Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From Guest Blogger Russell Smith: Student Engagement

Student Engagement

As I was riding home from the recent conference in Baltimore, I was reflecting on some of the things that I heard.  One thing that struck me during this conference was Ruth McKinney’s reference to the ultimate happiness website at UPenn.  I began to think about other things that might be slightly outside the mainstream of our normal reading that may carry some good thoughts that inform what we do.  Although there are many resources within the legal education community that are indeed helpful, it seems like some dynamite thoughts can come from many different places if we are just looking.  (I suppose just thinking this way makes me one of those global learners)

One thought that commanded my attention on the ride home was that of student engagement.  I recently read Shaking Up the Schoolhouse by Phillip Schlechty (Josey-Bass Publishers, 2000) in which he examines this topic in depth.  Although his work is generally aimed at K-12 practitioners, it seems to me that many of his thoughts are just as appropriate to legal education.  (As a former high school teacher, holder of a principal’s certificate and former school board member, I tend to hang around in K-12 circles sometimes)  Schlechty has spent his career developing the concept of “working on the work”.  According to him, the business of schools and teachers is to develop work and tasks that students will do and from which they will learn what the teachers want them to learn.  Central to his theme is the notion is that teachers must develop engaging work.  Without a student’s engagement, the likelihood of actual learning taking place is small.

For Schlechty, engagement is not just being attentive or entertained.  He views engagement as attention plus commitment.  Attention without commitment is nothing more than compliance.  Commitment without attention is potential, but not much else.  Therefore, we as teachers must satisfy both in order to affect student learning.  Students are committed to a task when they find some inherent value in what it is that we have asked them to do.  (For a fuller development of these thoughts,  I suggest looking at 

What does this mean for us in ASP?  Even my grossly oversimplified explanation of engagement raises a couple of questions that I believe I would do well to consider frequently.  First, are the students I work with committed or only attentive?  If they are only attentive or compliant, I may not be making much of a difference.  Second, is there some inherent value to the student in what I have asked them to do?  Can they see it?  Schlechty indicates when a student persists in spite of complications, this is a sign that there is some inherent value to the student.  Am I looking for this or indeed structuring my work to allow for this possibility?  I need to develop work and activities that will engage the student in order to bring about effective change in their learning.  In order to do this, I believe I need to ask myself constantly if the students are engaged, i.e. committed and not just attentive.  If I am successful at this, I might actually change the student.  Otherwise I might just become one more person to whom the student is required to pay attention.

To return to the bigger point, there is much out there to inform what we do.  Primary and secondary education are good places to look, but I would not stop there.  Although I like the nuts and bolts stuff and the method explanations, some of my favorite, and most informative, presentations at recent workshops dealt with topics that come from other fields, for example psychology and sociology.  It’s amazing what we can find to help us when we look around a little bit.

June 25, 2008 in Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Report from the LSAC New ASP Professionals Workshop in Baltimore

I just returned from the LSAC New ASP Professionals Workshop at the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore. As always, the planning committee did an absolutely fabulous job, and the workshop seemed to those who attended to go off without a hitch.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet many new ASP professionals just joining our community. I am always delighted to be a part of a community that has so many enthusiastic and supportive colleagues, from those who have been a part of ASP for 20 years to 20 days.
For those who were not able to make the workshop, here are the highlights:
1) Ricardo Villarosa had a wonderful demonstration of how we all have full plates (or bowls), yet with proper time management, we can fit in more than we thought. His boulders-and-sand demonstration was a wonderful example of active learning, and one I hope to replicate for a workshop on time management for my 1L's and bar takers in 2008-2009.
2) Paul Bateman and Ruth McKinney had a fascinating presentation on learning styles, processing types, learning theory and material/knowledge/information absorption preferences.  It truly takes master teachers to present so much information is a coherent, manageable way in such a short amount of time.
3) Russell McClain taught us all how to "sing the blues" and learn more about teaching through practice than we thought possible.  I can say with certainty that was one of the most entertaining presentations I have ever been a part of in my life. Russell's confidence as a teacher and a musician carried many (or most) of us with no known musical talent through a demonstration of how teachers can create music (and wonder) in our students.
4) Linda Feldman and Susan Darrow-Kleinhaus led a fabulous session on exam taking strategies for our students.  It's always inspires me to see master teachers can lead us to new insights about topics we thought we knew inside and out.  I teach exam-taking skills at least twice a year, and I still came away from this presentation with new ideas of how to approach exam strategies with my students.
5) I presented on giving feedback to students. Thank you to my warm and wonderful audience! I am happy to send my Powerpoint to anyone not able to make the conference.
6) Kris Franklin and Paula Manning did an awesome job condensing 2+ years of ASP into one 1-hour presentation.  Kris's beautiful presentation on the importance of sorting and weighing details using the art of Mary Cassett and Jacob Lawrence masterfully blended visuals to demonstrate reading and critical judgment skills.  Paula, truly one of the best 3L/bar preparation teachers in the country, worked her way through her comprehensive bar prep program in less than 30 minutes, which is a marvel.  Paula's use of new technology, such as YouTube, to reach her students is groundbreaking. 
7) Michael Hunter Schwartz presentation on organizing material was wonderful. Another master teacher, Mike taught us how organizing material by creating multiple neural pathways helps us retain  information for use during exams.  Mike is really the master of cognitive science in legal education, and I strongly encourage anyone new to the ASP community to buy his Expert Learning for Law Students text as a primer on how students learn. 
8)The last presentation of the workshop was lead my Mike Schwartz and Ruth McKinney on professional excellence.  As wonderful it is to be an ASP professional, it is a profession with a high level of burnout. It is critical to maintain work-life balance early in your career in order to stay happy and healthy. I think we all appreciated Ruth telling us to breathe for a few moments. 

Thank you again to all planning committee and my fellow presenters--you are an amazing bunch! We are so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful and warm community.
(Rebecca Flanagan)

June 16, 2008 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's Summer, and Here I Sit

Our law school is almost a ghost town.  There are a few summer school students here each day.  A few faculty members are in their offices.  But, mainly, there are only administrators and staff in the building.

The skies are blue.  The temperatures are soaring (over 100 degrees too many days and too early in the summer).  Golf, swimming, and trips to the local lake sound like good pastimes.  And here I sit. 

This time of year is my program time.  I just finished teaching in our summer camp for pipeline students at a local high school.  I am working on my teaching materials for our intensive summer course that starts in mid-July for a small group of 1L's with great potential but low LSAT scores.

This time of year is my project time.  I am re-writing various training manuals.  I am writing letters for student academic petition packets.  I am working on tutor room assignments for the fall.  I am revising my manual for probation students. 

This time of year is my planning time.  I am planning new workshops for the 1L students.  I am planning my orientation talk.  I am planning the fall calendar for our pipeline activities.

This time of year is my purchasing time.  I am making purchases of new editions of study aids and new series of supplements for the study aids library.  I am purchasing texts for our summer program.

Although I am a bit envious of my foot-loose faculty friends, I am thankful for some quieter days to work on all of the things that are impossible to get to during my hectic regular semesters.  And, I count down the days until I leave for my annual lecturing-researching trip abroad - my very own bit of summer.  (Amy Jarmon)       

June 11, 2008 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 6, 2008

UNLV Director of Academic Support Position

Dear ASP friends:  Our colleague, Professor Pavel Wonsowicz, is leaving Boyd to join the UCLA law faculty as the Director of Academic Support.  We have an opening for a Director of our program, and we plan to begin the recruitment process immediately.  The job description follows.  Please contact Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Kay Kindred at (702) 895-2438 or if you have questions about the position.


            The William S. Boyd School of Law of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) invites applicants interested in joining our faculty as an Assistant Professor in Residence – Academic Support.   The qualifications for the Director of Academic Support position include a record of academic success in law school and experience suggesting the aptitude to direct a creative and ambitious academic support program.  The faculty also expects that the Academic Support Director will be a resource for the faculty to increase teaching effectiveness.   The existing program is administered by the Director, with the assistance of an Associate Director, and includes workshops, tutoring, special classes, orientation programs, bar preparation classes, counseling, and other strategies to enhance the learning environment at our law school.  The Director may teach substantive, non-bar, non-ASP related classes.  The position is a 12-month, non-tenure track, renewable contract position.

            The Boyd School of Law, a state-supported law school, is the only law school in Nevada.  Located at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in a desert mountain setting and one of the fastest growing cities in the country, the law school commenced classes in August 1998, has a faculty of 42 new and experienced legal educators drawn from law schools around the country, and is located in a state-of-the-art facility in the center of the University campus.  The School with nearly 500 students offers a full-time day program, a part-time day program, and an evening program.

            The people who comprise the Boyd School of Law are a diverse community.  Faculty, students, and staff work together, collegially and respectfully, to maximize the potential of the students and help the Law School fulfill its aspirations.  We welcome applications from those who wish to participate in this sort of community, and we strongly encourage women and people of color to apply.  For more information on the Boyd School of Law, see our website at

            The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a doctoral degree-granting institution with over 27,000 students and more than 800 faculty members. Nearly 223 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees are offered. Founded in 1957, UNLV is located on 340 acres in dynamic Southern Nevada. The Carnegie Foundation has ranked the university in the category of Doctoral/Research Universities-Intensive for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information on the University, see the UNLV website at   

APPLICATION DEADLINE:  Review of credentials will begin immediately and the search is to remain open until the position is filled.  If you are interested in applying for this position please apply on-line at: and submit a letter of interest, a detailed resume that highlights relevant professional experience and qualifications, salary history, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of three professional references who may be contacted.  (For your on-line application, reference Search #8282 and Position #4497.)

For assistance with UNLV's on-line applicant portal, contact Jenn Martens at (702) 895-3886 or  UNLV is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action educator and employer committed to excellence through diversity.

June 6, 2008 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Academic Success Postion at McGeorge School of Law

The University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California has an opening for the Director of Academic Success.  Please see official notice below.

Basic Function:

The Director of Academic Success is both a gifted teacher and an administrator responsible for managing, coordinating, and implementing the law school's Academic Success Program. The program helps students attain the analytical and writing skills essential to their success in law school, on bar exams and in their use of their legal education thereafter. It serves both beginning students and those with identified academic needs based on classroom or bar exam performance. The Director teaches a fundamentals course in the Spring to underperforming first-year students.  In addition, the Director designs and conducts workshops on skills-related topics, works one-on-one with students, supervises and trains student assistants, and enlists faculty participation as needed.  This position is a 12-month, non-tenure track, renewable contract position.

Minimum Qualifications:

*Excellent academic credentials

*Experience in the practice of law

*Exceptional communication and organizational skills

*Strong interest in working with students

*Teaching ability, particularly an ability to identify and communicate the skills required for effective legal analysis and exam performance

*Prior teaching experience or background in educational theory or legal academic support are a plus


Commensurate with experience

Application Process:

Please submit a cover letter expressing interest, resume, and three references to Human Resources.  Mail: 3200 Fifth Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95817. Fax: (916) 739-7196. Email: Phone: (916) 739-7031

Filing Deadline:

All completed application packets must be received in our office by July3, 2008.

Pacific McGeorge is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

June 6, 2008 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bar Exam Teacher Skill Set

Now is the time we in ASP turn our focus from student concerns to graduate concerns, more specifically, concerns about the bar exam.  I know some within the ASP community focus on the bar all year long, but for those of us who see both students and bar takers, this is the time of year we trade our academic success hats for bar prep hats. 

While there is some overlap between the areas of bar prep and ASP, they really require different skill sets. I think of it like very accelerated primary schooling; the 1L's are still my children, and I watch over them like a mama hawk. 1L's are still excited by the thought of law school and want to do what it takes to succeed.  By the time they reach bar prep, I feel a bit like the parent of a teenager; it's as much about "you shall not" as it is "you shall", and I spend a lot of my time reigning in their bad habits and tempering inappropriate impulses.

As a former elementary school teacher, I am far more skilled being a mama hawk watching out for my young ones than I am disciplining the rowdy herds.  I want to see all of my students reach their full potential, but it takes a special temperament to give tough love to graduates bent on enjoying life when they need to be buckling down for the bar exam.  By the time students have reached graduation, they have bought into the myth that substances, Red Bull, Jolt!, or less legal poisons, will help them retain more information.  They have become tired and cranky, and ready to push back at people who push them, even if we are pushing them for their own good.

I admire those who spend the full year focused on bar takers, who can take the stress and strain and produce lawyers admitted to the bar in their chosen jurisdiction.


June 3, 2008 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Florida Coastal Academic Counselor Positions


Florida Coastal School of Law invites nominations and applications for two (2) Academic Success Counselor positions. 

Responsibilities:  Work with students to improve academic performance and advise students on other academic issues such as scheduling or social influences;  Assist in developing lesson plans and present weekly sessions in the required first semester program, Pathways to Academic Success Seminar (P.A.S.S.);  Assist students in reviewing answers to practice exams (including bar exam essays) and provide advice regarding exam strategy;  Assist in preparing and presenting second-semester and upper level workshops;  Track the academic progress of “at risk” students and students on academic probation;  Assist in planning and executing New Student Orientation;  Other duties, as assigned. 

Required:  Law degree from an ABA accredited institution; Licensed by a state bar association; One to three years of legal experience;  Possess ability to relate well to students;  Possess excellent organization and communication skills;  Ability to work well with others in a team atmosphere;  Ability to establish and maintain good working relationships with colleagues and school constituencies;  Enthusiastic about working in a student-centered, humility-based environment. 

Preferred:  Prior experience in academic support, education, and/or teaching. 

Salary and Benefits:  Compensation is competitive and includes benefits; this is a non-faculty position and does not confer voting privileges.  No relocation expenses offered with the position. 

To apply:  Position is available immediately.  Please submit a letter of interest, resume, salary requirements, and three references to

Florida Coastal is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Employer.

June 2, 2008 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)