April 14, 2009
Helping Students "Let Go" of Academic Support
If you have a "formal" ASP for students in academic risk and ASP for the general student body, you are in dual mode right now; triage and separation.Triage for the students who had no academic risk factors, but come into your office in crisis; no outlines, no practice tests, maybe they have missed several classes. We are trained to deal with these issues, even if there is no "magic bullet" to help students who have not done the needed work to achieve their best.
But if you have a formal or institutionalized ASP for students who are at high risk due to poor first semester grades or other risk factors, this is the time to starting pushing the birdies out of the nest. A formal ASP that is required per academic regulations, in the form of individual weekly meetings or a class, means most of the students knew they might not make it at the start of the semester. Many of them spent weeks shell-shocked, unable to understand why they did not succeed. Many of them form a dependency on ASP. This is not a negative thing when students need intensive help, because it brings them to your office to receive the skills training they need to succeed. They form relationships with ASP professionals and staff, as well as their fellow students at academic risk if they are in a formal class. But these students also need to know that once they have internalized the skills lessons, done the hard work, and followed the advice, they need to know they can do it on their own. Dependency turns sour when students feel they can't succeed without you; you can't be with them during exams, you can't be there with them when they take the bar, and you can't hold their hand in practice. They need to feel self-sufficient again, to know that one bad semester does not mean they are dumb or unable to master new skills without additional guidance. To that end, there are some ways to help students "let go" of ASP:
1) Have the talk. Tell them it's time to try more exercises on their own, without your input. Let them know you will always support them, but part of supporting them is making them self-sufficient.
2) Help them plan. Some students need an explicit plan to help them see that they will be fine on their own. Plan when they will see you again, and what they should do in the interim. Make a triage plan in case they do panic; often the plan itself helps them through the process.
3) Ween them. Spread apart your meetings. If you have a class where you have been giving feedback on all assignments, provide global feedback, not line-by-line feedback. Teach them as a class how to provide feedback to their peers, and give peer-graded assignments. Ask them to critique their own work based on a rubric or a model answer.
4) Brainstorm alternatives. Help them find other areas of support. Many students are too ashamed at the start of the semester to talk to significant others and loved ones about their struggles, but now is the time to teach them how to relate and explain their challenges to those who will be in their lives long after law school. It is critical that these students build support networks and learn to communicate their challenges without falling apart. We do students no favors by always providing the shoulder to cry on, because we can't be there after they leave law school.
We all become attached to our students, but like good parents, we need to know when to let go.
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