Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, October 10, 2008

Notes from the Bar Pass Conference

Bar Passage Training Lesson: More Experiential Learning

By Hillary Burgess

Hillary.burgess [at] hofstra [dot] edu

I am on my way back from the LSAC Academic Support Bar Passage Programs Topical Workshop. I cannot believe how much I learned, especially about questions that I didnt know to ask. However, the biggest lesson Ive taken away from the workshop had nothing to do with bar support or bar passage.

The biggest lesson for me was that no matter what percentage of experiential learning exercises I incorporate into my Academic Success workshops, I can always include more and talk less. My new teaching mantra is going to be, Stop talking to start teaching. I can apply the same lessons to my skills-building workshops that I apply in my casebook courses: no content is so important that it cant be cut in favor of an exercise that teaches students how to learn the content on their own. This principle is true, even when my content is how to learn. Exercises simply do the job better.

I cant thank this community enough for creating the open, caring, and supportive environment we have, from the incredibly supportive wise (surprisingly young) elders to the people who have been around just long enough to not feel new (at least to the new people like me). Both groups don't seem to be afraid to put it all out there if doing so will better serve our community and especially our students.

October 10, 2008 in Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)   

October 9, 2008 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Processing Learning Styles Part I

A great deal has been written about the absorption learning styles: Visual, Verbal, Oral, Aural, Kinesthetic, Tactile.  However, the discussions often overlook the processing styles: Global, Sequential, Intuitive, Sensing, Active, and Reflective.  These styles are critical to how students process information, perform on exams, and work together in study groups. 

Although much more could be written about these learning preferences, here are some highlights.  I shall describe each type as to the "strongest scorers" because it is easier to understand the preferences in those who exhibit them at high levels.

Global learners prefer to have the "big picture" first so that they can know how to insert the parts within that overview.  In a sense, the global learner is looking for the roadmap to the course and its various topics.  If a professor previews the material in a topic, the global learner will gain from that "here is where we are going for the next two weeks" perspective.  Global learners also benefit from looking at a table of contents to see how the topic relates to the whole course and how the sub-topics relate to the topic.  Global learners can also benefit from a topic-subtopic syllabus from the professor.

Sequential learners prefer to look at each unit first and only seek the bigger picture after they are comfortable with the parts.  For sequential learners, each case is a separate unit and each sub-topic and topic are separate units initially.  Sequential learners only seek the bigger picture or overview after they are comfortable with the parts.  Sequential learners must remind themselves to synthesize material.  Thus, a professor who summarizes the material in a topic will help sequential learners by that "let's look at where we have been the last two weeks and pull it all together" perspective.  Sequential learners are sometimes uncomfortable that a professor starts in the middle of the casebook instead of going in the sequence that the editor determined.

Intuitive learners prefer ideas, policies, theories, abstractions, and the inter-relationships among these concepts.  In a sense, they love ideas no matter how useful the ideas are and become excited by innovations.  They can quickly manipulate and retain concepts.  Intuitives can sometimes understand the concept or provide the "answer" without knowing how they arrived at the insight.  A policy-driven course is often a delight for the intuitive learner.  The law school mantra of "it depends" is less burdensome to intuitive learners because they deal well with ambiguity. 

Sensing learners, however, prefer facts, details, and practicalities.  They will notice each fact in a long fact scenario.  They will know far more details about the cases and the "black letter law" than their fellow students.  They are not particularly interested in the theoretical and abstract aspects of the law unless they can see practical uses for those aspects.  A policy-driven course is often drudgery for the sensing learner.  Ambiguity is frustrating because these students often come from academic disciplines that required right answers.

If students are both global and intuitive, they are often termed "top-down" learners.  They work from the overview with inter-relationships of concepts as their first step and then fit the pieces in place with some detail.  Global-intuitve learners sometimes think they understand a course because they have the gist of the material, but actually lack a depth of knowledge for closer analysis.  Class notes for these learners often comprise just the main points and have little detail.  These learners tend to make shorter outlines because they readily condense material and discard details before they outline a section.  They can get impatient with the details of an assignment.   In an exam they may misread questions because they are not reading closely or may forget the details of what they read because they focus on the general idea.  These learners may not read test instructions at all because they assume they know what the instructions will be. 

Global-intuitive learners may remember that a rule has six elements but have trouble remembering a different element each time they recite the rule.  Alternatively, they may paraphrase a rule too drastically.  These learners tend to not connect the dots in exam analysis to receive the maximum number of points because they write to the professor (s/he knows that so I do not have to include it).  They are less prone to organize an exam answer carefully before beginning to write.  Consequently, they juggle material in their heads and forget to discuss some facts, mention cases that apply, or consider all the steps of analysis.  In addition, they may think they wrote something in the answer when they did not or repeat part of an answer because they forget they already said it.  On multiple-choice questions, they may pick by gut rather than carefully analyze each answer choice.  They commonly finish exams earlier than other students: essay exams because there is nothing more to say although their answers were "conclusory"; multiple-choice exams because there is no inclination to review "gut" answers.

If students are both sequential and sensing, they are often termed "bottom-up" learners.  They learn each case as a separate unit with an eye for details.  They are loathe to finish reading a case until they understand every word and every detail.  They tend to write very detailed briefs, sometimes with extensive quotes.  Each sub-topic is a separate unit to be understood in detail.  Sequential-sensing learners sometimes stay bogged down in the separate parts and details and forget to learn the overview and inter-relationships of concepts for a topic or the course as a whole.  These learners tend to have "mega" outlines because they are reticent to condense material and leave any details out as they outline a section.  They are methodical in their thought and tend to notice methodologies, steps of analysis, and bright line tests.  They rarely misread anything.  These students often teach their global-intutitive friends the law in depth.  To their frustration, those global-intuitive friends often get higher grades because they have promptly discarded any details that seem unnecessary and find the big picture of the material.

Sequential-sensing learners tend to retain the organization of analysis whether it is the questions to ask whenever a topic comes up or the specific elements of rules.  They tend to be organized in their exam writing and to outline an answer naturally before writing.  Sometimes they see phantom issues because they know so much detail that they are sure the issue must be there somewhere in a question.  They might write more on a correct issue than will actually receive points because they have included everything they know about the topic.  They may second-guess themselves with constant "what if" and "how about" questions which are outside a multiple-choice question and fact pattern.  As a result, they will change correct answer choices to wrong answer choices.  These learners tend to have time management problems in exams because they spend too long on individual questions (whether essay or multiple-choice) and then rush through the final questions or never get a chance to answer some questions because time has been called.

"Middle-out" learners also exist which crossover the styles.  These leaners would be Global-Sensing or Sequential-Intuitive.  In a sense, the crossing over means that they process in both directions at once rather than in one direction.  For these learners, the crossover tends to act as a balance between the two opposite dimensions.  There appear to be fewer "middle-out" learners.  "Middle-out" learners are often older students with work or educational experiences that have tended to support this bi-directional learning.  For these learners, it is harder to generalize their characteristics.  Instead one needs to read the type descriptions and discuss the types in light of that learner's specific scores on each dimension.

For all of these types, they can frustrate each other greatly if they do not understand the different processing types and the legitimacy of all learning styles.  Opposite types sometimes "take it personally" when someone does not explain things the same way in a study group because they assume the other person is just being difficult or that they have the only "right" way to learn.  Members become exasperated that the other person drones on about unimportant details or paraphrases rules or other transgressions.  In addition, when professors teach to only their own learning styles, the students who are opposites struggle more to follow what is happening in class and to learn the material.  Without an understanding of different styles, a professor may inadvertently misjudge a student's class performance merely because the student processes information in a very different way.   

So how do these learners use their preferences to advantage and avoid the negative tendencies of their learning styles?  My next column (Part II) will address strategies and solutions.  Part III will talk about the active and reflective dichotomy among learners.  (Amy Jarmon)


October 8, 2008 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 6, 2008

High Anxiety

If I were to put a label  on this semester, it would be high anxiety.

As an Academic Success professional, I feel fairly insulated from the turbulence of the outside (corporate) world. After all, we have all heard (or seen) that students go to graduate school when the economy takes a downward turn. But in the past few weeks, a palpable sense of worry and anxiety over the economy has invaded the relatively safe harbor of law school.  I am not talking about the 3L's that are looking for employment. They are worried and anxious even in the best of economies. I am feeling anxiety about the economy gripping 1L's who never intended to get a paying job between their 1L and 2L year, but who are now worried they won't find any positions for the summer.  I am seeing an unusual type of anxiety among the 1L's that both encourages and dismays me: anxiety that if they don't do well in law school, they are looking into an abyss.  I am normally excited whenever I see a trend within 1L's that encourages them to do the things they need to succeed.  But this anxiety dismays me because it is not motivated by a desire to succeed, but by a fear of failure that risks overwhelming students as the prepare for exams.  There is a very real risk for most law students at most schools that they may not be able to continue their law school career if they do not complete their course work in satisfactory manner.  The anxiety I am seeing among students is the type that can paralyze students if they receive even modest constructive criticism. This is a dangerous condition that can sink well-prepared students unless it is managed before midterm exam grades come out. 

I don't have any suggestions for students struggling with the impact of the economy on their finances or their future, but I do have advice regarding how to cope with stress and anxiety when outside forces threaten to overwhelm them emotionally.  If students are doing everything they can to succeed, which includes going to class, reviewing their notes or "purble blurb-ing", outlining, seeing their professors when they have questions about the material, and doing practice questions, then they should take a deep breath.   By telling students to take a deep breath, I do not mean to minimize the gravity of  recent events.   There are things we can control in this world, like our own effort towards reaching a goal, and things we can not control in this world, like the economy.  Taking a deep breath should remind students that they are doing everything in their power to succeed.  And if students are doing everything they can to succeed and it does not show on midterms or exams, then there are bigger problems that need to be addressed, problems that would cause great stress and anxiety regardless of the economy.  (RCF)

October 6, 2008 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)