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How Movement and Touch Relate to the Study of Law


This generation of law students includes many kinesthetic-tactile learners. In the simplest of terms, kinesthetic means movement, and tactile means touch. Kinesthetic-tactile students will differ from one another because of the strength and combinations of these two attributes for each individual.

One student may have a very strong kinesthetic-tactile preference, another student a moderate preference, and a third student a mild preference. In addition, a student may consider herself as equally kinesthetic and tactile or stronger on one dimension than the other. For example, she may have a very strong kinesthetic-tactile preference and estimate that she is 60 percent kinesthetic and 40 percent tactile.

All students can benefit from some of the movement and touch strategies, but kinesthetic-tactile learners will benefit even more. Because of individual differences, however, each kinesthetic-tactile learner needs to choose strategies to maximize her own learning. If there were a buffet line of strategies, the student would want to choose both techniques she knows from experience will work and other techniques that she wants to try.

Kinesthetic learners use small movements to assist their learning. Others will observe these learners jiggling a foot up and down, twirling a strand of hair, playing with a pen, or tapping their fingers while reading or listening in class. These small movements keep kinesthetic learners focused on the task at hand. Kinesthetic attorneys have been observed carefully playing with a paperclip behind their backs to help them concentrate during oral arguments.

Kinesthetic learners often take more breaks than other students. These learners find it difficult to stay seated and study intensely for long periods of time. Depending on the strength of the kinesthetic preference, one learner may need a short break every 40 minutes while another can study for 60 or 90 minutes before a break. Without breaks, however, these learners will lose focus and absorb less material. During breaks, it is important that they get up and move around—go to the water fountain, walk around the building once, or do some stretches. Breaks where they continue to sit and answer e-mails or chat with friends will be less restorative than more active breaks.

Kinesthetic students may get distracted more easily than other learners. These learners are drawn to movements and diversions. They are prone to look out a nearby window to see what is happening, watch the people coming in and out of the library, or focus on the doodling student in front of them in class. Kinesthetic learners often have trouble studying at home because the television, dog, dirty dishes in the sink, or almost anything else becomes more alluring than studying. When studying at a coffeehouse, they need to sit away from the service counter and entrance to avoid being distracted by customers. Blocking distractions with earplugs or instrumental music on an iPod is often helpful.

Kinesthetic learners need more space when they study. These learners gravitate to the back rows and the ends of rows in class because they literally feel as though they are not as cramped and can spread out. In the library, they tend to gravitate to larger tables where they can stretch out and take up lots of room. At home they may prefer the couch, recliner, or bed over a desk and chair. Or they may have to swap locations periodically to feel more comfortable.

Kinesthetic students learn better when they move around during certain tasks. These learners remember flash cards better if they pace back and forth as they study them. A speech for class is memorized while pacing and talking with their hands. They get into the zone reading their outline on the treadmill at the gym. They may get more out of a doctrinal CD if they listen while folding the laundry, walking around the neighborhood, or washing and waxing the car. Any repetitive motion that takes little additional thought will focus them intently on the study task at hand.

Tactile learners need to get their hands dirty with the study task. These learners want to manipulate the material to increase their understanding and retention of the concepts. For example, these students should involve themselves whenever possible with going beyond mere reading or memorization. They should complete more practice problems than other students to see how the legal analysis varies in different scenarios. Changing facts in a string of hypotheticals forces them to test their knowledge of case concepts and manipulate the law in nuanced ways.

Tactile learners will benefit greatly by participating in courses built around experiential learning. Externships, internships, clinics, trial advocacy classes, client interviewing, and other hands-on courses will be especially beneficial for these students. Many tactile students will excel at these types of courses though they may be less successful in more traditional courses. After their first summer clerkships, these students will excitedly reveal, “Now I finally understand Civil Procedure because I used it in cases all summer.”

Tactile learners will also benefit from professors who use exercises within the more traditional classroom. The tactile learner gets to discuss ideas and manipulate the material when a professor takes five minutes for a “pair and share” with students talking together about a hypothetical before discussion with the entire class. The professor who gives a drafting exercise to illustrate will-writing concepts covered in class lecture assists tactile learners. Assigning roles to students to think about the case material from those perspectives encourages tactile learners to manipulate the material differently than they might otherwise consider.

Tactile learners may learn more when they can literally feel what they are working on. When they study, they may prefer printed pages and books to electronic versions because they can hold the items in their hands. Editing a draft in hard copy may be more productive than working directly online. They often prefer handwriting their flash cards because they learn more with the pen in their hands and the physical act of writing.

Check out the free VARK survey measuring four absorption learning styles (visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic/tactile).

Amy Jarmon Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog . She is the author of Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers, which is published by the American Bar Association. She has practiced law in the United States and the United Kingdom.

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