Monday, October 31, 2005
It seems fitting on Halloween to discuss every student's greatest fear: EXAMS!!!!!!!! They're coming and they're coming soon. Here at Suffolk, classes will end almost immediately after Thanksgiving. The cruel irony of this scheduling is that Thanksgiving becomes more like a prisoner's last supper than a fun family-filled holiday (I'll refrain from comments on how rarely fun and family-filled go together...). But I digress.
This is the time of year when I start telling students to create an "exam plan." TM What is an exam plan TM? Well, essentially it is an exercise in calendar reading and planning. I tell students, "check the exam schedule, find out when your exams are and plan to study accordingly." I also tell them to put it in writing because they are more likely to follow it that way (a trick I learned from Weight Watchers, but sadly the only one...). Students do not really know where their time is going until they have spent a week chronicling how it has been spent. But it is also an exercise that requires some time to think about how each student can study effectively and efficiently.
I assure students that they know themselves better than I do. They also have studied in the past (one hopes...). Therefore, they should know their limitations, that is: how long can they spend studying one subject before they feel like their head is going to explode or that they wish the windows in the library would open. I ask students to think about how they learn: are they visual learners? Oral/verbal learners? They should then tailor their outlines and other study aids to accommodate their learning style.
I also think that the fear of the unknown can be held at bay when you have a strategy. 1-Ls are frightened by the prospect of law school exams mainly because they don't know what their professors are expecting from them. I often advise students to look at old exams, try to answer the questions and then make an appointment to see their professors with the answers they have come up with, but very few students do this. Perhaps they are intimidated, but I've always thought that more information is better than less and I try to really coerce students into getting some feedback before exams rather than just hoping and praying that they do "get it." The time that grades are posted is the wrong time to find out that you didn't understand the material.
And some control over the situation is better than none. If all students sought the information available to them (and it is out there at varying levels), they would find exams not exactly a treat, but certainly not a trick.
By the way, "exam plan" is not a trademarked phrase, but is masquerading as intellectual property for Halloween. Nifty costume, eh? (ezs)
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Amy Jarmon, Assistant Dean for Academic Success at Texas Tech School of Law, posted a thoughtful comment about Mario Mainero's recent blog entry. I'm posting it here so y'all will be sure to read it. Thanks, Amy!
I thoroughly agree with Mario (at least I assume that mwm is Mario)about the importance of listening to our students to become more aware of the truth of their hearts and thus better equipping oIurselves to help. In my first career, I spent 17 years working with undergraduates before I switched to law school and law practice – 10 of those higher ed years in academic support. After working with thousands of undergraduates, I found that few academic problems were solely academic. Most of the academic problems were linked in some manner to personal, medical, family, or financial problems.
With law students, I have found that the same is often the case. Having been an ASP professional at two law schools as well as Acting Assistant Dean for Law Student Services at one of those, I have talked with many students about the disruptions, hardships, and tragedies that they have faced outside the classroom. In fact, I think it is a miracle that some of my students do as well as they do (probation or just over the required 2.00) under their circumstances.
The law students with outside problems often tell me that they appreciate not only my academic advice but also my willingness to listen. For some of them, ASP is a "safe harbor" where they do not have to put on a brave face. They know that I ultimately care about them as people as well as law students.
Obviously, we need to refer appropriately to psychologists, doctors, and other professionals. I keep those lists handy. But, I find that my students are more willing to accept a referral to those others if I have listened to their worries and fears. My willingness to listen fosters their willingness to trust my referral as being for their ultimate benefit.
In a recent article in the Cleveland State Law Review, Professor Dionne L. Koller, who directs the Academic Achievement Program at University of Maryland School of Law, addresses the relationship between Legal Writing programs and Academic Support programs.
"It is often assumed," Professor Koller writes, "that legal writing and academic support go hand-in-hand. As a result, little thought may go into the ways that a legal writing course may actually hinder a law school's academic support mission."
The article (Legal Writing and Academic Support: Timing is Everything, 53 Clev. St. L. Rev. 51) provides a thorough analysis of the functions of both programs, and suggests how they may complement (or not) each other.
For example, although many of us in Academic Support offices believe that our best source of "struggling student" referrals will be the Legal Writing department, it ain't necessarily so. Drawing from her own experience, and from observations by Professor Herb Ramy (Academic Support at Suffolk University Law School), Professor Koller writes, "... while the legal writing course may serve as an important additional identification tool when used in conjunction with other predictors, performance in the course is unreliable as the primary indicator of the need for academic support."
After mentioning some of the downsides of too close a relationship, or dependency, between legal writing and academic support, Professor Koller then proposes a legal writing course as a model for delivery of academic support. Odd? Not so fast. What she recommends is an upper-level legal writing class as a vehicle for post-wunnelle support.
The article describes the program at the University of Maryland in great detail. "Students in an upper-level legal writing course can practice their emerging analytical skills with smaller, 'bite-size' writing assignments on the issues presented by the problem that build up to the final written product," she explains, as one of the many valuable aspects of combining upper-level writing with essential analytical training in the second year of law school.
Professor Koller explains that the "...upper-level legal writing course must incorporate elements of learning theory and academic support practice," in order to "...provide a meaningful legal writing opportunity to ... [struggling] students." (djt)
Friday, October 28, 2005
Professor Randall gives practical advice on everything from a variety of preparation techniques to general exam-taking tips and specific strategies for answering exam questions. She also provides links to websites containing practice exams. This site would be a great resource for ASP professionals and students alike. (DBW)
On Friday, November 18, from 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., New York Law School's Professor Kris Franklin (recently featured in this Blog's "spotlight")is hosting another annual regional Academic Support Get-Together soon.
"If everyone does the homework assignment," she suggests, "we should be well-prepared to compare notes about how we would diagnose and discuss the work of two 'sample students' on a criminal law exam. This will help us learn from both our similarities and our differences, and will show how the differences in our program designs might change our ways of working with students."
Presenters will also cover at least three other discussion topics:
● Professor Dionne Koller (at left) (University of Maryland School of Law) will share materials and lead a discussion on “Training and Using Teaching Fellows.”
● Director Mark Padin (Pace Law School) will help frame a discussion on whether our programs are adequately and uniquely serving students of color.
There’s still time to add discussion topics!
Professor Franklin writes, "Though one of the great benefits of the workshop is its intimacy, we do want to encourage everyone who can possibly participate to come. All the cool kids will be there."
Editorial note: (And there are usually brownies.)
I plan to attend ... how about you?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
As final exams approach, students may find it helpful to know that several ASP folks have made available online their advice on preparing for and taking law school exams. Over the next few days, we'll post a few of these for your reference. Use them for your own edification, and pass the links on to your students if you think the advice may be helpful to them.
Today's recommendation: Professor Mario Mainero's "Exam Preparation and Exam Writing Skills".
Reading the last two excellent pieces by Professor Stillman got me to thinking about how I got into Academic Support, and to what extent my over twenty years as a litigator prepared me for moments like those she has shared with us.
I had been a member of the “Board of Advisors” to Whittier Law School and an adjunct teaching a couple of legal writing sections when I was asked to be part of the Dean search. During that search I met the man who eventually became Dean: Neil Cogan. His first week on the job, he asked to have lunch to talk about ideas he had that coincided with my background in statistics. Out of that conversation, he apparently decided I was the appropriate person to be the first Director of the Law School’s new Academic Success Program. Feeling some need for a change in the quality of life aspect of my career, I naively accepted the job.
Five months in, I had a moment like Professor Stillman’s. About 6:00 p.m. one day, an upper-level student came in crying. She had just learned that she failed several of her final exams. She told me that she took them when she was very distraught. Two days before her first exam, she caught her husband “in bed” with her best friend. I do not drink either coffee or alcohol, but one of my immediate thoughts was whether I should start. We spent quite some time that evening discussing the situation, what she thought she should do about her marriage, and how I would support her petition to be placed on academic probation so she would have the opportunity to repair her GPA. She then separated from her husband (against her family wishes, believe it or not), and over the next semester, we worked successfully to get her grades back where they should have been and to get her successfully graduated.
That incident caused me to think about whether I was qualified to do this job. After all, I was certainly academically qualified, and I had taught legal writing in some form for years, but first and foremost, I was a trial lawyer, not a psychologist or Marriage and Family Counselor! In fact (and please don’t tell my students), I skipped a few of my psychology classes in college because they were on Monday nights in the fall. Eventually, though, I came to realize that students are like clients: they do come to you for advice, and sometimes the advice is non-academic, just like sometimes the advice to clients is non-legal. Professor Stillman is right. It takes learning to listen, not just to the words, but also to the unspoken thoughts, dreams, and fears that students, and clients, have. Sometimes, in listening for those unspoken things, we can finally hear the truth in our students’ hearts and be better equipped to help them solve their academic issues as well. (mwm)
How often have you had a normal, mundane meeting with a student that is suddenly interrupted by a bombshell sort of announcement?
For example, one day, after reviewing a student's outlines and setting up what I call an "exam plan," I asked my signature end of meeting question, "So, how is everything else going?"
"Oh, really much better than last year at this time; I talked to my wife about separating yesterday. "
"What??????" Okay, I didn't really do a Danny Kaye and spit my coffee on this fellow, but I was a little surprised. And then confused. What do I say to this? "Gee, student, are you sure a divorce is a good plan this close to exams? Can't you remain in this terrible relationship until after finals and then start proceedings?"
So I said nothing. "Mazel Tov" seemed patently wrong and "I'm sorry" didn't correspond with his somewhat glib tone either. I let him talk it through; he explained that this was not unexpected, that he had been in marriage counseling for some time, etc. When he had questions about the university housing office listings, I went back to safely drinking my coffee and gave him some advice on that.
At the beginning of an ASP relationship with a student in academic difficulty, I always ask if there is some reason why this has happened (and I always phrase the question in this way purposely). The answer often explains an egregiously inconsistent grade or a slew of bad finals following a set of lovely midterms. But I looked at this student's form, and he had written that he had been sick much of the prior year without a clear diagnosis. Now, however, he had finally completed his treatment; and I assumed that was it.
But then again, what did I expect? Would anyone really answer my gently phrased question with, "Well, my marriage appears to be loveless, and frankly we are bored with each other, so I imagine that might have had some effect on my grades"? No, that would be a bizarre insight stemming from such a vague question and perhaps one that eluded the student as well.
But there is a teachable moment here. As lawyers, we are all trained to think on our feet: to have the ability to respond immediately; but we are never taught in law school that sometimes silence is golden. I have advised new attorneys that learning when to sit down and shut up is a very high level skill for lawyers. In fact, it may be the most difficult skill for a lawyer to master. Now I know that ASP folks need to be able to do that also. (ezs)
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
How about some List Serve action. Here are a few provided by Washburn School of Law.
[email protected] – A list serve devoted to law teaching (as you may have guessed from its name).
[email protected] – Law Teaching Technology list serve.
[email protected] – Discussion list devoted to conversations about teaching legal research in all kinds of settings, using formal and informal types of instruction; of interest to librarians, professors, and others.
How does one subscribe? Go HERE and click on the appropriate subscription spot.
Please send me some feedback about these listserves, and I'll share it with all. (djt)
Monday, October 24, 2005
I am often asked this by students: after all I am not usually a doctrinal professor, or even one who is actually going to grade them on anything. I am here to help. But I wonder how to maintain a professional relationship with students when often I am the person they confess all sorts of things to: the ended relationship that sabotaged their exams, the birth control that failed, and the siblings and their various institutionalizations. Even as a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx, I know that in church you confess to someone you call, "father," so why and how could I listen to students' troubles and then insist they call me Professor Stillman?
This is the ambivalence I am faced with each time I am asked the question of what to call me. Yet, if I do let everyone call me Liz, do I lose whatever professional credibility I've managed to build up? Is my advice suspect if it comes from a friend rather than a "law school professional?" I worry that my "expertise" would be taken with a grain of salt when I am a friend rather than an academic probation officer.
There is almost always a personal component to my meetings with students. I very rarely end a meeting without asking if everything else in the student's life is going well. I look at baby pictures and send e-mails of congratulations when students get job offers. I remind students about flu shots (especially the ones who claim their exams were poorly done due to illness). Of course, I rarely begin a meeting without asking to see their outlines or discuss a port-mortem on a prior exam.
There are, of course, some students who never warm up to me. In a way, these meetings are more productive, but far less satisfying.
Sometimes I teach a class in advanced legal writing, and students who have worked with me in ASP tell me they are eager to take my class. This makes me uncomfortable because I may have way too much information about them and they probably think they will be taking a class taught by their oh-so-maternal ASP professional. This is not my doctrinal teaching persona. I am actually a tough grader with great expectations of my students.
So who am I to my ASP students? I am not sure. Some need mothering, some need a friend, but they all need someone to look at their outlines, if only for the inspiration to get them done. Maybe I'm just that funny person (person who thinks she's funny?) with the candy and tissues on the 3rd floor. (ezs)
Friday, October 21, 2005
Academic Excellence Program Manager
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Born in Vermilion, Ohio in 1947, Dan is a child of the postwar culture of the 50's and 60's. He began his professional life as a broadcaster for a National Public Radio affiliate in Champagne, Illinois, (okay, Champaign) where he had earned a bachelor's degree in Music History.
Subsequently, Dan acquired a Masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and worked as a Lecturer in ESL at the University of Florida and as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University.
He graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1988, and worked for 13 years as an Assistant Public Defender in Jacksonville, Florida. Since 2004 he has been the Manager of the Academic Excellence Program at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.
Dan maintains an active interest in music and teaching and upon request will teach you how to fold an origami paper crane. (djt)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Is your Academic Support Program responsible at all for Bar Examination preparation?
If so, you may want to read (and pass along to your students) "Brace Yourself for the Bar Exam," an article appearing in a 2003 issue of Student Lawyer Magazine.
In the article, Cynthia L. Cooper (author, journalist, playwright) not only recounts bar exam horror stories ("Suddenly a woman starts galloping down the aisles, flailing her arms, yelling, 'I am a covenant running with the land!'"), but offers tips and germane quotes from bar takers, and bar coaches.
One bar taker, she tells us, awoke in the middle of the night before the exam screaming, "Which way did the robbers go?"
Our friends Laurie Zimet (Hastings), Rich Litvin (Quinnipiac), and others are quoted in this still pertinent article. (djt)
I often have students who make appointments to discuss more than just how to brief, outline, or take exams. They often want to talk about what is going on in their classrooms besides just substantive law and academic skills development. Students recognize (as should we) that Academic Support involves more than just academic skills assistance. Other things in a student's life will affect their academic performance. One of those, I think, is whether they feel welcomed by faculty and other students, and part of a community. That is, after all, one point of recognizing the importance of educational diversity in Law School. I have included a link to a piece I have written that addresses one type of diversity often not discussed: ideological diversity. What can Academic Support professionals do about promoting ideological diversity in the Law School community to make students feel more welcome and less isolated (and should they)? While I do not have a solution, recognizing this issue is an important beginning. Indeed, as my most long-time client says, "The solution to your problem often lies in its description." Please consider my observations at this link: Role Models.
Perhaps I am being churlish: it is difficult being part of a tiny ideological minority (particularly when, outside of academia, I am in the majority). However, as Academic Support professionals we can certainly track whether idelogical intimidation or just rudeness, particularly toward conservative students, is commonplace in our classrooms, and at least remind our colleagues how it can affect academic performance. (mwm)
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
And now ... Contributing Editor to this Academic Support Blog.
We are pleased to welcome Mario as a Contributing Editor to this active blog site. Those of you who have met Mario at Academic Support gatherings across the country over the past few years are aware that he brings a unique set of talents, experience and perspective to the profession. His insight, his exuberance and his zeal will add quite a bit to the readers' enlightenment and, I'm hoping, entertainment.
Perspective and entertainment? You bet. Mario, a singing mathematician, once sang the National Anthem on “Gene Autry Day” at Anaheim Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Angels.
Professor Mainero joined Whittier Law School as its first Director of the Academic Success Program in August 2001, after practicing for 21 years in Orange County, California, in the areas of commercial and probate litigation. He also served for 5 years as a Judge pro tem in Orange County Municipal Court, hearing small claims and traffic cases. Although we value his vocal and numerical talents, this (the practice) is the perspective that makes Mario a superior Academic Support professional.
Since joining the faculty at Whittier Law School, he has developed an Academic Support Program that includes a two-week Summer Program for at-risk incoming admittees, a program for all first-year law students that includes both large-group lectures and small group weekly sessions to teach note-taking, outlining, study and exam-writing skills, one-on-one weekly meetings with students in academic difficulty, and a full-year Early Bar Preparation Program that addresses all subjects and examination styles on the California Bar Exam, and includes a three-day Simulated Bar Exam administered during Spring Break.
Mario and his wife, Denise, live in Corona del Mar, California, with their two children, Christina, 16, and Anthony, 13, and their two dogs, “Belle” and “Electra.”
Watch for more posts by Mario Mainero. (djt)
Susan E. Keller, Associate Dean of Academics at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California, forwarded this information about a position opening.
Western State University College of Law seeks applications for Director of STELLAR (Strategies to Enhance Legal Learning and Achieve Results). The STELLAR Program includes both traditional academic support as well as innovative co-curricular programs designed to improve educational success for the entire student body. The Director of STELLAR is a tenure-track position with teaching, curricular and administrative responsibilities. Experience in providing direct educational support is desired but not a requirement. Western State is provisionally approved by the ABA and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
For more details about the position, Dean Kellers asks that you contact Appointments Committee Chairperson, Professor Neil Gotanda, at 714-459-1135, [email protected], or her, at 714-459-1141, [email protected]. (djt)
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
At a recent academic support conference, one of the participants pointed out a disconnect between bar exams and law school exams: bar exams tend to have a “right” answer to a legal problem while law school exams focus on ambiguity, giving weight to reasoning and problem-solving where an absolute “right” answer may not exist.
I have since been struck by how many students, in their briefing and outlining, seem to be preparing for some sort of over-simplified MBE instead of law school exams. They completely ignore the reasoning of cases, boiling everything down to facts and rules, as if law school exams will not test their abilities to work with the nuances of those rules; as if law school exams will not require them to work with varying legal tests that do not necessarily produce mathematically predictable results, with policies that may be in tension with one another under particular sets of facts, and with arguments for competing results.
I find myself repeatedly redirecting students to focus on identifying and briefing the rationales that underlie the rules and holdings they so dutifully record in their notes. Law students will read well over two thousand cases before they graduate from law school; as a result, they have a golden opportunity to transform their own reasoning skills before being tested on them, on exams and in the real-world practice of law – as long as they deliberately take advantage of the opportunity.
The lesson was driven home to me in a recent meeting with a second-year student. I had earlier suggested she modify her case briefing technique by actually breaking out and numbering the various logic and policy justifications articulated by the court in reaching its conclusions. After a few weeks of doing so, she reported that her confidence had suddenly shot up because – get this – she found that for the first time since she began law school, she was anticipating where the professor was going in class and was repeatedly correct. For the first time since arriving, she felt as though she could really do this work.
What is it about law school culture that seems to compel so many of our students to focus on rules alone? Sophisticated legal thinkers know that rules, important as they may be, are just the intellectual landmarks in a much larger landscape filled with nuance, fine distinctions, and subtle shades of meaning.
We need, apparently, to continually remind our students that landmarks may be crucial to pointing travelers in the right direction; but landmarks are seldom the destination in and of themselves and are not much good by themselves unless we live in a world made up only of landmarks.
You and I know that the real world of law is not merely a collection of landmarks, not here and not out there. What seems almost intuitive to us, however, may be foggy new intellectual territory to our students. Sometimes, all they need is the simplest advice to suddenly see the terrain clearly. (DBW)
Monday, October 17, 2005
I know we have been discussing sacrifice lately here on the ASP blog, but I felt while reading the posts that a woman's perspective would be different. I have had female students ask me about how to plan a career and a family simultaneously and whether it is possible. My answer is always the same: I'll let you know when I've figured it out myself.
I have never worked at a law firm, only for the government or in academics. When we moved to Boston about seven years ago, I interviewed at a medium-sized firm and the woman interviewing me asked if I thought I could bill 1,800 hours a year. After some quick math, I told her no. I know she caught me looking at the pictures of her children on her desk and understood the questions I wanted to ask her. How does she do it? And more importantly, why?
As I've mentioned before on this blog, I have three small children (8 yrs. old, 5 yrs. old and almost 8 mos. old) and I work full time here in ASP (which for us is actually only four days a week). My law school experience (ungraded since I went to Northeastern) did teach me that hard work was valuable and self-esteem producing. I was totally into the "sacrifice" idea then and I firmly believed that I was going to have to be very responsible as a lawyer because my clients would be looking to me for important information and advice. And I was this very responsible lawyer for a number of years: working late to get my subpoenas out, prepping witnesses and carrying a staggering caseload as a NYC prosecutor.
But then I had a child, and another, and yet another. And now I feel (despite appearances – for anyone who knows what I really look like) stretched thin. I have made sacrifices on both ends – my career and my family. I often feel that nothing gets 100% of my attention, that at best, I have only 95% to give and only rarely. I pray it will rain on Saturdays so soccer is cancelled (I suppose I owe divine thanks for the last two weeks...). I wonder often if I am doing anything to best of my ability.
Don't get me wrong, I feel entirely devoted to my students. I want them all to succeed and get every last benefit of law school. I want them all to be confident and competent attorneys who will pass the bar the first time. But I also remind them at orientation that they need to remember who they were when they walked in the door to the law school, because in three years you could easily forget who that was. So I advise them to continue painting or hiking or baking or whatever it is that reminds them of who they are. I have even prescribed a day off every now and then for perspective. I remind them to call their mothers and walk their dogs.
Perhaps, (and this is a big one) women have never had the luxury of defining themselves almost completely by their profession once there is a family. Do I dare to tell students that after my first child was born, being a lawyer went from my career to my job? Perhaps that is the sacrifice I chose and they will choose differently.
Certainly practicing law is a very noble and responsible profession. But what we should not sacrifice is the inherent humanity of a profession that helps with the entire cycle of life: from birth through death. Our clients are people (mainly) and our actions as attorneys will impact their lives. I regularly advise my students to work hard and not make excuses that wouldn't hold up in court, but the truth is if we had perfected this profession, we wouldn't all be practicing. (ezs)
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Aren't we about halfway through the first semester?
How are your wunnelles doing? No doubt, many are doing well (with the emphasis on doing); that is, they are not only accomplishing the pre-class chores of reading and briefing, but are also engaging in the real learning activities – the post-class work.
On the other hand, because they receive little feedback, many are lulling themselves into believing they're doing well because they "know the material," or think they do.
About this time of year, I send a letter to each student, suggesting they consider tweaking their study regimes. This year, I pulled a handful of surveys I've collected over the years, to determine the study habits of students who thought they were doing well, then surprised themselves by not hitting their mark. These are the study methods to avoid, wouldn't you say?
I have attached my letter to this blog post, but deleted the numeric information and names of folks other than me. If you would like to use the letter as a model to encourage your own students, go ahead and refashion it to suit your school's circumstances, and your program objectives.
Let me know what you think. (djt)
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Please welcome Dan Weddle, Director of Academic Support at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, as co-editor for this blog. In his first post, Dan refers to himself as “the new kid on the block,” but he has been a frequent visitor to our block for some time, just not as an ASP director.
I first met Dan when he recruited me to teach in the Council on Legal Education Opportunity’s (CLEO) Attitude Is Essential Weekends, which Dan designed and directed as a crash course law school preparation program targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dan had been working with CLEO since the late ‘90s, when he brought in the first two CLEO Summer Institutes UMKC had ever hosted. He has been directing Attitude Is Essential Weekends every summer since 2002, recruiting academic support types from all over the country to teach students who were unable to attend the longer Summer Institutes.
Dan’s prior experience also includes twelve years as a middle school and high school English teacher, including five years as an academic dean responsible for curriculum development and faculty development. He left teaching to attend law school at the University of Kansas and practiced civil litigation until joining UMKC in 1996. During the 1999-2000 school year, he was tapped to serve as an interim assistant dean of UMKC’s School of Education.
For a new kid on the block, he knows the neighborhood better than he thinks. (djt)