July 15, 2011
Covering Material or Answering Questions?
I had the privilege of teaching at CLEO's Attitude is Essential 3-day workshop in Atlanta this past weekend. I co-taught my small group of 25 students with Joanne Harvest Koren of Miami Law. One of the issues that arose in our session was how much time to devote to student questions when we were trying to cover substantive lessons in a compressed time period. Joanne and I decided to spend a significant amount of time answering questions, at the expense of some substantive coverage. I think we made a smart choice, but I think this is something many ASP professionals struggle with when they teach a class or workshop.
The students in our section were an unusually motivated group, which they demonstrated by spending almost twelve hours a day for two and a half days in hotel conference rooms learning about how to succeed in law school. They came with more smart, important questions than we had time to answer. However, there are some questions asked by new students that need to be answered before they can move on to other work. When trying to decide how much time to allot to questions, it's important to judge the importance of the questions to the student. What might seem like something that can be answered at another time might be pressing to the student. If the question stops the student from thinking about anything else, than cutting some coverage helps students focus on what needs to be covered in class. These types of questions are the type that are shared by many incoming students; only one or two students have the courage to raise their hand and ask the question.
Joanne and I found it best to start each session with a general Q and A. We explicitly limited the time and scope of the answers to what we thought was most pressing for the students. At the end of each session, we tried our best to have a more limited Q and A about the material we just covered, so students could leave the session and move on to new material, instead of remaining confused.
What sort of questions were most pressing for incoming law students?
1) How much time should be devoted to law school each week?
2) Do I need to do law school work and nothing else for the next three years?
3) What are the benefits of typing/handwriting notes?
4) How do I explain to my significant other/parents/children that I can't be there for them the way I used to be when I am in law school?
These are all questions that are great to tackle in pre-orientation or orientation. When students are preoccupied with major questions about law school, it uses parts of their working memory that can be devoted to other, more productive things. By spending some time to answer questions, you have more focused students.
Yes, Virginia, there is grade inflation
Hat tip to John Edwards at Drake University Law School for the information below.
A’s Represent 43 Percent of College Grades, Analysis Finds
July 13, 2011, 5:33 pm
Although grade inflation affects all types of colleges, its influence varies by the type of institution, the academic field, and even by region, according to a recent article on college grading. The piece comes from Stuart Rojstaczer, a frequent critic and scholar of grade inflation, and his colleague Christopher Healy, and it includes the most recent data on the pervasiveness of grade inflation—such as the fact that A’s represent 43 percent of letter grades, on average, at a wide range of colleges. According to their analysis, “Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts.”
July 13, 2011
The Purpose of Positive Feedback
Hat tip Corie Rosen and Paula Manning for the following post.
Law school professors are always afraid that if they don't mark everything that is wrong on student work, the student will think that incorrect parts of their paper are correct, and repeat mistakes. However, there is only so much one person can absorb from reading comments on one assignment, and most teachers who give feedback provide too much negative commentary on student work.
Take a few minutes to think back to your time as a student, mentally reviewing your exams after you finished them...do you recall everything that you did right? Or do you recall everything you believed you missed? People are hardwired to think about everything they did wrong. Few people think about the things they did right.
There are two ways to think about exam feedback...trying to focus students on what they did right so they can maximize their strengths, or focusing on what they did wrong. Students already focus on what they did wrong, already feel beat up by the law school process, and many feel demoralized by law school in general. By reframing feedback as a tool to maximize students strengths, with a 3-1 ratio of positive to negative comments, you can help students feel better about their work. A student who feels good about law school and positive about their ability to succeed will spend more time on their assignments than a student who feels like they have so many errors they don't know where to begin. You may find that students who receive positive and negative feedback in the 3-1 ratio actually find their own mistakes, because they are motivated to do their best, instead of focusing on avoiding a bad grade. (RCF)
July 12, 2011
The Dog Days of Bar Preparation
The 4th of July is over. Students have now been studying for the bar exam for at least a month and a half, and they still have weeks to go. Students are tired, and there isn't a break in sight. These are the dog days of bar prep. Many parts of the country are in a heat wave, which means beaches and pools beckon even devoted students.
It is important to keep students going through the dog days of bar prep. Encouragement and strategically timed breaks are critical.
1) Encourage students to mix up their study routines to keep things fresh. It's easy to get bored of bar prep.If they haven't been using flash cards, they should try them now. Study in a different room. Students who try novel ways to mix up their routine recall information better than students who stick with only one method.
2) Breaks are encouraged, but should not be abused. Students need to understand they don't want to peak before the actual exam. If they feel like they are at their very best right now, they need to slow it down. Many super-achievers focus too hard, too soon, and are burnt out before the bar. That is not good.
3) Expect a dip in performance for a week or so. Everyone goes through a period where their progress feels stalled, and they can't find the focus to keep going. It's important to realize that a dip in performance on practice questions is okay if they are still studying.
4) Have an ice cream social for bar studiers, or a movie night that reminds them of why they want to be licensed. Sponsor a night of Legally Blonde or To Kill a Mockingbird. Remind them of why they are putting themselves through this. If money is an issue at your school, ask the development office to sponsor the event. This may be one of the law students last contacts with the school.
5) Shopping should not be a bar prep relaxation technique. This is something I have heard more about recently, in light of the economic challenges facing many law students. Students cannot afford to use shopping as a release, even if they have a job lined up after the bar.
Good luck to all my colleagues who are helping students prepare for bar exams! (RCF)