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.
LAWTEACH@lists.washlaw.edu – A list serve devoted to law teaching (as you may have guessed from its name).
LawTeachTech@lists.washlaw.edu – Law Teaching Technology list serve.
TEACHLAWRES@lists.washlaw.edu – 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.
AALSCONF@listserv.syr.edu – Conference on New Ideas for Experienced Teachers of the Association of American Law Schools.
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)