Tuesday, November 29, 2005
James Kilpatrick, in his book The Writer’s Art, tells us that a writer “functions as a kind of forest guide . . . escort[ing] the tenderfoot along an unfamiliar trail.” Kilpatrick observes that this “metaphorical forest ranger would find himself in trouble if he embarked upon a hike with no plan of getting from Point A to Point B.” Therefore, he advises, “Before we begin a letter, an editorial, a brief, or a note of instructions to the babysitter, we ought to have a clear idea of the points we intend to make and the order in which we intend to make them.”
Novice writers, however, have a very difficult time accepting Kilpatrick’s advice because they cannot shake the feeling that outlining is a waste of valuable writing time. Nowhere is that reluctance more evident than in the way most students approach writing an answer to an essay question on an exam.
When a student has sixty minutes to answer a particular essay question, everything in him screams that there is no time for outlining the answer. He must begin writing – NOW – if he hopes to get everything said. He begins writing, therefore, almost immediately after reading the question. He may jot a note or two in the margin of the question and may underline a word here or there, but he is not going to waste his time preparing an outline that no one will read and that will garner him no points.
That approach, of course, misses a key point about writing: writing is a form of thinking; the written product itself is only as clear as the thinking that preceded it.
A student who understands that principle knows that she cannot begin writing in mid-air if she hopes to provide the reader with a carefully reasoned and well-crafted response to a complicated question. She understands that, even under the time pressure inherent in exams – perhaps especially under the time pressure inherent in exams – thinking before writing is critical.
Therefore, she takes time to brainstorm the points she will need to cover, rereads and rethinks the question, revises her brainstorming, and converts it into an outline of points and sub-points that follow a logical plan leading to a carefully considered and thoroughly explained conclusion.
In other words, she thinks before she writes the answer itself because she knows how writing works and how reading works. She knows that to begin writing in mid-air is to think inefficiently and to do it on the reader’s dime. She knows that unless she plans before she writes, the reader will treated to her confusing, inefficient, meandering attempt to think through the question. She knows her reader will find himself wandering in the woods, off the trail and unable to find his bearings.
She also understands that she can write as least as much by thinking and planning first as she can by simply musing in a stream-of-consciousness form. The irony for the student who thinks he hasn’t time to plan is that he will waste at least the same amount of time writing in fits and starts, rereading his answer to find where he has been and where he is headed, and staring into space trying to think of what should come next.
The primary difference between the two writers is that one spends large amounts of time inefficiently groping for words and the other spends that time efficiently designing a fully considered response. The planner takes no more time than does her colleague, but her end product is coherent and easily read. The non-planning writer, in contrast, produces no more prose than his colleague, but his answer is a photograph of his confusion as he attempts to figure out what he needs to say; so his professor watches him stumble through the thought process with all its missteps and false trails.
Worse, because the unplanned writing is likely several pages of prose, it defies any attempt by the writer to see what is missing or to cut out what is extraneous. The trees obscure the forest, so the writer misses issues and sub-issues, arguments and counter-arguments, because he cannot see the big picture and the parts’ relationship to one another.
The planner, on the other hand, steps back from her outline and makes a final judgment as to what is there, what is missing, and what should be jettisoned. She can see the gaps and the illogical arrangements, and she has not committed several pages of writing to missteps.
If we can help students realize that writing is in fact a thinking process, we can help them see that the best writing product is an end result of thinking carefully. Taking time to think using some sort of sketched outline, even during time-pressured exams, is critical to producing thoughtful prose. Thoughtful prose, in turn, is the sort of prose most likely to lead the reader comfortably and efficiently along the unfamiliar trail of the writer’s analysis; and it is the type of prose most likely to provide all the steps necessary to complete the journey. (dbw)
Monday, November 28, 2005
(With apologies to the Buggles, who had their (I believe) one hit with “Video Killed the Radio Star” back in 1979.)
Our ASP class attendance is down, way down. We offer a number of helpful classes throughout the fall semester: case briefing, outlining, exam writing and multiple choice tips. In past years, student attendance peaked for outlining and declined gradually until we got to exam writing and multiple choice tips, when it re-peaked; but it remained fairly steady throughout the semester at thirty to forty students each session.
These days I am looking at maybe ten to twenty students a session, even the exam writing and multiple choice sessions. Outlining was still very well attended, but we offered it earlier this year than in years past. When our Counseling Center came in to do a class on stress management, I was mortified that we had dragged them here for only three students; and this was our day student session, which usually draws more students than our evening session.
So, what gives? Perhaps this year’s students are more confident and think they need less help. We know we offer the class during a time when no first year classes are scheduled, so class conflict isn’t the culprit. I shower every day, and I’ve stopped singing in class (well, for the most part). I’ve avoided the Blue’s Clues analogies (I know the students know what I mean but, oddly, they seem embarrassed to admit it). What I am beginning to think is that we have hi-teched ourselves into obsolescence.
We tape each and every class on video and in MP3 format. We post our handouts and the MP3’s (to download) on our Campus Cruiser site. We lend out the video tapes. So why come to class when you can have class whenever you want? I mean, there may be people out there driving to school while listening to me on their MP3 players. How scary for anyone else driving in the Boston area, because I just know my classes are positively riveting.
There are probably students who have invited me into their homes (and had me up at all hours no doubt) so they could cull my exam secrets, but I don’t know who they are.
Is this an effective way to teach? More importantly, is this an effective way to learn? I don’t know, but I suppose I will find out after the grades are in since the students who did poorly will have to see me IN PERSON in the spring. Singing and all. (ezs)
Friday, November 25, 2005
Session number four of the six-week "How to Respond to Law School Exams" workshop series I host each year includes a video featuring Kent Syverud, a Vanderbilt Law Professor and Dean. (Dean Syverud has recently been named Dean of the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, effective Jan. 1, 2006.)
Dean Syverud explains how to handle nearly any exam question a student might encounter, including what he calls "the weird" question.
Recently, I discovered the unedited version of this video is online!
Law students in their first year or fourth, can all benefit from Dean Syverud’s advice.
Suggest to your students that instead of watching a one-hour TV program during the next few days, they consider watching/listening to Dean Syverud coach them through exams! Here is the link to the video (courtesy of the University of Michigan Law School), and supporting text. (djt)
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
In keeping with the holiday, I'll say that I am thankful for something that makes our students' lives miserable in the first year. I know that sounds sadistic, but stick with me for a minute, and I'll try to explain.
What I am thankful for is the maddeningly elusive and generally misunderstood art of "thinking like a lawyer."
First-year students become deeply frustrated by the phrase while we faculty throw it around with abandon. "Thinking like a lawyer." We'll teach them, we say, to think like lawyers; but we seldom define exactly what we mean — as if, like obscenity, they'll know it when they see it.
The problem, of course, is that they do not see it clearly at all in the first months of law school; and what they are attempting to see and eventually master is quite different from what many of them have ever seen or attempted in their lives to this point. The difficulty is compounded by popular notions of lawyers as clever tricksters who bend and twist words to mean whatever the lawyers wish them to mean. (See the Nov. 20 posting, "Looking Before One Leaps" for some insightful observations about the corrupting influence of such notions.)
So what is learning to "think like a lawyer" and why is it so hard to master? Well, let me suggest a definition that may help answer those questions: learning to think like a lawyer is learning to think with exacting precision about human relationships and human events. It's a loaded definition.
It means defining as precisely as possible where duties begin and where they end. It means determining the exact contours of rights and the precise limits of privileges. It means carefully and methodically tracing causes and effects at levels of precision lay persons seldom consider, at least in terms of human conduct.
It also means doing this type of thinking — difficult in its own right — alongside the even more difficult and foreign art of text-based reasoning. Most of our students have never been asked to interpret text with any sort of rigor or precision. Most have sat through endless high school and undergraduate "discussions" of literature that were little more than pooled ignorance. Most were never taught to analyze and interpret text with any demonstrable accuracy or precision. Most were never required to prove, using the text itself, that what they believe it says is what the author actually intended to convey. Most were taught that if to them, the central lesson of Macbeth is to avoid ambitious women, then that is what Macbeth means because, after all, that is what it meant to them.
Judges and lawyers won't put up with that nonsense. So our students must abandon their trust in their own gut reactions and lazy musings and learn to think clearly and precisely about human relationships and human events, even when those relationships and events defy clarity and precision; and they have to do it using a language riddled with vagueness and ambiguity.
Perhaps it is this demand for precision despite the unavoidable imprecision of human language and the profound complexity of even the simplest relationships that creates the impression of cleverness for cleverness' sake. Lawyers are forced to press logic to its breaking points to determine where its soundness ends, and judges are routinely forced to choose between equally compelling arguments that rest on equally compelling moral imperatives placed in tension by an accident of the human condition.
From a comfortable lay world of imprecise thinking, our students are thrust into a world where every argument is vigorously examined for flaws and missteps and where every proposition must be supported carefully and completely. They find a world where notions of justice are challenged, dissected, and pressed to reveal where they hold up and where they do not.
No wonder our students find law school so daunting. No wonder they lose confidence in their intellectual abilities for a time and even in their sense of justice and injustice.
It falls to us to combat the discouragement and cynicism that so easily overtakes them. The task falls to us because we know that despite what cynics say or bad results imply, most legal thinking is done, in the end, by most lawyers and most judges, to promote justice in human affairs. Lawyers may cynically growl that justice is not what is likely to occur in court, but precious few believe that justice does not matter or that the causes for which they themselves plead are unjust.
Truly learning to think like a lawyer is a profoundly good thing. Without those who are willing to devote themselves to the intellectually and morally hard work of defining precisely the contours of justice, the nation is left to the murky reasoning of casual thinkers or, worse, to the calculated thinking of those who have no moral bearings.
So we have a duty to help our students understand what thinking like a lawyer is and what it should be. Some, of course, will fail altogether to master it; and some will master its mechanics without seeing the moral substance in which it must be rooted.
Most, however, will learn to think like lawyers in the best sense of that phrase. Because of them, our profession will always be something more than a collection of tricksters and illusionists.
That's something to be thankful for; and here's another: we have the privilege of helping them get there. Not a bad way to spend our lives, is it? (dbw)
Monday, November 21, 2005
This is the time of year to think about all we are thankful for. I am more than thankful for the health and happiness of my family and friends. I am also thankful for the file I keep in the middle drawer of my desk.
What is in this file? Notes, printed e-mails, wedding and baby pictures -- all from students. I do get quite a few notes from the moot court board thanking me for skewering their various members (by means of judging moot court rounds -- I am known to be quite vicious!), but the personal notes and other messages from students are the ones that go into my file and stay in my heart (I get so hokey around this time of year...).
I have e-mails from students saying they passed the bar. I have Christmas cards from former students: you know, the picture kind that show their growing families. I have a few wedding pictures, one in particular from a former student who asked me to help decide on bridesmaids' dresses (her mother had died immediately before she began law school, and I like to think of myself as a full service academic support professional). They all looked so happy. I have birth announcements, and I hope to add an adoption announcement really soon.
I have personal, handwritten notes from students who came and cried to me or had me write them recommendations or asked me to call someone on their behalf. I treasure these. I can always find my file of "thank you's," but I cannot always place my hands on my last performance review.
So I guess I am, in my ASP persona, most thankful for being thanked. I am thankful that I have a job where I can possibly make a difference in someone's life. I am thankful you read my ramblings; but above all, I am thankful this semester is almost over. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!!(ezs)
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Of course, I should have brought along the digital camera to take a group photo. Kris Franklin (pictured, right) organized another wonderful NY-centered worskshop on Friday, November 18.
Academic Supporters from Maryland, Pace, NYLS, Touro, Hofstra (see Richard Neumann, at right) , Quinnipiac (see Gail Stern, at left), Roger Williams, Fordham and Cuny gathered to discuss, learn and work together.
You shoulda' been there! Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus and Myra Berman taught us how to use "IRAC Diagraming" to help students "...see IRAC in action." Fabulous.
Mark Padin sparked a discussion about LSAT/diversity-minority/bar-pass issues, concerns and controversies ... not the least of which was the mandatory vs. voluntary participation controversy, which led ... as you would expect ... to the stigma/backlash controversy. Mark not only offered his own comments and experiences, but distributed material documenting the disturbing fact that "minority representation among law students has dropped for the past two years, from 20.6 percent in 2001-2002 to 20.3 percent in 2003-2004" (based on ABA statistics).
[By the way, one of the articles Mark handed out was from a publication you may be unaware of: Minority Law Journal Student Edition. This particular article featured the FIU and FAMU attempts to "increase the legal profession's diversity in Florida." ed.]
Kris Franklin ran us through a drill which required us to analyze two (actual) students' exam answers, then discuss how to best help each student. For this part, I passed out four-color pens, and explained the Dan Wilson (see tribute to Dan by his Denver students) method of helping students analyze their own answers. Kris provided a typed transcript of her detailed voice recording commentary that she delivered to the student (a method which provides the opportunity to offer detailed, lengthy and – one would hope – more helpful advice to struggling students).
Note to workshop participants: consider writing a short version of your impressions of what went on during the workshop, and I'll post them here. Send them as an attachment. (djt)
Does this make you think? Like a lawyer? ...
Law students are told on every possible occasion that they must learn to think like a lawyer, and since they are eager to become lawyers and trust their teachers, they are eager to lend their mind to legal thinking. But the problem, as briefly noted here, is that they are given no instruction as to the powers and pathologies associated with legal thinking, or to the possibilities that clients may pursue. The logic seems inexorable: to be a lawyer you must think like a lawyer, to think like a lawyer you need a Legal Mind, to acquire this mind you must submit to teachers who know how to help you train for and develop this kind of mind-set. Law school provides a logic, a kind of thinking, and the mind willing to do it. But like Hippocrates, the law student, seems oblivious to how this Legal Mind might shape her character, or what might happen with the persistent use of such a mind.
Professor Elkins builds on the work of others, adding his own gloss to earlier writings warning of the dangers inherent in a legal education. He notes, for example, the words of UCLA's Professor of Law Emeritus Paul Bergman (photo below, right)...
Whether lawyers are heroes or bums, our culture often views courtroom lawyers as deviously clever tricksters. Perhaps good lawyers have the ability to master mountains of evidence and the patience to prepare for trial by endlessly culling through depositions. But the best lawyers can outsmart their adversaries, bamboozling witnesses and capturing the fancy of judges and jurors, with parlor tricks. Paul Bergman, Pranks for the Memory, 30 U. S. F. L. Rev. 1235, 1235-1236 (1996)
From time to time, we need to put our work into perspective. (djt)
Thursday, November 17, 2005
This time of year, the demands of the semester can begin to take a toll on students' emotional and physical well-being, and that toll can be especially great for first-year students.
Professor Lawrence Krieger of Florida State University College of Law has put together a great little booklet entitled "The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress,"in which he illuminates many of the hidden dynamics that create or exacerbate students' stress, and then offers practical "antidotes" to those dynamics and their effects.
Take a minute to read it. I think you'll find his insights and advice a wonderful tonic not only for your students but for yourself as well. (DBW)
Are your students confused about their professors' expectations regarding exams?
Are they tired of IRAC, or IREAC, or CREAC ... or any of the many other acronymic formulaic panaceatic magical templates for exam success?
Although it's impossible for me to believe, they may even be bored by TICRA-FLIPC!
Perhaps the Seven C’s will provide them with a better sense of how they should approach exams.
In this pithy piece, Joyce Savio Herleth, Director of Academic Support Services at Saint Louis University School of Law, helps her students (and ours, by extension) understand the basics of how to prepare for upcoming finals. (djt)
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
For those of you involved in bar exam preparation, have you ever wondered about the putative standard for passing the bar? The standard is, allegedly, “minimum competence to practice law.” As states continue to raise their “cut scores” and lower their pass rates, the meaning of “minimum competence” becomes ever more murky.
I have some data and thoughts on this, which you can find at What_is_minimum_competence? I address these ideas: Pass rates and the “cut score”; the effect of the MBE; the “disconnect” between the standard of “minimum competence to practice law” and the means used to test meeting that standard, both on the Bar Exam and in Law School; and the widening divide between law professors and bar examiners on the meaning of minimum competence to practice law, as evidenced by the declining bar passage rates.
I also think it is time to consider possible means to test the validity of the hypothesis that adherence to the “minimum competence to practice law” standard requires ever increasing cut scores and lower bar passage rates. If you are interested, take a look at my short discussion at the above-referenced link, and let me know what you think. (mwm)
Exam writing is different from first year legal writing because, while the usual 1L legal writing class teaches writing as a craft, exam writing is a skill. What does this mean? Legal writing for class is something that students have more time to work on; in addition, almost the entire exercise is about students' organizing their thoughts and choosing their words carefully. Exam writing, on the other hand, is a formulaic way for students to show their professors that they not only understand the material but can also use it.
If legal writing is a painting, exam writing is a photograph. Exam writing must be done quickly and accurately; and while it must also be done with some creativity and is worth the same 1000 words as a painting, it has to be more stark and realistic. Some of the best 1L legal writers will not do well on their exams because they cannot leave an answer in its raw form. Rather, they need to hone their thoughts and organization until the answer is perfect; and frankly, they do not have the time to do it, so their grades do not reflect their knowledge of the subject or their writing ability.
So how do we prepare students to let the raw answer be and move on to the next question? I do the math with students, trying to make the point that one fabulous answer on a four part exam is still unsatisfactory, while four reasonably complete and cogent (but imperfect) answers will suffice. I teach them the exam mantra: "the issue is...the rule is....here we have....therefore..., next." I think I hear students muttering this during exam week, or I'd like to think that's what they are saying as they pass me in the hall....
I also advise taking old exams under exam conditions (timed without notes and books) so students can figure out their ideal ratio of time to organize vs. time to write (usually about 20%/80%). I talk about organizing answers by party (good for torts, not civil procedure) or by transaction (excellent for contracts, but not for torts), etc. I give the old tennis analogy (you still need to follow through after you’ve hit the ball) as a way of reminding students to include counterarguments and defenses. I, personally, had to write the word DEFENSES at the top of every exam in law school lest I forget to include them.
After working in academic support for a while, I have concluded that a student’s performance in the first year legal writing class may not be an indicator of how well that student will perform on exams. Oddly, only about half of the students I see find this comforting. (ezs)
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
One of the effects of a mandatory enforced grading curve is a preoccupation with grades, since no longer are grades merely determinative of, perhaps, the first post-Law School job. They are determinative of whether a student obtains a law degree at all. As a result, a mandatory enforced grading curve poses a unique challenge to Academic Support faculty.
Our particular curve has two components: a mandatory range of means and mandatory distribution requirements. The first year parameters seem to students to be particularly daunting. Against a backdrop of a required 77.00 GPA for good standing, professors may set their course means between 77 and 81, but must give 20%-35% D’s, 35%-65% C’s, and 15%-25% B’s.
One of the tasks that seems to fall to Academic Support here is to explain the curve, and to correct the misapprehensions students develop about it. For example, students often assume that, because 20%-35% D's are given in each course, 20%-35% of the class must therefore be disqualified each year. However, unless the groups getting below a 77 (which is the lowest “C” grade) are strictly homogenous, the actual academic attrition will be significantly lower—often around 13%. Another assumption students make is that the curve depresses grades and disqualifies students who should otherwise not be disqualified. Professor Richard Litvin and I actually demonstrated that, for a number of years, due to declining admissions statistics, the curve actually resulted in grade inflation.
Still, these examples illustrate a significant challenge posed by the existence of a severe curve that results in a significant number of disqualifications. Students perceive Law School as something of a zero sum game—for every “win,” someone “loses” and is disqualified. Of course, mathematically, with only 10%-13% academic attrition, that is not true, but it doesn’t change the fact of the student perception. So, we need to think of creative ways to focus away from the “zero sum” concept. What I like to emphasize is that students should only focus on achieving their personal best—and not on worrying about what the other person is doing, or what the Law School curve is doing. This includes just working on what methods help each particular student to learn, building on their strengths, and shoring up their weaknesses, and advising students (over and over) to not do a postmortem on exams with colleagues, and to not discuss grades with colleagues. Neither they, nor we, can alter a mandatory curve (although we might marginally affect its shape in terms of prodding the number of low grades toward the lower range of the permitted distribution). Instead, we should refocus students’ attention away from the external that they cannot control to the internal goal of achieving their personal best, which they can control. If they know they have done their best, then we have done our best as well. (mwm)
Monday, November 14, 2005
It is time for my students in academic distress to register for spring classes. Because I am often asked for advice on these matters, I am often conflicted. Should I advise students to take classes that will be sure things or to take something new and interesting to rejuvenate their passion for law school? Should I discuss exam styles with these students: "Well, he's great, but his entire exam is multiple choice," or "I hear people have needed IV fluid during the exam, but the subject is on the bar..." -- or even worse -- "Oh definitely take it with that professor, there's no exam, just a book report; no really, I'm not kidding on that"?
Do I point students in academic distress toward the easiest path; the one that might be better for their GPAs, or the one that might be more challenging but would recapture their interest in law?
After being in Academic Support for about three and a half years now, I do have some "insider" information on the professors, exams and classes; but I still try to get students to challenge themselves. I have even administered the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – I had to take a class to qualify to do it, so don't try this at home!) to provide some insight into students' learning styles and what classes and/or professors might be a more "natural fit" for various students' personalities.
I know that sometimes a slam-dunk kind of class can restore badly damaged self-esteem. In addition, classes that are "skills-based" can remind students about the end goal of law school: lawyering. Some students find these classes (like trial practice and negotiation) the antidote to a bad spell of more doctrinal classes. I also think that everyone should take a clinical class or do an internship; perhaps this stems from my co-op experiences in law school.
Eventually, all my advice boils down to this: take a variety of classes. Think of your course selection somewhat like using the food pyramid. Look at what you need to take and what you want to take. Mix statutory (or code) and case law classes because these are two different types of analysis you'll need for the bar. And ALWAYS take one fun class – the class where doing the work is not a chore.
And finally, it is often worth it to take the 8:00 a.m. class, especially if it is graded on a curve. Why? Because if you are the only one who shows up, you'll do better on the exam than anyone else. (ezs)
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Recently, my friend Desiree Sanchez announced that she will be stepping down as the Director of Academic Support at Florida A & M University College of Law. The school is searching for a new Director.
By January of 2006, the school hopes to hire someone, preferably with Academic Support Experience, who will be able to:
- Administer academic support programs, including the teaching assistant program, academic skills workshops, one-to-one academic assistance and counseling, and bar preparation.
- Coordinate a bar review program that focuses on Florida essays and multi-state subjects.
- Conduct skills workshops on case briefing, outlining, multiple-choice strategies and techniques, time management, and exam writing.
- Supervise and train teaching assistants for first year discussion groups and tutorial sessions.
- Meet individually with 1L students and students on probation to assist with strengthening students’ study habits and analytical skills.
Are you interested? If so, please forward a cover letter and résumé to email@example.com by the end of this month. Questions? Call her at (407) 254-3230. (djt)
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Are you sending some exam-aid sites like this to your students?
From the feedback I have been receiving from my students over the last two weeks, I know they appreciate it! (djt)
Friday, November 11, 2005
Stacy, Dave and Nathan never sleep, they have virtually limitless memories and they get smarter every day. They are whizzes when it comes to legal analysis.
Question: Stacy, Dave and Nathan are . . .
(a) Wunnelles at Harvard Law
(b) Recent graduates from Suffolk Law
(c) Old alumni from Southwestern Law
(d) Robot lawyers
Although C is a tempting answer (I say that as an SW alum who never sleeps enough, and gets smarter every day – although my memory is so poor I can't remember if I was smart yesterday), D is the "most correct" answer.
According to a November 10 story by Lesley Stones in an online journal, Business Day, robotic lawyers are joining law firms.
A lawyer who has ordered several claims, “Although their duties would be limited and very much controlled at first, we consider them an important strategic investment for the future." Doesn't that sound like he's describing a first-year associate?
According to experts at the University of Texas, " ... artificial intelligence technology will let computers autonomously reason with the law to draw legal conclusions."
That made me wonder about my job security. Big time. Remember (those of you old enough) how we had to learn "times tables" and long division? Remember learning how to find square roots? Then calculators came along. Then computers. Suddenly, not only do people no longer need to learn long division ... they don't even need to learn to spell! So why in the world will we need to teach law students how to "reason with the law to draw legal conclusions" if robotic personnel can do the job (presumably) better, faster, cheaper?
Consider signing up for evening computer classes. (djt)
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Learning and the Internet: A New Study of Teen Blogging May Have Lessons for Academic Support Professionals
The Associate Director of our law library at UMKC, Lawrence MacLachlan, just passed along a link to a study by the PEW Internet & American Life Project that may be of interest to academic support professionals. The study, "Teen Content Creators and Consumers," describes teenagers' use of Internet blogs, both as readers and creators. The subjects of the study are in an age group that will be arriving in law schools within the next five years or so, and it might be worth our time to consider how the use of blogs may drive students' collaborative learning and even professors' teaching of law courses.
It is a fairly short read and well worth the time to see what is happening among our future students and very probably among many of our current students. (DBW)
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Assistant Director of Academic Development Position
Touro Law Center invites applicants for the position of Assistant Director of Academic Development to begin August 1, 2006. This 10-month renewable contract position presents an excellent opportunity for someone who wants to become a member of an engaged and dynamic law school community.
The successful candidate will assist the Director of Academic Development in all aspects of Touro's Academic Development programs, including: training and supervising teaching assistants; working with students on an individual basis; conducting skills training workshops; developing appropriate student work materials; coordinating bar-preparation programs; and implementing new services relevant to enhancing our law students' academic experience. This position reports to the Director of Academic Development.
Applicants must possess a J.D. degree with a record of high academic achievement from an ABA-accredited law school. The ideal candidate should possess excellent writing, speaking, and organizational skills as well as a commitment to academic support. Prior academic support experience (either professional or as part of a graduate or law school program) or teaching experience (legal writing or comparable teaching experience in writing and analytical skills training) is preferred. Evening and some weekend work is required.
Salary is $54,000 and includes benefits. Research stipends will also be available for articles to be written that are relevant to academic development. Please submit a letter of interest and resume by November 30, 2005 to:
Professor Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus
Director of Academic Development
Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center
300 Nassau Road
Huntington, New York 11743
(No phone calls please.)
Email inquires may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
This is the time of year when I get a lot of referrals for help with first-year legal writing assignments. These students have turned in two to three papers already, and their legal writing professors think they need some help beyond the grading process. I am happy to help, but I wonder if I am doing these students a disservice at times. What if my style of writing and “rules of citation” are different from their professors'? And my understanding of the law—since each legal writing professor has a different issue in a different jurisdiction—may be quite limited.
Frankly, I feel like an idiot if all my advice boils down to “Well, we’ve made a list of questions for your legal writing professor. Let’s check with him and then get back to this paper when we have some answers….”
I do have a copy of each professor’s assignment and a “confidential” outline that incorporates the case law, but I have not been to class, and the assignments inevitably evolve over time. Often I hear, “Oh, we’re not supposed to cover that anymore,” or “She said we don’t need to cite that way.” Because I am not grading the paper, I always say to do it the professor's way rather than mine.
I am in a situation where I basically must trust the students to be honest with me, and sometimes I find that I have been duped. And to what end? It is a lot like fabricating things to tell your therapist. Why would you tell me that your writing professor is okay with something when it is not true?
Granted, there are students who truly believe what they are telling me, and my cautious “That doesn’t sound right” will prompt them to double check. But often there are students who take advantage of my secondary position and tell me things that are not accurate. It makes me feel like Grandma. You know how it is: “Mommy always lets me eat candy for breakfast, and Daddy lets me use his chain saw all by myself.” Gee, that doesn’t sound right, but who am I to argue?
It gets frustrating after a while. I have had students come back to me angry (really, really angry!) after my advice turned out to be incorrect in the context of a particular professor's particular assignment. I have also had writing professors gently chide me for not catching things, when in fact I did catch them and did point them out to the student as suspicious only to be told by the student that they were allowed.
So where does all this leave me? On the way home to make some chicken soup. (ezs)