in terms of an open-ended question ("In my experience, speaking directly to the judge instead of to your opposing counsel in an oral argument is proper, and most effective, but I am interested in hearing what you have to say about this based on your own experiences.").  Even if you know you are right, let your audience discuss anyway and guide them in the direction of the correct answer over the course of the discussion.    

3. Sharing Mistakes 

While the idea of making mistakes is painful (for lawyers in particular!), we are open to learning by way of other people's mistakes.  These stories often stay with us and resonate louder than any lecture in the abstract.  When teaching or mentoring or coaching, use examples of things other people have done incorrectly (no names, of course).  While your audience may be thinking, "I would never make that mistake," once they have heard the story this is certain to be true. 

Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices.  Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.