Cooperative Learning as One Approach to Teaching Family Law*

Published date01 October 2002
AuthorTammy L. Henderson,Kasey J. Martin
Date01 October 2002
2002, Vol. 51, No. 4 351
Special Collection
Cooperative Learning as One Approach to Teaching
Family Law*
Tammy L. Henderson** and Kasey J. Martin
We identif‌ied appropriate family law content and a pedagogical vehicle to support instructors interested in teaching family law to
students of family studies and human development programs. Additionally, we provide instructors with an overview of a family law
course, a detailed model syllabus, strategies, and model assignments for using cooperative learning as the core pedagogy. We review
the pedagogical value of cooperative learning in general and give specif‌ic cooperative assignments for our readers. The course model
is designed to improve students’ critical thinking, team building, and problem-solving skills toward understanding the intersection of
families and the law.
Families are affected both directly and indirectly by mul-
tiple contexts of the environment in which they live
(Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Salkind, 1985). One such context
is the domain of the courts and law. For example, family law
imposes rules upon family relationships in decisions about who
may marry and what constitutes a legal marriage (Harvard Law
Review [HLR], 1980; Pyle, 1994). Although these laws may not
be directly applicable to every citizen, they indirectly inf‌luence
the strength of legal relationships among all citizens. Because
laws help to create an environmental context that inf‌luences fam-
ilies (Melton, 1987; Purnell & Bagby, 1993; Walters,1983), fam-
ily law is a viable research and instructional area for social sci-
entists. Recognizing that family law, like family policy (Ander-
son & Skinner, 1995), may be unfamiliar contentto professionals
in human development, family studies, and related disciplines,
there is a growing need for social scientists to critically analyze
how legal materials and decisions inf‌luence family development
and vice versa (Tanke & Tanke, 1979; Walters). It is only by
fostering an understanding of the intersection of the courts, the
broader legal systems, and families that family scientists may
increase their understanding of the inf‌luence, both direct and
indirect, that this legal system has on family functioning. Like-
wise, through studying the intersecting relationship of families
and the courts, family scientists may examine how families in-
f‌luence changes in the legal system.
There are many examples of the effect of the legal system
on family functioning. We need look no further than the shift
from fathers having sole legal authority in families to the con-
struction of parental rights for both mothers and fathers (Mintz,
1992). More recently, family disruption, child custody, and so-
cial scientists’ construction of the ‘‘tender years doctrine’’ (the
perspective that children should remain with their mother be-
cause she is the nurturing caregiver) inf‌luenced the development
of legal rights for children (Pyle, 1994). Changes within families
also inf‌luence changes in the legal system. Where once fathers
had nearly absolute legal authority over children—and nearly
absolute authority over the children’s mother—in the 19th cen-
tury justices began to recognize the ‘‘tender years doctrine’’ and
mothers’ care-giving roles. This principle eventually gave way
*We appreciate the dedicated assistance of Pamela A. Monroe with this manuscript.
We would like to thank Dr.Randall Grayson of the Minority Academic Opportunity Program
at Virginia Tech for f‌inancially supporting graduate research assistants and interns.
**Department of Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Uni-
versity, 401-B Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0416 (
Key Words: cooperative learning, family, law, pedagogy.
(Family Relations, 2002, 51, 351–360)
to the ‘‘best interests of the child’’ standard and, later, an explicit
recognition of some separate, legal rights for children.
The inf‌luence of the legal environment on families cannot
be measured only by its direct effects on certain families. For
example, grandparent visitation statutes directly inf‌luence only a
small portion of families who are using the courts to win access
to their grandchildren. These statutes indirectly inf‌luence all fam-
ilies by changing the protections surrounding parental autonomy
(Henderson & Moran, 2001). Grandparent visitation rights also
bring into question the def‌inition of the family:
In other words, the parents’ fundamental liberty interest in
raising their children in accordance with their own views is
paramount to the grandparents’ liberty interest in familial re-
lationship [that] may well come within the def‌inition of the
family; this right to visit relationship takes second place to
the hierarchy of parent-child. (Murray v. Marks, 1993, p. 4)
We contribute to this special collection by identifying ap-
propriate family law content and a pedagogical vehicle to sup-
port instructors interested in teaching family law to students of
family studies and human development programs. To this end,
we focus on teaching family law, a unique subject matter for
social scientists in such programs, using cooperative learning as
the pedagogical vehicle. We discuss the following: why coop-
erative learning is an appropriate teaching pedagogy for teaching
family law, what content is appropriate in a family law course,
how to construct a cooperative learning environment, and how
to integrate family law in a cooperative learning environment. A
model syllabus and learning activities are among the tools dis-
cussed here to support the course development process.
Why Cooperative Learning Is Appropriate in
Teaching a Family Law Course
Cooperative learning refers to an active educational process.
Mutual support, exploration, and discovery among a small group
of participants are characteristics of cooperative learning envi-
ronments (Goodwin, 1999; Nolinske & Millis, 1997). This ped-
agogy teaches students about mutual respect and team interac-
tions necessary to become effective employees in the paid work-
force (Cavalier, Klein, & Cavalier, 1995; Nolinske & Millis).We
suggest that these are skills useful to a family scientist or family
advocate in the legal context. The learning environment and ac-
tivities provide students with structured, systemic instruction for
learning in small-group interactions. This teaching approach of-
fers instructors and students continuous feedback and monitoring
information, helping them to identify points that require addi-
tional clarif‌ication or reinforcement (Nolinske & Millis).

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT