Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Thanksgiving Break has always been bittersweet for our law students. It is a break from the daily routine of classes, but rarely has been a true break from law school. Most students have always had to study a good portion of the five-day respite. This year, it is even more of a study period because Reading Day is the Monday following the holiday period, and exams start on the Tuesday.
A large number of law students are staying in town to devote themselves to studying. I encourage them to take off as much of the actual holiday as possible so that they have some relaxation and fewer regrets over a missed holiday.
One of our law students is hosting dinner at his house for any law students who volunteer at the local soup kitchen during Thanksgiving Day. Other students have told me that they are getting together with study partners to celebrate the day.
Although many students are seeing the holiday period as just another week of studying, I hope they will take a few minutes to be thankful. They have much to be thankful for although they may be feeling stressed right now. Each law school community has its own list of things for which students can be thankful. In our law school community, they can be thankful for the following:
- They can be thankful for having a place to live that is warm and clean and safe.
- They can be thankful for a surrounding city that has a low cost of living, easy commutes, and friendly people.
- They can be thankful for having the intelligence to be admitted to a spot in law school.
- They can be thankful for family and friends who support them financially and emotionally during their degrees.
- They can be thankful for classmates who help each other as tutors, teaching fellows, and study partners.
- They can be thankful for professors and administrators who honestly care about their success in law school.
- They can be thankful for student organizations that support their interests and law school endeavors.
- They can be thankful for the high-tech facilities of our new addition to the law school.
I am always proud of our law students this time of year. One of our student organizations works with the Salvation Army to sponsor children who are "forgotten angels" during the holiday season. This annual event helps law school participants remember to be thankful in the midst of exam studying and to share their bounty with others who are less fortunate.
Last year, 300 children were sponsored by our law school family. After this Thanksgiving Break, the law school lobby will once again have a fleet of bicycles and piles of packages waiting for distribution by the Salvation Army. There will be scores of children thankful for the anonymous law school students who took time from studying to bring joy to others' lives.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. May you have many blessings to be thankful for now and in the coming year. (Amy Jarmon)
I am a fan of judicious use of pop culture to give context and depth to law. However, this comes with a caveat; one must be careful not to obfuscate the purpose of the teachable moment by overuse of film clips, TV snippits, and news articles. Too many times pop culture becomes a substitute for deep thinking about hard areas of the law, which doesn't help students to learn what they need to know.
The key to using pop culture references is to use them judiciously. Here are two guideposts: use a pop-culture reference as a part of the fabric of your class, or use a pop culture reference to illuminate a concept as students are struggling with it. These guideposts present a paradox; teachable moments tend to be of-the-moment, and often happen spontaneously. However, if the references are not in the context of what the students are learning, the reference becomes opaque and without purpose or focus. Students don't learn from teachable moments if they don't completely understand why it is a teachable moment, as well as why the reference is relevant to what is going on in class. Specifically with pop culture references, it is sometimes best to hold back and weave the reference into the fabric of the course the following semester. This also gives students who may not be "tuned in" to pop culture the opportunity to know what you are talking about. It can alienate students who may not focus on what is on gossip sites and in the movies if the reference is too "of-the-moment."
All this leads up to a suggestion to help illuminate a tough area of Property law. In the movie "There Will Be Blood", Daniel Plainview, the main character, goes to a family ranch with his young son to scout for oil. Daniel lies to the landowners about why he is on the land when he tells them he is hunting for quail. Daniel finds oil on the land, but does not tell the family, and tries to buy the ranch without disclosing his discovery. The next scene follows Daniel to what is presumably the town clerk's office. He goes to the town clerk to look at a plat of the land he would like to buy throughout the area. These scenes screamed to me because so many students struggle with title and recording statutes, and these scenes provide fantastic context for why recording statutes are important in land sales or transfers. Additionally, the set-up gives great material for hypotheticals on trespass and disclosure laws. But without an understanding of the fundamentals of recording and deeds, students could get lost in the emotions and moral ramifications of an oil baron failing to disclose his unique knowledge to poor farmers at the turn of the century, and would miss the importance of his stop at the town clerk's office. While the moral challenges may make for a great, dramatic film, it is not going to help students learn Property law.
This is going to be my only post for the week, as I am off to North Carolina to visit family for the holidays (family without an internet connection.) I wish everyone a very merry Thanksgiving and a restful break.
See you in December,
Monday, November 24, 2008
Did you miss the e-mail on the ASP Listserv sent by Barbara McFarland regarding the NCBE handout on drafting rules for multiple-choice questions from Dr. Susan Case, Director of Testing for NCBE?
Several common techniques used by law professors in composing multiple-choice questions are specifically mentioned in the drafting rules. Dr. Case is currently working on an article for the Journal of Legal Education on this same topic. I know that all of us will be interested in reading the article when it is published.
You can read the PDF file for the Dr. Case's handout here: Download multiple_choice_drafting_guidelines_by_s_2. Case of NCBE.pdf . (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 21, 2008
Director of Academic Support
University of Iowa College of Law
The University of Iowa College of Law invites applications for the position of Director of
Academic Support. This is a non-faculty full-time administrative staff appointment starting July
1, 2009 at a salary commensurate with qualifications and experience.
The College of Law is a welcoming professional community located in a vibrant university
town. The Director of Academic Support will administer and advance the College’s current
academic support program, which assists law students as they develop and improve legal study
and test-taking skills, adjust to the challenges of law school, and prepare to enter law practice.
The Director will work with law school faculty and administrative staff to create and present
first-year orientation and academic skills programs and to coordinate a year-long peer mentoring
program. As part of the Student Services team, the Director will also contribute to the design and
implementation of programming to enhance the professional development of second- and third year
students as they make curricular choices, sharpen their academic skills, and prepare to take
a bar examination. As a complement to programming, the Director will also work closely with
individual first-year and upper-level students to improve their academic and professional skills.
The Director may assume other duties related to law Student Services as well, such as
participating in the Hubbard Law School Preparation Program and working with students for
whom English is a second language. Depending on interest and qualifications (and subject to
faculty approval), the Director might also occasionally teach academic or skills courses within
the law school. In addition, the College encourages and provides support for the Director to
engage in research and professional development activities in the Academic Support field.
Prior experience with an existing law school academic support program is a desirable
qualification, but transferable experience in helping others improve legal and professional skills
may be viewed as equivalent. Inquiries about the position may be directed to Associate Dean
Carin Crain at 319-335-9648 or [email protected]
A juris doctor degree from an ABA accredited law school, or an equivalent combination
of education and experience.
Admission to a state bar.
Ability to think creatively and critically about the goals of academic support in legal
education and to design and present programs to meet those goals.
Ability to counsel, advise and instruct individual students from diverse backgrounds.
Genuine interest in and ability to work closely with faculty, staff and students to enhance
Solid academic record and excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Considerable (3-5 years) relevant experience.
Experience with an existing law school academic support program.
Legal practice, clerkship or other experience related to the practice of law.
Familiarity with scholarship on functions of academic support programs.
Demonstrated success in teaching.
To apply, visit http://jobs.uiowa.edu and refer to requisition # 56309. Review of applications
will begin on January 30, 2009, and continue until the position is filled.
The University of Iowa is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Women and
minorities are strongly encouraged to apply for this position.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Do you ever wish you had more hours in a day so that you could implement all of the great ideas you come up with during the year? As a one-person operation for 650 students, I truly wish that I could have several of me to implement new ideas.
I need several extra pairs of arms and hands to go along with my brain to type drafts of class notes, develop Power Point slides, and revamp handouts. I could use several extras of my body to attend committee meetings and community groups as we revamp old programs and initiate new programs.
Mind you, there is always unpaid overtime to squeeze in some of the extras. But, one has to be careful about burn-out. As my program has grown from brand-new to established here at Texas Tech, I have been able to pare down the insane number of extra hours that I was putting in each week. However, overtime will realistically never disappear entirely as long as I have new ideas and care about making my program better (and as long as the university tags me as an exempt manager).
As ASP professionals, we have to balance caring for our students and caring for ourselves. Our group of professionals is likely to give of ourselves to others constantly because we want our students to succeed and we truly care about them as individuals. And, we also give to others in ASP through phone calls, workshops, conferences, articles, and other outlets.
And, for those of us who are not married and/or have children, we sometimes have trouble carving out our personal space because it is easy to decide that no one is waiting at home expecting us. (Hmmm, dogs could be very useful. Unlike my cat children of the past, they do need us to show up promptly unless we have backyards with doggie doors.)
So, I have gotten better at carving out personal time. I use every cancelled meeting or appointment slot to the maximum. I keep a long list of "future ideas and projects" as an incentive to improve my program within realistic time limits. And, I occasionally do say "no" or "next year" to requests that come my way.
Despite the disadvantages at times, I hope I never run out of new ideas. I hope that I never stop being inspired by other ASP folks to try a new approach. I hope that I never lose sight that it is a blessing to come to work each day to help my students. After all, these are the things that make me an ASP professional.
So, New Idea, if you are out there, come and find me. I am ready for you. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
As the semester winds down, and exams wind up, it's time to remind students of the basics. I live in a very cold climate, but a frost is blasting the entire east coast, so these reminders may have a location bias.
1) If you are new to a colder climate, be sure to keep the heat on in your house, even when you go away, so the pipes don't burst. Nothing is worse than waking up on the morning of exams to ice-cold water leaking from the ceiling or in puddles on the floor.
2) If you don't have enough warm clothes for yourself or anyone you live with, let someone know. There is no shame in asking for help. Every year I have lived in a colder climate, either as a law professor or as an elementary school teacher, I saw people who moved from warmer climes and forgot to bring a heavy coat. If you need to borrow a coat, just ask. ASP or the student services office are the first places to look. If you need a coat because you can't afford one, look to the same places.
3) As the semester winds down, so do funds, and food. Don't go hungry. Exam period is not the time to show your fortitude by starving yourself. You can not perform your best if you are hungry. If your school does not have funds to help you eat during exam period, they can refer you to places that can help.
4) If you are healthy and have enough money so you don't need to worry about these things, look around and see if any of your classmates need help. If you know someone is struggling, help them or direct them to help. Don't let the competitive spirit of law school allow you to forget that these people are your colleagues, your support system, and your friends. Be kind to those around you. You can't imagine how much a person in need who is looking for direction will appreciate someone who asks how they can help. All they may need is someone to talk to, someone to provide a sympathetic ear. (RCF)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, was the New York-area Academic Support Directors Workshop, hosted by Brooklyn Law School. This is different from the conferences sponsored by the LSAC; this conference is the brainchild of Kris Franklin (NYLS) and Linda Feldman (Brooklyn Law); it is designed to get local ASP professionals together to present and chat about issues they have been experiencing. This year's workshop was a great success, with schools from across the country represented. Everyone who attends the workshop is asked to present on a topic relating to a theme. This year's theme was "Working with Doctrinal Faculty." I came away with great new material as well as some new ideas about what to add to my academic success program.
I was the first presenter of the morning, with a discussion on using "the law". My comments were similar to the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago. However, I received some great suggestions on how to add Civil Procedure to my repertoire.
The next presenters were Mary Ferrari and Gail Stern from Quinnipiac on integrating ASP principles into tax courses. This was fabulous discussion on respecting different learning styles in the classroom as a doctrinal teacher, and how to incorporate different processing styles into casebooks and classroom teaching.
Kris Franklin presented on a class project for her Torts section, where teams of students put together a graphic analysis of a Torts problem using graphic organizer software. Kris's students did a truly magical job on the assignment, and I (among others) encouraged Kris to encourage her students to post some of the results on the web so others can marvel at how bright and talented they are.
Hillary Burgess of Hofstra continued on the theme with a presentation on using flow chart activities in the 1L classroom. Hillary did a fabulous job of showing how flow charts can be used to help students create their own learning activities to support the material they are learning.
Heather Zuber blew us all away with a presentation on how she restructured the Western State 1L colloquium. Heather put in an enormous amount of work to reshape and redesign the program to reflect the needs of current students, and enhance the learning experience of the upperclass TA's. I think everyone was left wondering if Heather ever slept in this past year when she was done talking about all the changes she made to the program.
Carmen Morales of Fordham presented on employing students from law review as tutors for 1L students. This is an area where people can have very strong opinions, and Carmen did a great job showing us how she made this program a success at Fordham.
Linda Cortez of U Baltimore presented on I (heart) IRAC (Where is the IRAC love?). If you are a new ASP professional looking for ways to convince students that IRAC represents the essential elements in an exam, you should get in contact with Linda, ASAP. Linda, as always, did a fabulous job showing the different ways to present IRAC to students, which included models for different learning types.
Catherine Coleman, a new member of our ASP community, did an outstanding job explaining USC's restricted enrollment policy, and their time line for preparing students for exams and the bar. I am taking the idea of restricted enrollment back with me to my school; it creates a category for students who are not in danger of failing out of law school, but need additional supports to achieve their personal best.
Mary Lou Bilek and David Nadvorney of CUNY demonstrated the idea of "rounds" as a pedagogical tool as well as a tool for faculty support. The idea of addressing student concerns in rounds, similar to what is seen in the medical school context, was a revelation. I believe we all were in agreement that this tool is something we need to spend more time exploring in later conferences.
The last presentation of the day was by Micah Yarbrough of Widener-Wilmington on the reporting requirement of 3-106. I have actually sent a copy of Micah's PowerPoint to some of my ASP colleagues; it did a great job organizing the myriad new requirements we are all facing when reporting our bar pass rates to the ABA. His presentation also opened the door to a discussion on working together with other schools to get some clarity regarding interpretation of some provisions within 3-106.
A hearty thank you and good job go out to Kris and Linda, who did a wonderful job getting us all together and providing a forum for us to discuss our issues and challenges in a supportive community.
And I second a call made by Kris and Linda...we should be planning and organizing more of these forums throughout the country. This is was a great learning experience, and we all need more opportunities for professional development and support outside of the LSAC conferences.
Friday, November 14, 2008
With exams just two weeks away, some law students have started to lose perspective in major ways. Despite the current world events, they have forgotten what a real crisis looks like outside our building. They believe that papers, exams, presentations, and grades are crises of enormous magnitude rather than transitory problems with solutions.
Law school is tough, but not as tough as life is for many people each day. Here are four statistics to share with students who have lost their perspective:
- 9.2 million children died worldwide in 2007 before their fifth birthday. (UNICEF)
- 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2007. (UNICEF)
- One out of three city dwellers worldwide lived in a slum in 2006. (UN-Habitat)
- More than 14 million refugees and internally displaced people lived in tents or temporary shelters in 2006. (Kissick et al)
Perhaps these world figures are too faceless and, therefore, have little impact on regaining perspective. In those cases, I suggest you provide examples by filling in the blanks below for your own locale:
- The small businessman caught in the economic downturn who owns _____________ is focused on trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy this week.
- The single mother living in the _______________ shelter with her three children just hopes to be safe from domestic abuse tonight.
- The homeless person at the ____________ soup kitchen is most concerned about having one hot meal.
- The mother whose child was killed at the corner of ____________ and ____________ by a drunk driver last week just wants her child back.
- The workers for ______________________ that just laid off hundreds are wondering how to pay the rent, buy groceries, and find another job.
If the students came to law school to make a difference in the world, they will likely regain perspective quickly by remembering all the people in their own city, in the U.S.A., and throughout the world who are waiting for caring lawyers to graduate, pass the bar, and come to their assistance. With that incentive, these students can re-focus on preparing for upcoming exams and a future where they will be qualified to help solve the world's most difficult problems.
If the students came to law school merely wanting to earn enormous future salaries, drive expensive cars some day, and own the biggest houses in the neighborhood when they become partners, perhaps these statistics will cause them to think of others and how their legal careers could serve society through pro bono work. They may get more perspective on what a real crisis is and get back to work with less angst over their studies.
There are always some law students who keep their perspective in place because they live with real life crises daily. However, living in the law school fish bowl with the same people every day can cause other law students to forget the world outside. Those law students need to regain perspective on what a real crisis is and be thankful for the privilege of being in law school. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
One of my faculty colleagues, Professor Jennifer Bard, recently told me about a new volume from Aspen Publishers titled, Essentials: Torts. As a Torts professor, she has found this study aid helpful for some of her students because it explains the material in a narrative format that puts it in words with context rather than being a mere outline. She has several reserve copies in the library for her students to access.
In checking out this volume, I discovered that the same series currently has a Civil Procedure volume. Other volumes will be available throughout 2008 and 2009 in a number of subjects. I have added the current volumes to my purchasing list. If you would like more information on this new series, you can find it at Essentials Series from Aspen Publishers. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
As students are gearing up for finals, I have received a number of requests, and corresponding reviews, of help for students who are not predominantly read/write learners. Here are a couple of my suggestions for these students that have received positive reviews from their peers:
For aural learners: The Gilbert's Legends Series and the Sum and Substance Audio Series. One of the neat suggestions a students gave me was to "talk back" to the CD's, and turn the listening experience into an argument, or discussion. When something on the CD is confusing or leads to an ephiphany, stop the CD and talk to yourself about it. Ask questions of the material, like a dialogue with the CD. Students often have the answer to their own questions, but need something to spark their understanding. A caveat for law students reading this post--these CD's are NOT a replacement for class, but a chance to review and condense the material.
For visual learners: Inspiration software. For students who like to create diagrams, mind maps, and charts, Inspiration turns traditional outlines into these visual learning tools, and can change visual tools into a traditional outline. The Inspiration software has a free 30-day trial. Attached is my intentional tort chart, created with Inspiration software; you may need to load the Inspiration software on your computer to see the chart Download intentional_torts.isf
Friday, November 7, 2008
I know some people will disagree with me, but we can’t multi-task. I don’t mean we can’t walk and chew bubble gum, but I do mean we can’t email friends, talk on the phone, and write a blog entry. However, I am also an offender of my own “no multi-tasking” rule. I multi-task because it has become an unfortunate habit reinforced by cultural cues. Like all bad habits, it’s hard to break. But it is also something that I am working on changing about myself, because it’s a cultural phenomenon that is harming law students who don’t know how to just focus on reading, OR writing, OR listening. Culture has told us that we need to be doing five things at once, but it’s a message that dooms many students as they try to email in class, listen to the lecture, and take notes. As ASP professionals, we need to model the best learning behaviors, but we are often interrupted by students who need help, phone calls, and emails for appointments, all while we are working on lesson plans, writing projects, and correcting assignments. There has been some wonderful research that has come out recently that helps us push back against the cultural messages that tell us we are lazy if we are only juggling one task at a time.
To understand multi-tasking, we need to break apart three interconnected phenomena; productive daydreaming, multi-tasking, and self-interruption. When people (including some of the most respected ASP directors) argue that multi-tasking is not a problem, I believe they are actually talking about the related phenomena of productive daydreaming. Productive daydreaming, as its name suggests, is a good thing in moderation, and aids our thinking and processing. Productive daydreaming forces you to tune out when you have too much on your mind. It’s watching the snow fall, listening to running water, or doodling figure eights in the margins of notebook paper. It helps you make connections between material, connections that cannot happen when you are focused on activity. Productive daydreaming is often the product of too much multi-tasking; our brains become overstressed, and we start to tune everything out. Productive daydreaming is confused with multi-tasking because you are ostensibly participating in two things at one time; you are in a class while watching the snow fall. However, it is not multi-tasking because you are not engaged in any activity at all; you are letting your mind wander. Some of the best advice I received about starting a tough writing project came from Prof. Doug Kaufman of the Neag School of Education at UCONN. Productive daydreaming activities, such as mindlessly cleaning your kids rooms when you should be writing, are actually a critical part of the writing process, because they are giving our minds the chance to breathe. Too much productive daydreaming is not productive, such as when it becomes chronic, which brings me to the next activity often confused with multi-tasking…self-interruption.
Self-interruption is checking your email five minutes into a project, moving onto new project without finishing the last one, or channel-surfing. Self-interruption differs from multi-tasking because it is the rapid movement from one activity to another, rather than multiple activities at one time. Self-interruption has been called “attention-deficit trait” because it is a cultural phenomena, not a biological problem. We have taught ourselves to focus for shorter and shorter periods of time. Self-interruption can also be the product of depression or disillusionment towards a goal or project. This is a disaster when it is a habit of law students. Legal arguments are often complex and interconnected; it is impossible to follow and understand a legal argument if you self-interrupt after five minutes of reading. Self-interruption prevents students form reaching a flow-state that is critical to processing classroom discussion or casebook reading. It takes discipline to break multi-tasking and self-interruption habits, but it’s essential to doing well in law school.
So what have I learned about breaking the multi-tasking habit? I am reducing the number of distractions I have available to me when I am working on a complex project. Right now, I am typing the blog entry and listening to “Morning Edition” on NPR. My email is not up, I am not talking on the phone, and I am not playing with anything on my desk. Soon, I hope to work on only one thing at a time. (RCF)
Multitasking Can Make You Lose ... Um ... Focus
By ALINA TUGEND
Published: October 25, 2008
Experts are finding that multitasking can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.
Learning to Multi-Task: Don't Bother
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Exams start at our law school immediately after the Thanksgiving Break this year. With just four weeks left, the students are becoming more stressed each day. Those who have been distributing their learning throughout the entire semester are holding up far better than their classmates.
Here are some of the tips that I offer my students to help them manage their stress during this time of the semester. The tips are not in any particular order as to priority.
- Break every task down into small steps. It is easier to motivate yourself to complete a small task. You will feel less stressed about the progress you are making because small tasks will get crossed off your list more quickly.
- Get assistance from others when you are confused about course material. Go to your professors on office hours. Go to the teaching assistants or tutors for your 1L courses. Ask questions of classmates who understand the material. Work with a study partner or group to review material.
- Condense your outlines multiple times to avoid stress about forgetting material. Someone described this process to me as follows. After you know the material in your full-length outline, condense it in half to "son of outline." After you are confident with that version, condense it in half again to "grandson of outline."
- Have a memorized mini-outline to reduce stress in the exam. At least a week before the exam, condense your course to the front and back of one sheet of paper. In a closed-book exam, you write the mini-outline down on scrap paper once the proctor says you may begin. Voila - security blanket extraordinaire.
- Practice applying the content for each course. The more questions you do, the more confident and less stressed you will be in the exam. A myriad of fact scenarios during your studying means you will be less likely to meet something on the exam that you have never thought about previously. And you will be more aware of nuances when applying the law.
- Practice exam-taking techniques for each course. By doing plenty of practice questions, you will have your strategies on auto-pilot: how to organize your answers, how to write concise sentences, how to calculate a time-chart for the exam, how to approach the fact patterns most efficiently, how to use IRAC. You will be less stressed over how to take the exam and will focus instead on the actual questions asked.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Whether it is face-to-face or by telephone, have contact with people who will encourage you and raise your self-esteem. Avoid people who are all "doom and gloom" about exams.
- Choose study locations that help you focus and lower your stress. Many law students cannot study at the law school because the stress level is so high. Consider studying at other academic buildings on campus, the main campus library, coffeehouses, classrooms at your local church or synagogue, or your apartment complex conference room.
- Become an even nicer person. You will feel better about yourself and lower your stress if you focus on others rather than yourself. Help another student who doesn't understand a topic. Buy a cup of coffee for the student behind you in the lunch line. Take cookies to your study group. Volunteer in class when another student is floundering in answering a question.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side. No matter what your belief system is, being in touch with a power greater than yourself can be calming. You will be less stressed if you do not feel alone in carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. You will focus better, be more productive, and retain more information.
- Eat nutritious meals. Your body will function better, including your brain cells. Avoid caffeine and sugar overload.
- Exercise at least 45 minutes three times per week. Exercise is one of the most effective stress busters. Avoid exercising too late at night,however, as it can disrupt your ability to sleep.
In addition to tips, I provide my students with a handout of easy relaxation exercises. Most of the exercises can be done anywhere - even in the exam room. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
The final re-written Aesop's fable is probably less well-known than the other two that I chose. The original fable is about a cat that has only one method of defense in danger and a fox that prides itself on its many options of defense. When the hounds get close, the cat runs up the tree to safety. The fox dithers about which option to use and is caught and eaten.
The Cat and the Fox:
Cat is known for adaptability, but lives day by day and task by task. Cat reads all the cases, takes notes, outlines material, and talks with the professor. Cat always attempts to understand material by thinking about the cases, the sub-topics, and the topics. When perplexed, Cat draws down from the library shelves one study aid on the subject to gain more understanding. Sometimes Cat uses different series to help with studying, but always realizes that study aids are supplements to his learning. After additional reading and pondering, Cat goes to the professor if still confused. Cat thinks and thinks about the material read and discussed. After time, Cat smiles and nods his head in understanding.
Fox is known for being one of the most clever, but always seeks another option. Fox reads the canned briefs, uses a class script, uses outlines guaranteed to be from A students, and never meets with the professor. Fox avoids personally thinking about the cases, the sub-topic, and the topics whenever possible. Fox goes to the library shelves and pulls down several different study aids explaining the subject. If those study aids do not state the answers, Fox pulls down more study aids. Soon Fox is surrounded by study aids but does not know any more than when the first was used. Fox is disgruntled that nothing states exactly what to know and how to know it. After time, Fox fumes and shakes his head in disgust.
One day Cat and Fox are seated next to each other in the student lounge. "Do you understand Topic X, Cat?" "Why, yes, I do. X means...." "But I have scanned multiple study aids without understanding X! How did you understand it?" Cat mulls over the question and responds, "I only have one way to learn and that is to think, and mull over, and ponder. Even with other resources, I still must do the laborious thinking to make the knowledge my own."
Moral: Having multiple resources will do a law student no good if one's natural intelligence to think about the material is ignored. Study aids are useful supplements to help in thinking, but one must still do independent thinnking to learn. Use study aids wisely. Avoid shortcuts that undermine thinking. (Students do not have to settle for shortcuts and can select more successful strategies.)
I might add that I am a strong proponent of study aids. My office actually has an extensive study aids library for students to use. I carry the major series of study aids - most of which are written by law professors. However, I avoid study aids that are designed merely as shortcuts. I do not carry canned briefs, for example, because students use those as replacements for reading and briefing.
My office provides a handout on wise use of study aids. I also spend time talking with students about which study aids will best match their needs. Our 1L Tutors also advise students on study aids that are appropriate for individual professors. A number of professors recommend study aids in their syllabi.
Although I am in favor of study aids, I encourage students to make their own briefs, outlines, flashcards, graphic organizers, and practice questions. I advise students to use study aids as supplements to their learning rather than being "study aid dependent" in their learning. I remind students that they should learn their professor's version of the course for the exam. I warn them that commercial aids may be wrong and, with a few exceptions, will not cover Texas law.
Why do I encourage study aid use and have a study aids library? There are a number of reasons.
- Casebooks are often bereft of previews, summaries, questions, and problems that can assist in student learning. Even students who work very hard at their reading and briefing will not always be able to understand the material. Study aids can add background that a student is unable to get alone.
- No matter how good the professor is, some students need a different approach to the material. Students learn differently; and as a result, need to study differently. Some students need an overview first. Some students need summaries after learning the parts. Some students are weak aural learners. Some students learn from application. The professor's teaching style is legitimate, and the students' different learning styles are also legitimate. Study aids can bridge any gap between the two.
- Some students are unable to articulate their questions for the professor until they have a general understanding of the material. Study aids can facilitate their understanding so that they are then able to approach the professor and articulate their specific gaps in understanding.
- Practice questions are essential to students learning how to apply the material. Unfortunately, most professors provide limited practice questions to their students. There are a number of practice question books that can provide application experience for students throughout the semester as well as when they prepare for exams.
- Study aids are expensive. Not all students can afford to purchase them - even the ones recommended by their professors. Because study aids can serve as positive supplements to student thinking, having a study aids library for short-term use allows all students access to the main series. Those students who are considering purchases can "test drive" several study aids to match the purchases to their learning styles and the professor's course.
Study aids can bridge the gap in understanding material. However, students still need to use their own thinking ultimately to learn the material. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 3, 2008
With so many new folks joining our ranks, I wanted to add a suggestion about reaching out to doctrinal faculty. This is one of the more difficult parts of the job for many new Academic Success professionals. For younger ASP professionals, it can be intimidating. Many doctrinal faculty have been teaching their subject area for 20-30+ years. This would put some new ASP faculty in diapers or elementary school when their doctrinal counterparts first starting publishing. Another, more difficult stumbling block to establishing relationships with doctrinal faculty is hostility. Not all doctrinal faculty know what ASP does, some are skeptical of what ASP is, and a few are just hostile. Thankfully, these types are few and far between at most schools, and growing fewer in number with each passing year. Despite these difficulties, it is greatly beneficial to build relationships with doctrinal faculty at your school. It may not be possible to build relationships with all the faculty, but reaching will build bridges into the classroom that will make your job more rewarding and your life much easier in the long run.
I have a few strategies for opening the lines of communication.
1) Ask your students. The best way to open a conversation is to offer help. How do you know what to suggest? Ask your students. Ask them how their classes are going, what they are working on with their professors, and if they have any special projects coming up. If a class is holding a moot court, offer to help judge. If a class is turning in practice exercises, offer to help the professor help students who are struggling. Most professors will jump at the chance to get extra help.
2) Ask to observe classes. This is especially useful if a class has a special project or presentations. Once you have a general idea from your students of the type of project and when students will present, email or call and ask to sit in to observe student work. By asking to observe student work, you are taking the pressure off the professors because they will be less worried you are there to judge their teaching methods. Use the observations you make in the class to open the door to a conversation with the professor. Let them know how helpful it is for you to see your students “in action.” More confident teachers will be interested in your observations from the back of the class; where the students playing games or surfing the net? Be careful if you are asked about student behavior to never name names, over unsolicited advice, or impugn teaching methods. Offering judgment-neutral advice if you are asked, such as suggestions about seating arrangements (circles instead of rows), will be welcomed by more confident instructors who want to increase student engagement but don’t know how.
3) Ask for syllabi, and ask questions. Most professors are willing to share their syllabus for a class. Use the syllabus to ask questions; such as why they chose to start with negligence instead of intentional torts. Tone is important when asking questions; judgment-neutral inquiries about why they made the choice. (RCF)
I will be presenting on this topic for the NY-area ASP Professionals Conference Nov 14 at Brooklyn Law School. If you are attending, please feel free to ask me questions about this topic. (RCF)
Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School will host the 6th annual New
York Area Academic Support Workshop at Brooklyn Law School on Friday,
November 14, 2008.
As usual, this will be a small and rather intensive gathering of
academic support professionals and colleagues. While most are from the
New York area, we invite and welcome ASP professionals from all over the
country. Last year people came from across the Brooklyn Bridge, up and
down the east coast, and from as far away as Texas and California. The
goal of these workshops is to share ideas and materials; everyone who
attends will be asked to propose a portion of the agenda and to lead
part of the discussion. In order to be able to share ideas effectively,
we plan to cap the number of participants at 20.
morning session will focus on the intersection of ASP and doctrinal
teaching. Our plan is to include doctrinal professors who use ASP
principles/techniques in their classrooms, and also to discuss ways to
encourage more doctrinal faculty in our schools to do so. We therefore
encourage doctrinal faculty interested in academic support, those doing
solely ASP work, and those doing both, to attend this event.
Participants should suggest a topic related to the theme and plan to
make a short presentation, offer materials, and/or lead a roundtable
discussion of a question or problem related to our work.
The agenda for the afternoon session of the workshop is open and we
participants to lead a short (15-20 minute) discussion on an ASP topic
of your choosing. Last year we discussed ASP's role in Introduction to
Law during Orientation, ASP and the Bar, and we brainstormed ways to
keep students motivated from 2nd semester to the Bar. It is not
necessary that you have all the answers, only that each of us shares our
thoughts, questions and materials in a structured way.
We plan to
start the morning session at 9:30 a.m. (breakfast will be
provided), break for lunch (we'll serve that, too) and work through the
afternoon. We hope everyone will also be able to join us at a local
restaurant for dinner.
For people outside the immediate NY area, this could mean an
stay on Thursday, and maybe Friday as well. Because this is not a
formal conference we do not charge any registration fee, but also cannot
arrange hotels, etc. If you will need a hotel, the Marriott is directly
across the street from Brooklyn Law School, and there are several B & Bs
in the Brooklyn Heights area. If your travel budget does not cover a
hotel for a one-day workshop, we will seek volunteers to provide local
Please let us know if you are interested in coming for
all or part of
the day, and what thoughts you have to share or topics you would like to
We look forward to hearing from you.
Brooklyn Law School
New York Law
(718) 780-7929(212) 431-2353