August 18, 2006
Preparedness of Incoming Law Students
Cathaleen A. Roach has written a thought-provoking article about trends we may expect to see in our students over the next few years, trends that are not entirely encouraging. Several studies have suggested that students in high schools and colleges are receiving less and less instruction and practice in research and writing and, as a result, are graduating college with increasingly poorly developed analytical skills. In addition, students are exhibiting increasing passivity in their approaches to learning.
Her article has important implications for legal pedagogy in general and academic support efforts in particular. You will find her article, "Is the Sky Falling? Ruminations on Incoming Law Student Preparedness (and Implications for the Profession) in the Wake of Recent National and Other Reports," in 11 Leg. Writing 295 (2005).(dbw)
August 17, 2006
The Orientation Express has left the station....
Well, I have oriented all my students, and now I can sit back and bask in the pleasure of knowing that they are all perfectly prepared for whatever will come in the next few weeks. Right? Well, maybe not, but I certainly tried. I did my usual spiel: you know, "we call them briefs because they are supposed to be short and private." (In case you wanted to incorporate this joke into your orientation lecture, you should know that the students did not laugh as loudly as I did, but feel free to give it a try.)
I think that I have finally, after many years of doing ASP orientation, come up with a "theme" for my talk. My theme this year (and perhaps for many years to come) is the triumvirate of learning. Not a group of three classes, but rather the three stages of getting the most from your classes. The first stage (before class) is preparation: reading and briefing all the assigned cases. The second stage is coming to class, religiously, and taking comprehensive notes. I do warn students to avoid what I call, "court reporter syndrome" and not take notes as if they were merely recording the class without pausing to let the material sink in. And finally: (I wish I could put some musical emphasis here, but in your mind I want you to think aah-ah with golden light and all that) outlining (very soon) after class to bring the first two components together.
That's it. I know I haven't broken down law school into three simple and easy steps, but I tried to make sure my students understand what was expected of them. In law school, I often felt that I had not only missed the boat, but also that I didn't know there was a boat, when it might be sailing or that I was supposed to be on it. Often, I could have done what was expected of me if I had only known what that was. Granted, sometimes I wasn't as diligent about finding out the boat schedule as I should have been, but a little guidance would have helped. Therefore, since the LSAT does not measure psychic ability, I attempted to give my students this information before the pier sits empty again.
Oh, and one last case briefing joke (that I enjoy more than the students, of course) is: for the first couple of weeks, your briefs may actually be longer than the case itself; those are called boxers. Bah-dum-bum. (ezs)
August 14, 2006
The Balancing Act.
Well, summer seems to be over. I am sitting here in my office (alone) trying to wrap my brain around orientation which will begin later this week. On the one hand, it is a time filled with all sorts of promise: new students with their fresh, sunny new faces and on the other hand, students returning under the cloud cover of academic probation (or as we call it, "Academic Warning"). It is an interesting balance as we go forward.
Balance is the word I use to describe our orientation strategy. We spend a good deal of time scaring the poop out of students by reminding them (endlessly) that this is NOT college, you CANNOT get away with studying only before exams, you CANNOT miss classes, etc. Also, we tell them they are entering a foreign country where the locals appear to speaking English, but they aren't. Instead, we are all speaking "law" which is a different language altogether and the first few weeks of law school are more like immersion in a foreign country to learn the language than anything else. We do temper this with the revelation that we do not expect students to "get it" at first, but then we crush their shiny fresh spirits by explaining that they should "get it" really soon or else.
I think if I delivered my orientation lecture while wearing a blindfold and holding the scales of justice, I might get the point across more clearly. Or, perhaps the students would think they got caught in one of those tourist walks that are led by folks in costume all around Boston (ask me sometime about how my nine-year-old heckled Ben Franklin).
But then, just to complete the scene, I tell the students that I am here to help; that they should feel free to come and see me for anything during those first hard weeks. In a way, it is a cruel manipulation. First, I tell students to be scared; really scared. But then I tell them not to be because I can help. It's like if Superman hung you on the edge of a cliff and then flew by (about two hours later) to rescue you (minus the tights and cape, after all it is still pretty hot here).
I sincerely mean everything I tell the students, I am not running a scam here but I often feel like I have placed the image of the monster in the students' heads only to then offer to help slay it. But the bottom line is this: I am offering an accurate warning and then offering to help the students arm themselves for the onslaught. My only "profit" from student attentiveness to my orientation lecture is perhaps a slight lack of business down the road (but really, with three kids and three cats at home, I am just excited anyone would listen to me at all). (ezs)