Wednesday, April 22, 2009
There is a wonderful piece on teaching in Sunday's New York Times. While the piece is on second career teachers in K-12 schools, the last commentator, Kenneth J. Bernstein, makes some fabulous observations on building trust in the classroom. His opinion rings true for everyone in every classroom; trust is essential to good teaching and learning. We, as professors of law, frequently forget that the content instruction only works for students when they feel safe to stretch their thinking.
"That’s the hard part, thinking more about the students than about the content. It is probably the biggest challenge for many career switchers. One doesn’t have to be their buddy, but one has to build relationships of trust. Through that trust students become willing to try when they are struggling, or to go further even when at first it seems easy.
The most important thing I do, and the hardest, is getting to know the students, and building on those relationships. The pedagogical process of matching one’s instruction to the students is easy.
Building that relationship of trust is vital. If you can’t do it then why should your students learn what you want to teach them? And if you can, become a teacher."
Monday, April 20, 2009
Students come in three general categories right now: students who have "stayed on top" all semester and studied for exams all along (Expert Exam Studiers); students who pulled it together about a month ago and got serious (Energetic Exam Studiers); and students who are only now beginning to focus on exams (Emergency Exam Studiers). Depending on which group a student falls into, I modify the tips I give them.
For Expert Exam Studiers:
- Continue to review material regularly to keep everything fresh in your memory.
- Drill on problem areas within the topics that you have already learned previously. Possibly make flashcards for these areas.
- Complete as many practice questions as you have time to do.
- Spend time learning new material in depth for the last two weeks of class.
- Condense your outlines to 10-15 pages for each course to focus on the "big picture."
- Condense your short outlines to one sheet of paper for each course to use as a checklist (memorized for closed-book exams and on top of your outline for open-book exams).
- Within your professor's parameters for open-book exams, decide how you want to organize the materials.
- Remember that you will have little time to look things up and want any "helps" to be easy to use. Since you have learned the material all semester, you may not need to look up anything!
- Your checklist and condensed outline should serve as your main sources.
- If a code/rule book is allowed:
- Consider how you want to tab it. Color may help. You could use colors for hierarchy (red tab is a main topic, blue tab is a subtopic) or for subject matter (red tab is easements and covenants, blue tab is adverse possession).
- Consider what you want to write in it on the blank pages. Steps of analysis for main concepts. Definitions. Code cross-references for particular topics.
For Energetic Exam Studiers:
- You may still have a fair amount of material to learn deeply for the first time. Divide up new material realistically within the number of days left. Remember to determine the amount of time for each course by considering the difficulty of the course, number of topics to learn, and order of your exams.
- Make sure you are not spending major time on material you already know to avoid working on material you do not know.
- Remember to review material regularly to keep everything fresh in your memory.
- Decide the most efficient and effective way to drill on rules and definitions that have proved difficult: making flashcards, writing the rule ten times, reciting the rule out loud. Balance the time the method takes against the results that method will give you.
- Your best strategy is to study all exam courses every week. If you cannot do that, then make sure that you go back to a course as soon as possible.
- Lay out a study schedule. Fill in the easy days first where it is before your last exam.
- The two days immediately prior to an exam should ideally be for that exam unless you have two exams in a row. In that case you may have to split the time each day.
- The evening before a morning exam and the morning before an afternoon exam should focus on review, not learning new material.
For Emergency Exam Studiers:
- You need to be effective and efficient in everything you do because of the short amount of study time left. Make sure you get the best results in the shortest amount of time. Short cuts are not the same as being effective and efficient.
- Prioritize your studying for each course. Unless you must study the material in a particular order because the material builds on prior material, consider starting with self-contained topics that are most difficult for you or are major areas. Continue through the self-contained topics ending with those that you understand the best already or are very minor areas.
- Although study groups can be helpful, do not substitute group time for time you need to learn the material. You cannot depend on your study group during the exam.
- Do not assume that material covered at the end of the semester will not be tested in as great a depth as earlier material. Some professors test heavier on the last material.
- Remember that unless a professor actually states that a topic is not on the exam, everything is fair game.
Do not go without sleep. You will be more productive in your studies, retain more information, and be more alert on the day of the exam if you are well-rested.
Obviously, the Expert Exam Studiers will know the material at a greater depth, have completed more practice questions, have greater confidence, and have lower stress levels during exams. Energetic Exam Studiers will need to work hard and smart, but may do fairly well on the exams. However, they may not retain as much information (retention will be useful when it comes to the bar review course). Emergency Exam Studiers can still pull it out potentially. However, they are most likely to not reach their academic potential on exams and have minimal long-term retention of material. They also will be more stressed than other studiers.
The good news is that Energetic Exam Studiers and Emergency Exam Studiers can improve their grades, lower their stress, and live up to their academic potential by working with Academic Support professionals during their later semesters. Both types can become Expert Exam Studiers by honing their study strategies. (Amy Jarmon)