Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It is the time in the semester when blame seems to be going around at the same speedy rate as colds and flu. Students are feeling hassled because our weather is ping-ponging regularly between sunny 70s and freezing temperatures. (At your school, it may be ice and snow and torrential rains.) Stress is up because mid-term exams are either in progress or approaching within a few weeks.
We all blame other people or other things for our problems at times. After all, last time I checked, we are all human. And, because we are human, we sometimes get stuck in the blame cycle. It is far better if we can get beyond venting to implementing a plan of action to resolve the difficulty. (Even better, if we can also go the next step to a proactive plan to avoid the same problem in the future.)
Below are some of the common blame game statements that seem to be circulating right now. Each is coupled with an attitude switch to end the blaming and move on to finding the blessing in disguise:
- Blame: My professor has cancelled class so many times because of (fill in: illness, conference travel, special events) that it is impossible for me to understand the course. Blessing: Take advantage of the extra time to review the material and pull it together before class picks up again. Work with a classmate or Tutor/Teaching Assistant if necessary.
- Blame: My professor is so far behind in the syllabus that it is a waste of time to read. Blessing: Review your prior reading before going into class so that you understand it at a deeper level. Use the time you do not need for reading to complete other study tasks: outline the course, review your outline, make flashcards, undertake practice questions.
- Blame: My professor has assigned a mid-term the day after my other mid-term and just before Spring Break because students want to leave early. Blessing: You still have enough weeks before the two mid-terms to schedule your studying to prepare for both mid-terms without sacrificing one grade for the other. Attorneys often have multiple deadlines and cope better if they have previously learned how to juggle multiple projects.
- Blame: My mid-term exam was impossible to (fill in: understand, complete in the time, know what to expect) because the professor did not (fill in: give us practice questions, teach the material, warn us it would be so hard). Blessing: You now have realistic expectations about the exams for this professor and how you need to study. You have time to review your mid-term exam, get suggestions on how to improve from the professor, take proactive measures, and bring your grade up on the final exam.
- Blame: Its nof fair that my professors are speeding up in class when I am busy with (fill in: job hunt for the summer, mock trial try-outs, legal writing projects). Blessing: Again, whether you are busy with personal or other academic tasks at this point in the semester, you are learning how to juggle multiple projects and deadlines. You are also learning about priorities. Attorneys need these skills. Learn it well now, and you will be more successful in the future.
So, I let my students vent a bit. Then, we get on with reality and a game plan to turn lemons into lemonade. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 9, 2009
About this time of year, I hear a lot of students complain that they can not get through the reading each night. They drift off, they are distracted, they can't follow the arguments. This is not an unusual phenomena; law school reading is difficult, requires intense mental effort, and sometimes, it's just boring. Not every case is going to be personally interesting to all students; literature majors don't expect every book they are assigned to be spellbinding, and law students should not expect every case to be compelling. One of the toughest messages for students to hear is that lack of concentration has no magic solution. There is no fairy dusk I can sprinkle on their case books to make the cases more exciting, nor do I have a potion that will help them concentrate when they are studying late at night. I do, however, have a set of behavioral changes that I suggest to increase concentration and retention of the material:
1) Reading: Start with your least favorite subject when you are most alert. If you find Civ Pro (or Torts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Property, etc etc etc) to be the dullest subject, read it first; otherwise, you will put it off and it will be even more dreadful when you are reading it while you are only 1/2 awake.
2) Schedule breaks into your reading. Even if you get into a "flow" state, you need to take a break to get the blood pumping and to give your brain a rest. Break does not mean two hours of video games; a break is a trip to the bathroom, a snack, or one game of spider solitaire.
3) Find your optimal studying environment. Everyone has a different optimal study environment; for some people it is a quiet coral in the library silent study area, but for others, it is in their bedroom at home with classical music playing.
4) Your parents were right: save the fun and games until after the homework is done, or you will never get to it. That doesn't mean don't take a break after a day of classes; a break is good for you if you have been thinking all day. Go running, take a short nap. But if you start watching hours of television, playing video games, or finding other methods of procrastination in the name of "break time" you are going to find it very hard to switch gears and read.
5) If you absolutely can not read a word on the page, take a break and come back to it after you have napped, eaten, or done whatever you need to do in order to focus.
None of my suggestions are groundbreaking; all the student have heard them before at different points in their life. But they are suggestions that are easy to hear and hard to implement; they require the discipline and commitment that many students are lacking now that grades have come out and they are burnt out of the law school experience. It is only in very rare cases that the lack of concentration signals a bigger problem, like a learning disability or ADHD. As a mentioned in my post last week, students need to forgive themselves and give themselves extra time. They are exhausted, and that is to be expected at this time of the year. But there is a line between exhaustion and lack of effort that is easy to cross and hard to come back from. But concentration doesn't come in a magic potion.