Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The New York Times had an overwhelming response to their last article on workplace bullying, "Meet the Work Bully", (March 11, 2008), and has continued the discussion with a new article in today's Health section, "When the Bully Sits in the Next Cubicle" by Tara Parker-Pope, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/health/25well.html?ex=1364184000&en=2670251c0ad94793&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
Where workplace bullying is happening is especially notable; health care settings, academia, and the legal profession.
As law professors, we are uniquely capable of changing the socialization process of future lawyers.
For a list of workplace bullying behaviors:
It is hard not to find bullying behaviors in law school, and we can change this phenomenon.
Monday, March 24, 2008
My interest is in bullying and peer intimidation among law students; however, the New York Times has a truly horrific article on bullying.
If we are allowing this to happen in our high schools, it's no wonder we have bullies in law school that turn out to be bullies in firms.
While I wish the buck stopped in elementary school, it has to stop somewhere.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
There seems to be a great deal of discussion about the Gen X/Gen Y/Millennial law student. This discussion is distressing to me because I belong to all of those generational categories. I was born in '77, so I am a young Gen X'er, or an old Gen Y'er/Millennial, depending on the cut-off date. So often, these discussions are framed as "us v. them"; "us" being professors, and "them" being students who want "just-in-time" learning, always available online, with easy access to all resources, including teachers. Because I am both "us" and "them", I see the pitfalls to labeling our students instead of recognizing changes in culture and learning that impact all learners.
The need for "just-in-time" learning is more than generational; this is a change in our culture that happened in education for middle-class and upper-middle class students. Computers became a part of education for school systems that could afford them. Computers also became a part of life for all people in jobs that needed them, and a part of families that could afford one at home. My father needed a computer for his job long before I needed one for school; he was proficient earlier than I was. He traveled for his job; he had a cell phone long before I did (or my sister or brother). My father's long-term partner has a cell phone stuck to her ear 18 hours a day; she works in real estate, and she must be in contact with work so she knows what is bought and sold. Yet I hear that my generations "just-in-time" learning and connected-ness are a part of our age, instead of a culture change that impacted many people across generations. However, these culture changes that were brought about by technology (especially the personal computer) did not necessarily impact higher education the same way they were impacting other professions. I still know of professors who don't use email or own a cell phone--in most professions, this is not possible. Because we professors have not needed to adopt technology at the same rate as other professions, it's easy to see students brought up with and around those technologies, and the culture changes that accompanied them, as other, strange, and sometimes difficult to teach.
Another quality attributed to Gen X/Y students is an increase in rudeness and a lack of professionalism. Having attended law school in the Southeast, where manners are paramount, this makes me want to laugh. Southern students could pick out many of my fellow Yankees by our lack of breeding, regardless of our age. I am routinely questioned about my work wardrobe; I dress in high heels and dresses for work most days I have student contact. I was taught that a female lawyer wears dresses or skirts to court or risks being thrown out by some older, more conservative Southern judges. The relaxed look I've seen students wear is regional, not generational. No self-respecting Southerner goes to work looking the way many Northerners insist is necessary due to weather. I am a Northerner by birth, breeding, and choice, however, I learned manners and professionalism in the South. It's not my generation, but the region, that made all the difference.
It's important to see our students as a part of a changing culture, instead of "other". I have as much in common with law students as I do with my colleagues. I feel divisions like everyone else, but I recognize them for what they are; social, cultural, regional, and national. Instead of belittling them, I try to understand the divisions and how they function in my student's world.
For a great article on some very real changes that have impacted our culture, with special emphasis for younger students, see The Chronicle Review, "Dwelling in Possibilities" by Mark Edmundson, March 14, 2008. While I think this article suffers from some of the misunderstandings present in many articles on generational divisions, this is one of the more thoughtful, nuanced pieces I have read.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Just prior to Spring Break, I noticed that many of my law students were very stressed. In part, it was due to the plethora of midterm exams and paper deadlines. In part, it was due to students' knowing that they were behind on reading for classes and outlining for exams. In part, it was due to their being tired of the monotony of weeks of classes.
Few of my law students can afford to play throughout the entire Spring Break. Most of them are having to work on papers, outlines, and projects. However, I encouraged the students who dropped by to work on their study schedules before leaving for Spring Break to schedule time for rest, exercise, and relaxation as well as serious study time. And, since Easter extended our break this year, I encouraged them to spend time with family if Easter were important to their family traditions.
For some students, I almost had to make them promise to take some down time for themselves over the break period. With coaxing, I could get those overly anxious students to understand that they had to manage stress rather than be consumed by it. For other students, we were able to quickly work through study priorities and balance that time with relaxation.
Spring Break is a very necessary respite from the routine class weeks. Once the students are back, the downhill slope to exams begins. Stress management skills will be just as necessary as study skills if they are to be successful. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 17, 2008
A large number of my students have higher scores for visual learning than verbal (read/write) learning when they take learning style assessments. Obviously, they have to use both learning styles in law school. However, by converting material to visual graphic organizers to absorb it, process it, and retain it, these students will be better able to convert it back into verbal forms for the exams.
I have listed some web-based and hard copy resources below that may assist your visual learners.
- Students can explore three K-12 educator web sites to discover a variety of graphic organizers for learning. Although the examples will talk about photosynthesis or the plot for Huck Finn, the students can easily relate to which of the organizer formats might be useful for different law courses. The three web sites to check out are: Write Design on Line; Education Place; and The Graphic Organizer.
- A software that helps students to produce flowcharts easily can be found at Inspiration Software. Although the company offers several software products, law students want to click on Inspiration 8.0. There is an option for a 30-day free trial. One of the nifty aspects of this software is that once the student has made the flowchart, she can choose for the software to produce a skeleton outline of the information.
- The Gilbert Outline Summaries Series uses more visuals than any other study aid series that I have discovered. Some of the different graphic formats used by the series are: tables, columns, time lines, decision charts, relationship charts, and checklists.
- The CrunchTime Series uses decision flow charts.
- The PMBR Finals Law School Exams Series uses tree diagrams.
- BarCharts is a laminated chart series that uses color and columns of information.
- The newest version of Microsoft's software apparently includes a better program for making graphic organizers than earlier versions. I do not have Office 2007 on my computer yet, but several students have mentioned the changes.
In addition, my students regularly use several methods to make their own graphics:
- A dry erase board can be used to create the graphic with colored markers. Once the student is satisfied with the result, she can turn it into a hard copy.
- A large newspaper pad with black pages (like what is put on an easel in a workshop) can be used to create graphics. Some students use masking tape to put the results on their apartment walls so that the graphics are in constant view.
- Different color post-it notes representing different concepts or levels in a hierarchy can be taped to the same type of newspaper pad blank sheets. The ideas can be connected by drawing lines with highlighters.
For our visual learners, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, some of them hesitate to maximize on this capacity because others have told them verbal ways to learn in law school. When I encourage them to use their visual preference more frequently, they often report major breakthroughs in learning, retaining, and recalling information. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, March 14, 2008
Today was the first day of the SALT Conference on Teaching for Social Justice. This is a topic close to many in ASP. Many of our students came to law school with an intense passion for justice, and it is a continual challenge to keep that fire going after grades and class rank come out. I am hoping this conference can provide some ideas on how to keep that fire going through meaningful activities and lessons. I have some spectacular colleagues from Vermont Law School presenting here, and I am also here to cheer them on.
Elizabeth Pendo from Saint Louis University presented on her work creating a student program with the Florida Health Care Ombudsman Committee. She presented some great ideas on how to engage students in a program where they can really help people and see the power of a law degree, regardless of class rank. This is an idea to pass on to externship/internship directors looking for new opportunities for students, and a great opportunity for ASP prof's to encourage students to participate in a program to help the community and renew their commitment to the legal profession.
More updates to come...
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Learning Differences Conference at Harvard was great. Although it was designed for Pre-K-12, there were a number of excited ideas and trends in teaching all students presented at the conference.
1) Most studies on ADHD have not been on all children; they have been on boys. We know very little about the science of ADHD on girls, and what we do know is the brain develops in different ways and in different developmental stages in girls. This will have ramifications on the accommodations and modifications for girls (and women) with ADHD. As women cross the 50% mark at most law schools, we need to learn more about ADHD in female law students.
2) The mind and body are connected. Some people need to move in order to activate the brain to think. This is not isolated to children. We need to think of ways to teach that includes movement--even if it is just switching seats--to truly use the learning moment in class.
3) We need research on the needs of professional and graduate students with learning differences. I avoid saying "more" research because there is virtually nothing out there on students over 25 with learning differences. If we want to provide the best legal education, we need to know how to teach all students, not just the best and the brightest, who may be the most easily adaptable, but not really the brightest.
My next update will be from the SALT Conference in Berkeley. This has been my crazy conference week (3 conferences in 10 days in 3 cities, on 2 coasts) and I will be back posting 2-3 times a week when I am home in Vermont.
Our students have a required commercial law course which includes both negotiable instruments (aka payment systems or commercial paper) and secured transactions. This commercial law course is one of the hardest for law students, especially those without any business background.
Both course topics provide a range of study aids which are in hot demand. A study aid that includes both topics is:
- Secured Transactions and Payment Systems: Problems and Answers (Clarke and others, Aspen)
The study aids for negotiable instruments include:
- Understanding Negotiable Instruments and Payment Systems (Lawrence, LexisNexis)
- Examples and Explanations: Payment Systems (Brook, Aspen)
- An Introduction to Payment Systems (Lawrence, Aspen)
- Gilbert Law Summaries: Commercial Paper and Payment Law (Whaley, Thomson/BarBri)
- Gilbert Law School Legends on Audio Cassette: Commercial Paper (Spak, Thomson/BarBri)
- Sum and Substance Audio Casettes: Commercial Paper and Payment Law (Whaley, West Group)
- Eamanuel Law Outlines: Payment Systems (Lawrence, Aspen)
- Questions & Answers: Payment Systems (Maggs and Zinnecker, LexisNexis)
The study aids for secured transactions include:
- Visualizing Secured Transactions (Bartell, LexisNexis)
- Understanding Secured Transactions (Lawrence and others, LexisNexis)
- Examples and Explanations: Secured Transactions (Brook, Aspen)
- Gilbert Law Summaries: Secured Transactions (Whaley, Thomson/BarBri)
- Black Letter Outlines: Secured Transactions (Rusch, Thomson/West)
- Gilbert Law School Legends on Audio CD: Secured Transactions (Spak, Thomson/BarBri)
- Questions & Answers: Secured Transactions (Markell and Zinnecker, LexisNexis)
Hopefully, students who are struggling with these topics can find study aids that assist their understanding among these selections. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Our students have been going through a spate of midterm exams in Property recently. Future interests, estates, and RAP are as perplexing for current students as they were to all of us in law school. I thought it might be helpful to list some of the study aids that I stock in my library to help students in these areas:
- A Student's Guide to Estates in Land and Future Intersts (Laurence and Minzner, LEXIS)
- A Student's Guide to the Rule Against Perpetuities (Schwartz, LEXIS)
- Estates in Land and Future Interests (Makdisi and Bogart, Aspen)
- Workbook on Estates and Future Interests (Coletta, Thomson/West)
- Estates in Land and Future Interests (Edwards, Aspen)
- A Possessory Estates and Future Interests Primer (Wendel, Thomson/West)
- Gilbert Law Summaries: Future Interests and Perpetuities (Dukeminier, Thomson/BarBri)
- Gilbert Law School Legends on Audio CD (Carpenter, Thomson/BarBri)
- Law in a Flash: Future Interests (Aspen/Emanuel)
When I was studying for the day-long conveyancing exam for the bar in England/Wales, I asked one of our residential conveyancing legal staff what book would be best for preparing for the future interests, estates, and RAP portion of the exam. He blinked at me. In a surprised voice, he asked if Americans still learned all of those things. When I told him that it was a regular part of every law school property course, he laughed and said that the U.K. abolished all of those intricacies in the 1840's! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, March 8, 2008
I am reporting from the Learning Differences Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Lynn Melzer, PhD, of the The Research Institute for Learning and Development, developed a strategy for students with strong visual preferences to map information. Called the “Star Strategy”, this strategy would be wonderful for our visual learners to use as a case briefing method.
(I can't add the visual of the Star Strategy, but it is a Star of David or interlocking triangle design, where each open point is space to write. The center of star is the rule, and each point would be labeled
1) Procedural History--Time
2) Procedural History--Place/Jurisdiction
* For those interested in the visual for the Star Strategy, please email me and I will send a firstname.lastname@example.org)
For more information on the Star System in general, see Strategies for Success: Classroom Teaching Techniques for Students with Learning Differences, 2nd ed., Melzer, Roditti, Steinberg, Biddle, Taber, Caron, Pro-Ed Publishers
Thursday, March 6, 2008
My third-floor office has a window that looks out at two substantial trees separated by a road. One large limb is close to the adjacent wing which is a good 50 feet of angular brick walls from my window. The closer branches from both trees are such frail twigs that they cannot support the weight of even a small bird. And, during the constant winds of West Texas, all of the branches whip around except for the supporting trunk and its main limbs.
The law building here at Texas Tech is built out of brown brick with walls that are straight horizontal and vertical stretches. Except for the grooves of mortar between the bricks, there is nothing to hang on to at any point.
So why am I telling you this? Well, I am looking into the eyes of a squirrel that just traversed over 50 feet of brick wall to look in my window. I have seen other squirrels traverse the same expanse on prior occasions. No, they are not flying squirrels. They are just your basic, ordinary, unremarkable, every day squirrels.
I am never sure whether I am more startled when I watch them make their way over the expanse or when they suddenly peek around the edge of my window and contemplate me before moving on to the next wall and an alluring flat roof nearby. Some days, I am amazed as they cling to tiny branches in gusty winds before they leap to a sturdier branch near the brick expanse of the other wing. In nearly four years, I have never seen one fall from the tiny bobbing branches or from the steep walls.
It is hard to relegate their ultimate accomplishment after their treacherous trek as being nothing more than too little brain and too much agility. I have to admire their determination to get to a ultimate destination for whatever purpose they have in mind.
My law students have a destination known (if not a specialty or dream job) and a purpose in mind (helping others, making money, or other reasons) when they arrive as first-year students . Many students keep both destination and purpose clearly in mind as they traverse three years and the bar exam to arrive as newly minted attorneys.
When I speak with students who are struggling personally or academically with law school, I find that some will handle the obstacles like the squirrels outside my window handle their obstacles. However, other students will not be as successful. The squirrels make it to the distant roof beyond my window because they exhibit certain characteristics:
- The squirrels leave the safe, broad tree trunk and sturdy lower branches to venture into the unknown reaches of small twigs and brick wall. Squirrels seem to love a challenge. The law students who make it all the way to their goals are the ones who can let go of the safety of past study habits and past academic competence to venture into the smaller branches of new study habits and uncomfortable ways of learning. We can coach our students to let go and grab on to the new ways of learning, but ultimately they have to venture out of their safety zones. The ones who do so will be better students and better attorneys as a result.
- The squirrels hang on to the small twigs and do not let go when the wind gusts. Squirrels seem to have tenacity in adversity. Law students often feel like they are being buffeted by strong winds. They feel knocked off balance by the overwhelming amount of work, the research and writing demands on top of substantive courses, the strange way of thinking like a lawyer, and their sudden insecurity in their academic surroundings. Some law students stop trying to go any farther in their climb for success. They assume they are "C" students without greater potential. Some law students give up and let go - either voluntarily or after academic dismissal. The ones who hang on throughout the adversities are the ones who accomplish their destinations.
- The squirrels make leaps of faith into the air for the next group of twigs or the wall and land safely. Squirrels have the knack to take a risk and land in the next safe spot in the journey. Some law students take foolish risks: not reading for class; not outlining for any courses; partying instead of studying; waiting too late to complete memos or exam studying. Other law students take no risks and settle for their status quo no matter its discomfort. The law students who succeed at new levels take calculated risks and land safely; they often make it look easy to the other students even though it was not actually easy.
- The squirrels study each foot placement on the wall and hang on with determination. Squirrels methodically traverse the wall and refuse to let go. When one route proves impossible, the squirrels hang on and turn around to find another route. Some law students never evaluate what worked or what did not work during a semester. They never allow for change or improvement. They lose any determination in setting their course and give up their control to "the curve" or "the competition." Law students who evaluate and methodically change and improve their study habits show the determination to traverse the obstacles. They take the small steps needed each day and hang on with determination until their grades improve over time.
- The squirrels reach the rooftop, look around, and head for the next destination. Squirrels enjoy the plateau only briefly before setting off again. Law students improve when they reach one level of success, evaluate, and move on to the next level of success. Even my weak students on probation can have success over time in increments throughout their careers. When probation students become satisfied with their first increment of improvement (off probation) and decide to stay at that plateau, they are most likely to hover just out of reach of academic probation without any real future improvement. Likewise, if "C" students from the beginning decide to accept that status quo, they will also miss the opportunities to improve.
There is one aspect of squirrels that does not translate to successful students. As the sun begins to set and the light fades, the squirrels disappear for the evening. For the squirrels, it is a matter of survival not to be out after dark. Some of my law students hunker down at the end of the day as well and refuse to study beyond the minimum that they have done during the day. However, the most successful students continue to traverse their own obstacles one case at a time and one outline at a time during several more evening hours. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 3, 2008
About this time of year, it's hard to motivate students to keep going. They are tired, and if they are not in the top 20% of the class, they don't see the point of working hard anymore. It's hard to help them see that they need to keep going, and the rewards will be worth it. While none of these strategies are groundbreaking (I have seen them myself as a TA for Ruth McKinney at UNC Law in her "Take Time for Yourself" handout), it's always good to reinforce the benefits of reinforcing motivating behaviors.
Here are six tips for motivating students when they don't want to be motivated:
(Adapted from Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2008, "Doctors' Orders--Without Distress" by Jay Dixit)
1) Pay Yourself: Give a friend $1000 (okay, few, if any, of our students have 1k. Maybe candy? Playstation games?) Everyday a difficult task is completed, get $50 back (a candy bar? A Playstation game?) Everyday the target is missed, the money or reward is donated.
2) Create if-then plans: Make good habits automatic.
If I wake up in the morning, then I will eat breakfast.
If I watch 1 hour of TV, then I will read for 2 hours.
****3) Compete: Setting a contest with a friend can add to motivational fire*****
(MUCH danger with this strategy; law school is competitive enough! However, it may work with a student who has lost motivation to do anything law-school related. Creating small, measurable goals, such as "Whoever does all their reading for Con Law this week pays for a round of beers on Friday night" may work for the most recalcitrant students.)
4) Watch your stress level: "Willpower is a limited resource, so be careful during stressful times when willpower is at a low." Students who are most defeated are most likely to lose their compass--moral, physical, and mental--and make poor choices.
5) Use external monitoring: Keep a written record of progress. Studies have shown journaling positive (not negative) emotions and actions is helpful to see the big picture. Asking students to honestly journal the time they spend studying--and playing--can help them honestly assess their success and reassess their strategies.
6) Make social contacts: "The buddy system is powerful. Find a friend in the same boat and make an appointment to work on the task together." The wonderful work of Mike Schwartz has already shown ASPer's the value of study groups. I would extend the buddy system to include non-academic tasks, such as a buddy to go out to dinner with each week to talk about anything BUT law school. I survived law school because I was engaged to a fellow student. His friendship was my lifeline when I was completely defeated by the pressure, and our informal chats about class problems often provided the answers to tough legal issues.
If you are like me, you spend a good bit of time talking with students who are not getting enough hours of sleep or waking up worrying or never falling asleep. A useful web site with tons of information on sleep is sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation. Check it out for ideas to help your students get a good night's sleep. (Amy Jarmon)