Friday, February 9, 2007

Keeping Kinesthetic-Tactile Students on Target

Many of my strong kinesthetic-tactile learners struggle initially in law school.  Among other things, they have never had to read this much dense material; they have never had to study this much; they have never had to sit as much; and they have never had to use such structured time management to succeed. 

In discussing study problems with hundreds of students with a strong KT preference, I have learned a number of nuances about these learners' needs.  Many of my "KT's" have deepened my understanding of this type through their descriptions of what has (or has not) worked for them.

What does it mean to be a KT?  Well, to put it simply "kinesthetic" means movement/activity.  And, "tactile" means touch/application.  These learners can usually take advantage of the preference if they include movement and active learning and "hands-on" application in their studies.  Although each KT learner is unique because of other overlapping learning styles, strong KT's do seem to share some characteristics. 

Why do so many KT's not take advantage of their preference already?  I find that these are the children, teens, and young adults who have been told all their lives by parents and teachers to sit down, sit still, stop fidgeting, get back to work, and be more like "good little boys and girls."  They have also been told by those same parents and teachers to stop getting dirty, making messes, getting into everything, touching everything, and taking everything apart to see how it works. 

Many KT's are self-conscious about what they have always felt were bad characteristics or habits rather than their natural learning attributes.  In a sense, they often need to re-discover their best ways of learning after years of suspecting they were educational misfits.  I find that this is especially true for non-traditional students who came through the educational system prior to increased understanding about learning styles.   

What can KT's do to add "movement" and activity to their studying in constructive ways?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pace around the room when learning a speech or presentation; when studying flash cards; when reading a case section that has the KT stumped; when learning an outline.
  2. When studying alone, talk with one's hands while learning a speech or presentation or when trying to explain a case, sub-topic, or topic to an empty chair, spouse, or family pet.  (Cats condescend to listen as long as you use a voice that suggests you are showering them with compliments.  Dogs will listen very attentively and actually look at you as though you are brilliant.)
  3. Move one's body during study: play with a rubber band, paper clip, or pen; tap a foot; shift around in the chair; twirl a strand of hair; move one's head in time to music; crack one's knuckles (yes, some of my KT's really do self-report that they do so).
  4. Take more frequent small breaks when focus is lost.  Five or ten minutes will usally help as long as the KT gets up and moves -- a walk to the water fountain; a trip to the student snack bar; a lap around the law school.  (But, make sure the break does not extend to hours.)
  5. Study with "white noise" to mask distracting external noises: turn on a fan; play instrumental music; turn the TV on at "mumble" or mute level; go to a coffee house or restaurant and sit out of the high traffic zones.
  6. Study in areas where one does not feel confined in spatial terms: a larger library table rather than a tiny carrel; the door open to the carrel; seating areas in the library that have larger chairs or couches.
  7. Study with repetitive movements or gentle recreational movements: review an outline while on the tread mill; recite rules while folding the laundry; study flashcards while on the stationary bike.  If the KT is also an aural lerner: listen to an audio tape while walking around the neighborhood; listen to an audio tape while washing and waxing the car or cooking dinner; discuss a topic with a study buddy while walking across campus.  (Some KT's have observed that you need to be a coordinated KT to do some of these techniques.)
  8. Stay active as a learner in order to maximize focus, understanding, and memory.  Ask questions while reading.  Talk with others about the material.  Participate in class discussions.
  9. Use study group/buddy time wisely: take short breaks to retain focus; avoid marathon study sessions; ask to read the questions or lead the discussion when one's focus is wandering; avoid holding group sessions in cramped or austere settings.
  10. KT's often focus better through typing notes because the rhythmic movement in typing is beneficial.   Many strong KT's comment that they lose focus when they handwrite their notes.

What can KT's do to add touch and "hands-on" application to their studying in constructive ways?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Add touch to movement while studying: stroke the family pet; handle a smooth stone; sqeeze a stress ball; run a hand over the fabric on the couch.
  2. Do as many practice questions as possible.  It is the application that cements learning for KT's.
  3. Make up "spin-off" hypotheticals from the facts of a case after reading so that it becomes obvious how one applys the rule/reasoning/policy to new situations.
  4. If also a visual learner: use a dry erase board to outline the answers to practice questions; to construct graphics; to outline a legal memo; to solve a problem set. 
  5. Enroll in courses that focus on the application of legal concepts: clinics; negotiation; mediation; trial advocacy; client interviewing; externships; internships.
  6. Enroll in doctrinal classes where professors use "hands-on" teaching techniques as well as more traditional methods: small groups to work on fact patterns; class members arguing for plaintiff or defendant; role plays as judges; arguing a motion before the professor judge; etc.
  7. Participate in law school activities that allow you to "do something" with the law: team competitions in advocacy, negotiation, or client interviewing; income tax assistance programs; other pro bono work; tutoring; researching for professors on real legal problems (rather than theoretical projects).
  8. Gain summer or semester legal experience so that classroom concepts become "real" through dealing with clients and their cases in practical ways.

Finally, what should KT's avoid or curtail in studying?  What should KT's add to increase study success?  KT's can be distracted more easily than other types.  Here are some areas to consider:

  1. Avoid sitting near the back of the classroom because one is farther away from the professor and as a "fringe participant" can become bored and lose focus.  (KT's naturally pick the back rows of the room because they feel less confined.)
  2. Avoid sitting in areas of the room where there are distractions that will make focusing on class harder: windows for gazing outside; doors and hallways for listening to hallway noise and conversations; classmates who are chatter-boxes during class; students who work crossword puzzles or play solitaire on their computers;.
  3. Study at home only if one is not distracted by the TV, computer games, house chores, nap time, or other home comforts. 
  4. Study in a place that allows one to spread out study items while not being distracted by friends or lots of activity. 
  5. Disable the Internet capability on your computer if you are prone to instant message, surf the web, read e-mails, or shop on-line when you should be studying.  (For this reason, some KT's tell me they only study at the local coffee shops that do not have free Internet access.)
  6. Gain more awareness of becoming bored or losing focus.  Consider realistic amounts of time for reading and other study tasks when structuring a time management schedule.
  7. Include exercise in a weekly schedule for at least three times a week for 30 minutes.  By expending pent-up energy, KT's can focus better when they sit down to study.

With awareness and practice, KT's can implement additional ways to use the KT preference in conjunction with their other absorption and processing styles of learning.  (alj)       

February 9, 2007 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Contributing Editor

David Nadvorney, the ASP blog's new contributing editor, is the Director of the Irene Diamond Professional Skills Center at City University of New York School of Law and has been involved in providing academic support in law schools for many years. He's excited about editing the blog, which he hopes will be an outlet for expression, reaction, feedback, and support for his new experience this semester of teaching an academic support section of first-years torts.  We are thrilled to have David on board. (dbw)

February 9, 2007 in About This Blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Power of the Brief

I have just finished reading Leah Chistensen's "The Psychology Behind Case Briefing:  A Powerful Cognitive Schema," published at 29 Campbell L. Rev. 5, and it is a good read.  She taps into cognitive theory to explain the importance of effective briefing as a means of understanding the law.  She notes that

[e]xperts in rhetoric believe that thinking, speaking and writing are inseparable.  Therefore, students can use case briefs to enhance their understanding of the law by writing their briefs by hand or by typing them into their computers in a way that allows them to be conscious of their own thinking.  Contrary to simply highlighting, the process of writing allows students to more accurately assess what they do and do not understand about the case.

          Professor Christensen is absolutely right; but unfortunately, many students never recognize that dynamic in the process of briefing.  Instead, too many first-year students abandon case briefing and resort to “book briefing.”  When they do so, they drop an important tool for processing the thinking of the court and the logic of the law. 

One of my first questions for students who seek help from me is, “Tell me how you prepare for class.”  More often than not, those who are struggling answer that they highlight passages in the casebook and make small notes to themselves in margins so that they can locate the facts, the rule, and the holding.

My response is always the same:  “Start briefing every case again, focusing especially on the court’s reasoning.  You have three years of reading and discussing cases to learn how courts and lawyers think.  There is no better, more efficient way to master that kind of thinking than to force yourself every day to distill, process, and record the logic of opinions that make that thinking explicit.”

I go so far as to tell them to number the steps in the court’s explanation of the law and its application.  By distilling the logical steps and laying them out in a brief, students are forced to engage the text on a much different level than highlighting or even summarizing can provide.  Having engaged it at that higher level, they begin to transform their own thought processes and to hone and deepen their reasoning skills.

Other students will tell them briefing is a waste of time.  Of course, those students are correct if the goal is simply to read a case and be able to recite the facts and the rule.  If the goal is to learn how to reason as courts reason, mere highlighting is the real waste of time. (dbw)

February 5, 2007 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)