July 14, 2007
An Overlooked Resource?
In the search for good academic support resources, one that is sometimes overlooked is right under our noses: our own faculty. Our faculty colleagues were all very successful law students. Why not ask them how they outlined or took notes or briefed for their classes? Some of their old briefs, etc., can serve as powerful and credible examples of what works. In fact, when you find an example that seems especially appropriate for students to emulate, have the faculty member give a short lunchtime lecture on her particular method. (Dan Weddle)
July 12, 2007
An Excellent Text on Preparing for and Taking Law School Exams
Professor John Delany's How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams, is an excellent resource for both law students and ASP professionals. A longtime criminal law professor, Delaney provides an insightful and detailed approach to semester-long exam preparation, as well as practical strategies for answering the exam questions themselves in ways that demonstrate the analytical skills that law professors are trying to assess.
One of the most powerful aspects of the book is Professor Delaney's ability to tie exam preparation to the analytical skills that lie at the heart of a proper legal education. Through thoughtful explanations of effective learning strategies and multiple practical illustrations and sample problems and answers, Professor Delaney demystifies much of both the study of law and the keys to success on law school assessments.
Any student who wonders why in the world we test the way we do should read this book. Any student who wants to transform exam preparation into deep learning and powerful analytical skill development should read it and then reread it several times. (Dan Weddle)
July 11, 2007
Our Own Skills 2: Empathizing
A law school's greatest strength can often be one of its greatest weaknesses: its faculty's intellectual prowess. Law professors are always those who were exceptionally successful as law students, so they are necessarily exceptional legal thinkers and are precisely the people who should make up our law school faculties. Many of those exceptional legal thinkers, however, share a common weakness: an inability to understand why some of their students struggle mastering the law.
For many professors, the study of law, while certainly challenging and demanding, was fairly intuitive. When they encounter students who do not seem to "get it," they have a tough time believing that those students are intellectually capable of succeeding in law school, and they have a tough time empathizing with those students' plight. Too often, they believe that struggling students ought to accept their limitations and find another profession.
It is seldom the case, by the way, that these professors don't care; it is that they can't relate. Having spent their lives in nearly unbroken academic success, they see law school success as primarily a matter of intelligence and hard work; when success is lacking, one of those elements must be missing. They may empathize with dashed hopes and failed dreams, but not with academic failure where there exist the brains and drive to succeed.
Therefore, it is essential that students find empathy in our offices. We must be able to understand what our students feel when, despite their best efforts, they cannot seem to succeed; and, just as importantly, we must genuinely believe that they can succeed. We must truly believe that bad learning strategies are more often the problem than lack of ability and effort, and that bad learning strategies can be changed.
That sort of empathy is very different from what students often encounter in law school. It is an empathy filled with hope and buttressed by real help. In our offices, at least, students ought to find people who believe in them, who believe they can succeed and who can offer the means to do so. In our offices, they should find people who know how it feels to fail and how it feels to succeed in the face of failure. That is a helpful kind of empathy.
We need to deliberately cultivate in ourselves that sort of empathy. We need to reach back into our own lives and find those times when we struggled, nearly gave up, and then found a way to succeed. Remembering those times will affect our tone, our advice, and the tenacity with which we stick with our students until they do "get it." That sort of empathy can become one of a law school's greatest strengths. (Dan Weddle)
July 9, 2007
Resources for New ASP Professionals
If you are working in Academic Support, an essential resource is Michael Hunter Schwartz's Expert Learning for Law Students (Carolina Academic Press 2005). Prof. Schwartz gives the reader an insightful explanation of the implications of learning theory for students facing the rigors of law study and provides abundant practical strategies for learning and living in the law school environment. (Dan Weddle)