Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Processing Learning Styles Part II

My prior column focused on four of the processing styles (global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing) and three categories of learners based on the combinations of those four styles: "Top-Down" (Global-Intuitive), "Bottom-Up" (Sequential-Sensing), and "Middle-Out" (Global-Sensing or Sequential-Intuitive).  I explained the general characteristics of each processing style and each category of learner.   

It is important to realize that all four types of processing (global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing) are essential for the best results in studying and on exams.  We must use all four processing styles no matter which are our actual preferences.  Thus, one needs to see the overview (global), understand the parts and the steps of analysis (sequence), realize the inter-relationships among concepts (intuitive), and recognize the important facts and details for the analysis (sensing).  Although one will use one's preferences first in learning, one then must "lean back" and use the opposites. 

In this column, I want to discuss how the main two categories of learners (global-intuitive and sequential-sensing) take advantage of their strengths and avoid the possible pitfalls of their preferences by using their opposite styles.  With practice one can take advantage of preference strengths and compensate for styles that may be initially overlooked. 

Global-Intuitives can assist their learning by considering the following strengths that they have and using them consistently:

  • Always keep the big picture of a course or topic in mind so that the parts of the whole will make sense.  This way you never get stuck on a sub-topic or topic without understanding its importance to the overview.
  • If the professor or casebook does not provide a preview of the material, look at the table of contents or a "big picture" study aid to gain a roadmap.  By previewing the material, you will be able to fit each part more naturally into the whole even if the professor initially isolates it as a separate unit.
  • Always think about the inter-relationships between the concepts for synthesis into the whole.  For example, consider how the elements of negligence are related, how four cases on dominant tenant's rights are similar and different, how the intentional torts are similar and different from one another, or how two separate hearsay rules might interact.
  • Use graphics to see the big picture of the sub-topic, topic, and course.  The type of graphic used will vary with the course, topic, and ways the visual learner personally "sees" material. 
  • Structure outlines by one's natural tendency to use topics and sub-topics rather than focus on indivdual cases.  These learners immediately realize that most cases (unless they are major ones) become mere illustrations of the concepts rather than the "be all and end all" in an outline.
  • Use your natural abilities to not get bogged down in minute details and to emphasize the essentials of a course.

However, global-intuitives must realize potential pitfalls in learning and take action to minimize them.  Here are a few suggestions for improving one's studying and exam performance:

  • Read cases and other materials for depth of understanding rather than for the gist of the material.  Avoid scanning and highlighting to learn later; instead focus on learning while you read.
  • Avoid canned briefs as a shortcut.  You need to focus on learning legal reasoning skills yourself rather than relying on someone else's work.  In law practice, you will not have canned briefs, and headnotes are not always dependable or in-depth.   
  • Beware of glossing a topic rather than learning it at enough depth to provide detailed analysis and to understand nuances.  Make sure you could explain the topic to a non-lawyer with clarity and detail.
  • Drill regularly on rules and steps of analysis to increase retention so that you do not paraphrase the law or skip steps in the analysis of a problem.
  • Use practice essay questions with model answers to determine whether you really know material as well as you think you do.  If you consistently miss points made in the model answers, then you are skipping steps or avoiding important details.
  • Practice essay writing techniques as well as the content during practice questions.  Organize the exam answers first in outline or chart form to force a more detailed analysis.  Write out a number of questions in full and compare them to the model answers.Connect the dots in essay analysis by using several techniques: 1) write to a non-lawyer audience such as a relative rather than to the professor so that the analysis has to be more complete; 2) at the end of every sentence ask "why" to check if the statement is merely conclusory or has been explained.
  • Use practice multiple-choice questions that supply detailed answer analysis to determine whether you really know the material well enough to see nuances.  By analyzing your mistakes, you can self-correct for missed nuances in the law or sloppy reading and thinking.
  • On multiple-choice exams, beware of picking "by gut" instead of reading each answer choice carefully.  Analyze each choice methodically being careful to consider all of the relevant facts and all of the elements of the rule. 
  • Read fact patterns, questions, and answer options carefully rather than scanning.  Read all exam instructions instead of assuming you know what the instructions will say.    
  • Time chart for all exams so that you use all of the time provided rather than rushing through the analysis for multiple-choice questions or the analysis and writing for essay answers. 
  • Ask a sequential-sensing study partner to point out when you are glossing material, skipping steps of analysis, paraphrasing rules too broadly, missing nuances in the law, etc.

Sequential-sensors can assist their learning by considering the following strengths that they have and using them consistently:

  • Use your natural ability to organize in your understanding and memorizing of methodologies, bright line tests, and other steps of analysis.  You will be methodical in working through each exam question this way.
  • Use your natural ability to notice facts and details in reading essay exam fact patterns carefully and noticing nuances in multiple-choice answer options.  You will make few careless mistakes this way.
  • Use your natural ability to organize and recognize important facts by outlining/charting exam answers with the necessary information to apply the law to the facts.  Note the facts, policies, case analogies, and other aspects that need to discussed for each party in the answer outline/chart.
  • Use your natural abilities at organization and detail to connect the dots in your written analysis so that the professor is able to find the points in your essay answers quickly.  You maximize points by "showing your work."
  • Use flashcards, acronyms, or other methods to memorize the rules and elements so that they are recalled automatically during the exam.
  • Understand the parts or units before trying to jump to the big picture.  Understand the separate cases, the separate sub-topics, and separate topics before synthesizing them.

However, sequential-sensors must realize potential pitfalls in learning and take action to minimize them.  Here are a few suggestions for improving one's studying and exam performance:

  • Before reading a case, take a couple of minutes to survey for important information: plaintiff-defendant categories; thumbnail sketch of the dispute; the level in the appellate process; whether the case will focus on precedents, statutes, policy or a combination of these; the holding; the judgment.  Surveying is not the same as scan reading the case. It is quickly finding pieces of information to give yourself a framework for reading the case.
  • Keep your briefs brief so that you do not get bogged down in minute detail.  Use your casebook margins to note important information as you read the case.  Then condense to the most important information in your brief.  Thus, your brief and margin notes complement one another rather than duplicate work.
  • Use additional techniques to shorten your briefs.  Use bulleted or numbered lists of phrases rather than sentences and paragraphs.  Use paraphrases rather than long quotes.
  • After reading cases on a sub-topic, synthesize them.  How are they similar and different from one another?  How do they relate to the sub-topic?  How do they relate to the topic as a whole?
  • After studying separate sub-topics, synthesize them.  How are the sub-topics similar and different from one another?  How do they relate to the topic as a whole? 
  • Use graphics to see the overview of a topic and the inter-relationships of concepts as well as the separate parts and steps of analysis.
  • Try to condense material to the essentials before you outline.  If you cannot curb your tendency to include minute detail, condense your outlines further several times during the semester to focus more on the overview and inter-relationships.
  • Practice lots of questions to become more efficient in your test-taking strategies.  You want to have your techniques on auto-pilot so that you do not waste time in an exam trying to decide what to do.
  • Stay within the four corners of the fact pattern during your analysis.  If "what if" and "how about" predominate your thinking, you have probably wandered outside the fact pattern as written.  You may be considering a phantom issue that is not in the fact pattern.  Writing about phantom issues wastes time and gains no points.
  • Time chart on all exams so that you do not spend too much time on some questions and then have to rush through the final questions (or, even worse, not finish all questions). 
  • Ask a global-intuitive study partner to point out when you bogged down in minutia, are worrying over unimportant points, have missed the inter-relationships among concepts, have missed the overview of a topic or the course, etc.

As mentioned previously in Part I, the "Middle-Out" learners need more individual evaluation because of the crossover in styles.  However, using the descriptions in Part I to understand the particular combination of styles, a Middle-Out learner can use today's suggestions to determine which techniques seem to best match that person's crossover combination.

The final part in this series will focus on the active and reflective learners.  Part III will discuss the characteristics of these learners and practical ways for them to use their styles more effectively.  (Amy Jarmon)

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