Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Failure as a choice

ASP'ers want students to succeed.  We want them to live up to their academic potential.  We want them to get A's and B's as often as possible.  We want to congratulate them on their hard work.  We want to see them blossom as they learn management skills to deal with stress, time, and organization. 

Let's face it, most of us are practical problem solvers at heart.  We desire to point students in the right direction.  We suggest strategies and techniques that are based on learning or memory research.  We teach all of the basic legal study skills.  We brainstorm with students for possible solutions to their unique issues.    

A few students get sidetracked by obstacles beyond their control: undiagnosed learning disabilities, hospitalization, family emergency, personal tragedy.  They may have chosen to succeed but had their efforts cut short.  These students' resulting academic difficulties may well reflect their exceptional circumstances rather than a choice to fail.

However, other students choose failure rather than success through a variety of daily decisions.  They choose not to attend ASP workshops.  They choose not to ask their professors for help.  They choose not to attend structured study groups or tutoring sessions as 1L's.  They choose not to use appropriate study aids to clear up their confusion.  They choose not to complete practice questions for feedback.  Even students who are required to participate in ASP can choose not to implement what they learn.

Some students compound these choices with other behaviors.  They skip appointments for the flimsiest excuses.  They do not prepare for class.  They take their maximum absences without concern for learning.  They party rather than study.  A few may even feel entitled to good grades merely because they pay tutition and have succeeded in the past.  A few may try to coast on their gifts of gab and ingratiating charm.

At law schools where there is not a second chance, students are suddenly faced with the consequences of their decisions.  At law schools where a period of probation allows "rehabilitation" for prior decisions, many students will make new choices to succeed so that the consequences will not be dire.  However, some probation students will have damaged their GPA's so severely that academic dismissal will become an almost certain mathematical conclusion.  

ASP'ers can offer services, warn about bad choices, and counsel students about behaviors.  But, sad as it may be, we cannot stop some students from exercising their personal right to fail.  (Amy Jarmon)  

April 8, 2010 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My book list, continued

After my post of Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated, I received emails asking for non-ASP-specific book suggestions. I am a voracious reader. I will be giving this much more thought over the next couple of months, but these are some of the books that are on my reading list (meaning I already own them, but have not yet finished them) or books that I have finished, and jump out at me when I think of great non-ASP books:

(I am including links for a couple of them...they are not links to the book, but links on information from the books that is specifically relevant to ASPer's)

Drive:The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink: Just starting this one. For those of us who work with students who have lost their motivation, this is a synthesis of the best psych research on how to rekindle love of learning. And a great way to reinforce the importance of Larry Kreiger and Ken Sheldon's work on law students to colleagues.

What Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain: Read this a couple of years ago. A fabulous, non-discipline-specific study of what popular, and more importantly, effective teachers do so their students learn and stay excited by learning.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: Covers similar territory as Talent is Overrated, but Malcolm Gladwell is fun to read. This is the beach-book that feels more like mind candy than education.

The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo: Read it. Loved it. An account of theStanford Prison Experiment in 1971, where ordinary students inflicted torture upon their peers in an experiment by Stanford professor Phil Zimbardo.  A great introduction to situational psychology (we are not good or evil, but deeply and profoundly influenced by the situations we are in).  Will really help you think about how the structure of law school, and ASP, can produce unexpected and sometimes toxic results. 

SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner: Includes information on fabulous work being done on what creates great achievement. General-purpose smartness is essential, but deliberate practice is key.

Sway:The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman: Haven't started this yet, but it is on my bookshelf. All of us have students every year who make us want to bang our head into a wall. They know what to do. You know they can do it. But they continue to make bad, self-destructive choices. We see the same bad, irrational choices every year, yet just can't seem to root them out of the student body, not matter how many programs you run to change behavior. I am hoping this book will provide me with a better understanding of why students make some of the frustrating choices that leave me scratching my head.


April 7, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Managing your workload

Amy's post on banquet season brought up something I have been thinking about for a while: managing the ASP workload. This is the season for all sorts of extra activities. It is wonderful to attend these for yourself and for your students. It's great when they get to see you as a real person, not just an ASPer.

For many of us, ASP is a labor of love.  When we do something not for the paycheck, but because we feel it needs to be done, we can forget what our needs are, as an individual.  We need to remember that just because it needs to be done, we don't necessarily have to be the one to do it. We help no one in the long term when we get burnt out or chronically sick because we have spread ourselves too thin (my personal aside: this coming from someone who is just making it back to work after nearly two weeks out sick, including a day in the hospital). 

Choose the activities that will give you the most bang for your buck; where will you see the most students? Choose to attend activities where you can multi-task in a productive way: get credit for faculty attendance (required at some schools) and socialize with students.  Think about your administrative tasks: do you need to do them, or can you get a student worker to help? Can you create joint programs, such as etiquette and professionalism dinners co-sponsored by Career Services? Think about asking for help or ideas from other ASPer's. You don't need to re-invent the wheel for every program; it's okay to contact an ASPer you trust and tweak their program or PowerPoint to meet the needs of your students. 

I think what is more challenging is setting limits on ourselves when designing programs we want to do, not the programs we need to do. Many of us see the same problems year after year. We know how to create programs that can alleviate the issue before it arises. It can be frustrating to know how to solve or alleviate a problem and not have the human resources to devote to the solution.  It's helpful, at the start of the school year, or the semester, to wish-list your own programs, and rank-order which ones you think will be the most important. You may need to cut a program or two not because they are ineffective, but because you are only one person. You shouldn't expect that you, on your own, can solve the problems of several hundred students.

I had a list of goals I developed for my 6-month review in December. By February, I realized that the goals need to be reviewed and re-organized. In the end, I had to cut a study program for college seniors because it would have spread me too thin, and would have fallen short of my expectations for the program because I would not have been able to devote enough time to it. Instead, I was able to devote more time and resources to the Pre-Law Prep Camp at UConn (think pre-orientation, but open to all seniors and alumni going to any law school, offered during the spring before law school commences). Did it hurt to cut the study program? Absolutely. If I could have given it 100%, or even 80% effort, I think it could have been a success. But looking at my schedule, I was already working 6 days a week (Pre-Law Prep Camp is Saturdays from 9-12), and spending at least 2 nights a week working until at least 9 on special enrichment programs for students. As much as I love discussing New York Times articles with students over dinner or going with them to see performances by the Connecticut Repertory Theater, it's exhausting. The study program would have received less than 50% of the effort it needed to be a success. In the long term, it would have turned students off to the idea because it would not have been well done. Instead, I am keeping the idea in my goal list, but I will implement it when I can do it right.  (RCF)

April 5, 2010 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)