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)