Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Structuring a hybrid ASP-doctrinal course

After my post on retrieval practice, I have received a few questions about how I structure my Remedies course at UConn. It is an ASP-Remedies course for 2L's, with equal emphasis on ASP and Remedies. Before I go any further, I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Mike Schwartz for helping me get the course started, and for his suggestion of Remedies as a good subject matter for an ASP-focused doctrinal course. In this particular area, he is the master, and I am still the student.

After two years of trying to incorporate ASP into the Remedies material, I decided to try something different this year. So far, I am liking this structire MUCH better than how I have structured the course in the past. The first hour of the course is usually a skills lesson. I explicitly teach a skill, such as case briefing or outlining, using materials we have previously covered in class. The first hour of class serves not only to teach ASP, but also reviews prior concepts in Remedies.

The second hour of the class is Remedies. Because I only spend an hour of a three hour, three credit course on doctrinal subject matter, I remind students that the course is not designed to be a comprehensive course in Remedies, but an introduction to the material. Unlike a traditional law school course, I make my thinking explicit as I teach.

The last hour of the course is an exercise, either group exercise or a mini-test, but something that tests their skills so students get immediate (or nearly immediate) feedback on their learning.

A little more about why I chose this structure...

I put the skills lesson first because it allows for review. Another teacher could probably put the Remedies lesson first, and then use the skills lesson to reinforce the Remedies lesson. However, I am (primarily) a deductive thinker, and starting with a review allows me to help students create a "big picture" of the course. I don't think there is a right or a wrong answer here, just personal preference.

I added the last portion of the class this year, to reflect the lessons from this year's AALS meeting. I think it is important to note that my skills practice also asks students to think about other issues they will be seeing in future classes. So my skills exercise on the day we discussed damages for conversion had an issue dealing with unique goods. I didn't expect students to answer the issue on unique goods, but I wanted them to start contemplating how damages for conversion might be different if the good was one-of-a-kind. I think that giving students a problem before they see the issue in a case helps them better understand how the issue could come up in the real world.

Another addition to the class this year is explicit connection to Remedies in the practice context. I have to rely on the expertise of friends and colleagues for this part of the lesson, since I did not practice in an area where this was relevant. But even small hints about how damages will be relevant to my students when they are in practice makes the course seem more useful to them. I had the great benefit of speaking with a very experienced state supreme court justice a few years ago, and he shared with me the ways he thinks Remedies is one of the most important concepts for students to learn. I, in turn, share his lessons with my students throughout the semester, as well as the lessons of other practioners I have spoken with about how damages work in practice. (RCF)

October 13, 2011 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #101111 - Refer to Facts; Don't Repeat Them

It is important to avoid repeating and summarizing the facts presented in the question. Some students begin their answers with a summary of the facts.  Others quote, paraphrase, or summarize a segment of the facts as they begin their treatment of an issue.

In every law exam question, the professor wrote the facts and does not relish the idea of reading them again. What he or she wants to read is the student’s analysis of how those facts interplay with the legal requirements to achieve a resolution of the problem.

Another reason to avoid repeating the facts is more utilitarian: the fewer key strokes you use to write facts, the more time you will have to analyze. That’s where the points are: analysis!

That’s the exam tip set out as a “don’t” (that is, what not to do). Now let’s look at the other side of the coin—what frame of mind to adopt (a “do” instead of a “don’t) to help you avoid this exam-answering pitfall. When answering these essay questions, think of your audience (reader) as, let’s say, an informed attorney or a colleague (law student) who is quite familiar with the nature and purpose of law in general; who has read the fact pattern; and who has a passing familiarity with the area of law you’re addressing, but needs to be reminded of the precise rules of law. Then proceed as if you are explaining the situation to that person.

This will help you “refer” to the facts. If you were explaining a situation to a colleague who is already familiar with the facts, and you were addressing the issue of apprehension of imminent harm (an assault issue), you could start by writing:

“A week after Dina, age 16, stopped taking her medication, she approached a neighbor, Paul, as he walked along the sidewalk fronting Mary's home. When she has a face to face with Paul, Dina, without provocation, gestured threateningly and screamed, ‘I  know you're out to get me and I'm going to get you first,’ and then strode away.” – and then continue with your analysis.  (58 words)

Or, you could simply refer to Dina’s statement, because your colleague who already knows the facts.  That might read like this:

“Dina's statement should not have led to a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm. Although her approach, threats, and screams could have created apprehension in Paul, nevertheless her threatening statement was in the future tense, ‘I'm going to ….' Therefore, there is no reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.”  (47 words)

The second example is much more concise, and takes care of the entire issue. This is a good example of referring to facts rather than repeating them.

So, in short order, here’s the rule to follow when answering essay exams: refer to facts as they come up during your analysis and discussion; don’t repeat or summarize them.

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

October 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oscar Salinas joins UNC Law

Oscar "O.J." Salinas is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law.  He teaches Research, Reasoning, Writing, and Advocacy and assists with the law school's academic success programs.  O.J. is an honors graduate from the University of Dayton School of Law and has a Master's in Counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio ("UTSA").  Prior to joining UNC, O.J. taught undergraduate Learning Communities academic support courses at UTSA.  He also taught criminal justice courses and a graduate level seminar that focused on legal reasoning and oral advocacy at UTSA.

Please welcome O.J. to the academic support community when you meet him at a workshop!  His faculty page with additional informatioin on the UNC Law web site can be found here:  O.J. Salinas Faculty Profile

October 11, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Have you read the syllabus?

Many students never read the syllabi for their courses.  I have discovered both in teaching my three elective law classes and in talking with law students about academic success.  Not only do they not read syllabi as a natural tendency, but they often don't even read them after prompted to do so by the professors.

My syllabus always includes course objectives for the course, the learning outcomes for the course, details on attendance and participation, details on the graded assignments, details on the final, tips for success in the course, reading assignments, and the usual university/law school policies: accommodations, attendance, religious holidays, cell phones.  In short, I try to include everything that my students need to know about what they will be learning, how to succeed in that learning, and how they will be assessed.

Like many of my colleagues, I give my students a "tour" of the syllabus the first day of class.  I point out the highlights and ask them to read the syllabus in detail before the next class.  I tell them that I will take questions on the syllabus at the beginning of the class.  There are rarely any questions.

Yet over the semester, I will repeatedly get questions from my students on things that were in the syllabus.  The questioner will often start with "I was wondering if you could tell me" or "a group of us were wondering about" or "when will you tell us about."

In my academic success work, I regularly ask students questions about their final exam formats or project details or weighting of grades.  Sometimes they will not know the information because the professor has not supplied any information.  However, most often it is because they never read the syllabus. 

When we look at the syllabus (often carefully filed in the front of their class folder or binder), we discover lots of useful information.  They often looked surprised (and a bit sheepish) when we find each informational point that we need to strategize how to do well in the course.

Here are some things in many syllabi that can help students plan their studying and exam strategies:

  • What is the range of pages for reading assignments during the semester?  This information allows the student to build a routine time management schedule for reading and briefing for a course with a more realistic estimate for the amount of time.
  • What are the deadlines or other dates important to the course?  Any dates for paper outlines or drafts, assignments, midterms, or other items should immediately go into a daily planner or monthly calendar.  Now the student is ready to "work backwards" to include the steps or study topics that must be completed to meet that deadline.
  • What details are given about the papers, projects, or other assignments?  The information in the syllabus will alert students to page-lengths of papers, group or individual participation on projects, possible re-write opportunities, Honor Code warnings, or other information that helps the student accurately gauge the assignment difficulty and logistics.
  • What weighting is given to each graded portion of the class?  If participation is 20% of a seminar grade, then the student better start participating!  If the mid-term is 50% of the grade, then the student should take studying for it equally serious as the 50% final exam.  If the advanced writing requirement paper must be of "B or higher" quality, then the student needs to distribute enough time throughout the semester to guarantee reaching that standard.   
  • Does the professor recommend any study aids or other supplements for the course?  Any recommendation is likely to be a study aid that matches the course content and is considered reliable.  Although the student may use other study aids as well, the professor's recommendation should be "a first stop."
  • What will the exam formats be?  Whether essay, multiple-choice, true-false, short answer, or some combination, the format tells the students the type of practice questions to do throughout the semester in preparation for the exam.
  • Does the professor give any additional study tips for the course?  Professors often know the pitfalls for students and make suggestions to assist them. 

A careful read of the syllabus at the beginning of the semester can garner valuable information for the student.  Misunderstandings of the expectations and requirements can be easily avoided.  (Amy Jarmon)





October 10, 2011 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)