Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Finally, my students who found themselves outside of good academic standing (would that be academic sitting? lounging? lying about?) have come to see me with their exams from last year (also known as, “the reason why I have to see you…..”). So now what?
I just had a student come by with three exams from last year. This student had not talked to the professors who graded these exams except, evidently, to request a copy. Copies in hand, the student came to me looking for the reasons why his/her grades were below par. One professor kindly included an outline of the major issues and how they were to be resolved as well as a copy of the exam itself, the others did not. None of the professors included their multiple choice questions or the student’s score on them.
So, I read the exams. I tried to decipher the various marks left by the professors. Some were easier than others, like the “?” or the “No!” But most of the marks were mere numbers to be added or subtracted from the student’s total for scoring purposes. So what else is there to do but call in my personal (that is: living in my head) Crime Scene Investigators.
First, I called in the spot the issues (“STI”) expert. The spot the issues expert examined whether, thanks to the outline provided by the professor, the student found all the possible issues to be discussed. Then, I called in the correct rules applied (“CRA”) guy who looked for whether the student had, in fact, not only spotted the issue, but actually used the correct tool to get a plausible answer. Finally, I consulted with my use the facts (“UTF”) expert who looked at whether the student used almost every fact contained in the question. These experts were only able to operate on this one exam because the professor had left me with some clues to work with. In the end, I had to ask the student to talk to at least one of the other professors.
As to the exam I could investigate most fully, I diagnosed a “kitchen sink” type of crime, that is: the student used every rule they knew and contained therein was the correct rule, but because there was so much superfluous analysis required for the issues that hadn’t really arisen, the real issues received short shrift.
I will have to file the other exams away until the student sees the other professors. Hopefully, in ten years, someone from “Cold Case: ASP” will be able to figure out what went wrong. (ezs)
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
In my sessions with law students, I often find that students who are struggling academically have severe problems with time management and curbing their tendencies to procrastinate. In fact, I had so many students admitting that they were serious procrastinators that I went in search of a practical book on curbing procrastination. Fortunately, I found an inexpensive and very readable book that has a positive impact on law students.
Dr. Linda Sapadin has written a book with Jack Maguire titled Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How Students Can Overcome Them. Dr. Sapadin's book is based on her research with undergraduate and graduate students.
The six procrastination styles are: Perfectionist; Dreamer; Worrier; Crisis-Maker; Defier; Overdoer. Dr. Sapadin includes a survey instrument in the book that allows the reader to answer questions on the six styles and "score" the styles to determine which are major or minor problems. Sapadin then describes each style more thoroughly and offers practical suggestions for curbing that style.
Among the interesting points from Sapadin:
Procrastinators are not born with the tendency, but learn the behavior. Many people can even identify the role models for procrastination in their lives.
Procrastinators have self-talk "BUT" or negative statements that prompt them to procrastinate.
Procrastinators need to learn "AND" or positive statements that break the self-talk cycle.
Procrastination behavior also includes actions and reinforcement through talking to others.
Using logs to become more aware of self-talk and actions can assist students in curbing procrastination. (alj)
One of our readers, Professor Anna Hemingway at Widener University School of Law, has a request that I thought might be best sent out to the rest of our readers for responses. Below is her request, and you can reply directly to her at email@example.com. (dbw)
I have been charged with developing a program for incoming, at risk students. I was wondering if any of you have developed this type of program at your law school and would be willing to share how your program is structured. I am interested in finding out (1)when the program is offered (summer or first semester); (2) how at risk students are identified; and (3) what the program consists of. Thanks to anyone who can provide me with help.
Friday, September 22, 2006
- Students need to know they also can excel in law school if, instead of outlining, they create mindmaps, hierarchy charts or even make flashcards and store the flashcards in hierarchical categories. The keys are the synthesis and the mental effort involved in identifying and depicting the relationships among the concepts. This approach gives students a schema for remembering the doctrine, holdings and policy. That’s why I put the word “outlining” in quotes.
- Going against type—visual learners creating outlines, read-write learners creating mindmaps—can actually strengthen the mental trace because of the extra mental effort required.
- It's valuable for students to depict their knowledge in multiple ways; the more mental paths to knowledge students have, the more likely they are to recall it when they need it. I use the metaphor of driving to work in California; if, under the stress of traffic (or exams), one way is blocked, having a second way to get there helps.
- Any such experience should be an active learning one. I think it's best to establish an admission requirement—they have to bring their notes and briefs and texts for a specified class and read assigned materials on outlining (I just assign the organizational strategies chapter of my text). Here's how I run my session: I start with a cognitive think aloud as I outline or create a hierarchy chart or mindmap for a small portion of the doctrine (a cognitive think-aloud involves speaking aloud every step of your mental process as you perform an intellectual task or solve a problem); I try to make sure I highlight my choices and efforts to depict relationships and hierarchy. Then, I have the students add to the outline on their own or in pairs. Finally, I have them exchange their outlines to compare what they have done.
- I always hold such workshops as part of my regular torts or contracts class (I have taught both) based on the research (from within and outside legal education) that intergrated academic support is most likely to produce permanent change.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Most of you have probably advised your students to begin outlining by now, but you also know that first-year students typically have only limited understanding of the process. Below are some links that I think provide good explanations of the outlining process. You may wish to use them for your own edification, or you may want to direct your students to them as well. (dbw)
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Asking the right questions
Typically, new students come to law school as a relatively self sufficient group of people. Many have excelled academically, in their careers, and sometimes both. And while not every law student achieved the 90th percentile on the LSAT exam, most come to law school willing to work extremely hard in order to achieve success. Prior to law school, working harder always meant better grades and the Dean’s List, and the unstated assumption is that the law school experience won’t be any different.
Despite all this, or maybe because of it, many law students have a blind spot when it comes to their legal education – in inability, or an unwillingness, to ask questions. At this point, I could list a large number of things that we – and by “we” I mean all law school educators – do to encourage students to ask questions. However, I’m more interested in discussing the things that we may be doing that discourage students from asking questions.
For example, many teach using some form of the Socratic dialogue. Those who teach using this methodology might suggest that these dialogues both encourage and require students to take part and ask questions. Of course, the words “encourage” and “require” have entirely different meanings. Students who must to speak in class may feel disinclined to ask a question once they have satisfied the requirement of answering a teacher’s questions. Also, many use the Socratic dialogue as a way of posing questions to our students as opposed to answering their questions. In a traditional Socratic dialogue – the kind replicated by John Houseman on the paper chase – the professor turns the student’s question into another question that is then directed back at that student.
From our perspective, we are forcing students to confront unstated assumptions inherent in their questions or to consider an alternative point of view. From the student’s perspective, particularly during the first days of the law school experience, a simple “yes” or “no” might have been more helpful.
A common fear among students is that they will appear “stupid” when asking questions in class. Taking this idea a step further, some fear that they are the only one who is confused. And to quote Abraham Lincoln, it is “[b]etter to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” As a professor, however, what I see is everyone in class writing down the answers to those so called foolish questions.
Turning the spotlight on myself, are there aspects to my teaching that suggest to students that their questions are “stupid”? Am I too dismissive of student questions? I don’t think so, but am I the best judge of this? How many of us receive feedback from students, beyond end of the year evaluations, where we solicit this sort of information? Again, I believe I am sensitive when students questions that indicate they are struggling, but what if class is running late? What if the same person has asked 5 questions in a row? What if we are getting way off track? I hope that my words still indicate a willingness to take on more questions, but do my body language and the tone of my voice indicate exasperation?
Of course, most of us have office hours, and we may even recommend that students use these forums for asking certain questions. Allow me to suggest that announcing office hours at the outset of the semester may not send a strong enough message that you are available. Even if we do remind students of our office hours, our actions can speak more loudly than our words. Do we schedule committee meetings during office hours? Are we working on our latest law review article when students knock on the door? By itself, this isn’t a problem, but a look that conveys annoyance at having to put aside this work sends a clear message to our students as to our priorities.
I realize that, for the most part, I am preaching to the choir. Still, it doesn’t hurt to turn the spotlight back on ourselves on occasion.
Just my two cents . . . (hnr)
Friday, September 15, 2006
I am always very proud of my law students when they come to me with tips that they think might help other law students. Although I always encourage law students to share study "secrets" with others, I am concerned that they may get too involved in the competition for grades and share only with friends. My students have stopped by to tell me about some tech ideas for more efficient and effective studying.
In the same spirit of sharing, here are the recent tips that law students have shared with me that may be worthwhile for your own students:
Software for graphics:
If your visual learners have not discovered the Inspiration 8.0 software for making flowcharts, they want to check it out. A free 30-day trial is available either through downloading at the web site or ordering a trial CD-Rom. I used the 30-day trial option and was impressed with the software. The web site for Inspiration is www.inspiration.com (choose Inspiration 8).
Although designed for lower grades, the software is very useable for law students. Features include: various categories of shapes and pictures to use in graphics; shading or color options; capabilities to build flowcharts with linking lines with or without text as well as in-shape text; nifty click-of-a-button conversion of the flowchart into an outline; and much more. The software is easier to use than Power Point or other text-block or drawing softwares for graphics, in my opinion.
If you have trouble with the download or loading the CD-Rom, check with your IT department because it may need administrative access. Also, make sure you print out hard copies of any graphics designed during the trial period because you will not be able to read the files saved on your computer after the trial period is over. (I assume if you purchase the software this may not be the case.)
Smart scanning pen:
QuickLink Pen Elite is a nifty mobile note-taker that acts like a highlighter. The pen from Wizcom Technologies scans text as it is "highlighted" and stores the text into its memory. You can transfer the text to a PC, PDA or smart phone. There is a wireless or USB connection. My student ordered the pen through www.skymall.com (choose electronics and gadgets; language tools; Wizcom).
The pen has dictionary access. It can be used for English and Spanish (possibly other languages as well). It also has an audio read-back function. Although the pen takes some training to learn how to scan properly and text may need some editing for misunderstood letters, this gadget has real potential. I warned my student to avoid the potential "scan-and-transfer-without-brain-in-gear" phenomenon. I can see this gadget being especially useful for legal research as well as other study tasks.
One of my 2L students suggested that students with Excel experience may want to use the spreadsheet capabilities for briefing. He uses the beginning rows for his case name, court information, date, and topic-subtopic headings. He then titles the lettered columns "Item Number" (he numbers each "Category" he uses); "Category" (examples: Facts, Procedural History, etc.); "Brief" (using as many rows as needed for his text). This method is easier for some students than designing their own templates.
I encourage students to use a combination brief and class notes page. So, a twist on the Excel method could be to use another column for class notes on each of the categories. This method would allow a student to see more easily what is already in the brief and not repeat information in class notes. The method also allows the student to critique and edit the brief more easily. (alj)
One of our own, Mario Mainero, was voted Teacher of the Year for the 2005-2006 school year by the students at Whittier Law School. The honor, of course, is hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with all that he does for the Whittier students. Congratulations, Mario! (dbw)
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I am beginning to feel as though we're getting away with something as I look at the new folks who are joining our editorial team. Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Michael Schwartz onto the blog as a contributing editor.
Mike has been teaching law for fifteen years. Six years ago, after nine years as a doctrinal professor, he "begged his way into a hybrid doctrinal/academic support slot." Mike, who is in his first year at Washburn University School of Law, oversees and teaches Washburn’s First Week Program, an eighteen-hour, self-regulated learning curriculum integrated into his and a colleague’s torts classes; oversees a structured study group program for all entering Washburn students; and oversees the law school’s bar pass program, which he has integrated into his remedies class.
He is the author of Expert Learning for Law Students and a co-author (with Denise Riebe) of Pass the Bar!, both published by Carolina Academic Press. His Remedies/Bar Pass hybrid text (co-athored with Carole Buckner) is forthcoming from Carolina Academic Press in Spring 2008.
His teaching and learning scholarship includes two recent law review articles on teaching and learning: "Teaching Law By Design: How Learning Theory and Instructional Design Can Inform and Reform Law Teaching," 38 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 347 (2001), and "Teaching Law Students to be Self-Regulated Learners," MICH. ST. L. REV. 447 (2003), as well as shorter teaching and learning pieces addressing best practices in law school course web page design and the process of creating instructional objectives. Mike is also a contributing author to Best Practices of Law Schools for Preparing Students to Practice Law (a CLEA publication forthcoming December 2006) and is on the Steering Committee for that project. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Humanizing Legal Education.
Mike has presented his work on teaching and learning to the law faculties at Hastings, Mercer, Santa Clara, UDC, Albany, the John Marshall Law School (Chicago), John Marshall Law School (Atlanta), North Carolina Central, and Southern New England. This year, he is scheduled to present to the State Bar of New York and to the law faculties at UMKC Wisconsin. (dbw)
Monday, September 11, 2006
File this under: “this entry has nothing to do with Academic Support.” Today is the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks on New York, Washington and the brave plane that went down in Pennsylvania. According to NPR, over 3000 people perished in one day. And where are we five years later? We’ve lost almost as many people in our “War on Terror.” Is there a difference between someone taking our citizens and giving them up? I’m not sure there is.
Maybe my view has changed because in the time since 9/11/01, I’ve had a son. Since it was first obvious to me that I was having a boy (the ultrasound), I’ve had a big problem with war. Before you hit that comment link, I know that my thinking is sexist and I am duly ashamed. But before seeing the tell-tale signs of boyness on the screen, I hadn’t thought about war and soldiers except in the context of my nieces and nephews who are growing up in Israel and destined to join the army someday.
It is not as if I am unfamiliar with the idea of war and soldiers. My father fought in WWII, but his stories usually involved big snakes and Jeep tires (he was stationed in Panama and the Philippines). My father thought the war was educational in that he might never have left Brooklyn and seen some other part of the world had he not be drafted. I don’t know what he would have thought of this current situation.
And, it is not as if I did not know anyone who died in the 9/11 attacks. For many years, I was a prosecutor in the New York Family Court. Our courthouse was about six blocks north of the World Trade Center. (All of my directions to the courthouse involved using the World Trade Center as an orienting landmark.) Most importantly, I was the person in my office that handled the runaways and filed the petitions to have their home states take custody of them. In that capacity, I was the de facto liaison with the Port Authority Police Department. I ended up with most of the shoplifting and drug interdiction cases from the bus terminal, George Washington Bridge and World Trade Center as well. I did a number of trials with officers whose pictures I later saw lining the streets downtown.<>
I am also a native New Yorker. I remember the day the World Trade Center was finished and thinking how ugly it was, now I take it back. I remember the clever ads channel 11 used to show using the twin towers for their logo. I now find that I get disoriented in lower Manhattan without my insanely large directional landmark. I suppose I could find other ways to ascertain my whereabouts, but some part of me refuses to do so. I think I haven’t re-oriented myself so I can remember what is not there.
So, on the anniversary of this tragedy, I think about my friends in the Port Authority Police who gave up everything to keep us safe. I think about all the firefighters and police officers that I didn’t know who did the same and those who still put themselves on the line each and every day and I say this to the world: my son is 18 months old, you have 16 and a half years to find a lasting peace, or else. (ezs)
Thursday, September 7, 2006
We're welcoming another familiar face to the blog today. Amy Jarmon is joining us as a contributing editor. She has a long history of helping students succeed, and we are looking forward to hearing from her regularly on the blog.
Amy was hired to develop the first academic success program for Texas Tech School of Law in 2004. Although her program serves all 650 law students, she works also with students on probation and teaches in the month-long Introduction to Legal Studies course for entering 1L students whose predictors are lower than those of their classmates. Prior to her move to Texas, Amy was the Director of Academic Success Programs and Acting Assistant Dean for Law Student Services at University of Akron School of Law.
In her first career, Amy worked in decanal positions with undergraduate students for 17 years and spent 10 of those years working in a “bridge position” between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to assist students in achieving their potential inside and outside the classroom. Amy is a licensed attorney in Virginia and on the Roll of Solicitors for England and Wales. She teaches Comparative Law: The English Legal System as an elective course for upper-division students. (dbw)
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
I saw a woman running for the train this morning. She was wearing shoes that could be characterized as per se dangerous instruments under NY Law; that is:they had a blade longer than four inches. Watching her go down the hill and then navigate the tracks (we have outdoor trains in my neighborhood and you have to cross the tracks to get into town), reminded me of first year law students and case briefing. Granted, I hadn't had any coffee yet and the relationship between the shoes and case briefing was tenuous to begin with, but I'll try to get this analogy working in any event.
First year law students are struggling to brief all of their cases at this time of year, I think, mainly because we told them to. In a way, we are like those fashion magazines that say, "be like us, look good, here's the way..." We did explain why briefing was important at orientation or shortly thereafter. But like this morning's fashion victim, I think they are doing it because everyone else is (or at least they say they are) and frankly it looks good. However, like the per se dangerous shoes, case briefing is really uncomfortable at the beginning, especially when you have to hit the ground running (as 1Ls do). Case briefing is not an intuitive exercise and when the benefits of doing it right are still not obvious, then it becomes quite onerous.
Eventually, our students will learn less awkward ways of getting the information they need from cases and putting it down on paper (or screen). Until then, this week's (and maybe, next) case briefs will be awkward: too long and incorrectly framing the issue and/or rules and holdings. Yet, like so many things in law, practice will make, not perfect, but certainly better. Heck, I know some women who cannot wear flat shoes anymore because they have grown so accustomed to wearing heels.
The bottom line: over time, our students will learn to do case briefs as easily as lacing up a pair of sneakers. Which they should wear, especially if they need to run for the train. (ezs)
What’s in a name? Or, to be more specific, does it make any difference (within reason!) what we choose to call our programs? Are students more likely to work with us if we bill ourselves as an Academic Excellence Program as opposed to an Academic Support Program? Do students really feel stigmatized if the enter an office with the word support prominently displayed on the door?
On the one hand, as an attorney I understand the power of words and even punctuation. Change a single word or move a single comma, and you may dramatically alter the meaning of a sentence or phrase. Applying the point to the academic world, think about the difference that a single word like “Professor” can make. Professor Ramy is entitled to respect and is assumed to possess a certain level of expertise and knowledge. Mr. Ramy, on the other hand, is more likely to be blown off by his students and has to work harder to be taken seriously. All that being said, I’m still not sure how much of a difference it makes if I use the word excellence, as opposed to support, to modify program.
I can, however, follow the argument. The word “support” suggests a program for students who need help. To some, the word may even suggest a remedial program. If students perceive our programs as providing only remedial assistance, then we are inadvertently contributing to the stigmatization of our students. Then, students will stop coming to our offices or attending our classes to avoid appearing like students who need help.
A term like “excellence,” however, suggests a different type of program. Instead of a program that emphasizes remedial assistance, “Excellence Programs” are for any student who wants to achieve a high level of success. Even the school’s very best students might take part in an “Excellence Program” in order to hone their already considerable skills.
While I can follow the above argument, I’ve never seen data supporting it. Has anyone interviewed students as to how they perceive an “Academic Support Program” vs. an “Academic Excellence Program”? Is the argument so obvious that supporting data is unnecessary?
Assuming for a moment that a program’s name does carry with it some unintended baggage, it seems to me that students are smart enough to go beyond a program’s name and judge it based on who we serve. If I work exclusively with students who have low LSAT scores, or with those who are on probation, then my “Academic Excellence Program” will quickly be perceived as a remedial program. Similarly, if I work with students on law review, those taking part in clinical programs, and students with low LSAT scores, then my “Academic Support Program” won’t be perceived as a remedial in nature.
We can change a program’s name, but our students are smart enough to figure out who we truly serve.
Just my two cents . . .
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
A important new working paper by Leah M. Christensen, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, examines the differences in the way high performing and low performing law students read legal texts. The article, "Legal Reading and Success in Law School: An Empirical Study," will be published in the Seattle University Law Review this spring. Below is an abstract of the article, and you can click on its title above to access the paper itself in the SSRN Electronic Paper Collection. This paper is a must read for those of us in Academic Support. (dbw)
Abstract: Does the way in which law students read legal text impact their success? This
article describes important new research on how law students read legal text. This study
examined the way in which first year law students in the top and bottom 50% of their
class read a judicial opinion and whether their use of particular reading strategies
impacts their law school grades. The results were significant: even when students had
gone through the same first-semester classes, the more successful law students read a
judicial opinion differently than those students who were less successful. In addition,
there is a correlation between the reading strategies of the top law students and their
first-semester grades. This article describes the results of the study using both empirical
data and actual student transcripts to show how the most successful law students read
legal text. This article also offers practical suggestions for legal educators to help
students learn to internalize the most useful and efficient reading strategies.
Abstract: Does the way in which law students read legal text impact their success? This
Friday, September 1, 2006
ACADEMIC SUCCESS COUNSELOR
Florida Coastal School of Law (FCSL) seeks two applicants for the position of Academic Success Counselor. FCSL is a student-centered, humility-based organization that works to create an innovative educational partnership with its students that produces high quality lawyers with subdued egos and sharp legal problem solving skills. FCSL’s mission is to distinguish itself as a visionary, forward looking, and culturally diverse institution dedicated to having a positive impact on its students, the community, education, the legal profession.
FCSL currently enrolls over 1,200 students and employs 50 full time faculty members. The law school is located in sunny Jacksonville, Florida, and recently moved to its new lakeside location. The distinctive new campus embraces state-of-the-art learning technologies, “collaborative learning spaces,” and “un-classrooms.” The high-tech trial and appellate courtrooms rank as two of the most cutting-edge facilities in the state.
The Academic Success Counselor assists the Academic Success Team in all aspects of the school’s ASP activities, including: working with students on an individual basis to strengthening study habits and analytical skills; training and supervising study group leaders; conducting skills workshops; new student orientation; developing student work materials; monitoring student progress; and enhancing our law students' experience.
Minimum requirements are a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school, membership in good standing in a state bar association, and at least one year of professional experience following law school. The candidate must also possess the following skills, abilities, and attributes:
• demonstrated ability to relate well to, and work effectively with, students
• excellent communication skills
• demonstrated ability to work effectively as a team player
• strong organizational skills and attention to detail
• ability to work collaboratively and collegially with faculty, staff, and administrators
• ability to manage multiple priorities under deadlines
• a commitment to evaluate own leadership and professional skills and develop accordingly
• experience Excel and Power Point
The ideal candidate will have prior academic support experience (either professional or as part of a graduate or law school program) or teaching experience, and law school membership on law review or moot court.
Salary is competitive, includes benefits, and an allowance for professional development; relocation expenses are not covered. Occasional evening and weekend work is required. This position reports to the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of Academic Success. This is a full-time, non-tenure track, administrative staff position.
To apply, please send a cover letter, current resume, salary requirements, and three references to HR@fcsl.edu. Please, no telephone inquiries. Position is open immediately. FCSL invites applications from all qualified parties. (dbw)