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)