Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).
From the Co-Chairs of the AASE Assessment Committee:
If you are the ASP/Bar Preparation person(s) who is completing the AASE survey for your law school, the new deadline for completion of the survey is 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2018. The contact person(s) at each law school that has not already completed the survey will be receiving notification of the new deadline.
We realize that the survey is lengthy, but we are gathering more comprehensive data than can be collected in the frequent, ad hoc ASP listserv surveys. After the completion of data analysis, a summary report will provide academic and bar support professionals with the aggregate results. For the first time, you will be able to support your efforts on behalf of students with comprehensive data on trends and best practices.
Your law school’s participation in the survey is vital! Thank you ahead for your time in answering the survey questions. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Amy L. Jarmon, Co-Chair AASE Assessment Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (806) 834-6385.
Karen M. Harkins, Co-Chair AASE Assessment Committee, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Amy L. Jarmon, Co-Chair AASE Assessment Committee, Texas Tech School of Law
The AASE Assessment Committee members for 2017-2018 are: Christine Church (WMU-Cooley), Katherine Silver Kelly (Ohio State), Angela Lechleiter (Louisville), Amy Newcombe (Seton Hall), Zoe Niesel (St Mary’s), Heidi Ramos-Zimmerman (Southern Illinois), Preyal Shah (UNT-Dallas), Dena Sobol (Mitchell Hamline), Kathryn Thompson (Roger Williams), Natasha Varyani (Boston University), and Judith Wegner (UNC). The AASE Assessment Committee members for 2016-2017 were: Joe Brennan (Vermont Law School), Katherine Brokaw (Emory), Matthew Carluzzo (Villanova), Michele Cooley (IUPUI), Dorie Evensen (Penn State), Zoe Niesel (St Mary’s), John Tsiforas (Hofstra), and Jane Winn (Washington).
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This week marks our last full week of classes. I have my last scheduled meetings with students and say goodbye to many of the 3Ls, as this will be the very last time I will interact with them in this capacity. These final meetings typically signify moments of nostalgia for 3Ls, many of whom did not believe they would make it to this point, completion (almost) of their law degree. I also use this time to wrap-up a number of programs and to thank and bid farewell to the teaching assistants hired through my program. Obviously, this is a week filled with goodbyes even though I will see most of these students throughout the exam period and/or at graduation. It is important to reflect on experiences and the law school journey, to keep things in perspective, and to take stock of accomplishments. Otherwise, students tend to focus on the work rather than the successes achieved over the past few weeks, months, and years. It is also timely for me to reflect on my own experiences of the year.
I remind each 3L that this is our final formal meeting. Some were anticipating this meeting while others were intensely focused on the task at hand and did not even remember. We collectively reminisce our first meeting which typically occurred sometime during their 1L year. We highlight some of the challenges they encountered and overcame, including a few seemingly impossible goals now achieved. I congratulate them on their hard work, determination, and achievements. I wish them further success as they move ahead and remind them that the same hard work and determination can be applied to their preparation to sit for the bar exam. The students thank me for the help throughout the years that enabled them to tackle various tasks. Usually, the students do not appear emotional at this time but some do at commencement.
I recently sat down with one of my TA’s during our weekly session and realized again that despite sharing information, through multiple mediums, about all of the services and programs my office offers, students only focus on what they need at the moment and forget or overlook everything else. This TA is well aware of the teaching assistant program because she used it as a 1L and became a TA but she was unaware of many other programs despite the fact that we went over this information during TA orientation. This semester, this TA helped me critique student essays so we interact weekly to discuss student progress, upcoming assignments, and general concerns. I was behind responding to a few of her email messages so we discussed the content in person. Whenever we discuss the program or event that captured my attention this or that week, she always says: “I had no idea you did X.” or “That is an amazing resource for students.” or “Your office does so much.” She then asks additional questions and I always smile. If anything, this reinforces a fundamental reason why I need student support, students get to know me and they provide free advertising for my office to other students.
All the very best to the 3Ls on the last lap of their law school experience and thank you to all of the teaching assistants who help academic support professionals maximize their reach. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
This is the second post in the "Good Litigating is Good Teaching" series.
Part Two: Getting A Good Start
For an easier and more internally consistent reading experience, I will use female pronouns (“she,” “her”) to refer to trial counsel and male pronouns (“he,” “his”) to refer to professors.
Voir Dire the Jury
A trial attorney spends a fair amount of energy (and sometimes money) contemplating the type of jurors that would be best for her case. This pre-trial preparation is then followed by a well-choreographed discussion with the prospective juror.1 Recognizing the potential benefit, trial counsel routinely invests time getting to know her jurors, even though the juror will likely only serve on the case for a few days. Conversely, a professor knows, at the outset, that he will be with his students for at least one semester, if not the entire academic year. Yet the professor routinely knows less about his students than trial counsel knows about her jurors. The professor should voir dire his students in order to get to know them, and then tailor his classroom presentation to his audience. Are the students primarily visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic learners?2 Why have the students enrolled in the course? What do the students hope to learn during the semester?
Clearly Explain the Day-to-Day Logistics
Once selected to serve, jurors want to know, at the outset, the day-to-day logistics of jury service. For example, jurors routinely stress about where to park, if they will be paid for their service, and whether they are really qualified to serve?3 Students, likewise, stress about the logistics of the course. Students want to know how many pages they will be expected to read each week, the professor’s office hours, and the method(s) of assessment. A comprehensive syllabus and overview of the professor’s expectations—at the very beginning of the course—eliminates most of these common student stressors. A syllabus that merely lists the chapters that will be covered during the semester is woefully insufficient. The student should be apprised of every aspect of the course.4
Give an Opening Statement that Outlines the Basics
“Often, jurors know very little about the law [or facts] relevant to a case prior to the end of the trial….”5 Acknowledging that jury instructions are not typically given until the end of a trial, a trial attorney will frequently use her opening statement to explain not only legal concepts and terms of art, but also factual locations and the relationships of the parties to ensure that the jury has a basic understanding of the case. Moreover, some judges provide jurors with basic information about the facts and relevant legal background at the start of the trial to further educate the jurors.6
A professor, likewise, should not assume that his students understand the basics about legal theory, politics, world geography, or current events. The professor should begin the class discussion by laying the groundwork to ensure that the student has a baseline understanding of the topic, and then providing the student with an easily understood statement of the rule, a.k.a. “the black letter law.” Admittedly, some law professors will scoff at the notion of “spoon-feeding” the students the law, but much of the literature suggests that providing this basic framework allows the student to more quickly and effectively dive deeper into thoughtful analysis.
 For a discussion on best practices during voir dire, see Michael J. Ahlen, Voir Dire: What Can I Ask and What Can I Say?, 72 N.D.L.Rev. 631 (1996).
 The VARK learning styles questionnaire assists learners by identifying their learning style preferences: Visual, Aural, Read/Write, or Kinesthetic. See http://vark-learn.com/
 Julianna C. Chomos, et. al, Increasing Juror Satisfaction: A Call to Action for Judges and Researchers, 59 Drake L. Rev. 707 (2011).
 See Nira Hativa, Teaching Large Law Classes Well: An Outsider's View, 50 J. Legal Educ. 95 (2000).
 Increasing Juror Satisfaction at 719.
 Increasing Juror Satisfaction at 719-720.
Monday, April 16, 2018
Have you ever had a long, hard day and come home to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream? I hope that isn’t just me. I will eat the entire pint despite the fact that I am trying to eat healthier and exercise more. Something about the end of the day makes eating grilled meat with green vegetables difficult. Five Guys Burgers is just more appealing, and the research gives me an excuse for why I keep stopping at the wrong place.
Willpower research helps us understand the best time to complete tasks and when we are more likely to succumb to temptation. Studies show that taxing intellectual endeavors requiring focus and willpower drain our energy to resist later temptations. Participants are more likely to eat a donut, cookie, or treat after a difficult task. Positive interactions during the difficult task can help retain some willpower. Understanding the research can help our students accomplishment more by using the right times of the day for studying.
The studies explain many student habits during law school. Law school classes are taxing endeavors. At the end of the day, most students are exhausted. The exhaustion leads to decreased willpower which makes it easy to stop studying, fail to complete readings, not complete practice questions, and focus more on electronics than law school. Students are behaving in predictable ways even though we continually tell them to add the extra work. Many students don’t have the willpower to complete what is already assigned, much less additional exercises.
My schedule during law school made completing tasks much easier. Before law school began, I made the choice to put studying as my top priority. I hadn’t made that choice in undergrad, so I knew I needed to make a change. My philosophy was to treat law school like a job. I arrived on campus for my first class and continued focusing on law school until I left. I read for the following days between classes and limited my lunch break to approximately 45 minutes. After my last class, I stayed on campus and read instead of going home. I left once I completed all my work. My routine and location made completing everything easier. I also completed all my assignments in a reasonable amount of time. I didn’t need tons of extra willpower because I created a good routine. Due to that plan, I can count on one hand the amount of class readings I missed in 3 years of law school. Good plans use willpower efficiently.
I urge students to follow a similar approach. Taking long breaks and saving reading to the end of the day makes completing work difficult. Class interactions are draining. The intellectual rigor of law school takes a toll. Being at home and exhausted makes it easy to go to the couch or surf the internet instead of finishing readings. Most people’s willpower in the evening is so low that failure to complete everything is inevitable. We all know that once you don’t complete an assignment, catching back up is difficult. Being behind leads to stress, and law school becomes unbearable. The stress decreases willpower leading to more uncompleted assignments. The cycle can be devastating. Creating a schedule is good, but being intentional with when tasks are scheduled can increase the likelihood of getting all the work done. Don’t merely create a plan. Create a good plan to efficiently use willpower to increase the chances of accomplishing all the tasks.
Willpower is a newly researched topic. The research can lay the foundation for how we schedule our day. We should encourage everyone to create schedules that are realistic and maximize study time when we are most motivated. Everyone will learn and retain more when studying at optimal times.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Professor and Director
of Academic Success
Capital University Law School seeks to hire a full time Professor and Director of Academic Success. This is a full-time faculty position eligible for a long-term contract status. The Director will support the Law School’s overall academic mission to provide access and opportunity to student populations that have been underrepresented in the legal profession. The Director will develop and implement academic success programming to improve students’ academic preparedness and performance. Responsibilities include working in collaboration with deans, the director of the bar services, and faculty to develop and implement academic success curriculum focused on analytical skill development, class and exam preparation strategies, writing and time management skills.
- Develop, implement, and manage all components of academic success programs of the Law School.
- Coordinate and hold individual student meetings and workshops to improve students’ study, writing, time-management and test-taking skills.
- Develop assessment tools to evaluate each component of the academic success programs including those participating and/or teaching in the program.
- Provide general counseling to students regarding the academic rigors of legal study.
- Meet with students to review work when appropriate, provide one-on-one assistance for students with academic deficiencies, and academic advising. Refer students to other law school personnel or departments where appropriate.
- Integrate, where appropriate, technology into the academic success programs offerings.
- Develop and maintain and academic success web page with information and resources available to all students.
- Juris Doctor (J.D.). Previous teaching experience, particularly in a law school setting, is preferred.
- Excellent skills in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Outlook.
- Strong skills in the areas of organization, planning, interpersonal relations, oral and written communications, and customer service are necessary.
Capital University is committed to increasing the diversity of the Capital community and curriculum. This commitment includes Capital’s dedication to the development of faculty and staff who are committed to inclusive practices in teaching, learning, working and all other campus and community interactions. Candidates who can contribute to that goal are particularly encouraged to apply.
Application Process: Interested candidates should send: 1) a curriculum vitae, 2) names and addresses of three references, and 3) a letter of interest.
Please send application materials to Debbie Scott, Executive Administrative Assistant, Dean's Office, Capital University Law School, 303 East Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43215 or via email DScott2@law.capital.edu
Friday, April 13, 2018
Congratulations to Kirsha Trychta for being awarded a Top Ten Blog Post from Texas Bar Today for her first post in a series on Good Litigating is Good Teaching. You can read her introduction post here in case you missed it this week: Good Litigating is Good Teaching - Introduction.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I'm a clipper. That's right. I keep an assortment of articles that intrigue me and then I return to them periodically to reflect on what I have learned. One article caught my attention today...and...just in the nick of time. You see, I'm just plain tired out. Perhaps you are too, trying to do too much and to be too much. Just spread out too thin to make much of a difference in the world, it seems.
So with classes starting to come to a close for many of us and our law students, I thought I'd take a pause to reflect on some principles that might help me become better at being better. Here's what I mean by that. Rather than being better at doing things, perhaps I might become better at being, in short, at being human. I love that word "being" because it deals with the "hear and now" rather than the tomorrows. It's loaded with action...in the present moment. So, what action did I take that helped me get back to the present today?
Well, I've been carrying around an article that I clipped out dealing with New Year's Resolutions. With so much stress right now as I try to finish teaching my courses, preparing for finals, and getting ready for the summer bar passage season, I thought that now was the perfect time to reflect on what I had learned about being a better person from an article entitled "Set the Bar High for Your 2018 Resolutions" by Jason Zweig (Wall Street Journal dated December 30-31, 2017), available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/lessismore Here are some of the quotes:
- "Talk less; listen more." Unfortunately, much of the time, I'm talking but not listening. I love the advice here because it helps remind me to appreciate the other person, to value the other person, to embrace the other person. On a personal note, within the world of academic support, I find that I am often too quick to provide solutions before I've yet to even understand the problem. So, this is great advice when working with students too.
- "Learn something interesting every day." That's right; be curious. As I drove to school today, I was passed by a school bus. That's right - a school bus. Yes, I am a slow driver (at least usually when I'm headed to work; much faster when I'm headed home!). As the bus passed me by, I happened to notice something strange about the school bus. It was from a public school that was named something like "The School for Expeditionary Learning." That got me thinking. Perhaps that's the way that I might better describe the learning process with my students. Be courageous in your learning. Be daring in your learning. Be expeditionary in your learning.
- "Get home 15 minutes earlier. It will make you 15 minutes more efficient the next day." To be honest, I'm not quite sure I understand this advice. But, here's my take nonetheless. Much of my day is hurried and busy because I let it be that way. Take for instance email and messaging. Rather than disabling notifications, I just keep getting these pop-up alerts, right from the get-go of my day, taking me off message from what my first priorities ought to be. So, here's my take on this quote. Disable notifications. Only look at email in the middle of the day after I've already worked on the big tasks at hand. Don't let the little things get in the way of doing the great things each day.
- "Stop walking with your phone in your hand all of the time. Look up and see how beautiful and strange the world is." I did one better, at least I think so. I am practicing leaving my phone in my car while at work. That's because I find that even if I just carry my phone with me I feel drawn to it. So, I make it unavailable to me in order that I can't fall prey to its tantalizing alerts and beeps that so often distractingly beckon for my attention.
- "Introduce yourself to all the people at your job [school] whom you see every day but haven't met yet." As a corollary to no. 4 above (leaving your phone behind while at school), you'll have a lot more time to actually take note of the people around you. So, share a smile with them. Look one another in the eyes. Maybe even say a friendly word or two. You see, I suspect that one of the loneliest places in the world is right in the midst of the crowd, especially a law school crowd. If true, there are many people all around us that are yearning for a place of fellowship, a place of relational togetherness, a place to belong. That's definitely me. So, rather than wait for others to say hello, I thought I'd just take the initiative and extend a friendly greeting to those I know...and those I don't too. The more the merrier!
With all of the stresses and strains of our busy law school lives, I was so glad that I happened to clip this article. It reminded me that often its the little things of the here and now that are really the great things. Unfortunately, so often I have it backwards. I'm busy, so busy that I don't have time to do anything meaningful at all. So, I took a brief pause today to remind myself of what it means to be a human being in relationship with others. That sure looks much more exciting that staring yet again at my phone. So, have fun smiling...and being too! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It is about that time of the semester when students are simply tired. Most, if not all of their major commitments are completed and the final commitment is probably to finish off the semester. At this time, moaning and groaning are common. Some students simply want classes to end so they can begin to prepare for exams while others would rather skip exams and begin the summer break.
From this group of students, I hear: “I am over it!” “I don’t care anymore.” “I am ready to graduate.” “Get me out of here, I have completely checked-out.” For many 3Ls, fatigue seems to weigh them down as the end approaches; commencement marks the end of their legal education and the beginning of their professional careers. As students, they worked hard for almost three years as they assumed leadership roles, were members of student organizations, worked with various legal entities, participated in legal clinics and a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and have almost completed the requirements for graduation. These students are simply tired! Completing and submitting bar applications seemed to mark the end but they are quickly reminded that they still have final exams ahead. Gearing up for commencement by ordering graduation regalia, notifying family and friends, and planning graduation celebrations are exciting activities that seem to serve only as a distraction from the inevitable, exams. I try to remind students that “their journeys are not over until they are over,” they still need to pass classes to obtain their degree. They probably do not want to return to the same institution after walking across the stage at commencement or self-sabotage by failing to complete one of the requirements necessary to sit for most bar exams, completion of a law degree. This reality check appears to provide temporary motivation for some.
For this group of students, 2Ls, the thrill of the first semester of the second year of law school has disappeared. They began the academic year excited and motivated because they got to select their course schedule and participate in all of the activities they hoped for in law school. Many probably overcommitted themselves to a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities they ambitiously thought they could simultaneously undertake. They were initially motivated by the excitement and energy earned from study abroad, externship, legal work, and courses completed over the summer. New extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that motivated them now appear routine and in retrospect, many realize that they overcommitted themselves. At this point, 2Ls are desperately trying to re-energize in order to finish the semester strong. Those who already have summer opportunities lined-up seem less motivated. My reality check to this group is: “you did it to yourself, you committed to these activities so you need to finish your commitments.”
These students are simply in shock that legal writing is officially over or will be over within a matter of days. They have spent so much time with their appellate briefs and it was a major aspect of their second semester. A task that seemed impossible at first manifested in the completion of the appellate brief, oral argument, and the legal writing course. Many tell me that for the first time in months, they happily and restfully took naps or slept for a full eight hours. Many are also excited to devote their complete attention to preparing for final exams. Some students whom I have not seen in a while are suddenly appearing in my office to discuss final exams. The realization that the end of the first year of law school is in sight seems overwhelming. My reality check to this group is: “you have a lot of work to do because you somewhat disengaged from your doctrinal classes and now have limited time to get on track so plan wisely and maximize the time you have remaining.” (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Part One: Introduction
An odd and unexpected series of events turned me from courtroom litigator to law school professor overnight.1 Over Labor Day weekend, I traded my trial binders and exhibit stickers for a handful of “How to be a Great Teacher” books and 44 second-year students. I quickly realized that the courtroom and the law school classroom are not that different. In both instances an attorney is trying to educate a group of non-attorneys about the facts of a case, the law, and how those two things—when viewed together—demand a particular result. Moreover, both students and jurors come to the room with little familiarity with legal jargon, the rules of procedure, or the instant litigation. Therefore, I was a little surprised to learn that despite the common goal (i.e. educating a group of lay people) two separate bodies of literature exist: how to litigate2 and how to teach.3 Interestingly both the lawyering texts and the pedagogical texts suggest the same common principles: be engaging, be prepared, be adaptable, and be responsive to your specific audience’s needs. But few resources, if any, acknowledge the existence of these two parallel worlds, even though a fair number of law professors have navigated both the courtroom and classroom.4 This blog post series seeks to highlight the numerous similarities between persuasively trying a case before a jury and artfully teaching a course to law students, while offering suggestions for implementing a little more courtroom flair into the classroom.
Over the next several weeks, this blog series will explore the various phases of courtroom litigation and how those skills translate to the classroom,5 including: voir dire, opening statements, handling the case-in-chief, preparing for the unexpected, the effective use of expert witnesses, demonstrative exhibits, closing arguments, and conducting a post-trial, self-reflection.
 Prior to joining academia full-time in 2013, I worked as a judicial law clerk, a prosecutor, and a court-appointed criminal defense attorney. During my nine years in the courtroom, I litigated countless pre-trial hearings, tried over 100 bench trials, and served as lead counsel in more than 30 jury trials. I am currently the Director of Academic Excellence and a Teaching Associate Professor at West Virginia University College of Law.
 See, e.g., Judge Mark W. Bennett, Eight Traits of Great Trial Lawyers: A Federal Judge’s View on How to Shed the Moniker “I am a Litigator,” 33 Rev. Litig. 1 (2014).
 See, e.g., virtually anything written by Professor Gerald F. Hess, including specifically Monographs on Teaching and Learning for Legal Educators, 35 Gonz. L. Rev. 63 (2000) and The Legal Educator’s Guide to Periodicals on Teaching and Learning, 67 UMKC L. Rev. 367, 367 (1998) (summarizing the “vast collection of periodical literature on teaching and learning”); Mary Kate Kearney & Mary Jane Kearney, Reflections on Good (Law) Teaching, 2001 L. Rev. Mich. St. U. Det. C.L. 835; or Paul T. Wangerin, Teaching and Learning in Law School: An “Alternative” Bookshelf of Law School Teachers, 29 Gonz. L. Rev. 49 (1994).
 For one litigator-turned-professor’s thoughts on this transformative process, read Lucinda Jesson, So You Want to be a Law Professor?, 59 J. Legal Educ. 450 (2010).
 Admittedly, none of the teaching suggestions contained in this series of blog posts will likely be novel or groundbreaking. Rather this blog series seeks to highlight how, too frequently, the courtroom and classroom are viewed as requiring separate skills sets, when instead both professors and litigators should be focusing on the similarities.
Monday, April 9, 2018
Routines are critical for me to get anything done in a day. I wake up at the same time every morning. I hit snooze 1 time, read my daily devotional after the next alarm, then start my shower routine. I turn the coffee pot on at the same time, grab breakfast, and have “shoe race” with my kids before driving them to school on the same route. The days I follow a solid routine at work with to-do lists, I am more focused and accomplish more. Sound familiar?
My routine and habits help me get through law school and overcome struggles. I knew what I planned to accomplish and finished my tasks even when life was difficult. I tell students every semester that having a routine makes doing additional MBE questions in face of failure, navigating life circumstances, and accomplishing anything else much easier, especially when confronting obstacles during studying. However, I didn’t know much about the research on habit formation until recently. The research could help all of us working with students.
I started listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg recently while driving, and so far, I love the book. It is a great combination of explaining habit research and providing anecdotal stories of how the research worked in particular situations ranging from large corporations to individuals. I plan to purchase a desk copy to highlight and take notes.
Law students could benefit from the research. The early parts of the book discuss creating and modifying habits. People have cues and rewards for situations, and changing the routine or response to the cue while still receiving the reward helps habit formation or modification. I am already thinking about how I can teach specific responses to certain cues to help 1Ls build habits for law school and reinforce the habits right before the bar exam. Individual meetings may be the best way to inculcate routines, but I am also thinking about how I could integrate the information into my classes.
The section I am listening to right now is about willpower. Research indicates people can increase willpower, and small gains in willpower in one area of life can spillover to other areas. The willpower discussion overlaps with Angela Duckworth’s Grit research. The book indicates willpower can be built with pre-programmed responses to challenging circumstances, which creates routines. Starbucks receives high customer service reviews because they developed training programs for routine responses. Employees use a specific tactic when rude or angry customers come to the counter. Even if an employee is tired, upset, or life is going poorly, the pre-programmed response provides the willpower to help the customer in spite of the rudeness. Response routines can drastically improve willpower.
Students need pre-programmed responses to challenges. Many of us encounter students who dislike professor feedback on assignments, perform poorly on oral questions, or fail another set of MBE questions. Telling students to overcome the obstacle and not worry about the performance may be true but probably not specific enough to help. Helping students determine a clear roadmap for the response is what will help the next time. When faring poorly on the MBE, help them come up with a routine, which could include decompression, analysis, positive response, and another set of questions. We all know it is easy to continue when everything is going well. Responses planned before challenging events are more likely to help overcome those events. Just as lawyers do, plan for the worst.
I can’t wait to finish the book. I encourage everyone to listen or read it if you get a chance.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
The grapevine (or rumor mill depending on your school's terminology) is working overtime right now. Students are coming in daily to tell me the latest that is circulating among the students - especially the 1L class. Some of what I am hearing has some truth, but much of it is mixed at best or totally wrong at worst. Here is some sorting of the wheat from the chaff:
Grapevine Advice #1: If you have any class absences left, now is the time to take them to gain more exam study time.
- Pro: Selective use of a class absence on a day when you understood the material deeply and have a reliable friend to take notes might not be disastrous.
- Cons: The disadvantages of using up class absences far outweigh this advantage.
- The material during the last few weeks of class is also going to be on the exam, so skipping class is detrimental to your understanding exam material.
- Professors talk about the exams during the last weeks and provide more details. Relying on another student to pass on this inside scoop in all its detail is risky.
- Course material in the last weeks is often the very material that pulls together topics or the whole semester, so missing class impacts your synthesis of the course.
- Some professors test the last part of the course more heavily than earlier introductory/foundational material.
- Even your very best friend may not take notes that include information that you would include because your cognitive processing styles may differ.
Grapevine Advice #2: For the last weeks of class, study one course each week for any extra time you have in your schedule.
- Pro: You focus completely on one subject matter instead of spreading your time and focus over multiple courses.
- Cons: The disadvantages of focusing on one course each week outweigh this advantage.
- We forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review regularly. Your knowledge of Course 1 will diminish over the intervening weeks before you cycle back to it.
- This review method treats all courses equally even though they usually are not equal. Amount of material covered, difficulty of material for you personally, your own status as to an up-to-date outline, type of exam questions, prior review that you have already completed, and more can make courses "unequal."
- You may not have enough weeks left to cover the number of courses you are taking. Upper-division law students often have more exam courses than 1L students.
Grapevine Advice #3: Focus on exam study for courses in the order of your exams.
- Pro: It is wise to consider the order of your exams as an aspect of your exam strategy because you need to be ready by each exam date.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- The first two cons listed above for advice #2 also apply to this grapevine advice.
- An exam schedule is often not evenly spaced. If some exams are on consecutive days and other exams have gaps in between, that specific schedule should be considered.
Grapevine Advice #4: Study really hard for the courses that have more credit hours and consider the others as secondary.
- Pro: You recognize that a 4-credit course covered more material than a 3-credit course, so it is important in your scheduling of study time.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- Every course can help or hurt your grade point average. You do not know how others will do in the course and how that will affect the grading curve.
- Your grade point average is based on both credits and quality points. An "A" grade in a three-credit course (4 quality points X 3 credits = 12 quality points) affects your grade point average the same way a "B" in a four-credit course does (3 quality points X 4 credits = 12 quality points).
- Legal research/writing courses often garner fewer credits, but employers put a lot of emphasis on those grades. They know you can learn a new topic on the job. They will not teach you to research and write on the job.
You want to study for exams in a way that will maximize your time and your strengths in exam preparation. Consider these things:
- Unless a professor says a topic is excluded from the exam, all material is fair game.
- Completing more exam studying before the end of classes will leave you less material to review for the first time during exams.
- Some students focus best with variety and would want to study multiple courses during the same day or week.
- Starting off with your most difficult course for a few days may lower your anxiety about that course, so you can then focus better on other courses.
- Some students are weaker on synthesis, policy, or sifting out the trivial things; they need more study time on these aspects.
- Some students are weaker on methodologies, nuances in applying the law, or preciseness in stating the law. They need more study time on these aspects.
- Any study schedule you devise needs to allow for lots of practice questions several days after you study a topic.
- You want to consider this time period to be a marathon and not a sprint. Short breaks every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 3 or 4 hours will help you focus.
- Remember to add sleep, nutritious meals, and exercise to your study schedule - you brain will work better.
If you want to brainstorm study strategies that will work for you, visit with your academic support professional at your law school. That professional can help you sort out the truth from the myth in the grapevine advice you are hearing. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 7, 2018
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, ACADEMIC ENRICHMENT, School of Law, Student Services
Report to the Associate Dean for Student Affairs. Responsible for the development, implementation, and assessment of academic and bar support programs for students at the Law School. Provide leadership and support for assessing and responding to students progress on academic learning outcomes; writing and oral performance; and study strategies. Develop and implement programming that compliments the JD curriculum, while coordinating and promoting available resources to foster deeper understanding of legal concepts for JD students. Oversee bar examination preparation for 3L students and graduates. Advise dual degree students on course selection. Play an active role in Student Affairs to foster a diverse, inclusive and supportive environment in the School of Law.
Required skills and experience: J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school and a proven record of academic achievement during law school; 3-5 years of work experience of which 1-3 years is in academic support, law instruction and/or bar preparation; admission to a state bar in the United States, preferably Massachusetts or New York; and demonstrated commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community. Preferred skills and experience: At least 3 years experience in academic support, law instruction and/or bar preparation; deep understanding of learning modalities and theory, supported by familiarity with testing and assessment; and familiarity with online technology. Master's degree in a related field.
Boston University an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We are a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.
BOSTON, Massachusetts, United States
Friday, April 6, 2018
The team at Thomas Jefferson School of Law provided the following information on the listserv:
Though this position is for ASP, the ideal candidate will be comfortable working on the bar-side as well as we have an integrated department and team members teach across the bar prep and ASP curriculum. To apply for the position, applicants should submit a resume accompanied by a cover letter to email@example.com.
The file containing the job description is here: Download Associate Director of Academic Success 3.2018.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
This year, I became a teaching assistant (TA) once again. This was not planned and what started as just another responsibility on my list of responsibilities resulted in an amazing experience. For our TA program, we try to select students who have performed well in a particular course with a particular professor and students who have performed well across the board academically. However, this fall I was faced with a dilemma. I tried to recruit TAs for a professor who did not teach the previous academic year so my pool was smaller and furthermore, the class time conflicted with an elective course that almost every 3L was enrolled in. I presented the professor with three options, one of which was to have me as the TA, just for this year. She chose the latter.
I was well aware of the challenges I would face so I approached this new task with some trepidation but saw all the amazing rewards and value I would reap from this experience. The primary challenges I anticipated included student discomfort because I am the Director of the academic support program and not their peer. I also anticipated discomfort with my presence in the classroom as students might perceive me as a person who was monitoring their every move. I anticipated low attendance at the bi-weekly TA sessions because I did not have the professor as a student, I did not attend this law school and thus students believed that I did not have much to offer them. This particular situation intrigued me the most as TAs who have worked with new professors in the past, have had similar experiences. However, these TAs have been successful and usually work closely with the professor to provide even more helpful material to the students. Moreover, students are more independent spring semester and take less advantage of various resources. Finally, I found it interesting that students could feel uncomfortable with me particularly because I train the TAs and work with students studying this topic for the bar exam.
The positives I looked forward to were opportunities to evaluate the structure of the current teaching assistant program, to get to know or become familiar with about one- third of our 1L class, to work collaboratively with one of our professors and to expand the offerings of my office. Sometimes as ASP’ers, we are so removed from the law school experience that we forget certain aspects of what it means to be a student even when we try to remind ourselves every year. I looked forward to coming away from this experience with new ideas and avenues to be effective with students and maximize how to effectively utilize my TAs in the future.
Within the TA responsibilities, TAs attend each scheduled meeting of the doctrinal course they are assigned to. They prepare lesson plans and materials for every teaching assistant lab session. They are generally available for questions during office hours. They also work closely with the professor and complete additional tasks the professor might request such as tracking class participation, passing out papers, etc…. The materials produced for the lab sessions are either reviewed by me or the senior TA. I submitted to all of these expectations and requirements. My senior TA reviews my materials; I try to put everyone at ease so I tried to create a safe environment for my senior TA to enjoy reviewing my materials. I mentioned this to the students at the first lab session and they laughed.
What was most informative about student behavior within the classroom was sitting through the course lectures and observing students. Initially, students were uncomfortable, particularly, the ones who decided to sit near me but that discomfort subsided over time. In my opinion, students became too relaxed. I ensured that I came to class prepared with casebook, laptop, pen, and paper. I sat next to a talkative student who was by no means uncomfortable with my presence. I was conscientious about being mentally present, free from distraction, and focused. It is amazing how many clues professors provide and how much advice about preparing for exams this professor dispensed. It appeared that students were not always paying attention though. I saw students on Facebook, instant messenger (apparently speaking with students in the class and others outside of the class), shopping, buying concert tickets, working on legal writing assignments, scrolling through pictures, texting, stepping out the room to take phone calls, drawing, researching topics (associated and unassociated with the class), laughing at and with one another, engaging in side conversations, asking me what was just said (trying to read my notes), falling asleep, passing physical notes, playing video games, watching movies, and watching sports. It is amazing what happens in a law school classroom in the span of one hour and forty minutes. Students got more and more comfortable as the weeks progressed so I saw more and more on computer screens. Some privacy screens work very well, I could see nothing while seated in the back of the class.
When I am in front of a class, presenting, I notice that some students are distracted but I never imagined the extent. I understand that some students need to be accessible for work, children, and emergencies. I also understand that some students doodle to focus and listen. I had no idea of the volume of distractions available in class. I can certainly understand why some professors ban computers in the classroom.
I wonder if this is the new student norm, all these stimuli competing for their attention. When I was in law school, the early years of laptops, I do not recall all this going on but maybe I was focused because I was fearful of appearing unprepared when called on. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Over the weekend there was a lot of talk in my house about Easter baskets, which got me thinking about law school survival baskets. If you know a law student who is about to start studying for spring exams or perhaps the bar exam, consider making them an Exam Survival Basket. Pre-assembled gift baskets are readily available online, but for a fraction of the cost you can create your own. You may want to include things from the list below—in no particular order:
Daytime cold or allergy medicine
Trail mix or granola bars
Beef jerky or peanut butter
Law student’s favorite snack
Coffee shop gift card or K-cups
Empty Ziploc bags
Ear plugs (cordless)
Stress ball or playdough
Poster board for mind-maps
Contact case and saline solution
Backup reading glasses
Good luck token, like a stuffed animal
University branded swag like a coffee mug or hooded sweatshirt
Business card of the law student’s bar preparation / academic support professor
Happy belated Easter! Happy Passover! Happy April!
(Kirsha & Roxy Trychta)
Monday, April 2, 2018
Law school and the practice of law require constant progress and improvement. Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset infiltrated many law schools, and many in ASP continually promote Dweck’s theories. I definitely fall into the category of advocates. Anecdotally, I interact with students who clearly believe improvement can happen with hard work. Unfortunately, I also see students who don’t believe he/she can get better. The former group tends to work harder and achieve better results than the latter group.
I work in all my classes to promote the growth mindset to encourage success. However, a recent article in Education Week recounted more recent research indicating some efforts to promote growth mindset may not actually help. Read the article here. The newer research looked at whether only effort praise promoted a growth mindset. In middle and high school students, effort praise alone didn’t work. The students were skeptical of the praise and even believed the teacher didn’t possess a growth mindset. The article called this praise a "False Growth Mindset."
The article does say effort praise combined with self-reflection of what worked in the process promoted growth mindsets. Academic Support Professionals continually promote feedback and self-reflection in classes. This further supports our advocacy for more assessment with feedback and self-reflection exercises. Praise alone doesn’t provide the necessary reflection or feedback to help students grow. More specific feedback is necessary to promote the growth mindset.
I try to keep my praise focused on what students did correctly as a feedback tool. However, I am sure I have given solely effort based praise without feedback. Growth Mindset is my goal, so as the new research comes out, I plan to try to keep modifying my approach to help students.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
On April 1, 2014, Alex Ruskell, former contributing editor to this blog and current Director of Academic Success at the University of South Carolina School of Law, wrote a hilarious post entitled "New Bar Exam Section -- Interpretive Dance." The post is so funny that I thought it was worth re-posting today. Happy April Fool's Day! (Kirsha Trychta)
Full-time Assistant Director / Lecturer: We are hiring a full-time professor to teach in both our Legal Writing Department and Office of Academic and Bar Success. This hybrid position is an 11-month contract with the possibility to renewal, full benefits.
In the Legal Writing Department, you will teach one section of the year-long Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing course to about 25 first-year students.
As an Assistant Director in the Office of Academic and Bar Success, you will teach one semester-long course that helps students hone their legal analysis and writing skills, with an emphasis on preparing for the California Bar Exam. You will directly counsel students and carry out programming aimed at improving academic performance.
Please review the application here, and please forward to interested colleagues. If you have any questions, please email Professor Devin Kinyon <firstname.lastname@example.org>, the Director of the Academic and Bar Success for the 2018-2019 year.
- The position advertised:
__ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
__ b. may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
X_ c. may lead only to successive short-term contracts of one to four years.
__ d. has an upper-limit on the number of years a teacher may be appointed.
__ e. is part of a fellowship program for one or two years.
__ f. is a part-time appointment, or a year-to-year adjunct appointment.
Additional information about job security or terms of employment, any applicable term limits, and whether the position complies with ABA Standard 405(c):
After a one-year initial contract, the position may lead to rolling, renewable contracts of three years.
- The professor hired:
___ a. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings*
__X_ b. will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
Additional information about the extent of the professor’s voting rights:
The professor may serve on committees, and vote on committee matters.
- The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range checked below. (A base salary does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams, teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base salary does not include conference travel or other professional development funds.)
___ over $120,000
___ $110,000 - $119,999
___ $100,000 - $109,999
_X__$90,000 - $99,999
_X_$80,000 - $89,999
_X_ $70,000 - $79,999
___ $60,000 - $69,999
___ $50,000 - $59,999
___ less than $50,000
___ this is a part-time appointment paying less than $30,000
___this is an adjunct appointment paying less than $10,000
- The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be:
_X_ a. 30 or fewer
__ b. 31 - 35
__ c. 36 - 40
__ d. 41 - 45
__ e. 46 - 50
__ f. 51 - 55
__ g. 56 - 60
__ h. more than 60
Saturday, March 31, 2018
This video highlight from The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on a SXSWedu talk by Manoush Zomorodi and JP Connolly discussing the many students who are distracted by their smartphones, tablets, etc. Unfortunately it is just a clip; I have not yet found a link for the entire talk. It touches on the power of boredom, the endlessness of scrolling, streaks, and disruption of focus. The statistics (from research by Gloria Mark) regarding the impact of interruptions and self-interruptions on brain focus are useful for students to know (begins at 11:29 for those of you who want to scroll there without watching the entire clip). The link is: Digital Distractions. (Amy Jarmon)