Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy holidays

The editorial staff of the Law School Academic Support Blog wish all of you a happy holiday season.  We hope that the following will be part of your break from the academic grind:

  • Time with family and friends
  • Fun and laughter
  • Restful slumber
  • Safe travels
  • Lazy afternoons and evenings
  • And of course: Lots of good food.

For those of you with short breaks because you are administrators, we will be back right after the New Year.  For those of you with faculty status and the longer break, we will see you back here when classes start up.

Best regards for 2010!

(Amy Jarmon)

December 23, 2009 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Opening one's academic gifts

I saw a quote recently that reminded me of 1L law students learning the law.  The quote said: "We are all gifted; some just haven't opened their gifts yet." 

In this holiday season, it summoned up a mental picture of a stack of academic presents for each 1L student.  Each present in the stack carefully labeled: reading cases, briefing cases, etc.

Within the first month, many law students adapt well to their new learning environment.  They become fairly efficient and effective at a number of new tasks: reading, briefing, outlining, analyzing hypotheticals, writing legal documents.  For most students, their "academic gifts" have been opened and employed for success. 

However, some law students lag behind their classmates in becoming proficient in law school.  ASP professionals are often able to assist those students - if they become known to them.  For a number of the students, it all comes together later in that first semester.  

For some, grades will show that it never came together.  Second-semester 1L's who are still struggling - whether or not they are actually on probation - will likely need ASP help to get their gifts opened.  One-on-one assessment of their problem areas and educational plans to assist them will benefit. 

I often find that students who have had trouble missed some basic "how to" information that others caught on to: rules, issue spotting, relevant facts, policy, terms of art, analysis with IRAC.  Many also had deficits in basic skills such as time management, stress management, and organization.  

It may be that they had other outside exigencies that delayed opening their academic gifts: medical, personal, financial.  If those aspects have not been resolved during the semester break, then referrals may be required in addition to any academic skills work.

The hardest students to work with in my estimation are those who do not want to do the hard work that it takes to "open their academic gifts."  If students are not willing to engage in the process and implement strategies that will allow them to succeed, my hands are tied.  It will not matter what I, or others, do to assist them.  Ultimately, they will possibly fail or at least not live up to their academic potential.  (Amy Jarmon) 

December 21, 2009 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The myth of "the right stuff"

Grading is in process.  With grading will come ranking.  With grading and ranking will come probation and academic dismissal decisions.  Such is the cycle of legal education.

We know that our students are talented, bright, and successful.  If they were not, they would not have made it to law school.  Occasionally over the years, I have heard law professors from various law schools and legal specialties make comments that some law students "don't have the right stuff."  I think that perception is unfortunate.

I realize that the law is not always a good match for every student.  One of my best friends in law school left because he couldn't see himself spending a lifetime being unhappy in a discipline that he didn't enjoy - his grades were not the problem.  Several students with whom I have worked are happily and successfully pursuing other careers or graduate degrees because law just wasn't for them.  They had the courage to walk away.

It is true that some students do not do well because they never get the hang of "thinking and writing like a lawyer."   Academic dismissal because of grades at the end of the first year (or later) is not necessarily a bad process.  However, what bothers me is when people make comments about students as if they are inferior because they are unable to master the law. 

We are all blessed with differing gifts.  I celebrate my students' differences in learning and help them apply their gifts to legal education.  However, I do not think less of the students who work extremely hard but never master legal education.  They have valuable gifts to share with others outside the law.

It seems to me that we need to honor our students' gifts.  Even if the decision is made by the law school that they cannot continue, it should never be couched in language that suggests they are failures or "lesser beings."  Instead, we should always be aware that those students will be successes in other fields.  We should give them hope of finding their niches and not add to their distress by suggesting they do not have what it takes.  (Amy Jarmon)   

December 18, 2009 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Grading Grind

Okay, so this begins the part of the semester that is a least-favorite among many of us...the grading grind. In ASP, we tend to grade year-round, so it's not quite the flurry that it is for doctrinal law professors. But nonetheless, I am swamped with papers that need to be corrected, and grades due Dec 22 for my undergrads (much later for my law students).  Here are some pieces of simple advice if you are new to grading or giving feedback on papers:

1) Give yourself a break at between 3-5 papers. If you try to do more than that, you start to get irritated, and it will show in the grades. And that is not fair to the students.

2) At least scan them all once after you have assigned grades. Since it is not wise to grade everything at once due to fatigue, you need to be sure you are using a consistent standard.

3) Rubrics help. They are smart pedagogically, but they also can help keep you consistent.

4) Plan ahead. Grading takes much, much longer than you think it will when you start in ASP. I can easily spend an hour or more on each paper, even when I am not giving detailed feedback (which I almost always do).

5) If you are giving feedback (and you should), be sure students can understand what you are writing. After 3-5 papers, handwriting tends to become sloppy. And feedback can't help a student if they can't read it!

6) Be gentle. It's easy to become snarky and frustrated when you see the same error for the nth time. But think of it this way...if you think you are frustrated with the mistake, chances are the student is much, much more frustrated with themselves that they can't get a concept, no matter how hard they try.

7) Don't try to eat and correct papers. It's gross when a paper is returned to a student covered in food gunk and icky-ness. Don't be that person. (That being said, I think we have all been that person at least once).


December 15, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

First-grade students' proverbs

The following list of proverbs was sent to me by our main campus Institute for the Development and Enrichment for Advanced Learners (IDEAL).  I have worked with IDEAL on several occasions to provide opportunities for our pipeline students at a local high school.  The list made me chuckle, and I wanted to pass on some of the proverbs for your weekend amusement.

The proverbs were written by a group of first graders.  Their teacher gave the children the first half of the proverb and asked them to complete the rest creatively.  Here are some of the versions they came up with for their list:

  • Better be safe than..........punch a fifth grader.
  • Never underestimate the power of..........termites.
  • No news is..........impossible.
  • A miss is as good as a...........Mr.
  • An idle mind is..........the best way to relax.
  • Happy the bride that..........gets all the presents.
  • Where there's smoke, there's..........pollution.
  • A penny saved is..........not much.
  • Two's company, three's.........the Musketeers.
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry have to blow your nose.
  • Children should be seen and not..........spanked or grounded.

Have a wonderful weekend.  (Amy Jarmon)

December 12, 2009 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Welcome to the New ASP Director at U of Cincinnati School of Law


On behalf of the Law School Academic Support Blog, I would like to welcome Joel Chanvisanuruk to our community.  Please be on the lookout for Joel at upcoming conferences and workshops so that you can welcome him personally to ASP.  Joel provided the short bio below so that you can get to know him better.  (Amy Jarmon)


Joel Chanvisanuruk the new Director of Academic Success Programs at the Universiry of Cincinnati College of Law.  In this role, he presents workshops and works individually with law students to help them adapt to law school curriculum, prepare for exams and improve their academic performance in order to achieve their full academic potential as a law student.  Joel also oversees the Pre-Prep Program (3P) that helps 3L law students gear up for the bar examination. Prior to joining the University of Cincinnati College of Law, Joel was the Associate Director of Career Planning and Professional Development at Washington & Lee University School of Law.   Before entering the field of law student services, Joel served as a U.S. Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) litigating employment matters for the United States Forest Service and the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC.  Joel obtained a Master of Public Affairs in Public Management and Comparative International Affairs from Indiana University, Bloomington and a B.A. in Philosophy from Bradford College.  Prior to law school, he served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Sosnowiec, Poland.

Joel is a certified administrator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Joel also currently serves as Chair of the National Association or Law Placement’s (NALP) GLBT Section.

December 11, 2009 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Tribute to Movies

You may be wondering why a posting under the category "Exams - Studying" would be about movies.  No, I am not going to suggest that students watch Paper Chase or Presumed Innocent.  Instead, I am strongly encouraging them all to purchase a ticket to the local cinema.

During law school, I saw more movies than any other time in my life.   Why did I watch so many movies?  Here are my reasons:

  • It is impossible to sit in a movie theater and worry about law school.  The plot catches up every thought and catapults the viewer into another world and other lives.
  • Unlike a DVD or Movie on Demand at home, there is no pile of books on a desk in one's line of vision to beckon one back to studying.  The guilt factor disappears because one is out of the study milieu.
  • Movies reminded me that law school was not the "real world" for most people.  Movies allowed me to retreat from the fish bowl of law school and be an ordinary citizen again.
  • Although my favorites were comedies (because they made me laugh) and children's films (because they depended on imagination and not critical thinking), other genres can equally allow healthy escapism.  I would not recommend a law-related plot, however, because it defeats the purpose of going to the movies.
  • Most movies allow for approximately 2 hours of total diversion when one relaxes completely instead of stressing about memos, papers, or exams.  Enough time to relax, but not so much time as to waste an entire day.

So, here is to the matinee ticket - cheap and cheerful!  Give your brain cells a break.  Relax completely, and then go back to the books refreshed.  (Amy Jarmon)

December 11, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving, and Reminding Students to Really Be Thankful

Every once in a while I will recommend an article or story to students that has nothing to do with law school. The article usually reflects on what it means to really appreciate everything they have, even in a terrible job market, with debt, with grade-anxiety.  I think that taking a look outside the law school (and legal market) echo chamber to  read about real struggles and real triumphs does not diminish their concerns, but reminds them that they still have reasons to smile.  Law student concerns are real, significant, and can be debilitating, but it is also good to remember that the world is much bigger than their law school.

There are not a lot of articles that I believe fit the bill; many are just depressing (and law students don't need any more reasons to be depressed) or have a negative tone. I seek the rare article that discusses a real challenge, where there may not seem to be a lot of hope, but perseverance of spirit makes all the difference. It doesn't need to have a traditionally happy ending, but it needs to remind students that the basic things in life are, indeed, things not be forgotten.

The first article I recommended to students was more than a few years ago, while at was at Arizona State. The article was "The Ballad of Big Mike" about Michael Oher. Michael Oher story's is now in movie theaters as "The Blind Side" with Sandra Bullock (I haven't seen the movie).The article made me cry, but made me happy to be human, an American, to be blessed with so many things I don't think about (like a bed or parents). Law students concerns don't go away when they read a story like Michael Oher's, but it can remind them that law school, as well as friends, family, and health, are tremendous blessings not to be ignored.

This week I read an article that I will pass on because it had the same effect on me; "Would My Heart Outrun It's Pursuer?" by Gary Presly. The author is a quadriplegic, at both the beginning and the end of the story. It's not about miracle cures or treacly sentiment. It does, however, remind the reader of why friends are amazing things, limbs that work are a gift, and why we need to believe in ourselves, even when we have real reasons to think we are not worthy. 

I don't feel that I am preparing students for careers in the legal profession if I don't help them remember their humanity and their worth.  Right now, law students are in a pressure-cooker, and positive news in a law school is rare.  But theirhumanity, their spirit is something that needs to be nourished no matter what the economic conditions look like, no matter how many exams they are facing. (RCF)

December 3, 2009 in Disability Matters | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)