Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stress Management Resource

I would like to recommend a resource for those of you who want more information on stress management.  Walt Schafer (a retired professor of sociology and acting dean at California State University, Chico) has written a book titled Stress Management for Wellness which is published by Thomson - Wadsworth.  Although I have owned several editions of this title, the current edition is the Fourth Edition, 2000.

This book is often used as a college textbook for physical education and health-related courses.  At 488 pages of text, it includes more than you can imagine about this topic.  The text is in a very readable style and packed with references to studies from a number of fields.  Personal assessment instruments, application exercises, and more are included.  Although I have not seen it, there is apparently an Instructor's Manual/Test Bank as well as the text. 

Amazon indicates that there is a companion 175-page Student Workbook with the same main title that is co-authored with Sharrie A. Herbold and published by Harcourt (July 1999).  Again, I have not actually reviewed this additional volume. (alj)


January 26, 2007 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Important Conference Coming in March

Assisting Law Students with Disabilities in the 21st Century:  Brass Tacks

Thursday, March 8, 2007
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
American University Washington College of Law
4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016
Room 603

Sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs

To Register:
And Click On Registration

Cutting-edge technology, court decisions, resource allocations, and individual perceptions each have the ability to affect the education of a law student with a disability. For student, career, and disability support professionals, for university counsels, faculty, and students themselves, knowledge of rights and responsibilities can be critical to academic achievement.  Federal and state laws may help frame the issues, but they do not always assist with the day-to-day application and support we provide our students. This conference will address the major disability issues in the academic arena and identify the best practices for assisting law students with disabilities. The conference will also include vendor exhibits displaying the latest in assistive technology. (dbw)

January 23, 2007 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

See the Forest, Grasshopper

In a posting a few days ago, I discussed briefly the problem many students have seeing the forest for the trees.  In talking with one of my students about that problem one he had observed in himself and had overcome I asked what he does to step back from the individual trees in the casebook and see the larger forest.

He told me that he takes each section of his outline and writes a prose explanation of the entire section, as if he were explaining it to someone else.  He says, in effect, "Here's how defamation works."  He then explains the basic concept:  its rules, exceptions, defenses, competing minority and majority views, its underlying logic and its roots in public policy, etc. 

He said that studying a linear outline does not pull those relationships together for him.  Until he converts his outline into a coherent prose explanation, it is simply a list of concepts, not something he understands deeply and can manipulate to analyze a new set of facts.

Each prose explanation, on the other hand, becomes what he calls "the filter I pour the facts through."  It his guide for sifting the facts to see where the questions lie and how the law might answer them.  He does not use it, by the way, as a prewritten exam answer, a mechanical regurgitation of concepts into which he can sprinkle facts; he truly uses it as an analytical tool for attacking fact patterns and resolving the questions they raise.

What he has discovered is the power of learning by explaining. By forcing himself to explain the law to himself in writing, he necessarily comes to understand it more deeply and completely. 

We who teach understand the dynamic he has discovered because we see it in our own work every day.  Every teacher admits that she came to truly understand her subject when she had to make it clear to her students.  My student simply applies that lesson to his own learning and makes himself teacher and student in the same moment. (dbw)

January 21, 2007 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Position at New York Law School!!

New York Law School is seeking applicants for a full-time Academic Support teacher who will lead academic skills classes for low-performing law students.  This is a faculty position renewable on a contract basis, and will carry the title of “Associate Professor of Applied Legal Analysis.”

Ideal candidates will be energetic teachers with distinguished academic backgrounds, who have strong organizational and interpersonal skills.  Prior experience in academic support, academic counseling, or providing instruction in legal reasoning and writing will be very helpful.

The successful candidate will work closely with the director of our Academic Skills program and with our entire first-year faculty. 

New York Law School is a vibrant community dedicated to offering the right program to each of our students.  We have both full-time and part-time programs, so applicants should be available to teach day and evening classes.

Applications must be submitted by February 14, 2007.  Applicants should send a resume and cover letter to:

Kris Franklin
Professor of Law
New York Law School
57 Worth Street
NY, NY 10013    

Kris adds, "I’d be happy to talk personally with anyone on this list who would like more detail before deciding whether to apply.  You can e-mail me directly at or call me at (212) 431-2353."  (ezs)

January 18, 2007 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

January 17, 2007 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Everything I know I learned from a fortune cookie...

This year, among many resolutions made in the haste of New Year’s Eve, I resolved to cook more and order in less. However, in the wake of a cold and rainy three day weekend at home with three children (who seem much smaller and less destructive outside the house), I caved. Yet, despite my lack of resolve, I found it an educational experience nonetheless. Why? Because my fortune cookie held the Secret Essence of Academic Support (in its slightly stale and crumpled state).  It said this: “correction is one thing, encouragement everything.” (It also informed me that my lucky numbers were: 5, 12, 17, 33, 36 and 45 and how to say the word “egg” in Mandarin).

In the last two days I have seen over twenty panic-stricken first year students. I have received some e-mails from professors confessing the large number of unsatisfactory grades they distributed this semester. Some professors are just not stopping to chat as usual. I knew it was coming, but, like the cold of winter, (which is finally here) I am always surprised when it arrives each year.

The first question the students ask me is always, “what did I do wrong?” Sadly, that’s probably the one question I cannot answer without more information. I could guess-and it would be a fairly educated guess-but the answer really lies in the conversation that students need to have with the professor that gave them the grade. Why speculate when the actual truth can be easily uncovered? Students, however, are extremely reluctant to do this and while I understand why, it needs to be done.

Often I can convince a student to make an appointment with a faculty member with a small and simple truth: let’s find out what the problem was, make a plan and fix it. If the problem was the multiple choice questions, then we’ll practice those; if it is was issue spotting, then we’ll practice that and so on. And I think the part of that simple truth that is most effective in relieving students of the despondency that comes with unsatisfactory grades is the plan making.

Facing the music (that is, looking at the exam itself) is only the first step, because it involves correction, and it is (as the wise and crunchy cookie tells us) only one thing. What we can do in Academic Support for our students is provide encouragement, and that, says the cookie, is everything.  (ezs)

January 17, 2007 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spring Contact with Students

Hello all!

Like many of you, the Spring semester is my busiest time of year. The reason? Most 1Ls receive their first significant grades at the end of the fall semester. Prior to this, we could only warn students about the possible consequence of failing to adhere to our suggestions. For too many, their fall grades have confirmed everything we had been warning them about.

At the beginning of the Spring semester, I review first-year grades to assess which students have the greatest likelihood of failing at the end of the year. These students are then invited to work with me for the balance of the Spring semester. Unfortunately, it can take weeks before all grades are submitted, and during this time students become quite anxious. In addition, they are starving for morsels of information about grades, academic probation, and their prospects of one day becoming a lawyer. If they do not receive information from us, they will listen to the misinformation being passed on by their classmates. To address this issue, I send all first-year students an e-mail in which I lay out my plans for the Spring. This year’s letter appears below, and you should feel free to borrow from it liberally. (hnr) 

Over the next two weeks, you will be receiving first-semester grades. In fact, many of you have already begun to receive them. I will be reviewing these grades and inviting certain students to work with me on a one on one basis for the balance of the semester. It will take me some time to complete my review, but I hope to send out these invitations by the end of January.

In the meantime, please be aware of how grades may be affecting you and your emotional well being. Certainly, some of you will be satisfied and even pleased with your grades, but others may find their grades unsatisfying, demoralizing and depressing. If you are in the latter group, please keep a few things in mind.

Your grades are not an indication of anything except how well you were able to communicate your knowledge of a particular subject during a fairly short window of time. This does not mean that a poor grade is not your responsibility. In the larger scheme of things, however, it is only one assessment of a fairly small subject area. 

In addition, a poor grade does NOT mean that you lack intelligence, or that you will never be a lawyer, or that you are a bad person. It may mean that you have not absorbed the information adequately or that you have not conveyed your knowledge clearly. The snowball effect of one poor grade can be devastating to your future performance. Do not let a bad grade turn into anything more than an opportunity to assess where you need to improve either your study habits or exam writing skills.

As you assess your personal study habits and what you can do to improve your performance, please consider the following. In my experience, many students who perform relatively poorly during the first semester of law school have failed to dedicate sufficient time to their studies. Studying for law school is much more than merely reading your assignments for class. Reading the cases for class is a necessary first step, but the road to mastering your first year classes requires more. 

Even if you are studying more than at any other point in your academic life, it still may not be enough in law school. For both day and evening division students, law school is a full-time job. Including class time, day-division students should expect to spend approximately 60+ hours per week on their studies. For evening-division students, this number is 30-35 hours per week including class time.

Another common denominator that I find among students who have struggled during the first semester of law school is a failure to review their class notes consistently. For some this means creating an outline and for others it may mean creating a flow chart. At a bare minimum, you must read, dissect, and analyze everything in your class notes and your case briefs on a weekly basis. 

Finally, it is understandable if some of you are upset about your grades. It is likely that you have achieved a great deal academically in the past, and you are unaccustomed to your current level of performance. Being upset is natural and can be motivational, but do not lose focus of the fact that the second semester of law school has already begun. Do not let one set of relatively weak grades distract you from your ultimate goal – becoming a lawyer. 

Good luck in the spring semester.

January 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Seeing the Forest

I was speaking with Lorraine Lalli from Roger Williams the other day, and she commented that among the chief struggles for first-year students is an inability to see the forest for the trees.  They may understand a case; they may even master its principles; but they have a tough time seeing how the case fits into the larger scheme of things, how a rule connects to themes and principles running through a particular area of law or to themes running across legal disciplines.  If we can teach them how to find those larger connections, we will have taught them something much more valuable than any case. (dbw)

January 15, 2007 in Meetings, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Diversity and Doctrinal Courses

At last week's meeting of the AALS Section on Academic Support, the audience was asked to share with one another ways in which doctrinal professors could inject diversity considerations into their classes.  One fairly simple assignment I have used in my course, Legal Aspects of Higher Education, has received a very positive reception from students, so I thought I would share it with you.

As one would expect, part of the course is taken up with covering affirmative action at the college and university level.  To introduce the material, I give the following assignment three or four weeks in advance, timing the due date to coincide with the beginning of our discussion of affirmative action.

Assignment:  Choose three persons, all of the same race or ethnicity as one another, but of a race or ethnicity different from your own. Consider choosing across age ranges as well.  Interview each separately regarding that person’s views and personal anecdotes regarding affirmative action and race.  Summarize each interview briefly and write a two- to three-page essay summarizing your own reactions or new insights based on all three interviews.

Students are generally surprised at the diversity of thought among just three people chosen at random from an ethnic group other than their own (they shouldn't be, but they are), and they gain new and more rounded perspectives on the controversies, complexities, and passions associated with affirmative action. 

The approach could be used with a variety of topics in a variety of courses, so you might consider incorporating it into one of your classes.  The depth of insight the students bring to the table after this exercise makes it well worth their effort, and they seem to really enjoy it. (dbw)

January 11, 2007 in Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The First Year Five-Step Grade Acceptance Plan

And….we’re back. That was a short break—at least for those of us with kids following a school vacation calendar. And now the grades for our first year students will be coming out (at least here) on Friday at 5:00 p.m. Yes, the grades will be released to the students and then there will be a three day weekend for them to absorb this information or perhaps organize their flaming torch posses.  In truth, I think this “buffer” period is a good idea because it will give students (those who are unhappy with their grades) some time to go through the stages of grief involved in law school grades.

The first stage is “anger.”  Students look at a (less than they expected) grade and are immediately angry at the professor who gave it to them. Perhaps some choice expletives about this professor cross their minds and lips at this point. The student is certain that the grade is personal despite all indications that grading is done blindly by exam number. Some students never pass through this stage and, in my experience, it does not bode well for their future academic careers if they don’t.  A student who is stuck in this stage will not really be able to modify their strategy for the next set of exams.

The second stage is “confused hopefulness.” This is a stage that not all students go through, but quite a few do take a side trip here on their way to stage three. “Confused hopefulness” is when the student thinks that perhaps there was a mathematical error or even that the computer software failed to spit out the entire exam answer. In essence, the student believes that the grade is the result of some "tragic mistake."  This passes quickly, but if it doesn’t, the students will try to track down the professor and discuss the exam-which, all in all, is never a bad thing.

The third stage is bargaining. Students try to tell themselves (and anyone who will listen) all the reasons why the grade could have happened. Notice that I used the passive voice here--that was intentional. “I had a cold/migraine/anxiety attack.” “It was the first exam.” “The professor hates me,” (this is often a relapse back into stage one). “Someone in the room kept blowing their nose/coughing/tapping on the desk.”  Not one of the reasons will involve anything the student did, or did not do, to prepare for exams.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why an exam has gone awry. I don’t know why law students’ significant others choose exam time to do it, but an awful lot of students get dumped at this time of year. Sort of the double whammy, dumped during exams and right before the holidays. Isn’t the relationship going to be just as bad after exams? It isn’t like you’re going to see the student much during this time, so what’s the rush?  As an Academic Support professional, I would personally like to throttle people who decide to sabotage someone else's grades in this way (and here I am back in stage one...).

The fourth stage is “regrets.” (I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…). Student regrets about study methods and classroom preparation start to form now. “Why did I study with those people I’ve never seen in class?” “Why didn’t I make my own outline or at least brief cases past September?” Or, my own favorite, “why didn’t I go to those Academic Support classes?  I bet they were wicked helpful.” (We are in Massachusetts after all….) I think the sooner a student gets to this point, the better. Owning responsibility for their grades, to me, is the best indicator that a student will not be in academic distress much longer. 

 The fifth (and final) stage is “looking forward”: This is when the student decides to get better grades at the end of the year. This is when they do the math and figure out what grade they need on the final to bring their midterm grade up to what is an acceptable level for them; and better yet, start to plan how to achieve that goal. This is when a student asks for help, and here I am waiting for them on Tuesday morning with a full candy jar and a box of tissues. (ezs)

January 10, 2007 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)