Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, November 30, 2007

Can we save the patient?

Any student can use the services of ASP at my law school.  During the semester, I keep a steady flow of appointments on my calendar.  However, my regular load of appointments started to dwindle a few days before the Thanksgiving Break.  The final week of classes has followed immediately on the heels of that holiday break. 

Do not fear that I might be sitting quietly in my office with nothing to do.  At the same time that my usual student load began to drop off, my walk-in traffic sharply increased.  A whole new crop of students arrived to fill the gap.  Many, but not all, have been 1L students.

With roughly two weeks of classes left when the first walk-ins began to appear, I found myself dealing mainly with students who had been merely surviving the semester.  Some were in worse shape than others.  My questions to evaluate the severity of the symptoms tended to elicit responses such as:

  • Yes, I have kept up with the reading. 
  • No, I have no outlines of my own. 
  • No, I have not done practice questions. 
  • No, I do not go to the group tutoring sessions. 
  • No, I did not go to any of the ASP workshops. 
  • Yes, I did all right on the practice exams that my professors gave; I was just below (or at) the median grades. 
  • No, I did not go to see my professors about the practice exam or anything else this semester.

I consider these types of cases to be the equivalent of ER triage.  Stop the bleeding.  Use stitches or staples to put them back together.  Provide oxygen if necessary.  Prescribe some pain-killers and other appropriate medications.  And, request a follow-up visit in five weeks. 

Depending on the severity of the academic trauma, I must make a judgment call on whether quick action and minor procedures will suffice or if we are into academic CPR mode.  (Occasionally, resuscitation is not possible, and the Academic Associate Dean is brought in on a consultation about possible WD or LOA procedures if circumstances warrant.)   

First, I keep a calm voice as I probe with questions to evaluate what steps must be taken immediately.  Is the pulse racing or non-existent?  The student is usually at least pale, worried, near tears, or breathless.  No need to arouse total panic.  Good bedside manner is important.  My heart may sink to the bottom of my toes as I analyze the situation, but I listen to the story and nod to encourage dialogue.

Second, I try very hard to ignore the "ounce of prevention - what were you thinking" speech in the back of my mind.  Instead, I suggest to the student that there are additional steps we can take in the future, but that for now we need to take quick action.  I make mental notes regarding next semester - possibly a rehab period of 4 - 6 weeks once classes start in January. 

Third, I decide what can be realistically accomplished in the short time frame.  How can we use time to advantage by being very efficient?  A bit easier for 1L's who have nicely spaced exams than for my 2L's and 3L's who often seem to be the very ones with multiple sets of back-to-back exams plus a paper.  What are the most effective study techniques for this student?  The options will vary depending on the particular student, professors, courses, study deficiencies, and number of days left.

Fourth, I decide whether there is time for multiple sessions or if one intensive session will have to suffice.  Although I know that my repertoire includes some powerful medicines for academic woes, I also know that there are no miracle drugs in ASP.  I can provide the triage, but the student needs to have the will to live and fight another day.  And, an extra strong dose of assistance may not stand up to a massive infection of poor academic planning and inadequate study habits.

Fifth, I help the student lay out a treatment plan to minimize the damage and salvage the semester.  I offer follow-up visits if desired.  I make referrals if appropriate.  I often say silent prayers for the most traumatized.   

Sixth, I remind myself that I have done the best that I can in an emergency situation.  I hang up my stethoscope for the day.  I close the door to go home.  I am relieved that I do not wear a beeper.  However, I know that tomorrow there will be a new batch of triage cases outside my office.

And after exam period ends, I wait for January when I can re-assess the prognosis after test results and schedule the major surgery needed.  Hopefully, it will not be too late.  (Amy Jarmon)




November 30, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sharing time & spotllight time again!

First things second.

Spotlight time.  Presenting ... ALEX RUSKELL.  Alex took over leadership of the Academic Success effort at Roger Williams University School of law this academic year.  From all reports, he's doing a super job!

Before this year, Alex served as the Director of the Academic Support Program at Southern New England School of Law, and before that, Associate Director of the Legal Writing Center at the University of Iowa College of Law. In his earlier life, he litigated in Boston, focusing on securities and corporate non-competition agreements. He has also served as General Counsel for a mid-size publishing company, Associate for a large oil and gas firm, and as an Assistant in the Texas Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Crimes.

His academic background is varied and thus well-suited to academic support!  He holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an A.L.M. in English from Harvard University, a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University.

Before practicing law, he taught in a Russian orphanage and counted otters for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Both of these resulted in several articles, printed in The Tampa Tribune and many other publications.

Alex frequently presents at writing conferences and symposiums across the country, most recently at the 2006 AWP Conference in Austin, Texas, where he sat on a panel questioning the continuing vitality of the American novel.

Now, how does this tie in with "sharing"?  Alex gave me permission to post his latest exam-answering advice to the RWU SOL students.  It's terrific.  Here goes . . .

The Brain Dump a bad strategy for answering an exam question where the student writes down everything he or she knows about a particular subject instead of actually answering the question asked.
EXAMPLE:  My History of Music Exam asked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how funky is Prince?  Please explain your answer."  In response, I wrote down everything I knew about music, starting with atonality and Gregorian chants, and then all the way up to whether Axl Rose will ever release Chinese Democracy. It took me three hours to write, and I never got to the other questions.  The correct answer was 11, because "His name is Prince, and he is funky.  When it comes to funk, he is a junkie."  I got a zero for my answer.  Then I cried a lot.
Reasons for the Brain Dump:
1.  Fear and panic
2.  Not understanding the question
3.  Being angry the exam didn't ask you something you spent 4 hours figuring out (e.g., "I will talk about unjust enrichment!")
Why the Brain Dump is a Bad Idea:
1.  Professors like grading exams about as much as you like taking them.
2.  You're under time pressure.
3.  It shows you don't understand the question.
4.  Hand cramps.
5.  Exams, on some level, try to replicate what you will be doing as an attorney.  Basically, if a client came in and asked you how to defend against a battery charge, would you tell him or her absolutely everything you know about intentional torts?  Do you think you're client would enjoy this?  Would you? (...from Alex Ruskell via djt)

November 28, 2007 in Academic Support Spotlight, Bar Exams, Exams - Theory, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

AALS Second Annual Reception - Wingspread P20 Leadership Pipeline Consortium

Please join us for the 2nd Annual AALS Wingspread P20 Leadership Pipeline Consortium Reception. 

Wingspread is a group of P-20 educators, the bench, and the bar committed to working across the educational continuum to improve participation, persistence, and success of diverse students in high school and college, with the goal of enhancing their aspirations and capacity to move into positions in the legal profession and leadership of the nation.

Thursday, January 3, 2008, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m., Conference Room D, Executive Conference Center, Sheraton New York, 811 7th Ave., 53rd St., New York, NY

Deans Cynthia Fountaine, Texas Wesleyan; Geoffrey Mearns, Cleveland Marshall College of Law Cleveland State University; Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Suellyn Scarnecchia, University of New Mexico School of Law; Ruthe Ashley, Chair ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity

For more information on this reception or on Wingspread generally, contact Professor Sarah Redfield, or 207-752-1721 (cell).

November 27, 2007 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Academic Support/Legal Writing Position at American U

Academic Support/Legal Writing Position

American University’s Washington College of Law seeks applications for a full-time Academic Support and Legal Writing Position for Academic Year 2008-2009. The position will report to the Director of the Legal Rhetoric Program. Details on requirements are below.

(1) Required qualifications and experience include:

J.D. degree or equivalent; demonstrated excellence and experience in running an Academic Support program in a law school; demonstrated excellence in legal writing and research teaching; strong teamwork; interpersonal and oral and written communication skills; administrative skills and experience.

(2) Preferred qualifications and experience include:

Legal practice, clerkship, or other law-related work experience; law school teaching experience; familiarity with recent scholarship in Academic Support and legal research and writing; participation in national Academic Support and Legal Writing organizations; familiarity with computer or web-based instructional technology; experience working in a multidisciplinary team environment.

(3) Core responsibilities and duties include:

Approximately one-half of time will be spent developing, administering, and teaching in an Academic Support Program for law students that will serve incoming first year students, as well as students during the first year of law school, and in developing an academic support system to serve second and third year students. The position will work with the Diversity Office and the Dean of Students Office, as well as the Legal Rhetoric Program, in serving students. One-half time will be spent teaching legal research and writing in the two-credit, two-semester Legal Rhetoric Program to approximately 24 students each semester; this teaching includes conferences with students, assessing students work, giving detailed feedback on student work, and working with the Legal Rhetoric Program in developing materials and administering the Program.

(4) Salary and contract:

Salary will be approximately $70, 000 for a 12-month contract. The position will receive two one-year contracts, after which she or he will be eligible for a 3-year contract, followed by a 5-year contract.

American University and the Washington College of Law are committed to a diverse faculty, staff, and student body and encourage the application of women and minorities.

Send applications to Professor Teresa Godwin Phelps, Director - Legal Rhetoric Program, American University, Washington College of Law, 4801 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20016.

November 15, 2007 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

I am doing a brisk business in my study aids library on practice question books right now. In talking with the students, I give them some hints for using practice questions wisely.

  • Use practice questions after reviewing a topic or sub-topic.  Learning the material initially through the practice questions is usually not very efficient or effective.  Testing oneself after study gives more information on what one does or does not understand and at what depth one has learned the material.
  • Remember that practice questions perfect test-taking techniques as well as application of the actual content of the course.  Examples of test taking techniques would include: reading the call of the question before the fact pattern; dividing one's time on an essay between analysis/organization and writing; charting an answer; coding of multiple-choice options for "good" and "bad" choices; coding multiple-choice questions for review if time allows.
  • Evaluate one's answers for errors in content as well as test-taking strategies that need to be improved.  Because both aspects help one perform optimally on the exam, it is important to hone both aspects before the exam.
  • Use the index or table of contents in a practice question book to determine which questions are on the sub-topics or topics that one wants to practice.  This way, time is not wasted reading through questions for ones that will match the study topic.
  • Realize that using only the commercial flashcard questions does not fully prepare one for the real exam.  Although the flashcard scenarios are memorable, they usually avoid complicated analysis.  Students may want to start with these to check understanding, but they should not end here.
  • Choose practice questions whenever possible that match the type of exam expected in each course: essay for essay; short-answer for short-answer; multiple-choice for multiple-choice.
  • Choose practice questions that match the level of difficulty for which one is ready.  Start with one-issue essay questions to check understanding of the concepts and rules.  Then, move on to multiple-issue essay questions.  Then, move on to past final exam questions from exam database at one's law school.
  • Complete practice questions on one's own in addition to any questions that are done with a study buddy or study group.  The study buddy or group members will not be able to help in the analysis during the exam.  Solo practice at questions is essential.
  • Complete as many practice questions as possible without reference to an outline or class notes.  Even if an exam is "open-book" (and definitions vary of that term), one does not have time to look up very much.  Therefore, thorough study and practice without looking everything up helps on time efficiency during the final. 
  • Complete some questions under actual timed conditions.  It is important to know whether or not one can complete the analysis within the time limits.  One can always complete the analysis when taking as long as needed, but that is normally not possible on an exam.
  • Complete some questions under other conditions that may be required, such as word limits or page limits.  Again, if one does not practice within these conditions before the exam, it is hard to stick to the limits in the actual exam.
  • Practice as much as possible.  One can never do enough practice questions.  Practice questions force thinking about the law in new situations and recognizing the nuances in its application.

Of course, students should ideally be doing practice questions all semester after each sub-topic or topic.  However, the reality is that many students are just now starting the process.  Depending on the timing of practce for a particular student, I will give additional pointers if needed.  (Amy Jarmon)   

November 9, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Law School Culture: Cooperation over Competition

At this time in the semester, I am always concerned when I see exam stress turn normally nice law students into discourteous ones and normally discourteous law students into mean ones.  When students become stressed and anxious they often take it out on others (and on themselves, but that is a whole other topic). 

I try to talk with my students about actions that they can take to keep the law school milieu "healthier" during this stretch into and through exams.  They are often surprised that they as individuals can have a major impact on the culture of the law school.  Here are some of the suggestions that I make to them:

  • Offer to help another student in your class who is struggling with the material.  Answer questions on material about which the student is confused.  Recommend a study aid that helped you.  Tell the student about a source for practice questions.  Encourage the student to see the professor (or tutor) about the material.
  • Look for the silver lining in the clouds for both yourself and others.  Look for the learning opportunities in exam studying rather than at the obstacles or drudgery.  Problem solve rather than feel powerless and overwhelmed.  Give (and take) praise for each study task completed well.  Help others stay positive.   
  • Compliment other law students on things that you admire in their studying, extracurriculars, or personal lives.  Tell someone congratulations on making a trial team or winning a competition.  Praise someone for an awesome job when called on in class.  Let someone know that a class presentation helped you in understanding the material.  Mention to someone that you admire that person's thoughtfulness or honesty or some other trait.   
  • Use daily inspirational sources to create a positive attitude in yourself which will spill over to others: quotes or scriptures; visualization of your success on exams; prayer; photographs or cartoons; "pep talks" from mentors, family, or friends; music that inspires you.
  • Say "thank you" and "please" more often.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated and not to feel taken for granted.
  • Smile at anyone who looks tired, worried, or anxious.  You may be the one bright spot in that person's day.
  • If you are a local, invite a law student who is "home alone studying" for Thanksgiving Break to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner. 
  • Perform random acts of kindness towards other law students.  Provide homemade cookies for your seminar class.  Share your pizza in the student lounge with another student you do not even know.  Leave encouraging notes for law students whom you know are struggling.  Share your class notes with someone who has been ill before they ask.  Lend a study aid that you have already used to another student who cannot afford a copy.
  • Refuse to participate in gossip about others.  Gossip is unhelpful in the best of circumstances and during this part of the semester is usually mean-spirited and designed to make others look like academic disasters.  Do not tell anyone about gossip that you know.  If someone starts to tell you gossip, politely decline to listen.
  • Step in if you overhear another law student being mean or bullying to a classmate.  You can merely interrupt the conversation by saying that you need to talk with the "victim" to get that person out of the situation.  Or better yet, let the aggressive law student know that the behavior is not necessary or appreciated.
  • Think about what you need to feel good about yourself right now or what you would want someone to do for you.  Provide those "wish list" items for another law student as well as for yourself.

For most law students, this time in the semester is tough.  I stock up on tissues for my office, walk through the law school to smile at and encourage students, praise my probation students who are working hard, and fill up the office candy bucket more frequently.  And, I listen very carefully for the "between the lines" messages in my students' statements/voices.  (Amy Jarmon)               

November 2, 2007 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Two Blogs of Interest

There are two law school blogs that may be of interest to you if you have not already discovered them:

Law School Inovation Blog postings discuss a variety of issues and techniques regarding innovation at law schools

Empirical Legal Studies Blog postings discuss empirical studies on a number of legal education topics

(Amy Jarmon)

November 2, 2007 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)