Saturday, February 4, 2006

Disabilities as Assets?

I highly recommend Professor Jennifer Jolly-Ryan's recent article, "Disabilities to Exceptional Abilities:  Law Students with Disabilities, Nontraditional Learners, and the Law Teacher as a Learner," 6 Nev. L.J. 116 (2005).  A professor at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Jolly-Ryan has put together an insightful, practical, and inspiring article that may change the way you think about students with disabilities.

Beginning with a brief overview of disabilities law and its relationship to law schools, she demonstrates the increasing presence in law schools of persons with a variety of disabilities and the implications for law teachers.  She then explores the dynamics of disabilities in the law school setting and the obstacles disabled students face in school and later in the profession. 

But then she turns the discussion on its head.  She postulates that disabilities, when properly understood, can actually be assets, both in law school and in the profession.  She challenges professors to stop focusing merely on the disabled student's difficulties and start focusing on the strengths such students bring to the field of law.  She includes an inspiring section on people with disabilities who have excelled in the law and explains that, in reality, disabilities foster skills and attitudes that are essential to success in our profession.

In addition, she points out, the increasing presence of students with disabilities in our law schools will change legal education for the better if we simply pay attention to what we can learn as a result of their being in our classrooms.  Offering a host of practical strategies for accommodating the needs of disabled students as well as study strategies students can implement for themselves,  she convincingly argues that incorporating those strategies will result in improving the learning of all law students.

Take a few minutes to read her article, and consider passing it along to your colleagues on the faculty and to your students who may be struggling with obstacles to effective learning.  I think both you and they will see the world a little differently. (dbw)

February 4, 2006 in Disability Matters | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Writing Help for ESL Students (and anyone else who needs it)

In a discussion thread on the Legal Writing Institute Discussion List, Professor John Haberstroh of the Northwestern University School of Law contributed an extensive list of resources that he had compiled to help students for whom English is a second language.  The list is in Word format and contains "live" links to numerous Internet resources for students who need help with writing, grammar, usage, and other elements of the writing process.  The list was compiled to help ESL students, but it would also be invaluable for any law student who is struggling with writing. 

Professor Haberstroh has graciously given us permission to offer the resource to the academic support community.  You access can the document by clicking on the link below and can download it for your own use. (dbw)

Download esl_legal_esl_on_the_internet_805.doc

February 2, 2006 in Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

You are what you eat, think and are merry about....

I’ve been re-reading the sixth Harry Potter book. When it came out over the summer, I was so anxious to finish it that I think I missed some of the essential foreshadowing. My daughter and I both believe (or really want to) that (oh, and here I will be giving away the ending, so if you haven’t read it, skip this paragraph) Dumbledore is not dead. I thought there was some information early in the book that meaningfully proved this, but I had to go back and reread it to be sure. In doing this, I have found that a lot of the book deals with a prophecy (from the previous book) and how that particular prediction of the future is coming to be only because one of the people involved is actively making it so; thus it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As Dumbledore wisely points out to Harry, it doesn’t have to be this way; you have more control over your future than you think. Without growing the really long white beard or wearing a robe to work, I hope to impart this wisdom to students. Your midterm grades in the first year are nothing more or less than what they are.

Last night we were extremely lucky to have Dr. Ann Webster from the Mind/Body Medical Institute come and talk to our students. Sadly, only fourteen students came to learn about what stress can do to their minds, bodies and souls. But those who came were greatly rewarded. She advised students (among other helpful things) to eat well, sleep enough and most importantly think healthy and happy.

I think this is a time of year when stress and depression are at a peak. After the first set of grades are digested, the acids used for digestion seem to turn on the students and start to eat at their self-esteem. Dr. Webster says this kind of negative thinking causes stress which in turn causes all sorts of bodily reactions. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up, you are more likely to get sick because your immune system is sidelined and most importantly, you are not at your cognitive peak for learning.

There is also a loss of spirituality, not in a religious sense, but rather in losing sight of your goals. Stress can make you lose your way and forget the route that got you to law school and the route you planned to take once you were done. In short, students may be thinking: “since exams have clearly established that law school isn’t fun and I have forgotten the reasons for being here, then what is the point?” This is where depression starts.

The words Dr. Webster didn’t exactly utter, but that I think sum it all up are: don’t let your thinking about failure become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students engage in negative thinking about their academic talents, then they are going to have less success academically because of all the stress involved in that kind of thinking. If students lose sight of what has driven them to come to law school, then this is all a very unpleasant experience for naught. Students need to think positively about their goals, talents and abilities. This will alleviate the stress and create a success cycle-a cycle where students can learn and feel best about themselves-rather than a failure cycle.

Mind you, this isn’t an easy task. I still have times where my imagination creates a far worse scenario than logical reasoning would suggest and I have to be brought back from the edge because my cliff doesn’t really exist. It helps to have people who can rein you in every now and then. A good support system is always helpful (and a good Academic Support system:  priceless).

So the bottom line is this, as Academic Support professionals, we sometimes need to throw students a lifeline to pull them out of the cycle of despair and prevent their negative prophecies about their academic futures from coming true. Oh, Dr. Webster also recommended some really good dark chocolate for snacking. Now that is a treat, and after all, if the Doctor says so……(ezs)

February 1, 2006 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Academic Support Rocks and I Can Prove It!!!

Professor Tonsing is absolutely right. Academic Support does help. We can make a difference to students and now I can prove it!!! (with the caveat, of course, that I am not a mathematician, see below).  

I am just now compiling our statistics from last year to see if there is any correlation between what we do and the ultimate success or failure of our students. Interestingly, because I was out on maternity leave last spring, I have a control group of sorts to work with because our office did not see all the students who were flagged as “at risk” by their first semester grades.

In the past, we have worked with every student (in some capacity) that has received an unsatisfactory grade (defined here as a C- or below). Usually we conduct one-on-one meetings with these students and follow a curriculum that involves a review of outlining and exam taking techniques as well as many practice hypotheticals and multiple choice questions. But last year we couldn’t see everyone: and it made a difference (by my calculations, keeping in mind the last time I took a course in statistics was as an undergraduate!). It really seems (note the intentional use of the passive voice to take into account my potentially flawed statistical analysis), that seeing students one-on-one will help keep them from being placed on academic warning at the end of their first year.

Judging from our numbers, about twice as many students we didn’t see one-on-one were on academic warning at the end of the first year as those we did see. This is significant because the one-on-one triage the office engaged in involved not seeing those students who appeared to be at a lower risk for being in academic distress at the end of the year. That is, we did not see students who had one unsatisfactory midterm grade as opposed to those who had an unsatisfactory final grade or more than one unsatisfactory midterm grade. We also saw some students whose GPA’s were in the automatic dismissal (if it were the end of the year) range.

There are some variables that I could not quantify and include while doing my analysis. For example, I personally think the student who comes in to see us with the attitude of, “I messed up, please help me get this right” is always bound to make more progress than the, “my professors hate me” student. I also could not tell from the numbers if there were students who were just not capable of doing the work, no matter how much and what kind of help they were given. But even so, the numbers really do seem to point to an advantage in meeting with students individually after the red-flag of a poor grade in the first semester.

Simply put, in the end, the students we saw one-on-one did better.  I agree with Prof. Tonsing that this is a hard time of year for academic supporters, but get out your pom-poms and get going, because we really can make a difference!!(ezs)

January 30, 2006 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It Works!

At this time of the year—just after the appearance of fall grades—Academic Supporters at law schools across the country meet with scores of disappointed students. 

Some are disappointed because they may be leaving law school—voluntarily or not—others because they simply did not earn grades reflective of their hard work, intelligence and aptitude.

In some ways, this is a difficult time for Academic Supporters.  In two other ways, though, this time of year is tremendous.  Here's why:

1.  Now, many students realize their need for expert coaching.  Students ask for help eagerly.  That's a plus.  Eager students are the best kind of students to work with, aren't they?

2.  Along with the stories of disappointment, we hear the stories of success.  Although the wunnelle stories are uplifting, they are to be expected . . . that is, with no law school track record, students who do very well are often surprised and elated when they receive their first "A" grades. 

But for me, the best stories of success are those coming from second and third-year students who have been challenged, who have struggled, and who have leapt over barriers, overcome their bugaboos, and tasted the nectar of the high grade for the first time.

Having received permission to post an edited version of one such story, I offer it to encourage those who are new to the Academic Support ranks.  Academic Support works. 

Keep up the good work, friends!

P.S. If you have a particularly heartwarming success story, have obtained written permission to post it, and can edit all identifiers, email it to me for possible posting on the blog.  (djt)

January 29, 2006 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)