Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why "Two" Is Better Than "One"

During each semester, I spend a great deal of my time teaching time management to my law students.  Unfortunately, many law students have never learned how to study in high school or college.  Not knowing how to study translates into not being able to manage one's time for studying.  These important skills are not ones that suddenly develop during the summer before law school enrollment. 

If you doubt the abilities of our youth, look at the National Survey of Student Engagement results over the last few years.  Or, read the article written by Jeffrey R. Young in 2002 "Homework? What Homework?" which is in the Chronicle of Higher Education and can be easily Googled.  (You may well ask why the hyperlink is missing here. The posting gremlins will not include it no matter what I try.  It is late, and I want to go home.) 

Students gasp when I tell them to study an average of 50 - 55 hours per week in order to complete all of the necessary tasks for the semester.  Distributive learning, long-term memory, active reading, self-regulated learning, and self-evaluation are new concepts to many students.  I explain to them that a weekly time management schedule that plans consistent time every week for basic tasks will optimize learning and reduce stress and anxiety. 

First, I have students include their commitments - things that are (or should be) consistent.  These commitments will include classes, sleep, and meals.  For some students, other commitments will be study groups, tutoring, church, family meals, child-rearing, work hours, etc.  (Exercise is included, but not at this initial point.) 

Next, I ask them for each course to estimate the longest amount of time that would be needed to read a normal assignment for one day if they were reading for deeper understanding and also taking notes/writing briefs.  After reading time is scheduled (same day and time each week for the same course), I have them include other tasks at consistent days and times every week: reviewing for 30 minutes before class; reviewing class notes within 24 hours; outlining for each course; reviewing the outlines regularly and completing practice questions; working on paper/project tasks; and any other tasks specific to the requirements for a particular course.  The consistent repetition of days and times for the same tasks eliminates the "What should I do next?" and "Why begin since I have all day?" problems.   

It is common that law students read material the day before or the day of the class for which they are preparing.  However, too many students race through the material or just "do time" over the pages rather than reading for understanding and reflection.  After talking with many law students, I have decided that the best approach is what my students have dubbed "the two-day schedule." 

Because students have more flexibility in their time on the weekends, I suggest that they always begin the cycle for this method on a Saturday (and, if they "fall off the wagon," it is easier to start up again on a Saturday).  The cycle is simple: read Saturday for Monday's classes; read Sunday for Tuesday's classes; read Monday for Wednesday's classes; read Tuesday for Thursday's classes; read Wednesday for Friday's classes.  (I do realize that this is not rocket science, but I tell them the full cycle so that they suddenly realize their assigned reading for the week will be completed by Wednesday.)

Of course, part of this method is that they should review what they read and their notes and briefs before they go to class.  Thus, students have seen the material twice before walking into the classroom.  Not surprisingly, they report back that they are more active listeners in class, that they are more organized and selective in their note-taking, and that they volunteer to answer questions more often because they are more confident in the material.

Another huge pay-off is that the method allows them to spend Thursday and Friday on outlines, review, practice questions, and projects or papers rather than on frantic reading.  Most students have one "light day" in the schedule so that additional time opens for these other tasks on the day when they have less reading in the cycle. 

Students find that it takes approximately two weeks to become accustomed to the new method.  By the end of four weeks, students exclaim over how much time they have to stay "on top" of their work.  Many also notice that they are less stressed.  They often begin to enjoy the study of law for the first time in what has previously been a very harried existence.

Students who work or have family responsibilities may need to modify the method some.  But, they also find that it is easier to stay focused and organized.  Often, if a copy of the schedule is posted on the refrigerator, the family members will keep the law student on schedule because it benefits everyone.  The family members love knowing when "down time" is scheduled for the week.  They also love having a law student who is less stressed and paranoid about taking time to be with them.

I have used this method with my law students at two law schools and with both full-time and part-time law students.  Hopefully, it can benefit some of your students who just do not understand how they can get everything done.  (alj)

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