The PLEA: Mock Trials

The PLEA: Mock Trials

Mock Trials: Effective Teaching Practice

It is easy to see that mock trials can be an effective form of experiential learning. However, beyond simple intuition there is much research that indicates their effectiveness. Given that curricular links across several disciplines validate the use of mock trials, mock trials can be a sound part of many different programs of learning.

Anar Ahmadov, a London School of Economics professor and proponent of mock trials, has looked at research on the impact that role-play has on learning. What he found was surprising. One particular study indicated that students retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, and 90% of what they say while doing something. This alone would suggest the efficacy of mock trials as a superior model for student engagement. Enforcing this perception, Ahmadov also pointed to evidence that students who engaged in role-play and collaborative exercises performed higher on subsequent tests than those students who received traditional instruction.

Of course, mock trials are not without their drawbacks. A significant deal of preparation time must be invested by teachers and students. As well, because of the complexity of real-life court processes, mock trials only function as a partial view of the justice system in action. However, these drawbacks are true of almost any dynamic learning activity and should not be considered reasons to avoid pursuing them.

Classroom learning should have curricular links, so one of the great things about mock trials is their ability to intersect with several of Saskatchewan’s K-12 programs. The links to Law 30 and Social Studies 30 are obvious. Yet, there are other perhaps less-obvious but equally valid links. As just one example, the Power and Authority Outcome 6.3 of Social Studies 6, “Explore examples and explain how people, such as ethnic minority groups, the disabled, youth, and the elderly, may be affected by injustice or abuses of power” could be fulfilled by a mock trial.

What may be even more surprising is that the curricular links are not confined to the Social Sciences. Just one example is how mock trials can be used to meet the drama-related outcomes and indicators of Saskatchewan’s Arts Education curricula. And because the Arts Education curricula points out that “Making connections among the arts strands, and with other areas of study, can help students increase the breadth and depth of their learning,” a mock trial as a cross-curricular unit of study would be a great opportunity to link Arts Education across disciplines.

It is teachers who are empowered to meet curricular requirements in the manner they see best-fit to their learning environments. With this in mind, the coming pages will profile two mock trial kits available from PLEA and ways to develop your own mock trial, so that you can begin the thinking process on how a mock trial could play out in your classroom.