October 22, 2011
Handling Life's Disappointments
I am going to elaborate on Amy's post from a couple of weeks ago about taking time to care for yourself. Bad, unfair stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone knows how to handle it when it happens to them. Most people take some time, dust themselves off, heal, and move one. When working with law students, some additional context may help explain why our current students may take things a bit harder than previous classes.
The three classes that are presently in law school are different; widespread anecdotal report them as younger, which is the natural consequence of students choosing to enroll in law school after undergrad to avoid a depressed economy. Younger students may have less life experience, and less practice handling the ups and downs of life. Additionally, these students are getting bombarded with press telling them that they are fools and their decision to enroll in law school is a mistake. Add in some disappointments, such as a break-up, a family issue, or a fight with a friend, and it's harder for these students to put their troubles in perspective and see that this, too, shall pass. When all the news is bad and you don't have the life experience to see that everything is temporary, disappointment can morph into depression.
Taking some points from Martin Seligman and positive psychology, there are some strategies for working with students who need some advice handling life's disappointments:
1) Whatever state you are in now is not permanent. It may feel like the pain of a break-up, a bad grade, a fight with a friend will be permanent, but the pain will pass. Just like the excitement of a special day or thrill of a good grade passes, disappointment fades. The more you (the student)focus on the disappointment, the more permanent it will feel.
2) Remember your successes. Failure can seem pervasive when several disappointments hit at once. But no one got to law school as a pervasive failure in life. Everyone has successes. When you increase the level of challenge in your life, you increase the risk of failure and disappointment. Recalling the times you were successful can help you bounce back.
3) Remember that you choose how you frame events in your life. Events, by themselves, are neither good nor bad. Even severe traumas, like the death of a loved one, can be viewed from different perspectives. One perspective focuses on being grateful for the time you had with them, another perspective focuses on how much time you wish you still had with them. Similarly, students suffering through break-ups (so common in the first semester of law school) often spend disproportionate amounts of time focusing on their sadness because that person was "the one" and their whole life was built around them. While it is valid to be sad, focusing on how things will always be negative since the significant other is gone keeps the student in a bad cycle.
4) Remind them that the press doesn't focus on the happy, because that makes for boring news. This is the time of the year 2L's are getting offers for summer employment. Mix in the constant barrage of terrible news about law school, and it's easy for students without a big-firm summer placement to feel like a failure. Students depressed about their prospects need to remember that smaller firms and non-profits hire after the new year, sometimes late into the spring. Just because you, the student, struck out in OCI doesn't mean you will never get a job. The news media fails to note that even during the "boom" years of 2002-2007, not all student got big-firm jobs.
5) As trite as it sounds, failure is the key to success. If you are always winning, how will you handle it when you fail when the stakes are high? Learning from mistakes is critical to future success. Failed relationships teach us how to behave when we meet the right person. Fights with friends teach us how to handle disagreements appropriately. Failed interviews teach us how not to answer OCI questions posed by interviewers.
I realize that ASPer's already have these skills, and they sound obvious. Many of our students have not lived enough to have gained perspective on life's disappointments, which leads them to perseverate on negative events. This can have an immediate impact on grades, because dwelling on disappointments increases cognitive load and decreases the ability to focus on homework, reading, and studying. Focusing on disappointments also negative impacts on motivation. (RCF)
October 21, 2011
Practice Exams Given by 1L Professors
We are entering the time period at our law school when many of our first-year professors in the doctrinal courses give their students practice exams. The exam feedback varies by professor: some give students "grades" (check-plus, check, check-minus, for example). Some professors review the exams in class and hand out an answer key. Exams are usually one fact pattern if essay; they are 10-15 questions if multiple-choice. Some professors will write combination exams.
It always surprises me how many of our first-year students do not take full advantage of these opportunities. Some students choose not to take the practice exams. Those students will go into the final exam without any experience of a law school exam. Some students who take the exams do not study for them at all. Those students often excuse their poor performance with "If I had studied, I would have gotten a good grade." However, that statement may not be true at all - they will never know.
Practice exams allow students to monitor several things for fact-pattern essay exams:
- Do they understand the material as well as they thought?
- Are they able to spot the issues?
- Can they precisely state the rules?
- Are they able to write an organized answer applying the law to the facts with arguments for both parties?
- Can they perform well under timed conditions?
Practice exams allow students to monitor several things for multiple-choice exams:
- Do they understand the material as well as they thought?
- Can they recognize the nuances in the law when choosing a "best" answer?
- Can they perform well under timed conditions?
Students often talk about wanting feedback so that they know how they are doing. Hopefully more students will realize that practice exams allow them to gain feedback - even if it is not of the graded variety (Amy Jarmon)
October 20, 2011
NECASP Annual Conference Reg Info
New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Annual Conference
“ASP Without Stigma: Serving Our Diverse Populations”
Monday, December, 5, 2011
Boston College Law School
Please join us for the third annual NECASP conference at Boston College Law School. This year’s conference will feature admissions professionals and law students discussing who to best attract and serve the increasingly diverse law student population. Keynote speaker will be Jacq Nance, Assistant Director of Admissions, UConn Law School, who will speak about what type of support students look for in law schools.
9:15-9:30-Welcome Address by Dean Vincent Rougeau, Boston College Law School
9:30-10:30-Keynote Address by Jacq Nance, Asst. Director of Admissions, UConn Law School
and Tracy West, Assistant Dean for Students, Diversity Initiatives, and Academic Advising, Boston College Law School
Followed by Q and A
10:45-11:45-Mason Dunn, UNH Law student, LGBT issues and ASP
Followed by Q and A
12-1-lunch and law student panel
Jennifer Kent, BC Law School, BLSA President
Ramey Sylvester, The University of New Hampshire School of Law Diversity Action Coalition
1-2-group discussion of hypothetical situations encountered in ASP
$25, payable by check to NECASP
Please mail checks to: Elizabeth Stillman-Suffolk Law School
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
October 17, 2011
Leaving the Front of the Room: Increasing Student Engagement in the Classroom
One effective response to concerns about student engagement in the classroom—a topic of increasing concern at law schools today—is to return responsibility for learning to the students themselves. One specific technique I have used required me to relinquish control of some classroom components of a skills course and instead trust to the professional response of my students. This shared empowerment can be used effectively in both doctrinal and skills classes. My experience in academic support gave me the confidence and courage to try this experiment.
Here's what I did: I assigned students, in small teams of two to four students, to take responsibility for teaching several classroom components of the course. My motivation for this major and risky step occurred at the beginning of a course in Appellate Advocacy. I could see that the class, for whatever reason, was not engaging with the material as I would have liked.
Some of my colleagues were skeptical of this approach. One concern was whether “students-teaching- students” would result in incorrect information being broadcast to the class. But it was simple enough to monitor the information and I found that it was never necessary, especially since students, for the most part, would have been relying on materials that I would have used anyway.
Another concern, though never stated directly, was the reluctance to step aside from the front of the classroom. This concern may just represent a personal choice and comfort level. For the most part, I didn't see the necessity of being the expert at the front of the room for every minute of the class.
Each team was responsible for researching a topic and deciding how best to present the material to the class. Since there were two to four students in each team, teams had to determine how to choreograph the presentation. In that sense, the exercise presented issues similar to those we face as co-presenters at professional development workshops. Now I see the exercise as one more step in the development of students as professionals.
Not only did students have to complete some research on their team's topics, they also had to make choices about how to present the information. Since each presentation was limited to twenty minutes, students had to choose what to include, which usually meant decisions about what to cut, choices about the medium (slides and video clips were the most popular modes), how the presentation was connected to what we had already seen and covered, and what the class should take away from the presentation (information, hand-outs, etc.). (Slides and handouts were easy to collect and post on the course TWEN page for reference and review.) One assignment required a two-student team to invite an appellate lawyer to the class and then to conduct a conversation-style interview with the lawyer about appellate preparation and practice.
The results were immediately positive. Even though the students, as first-year students, had no experience with the material, they rose to the challenge of the task. I gave them the freedom of deciding how to present: we had everything from conventional slides and handouts, to a generous sprinkling of game-show-style participation exercises (complete with the 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire" count-down music). We also had some skits and, of course, the inevitable “YouTube” clips. The presentations were a stepped progression from an in-class small group exercise to teaching the class.
The presentations also revealed student talents I would not have known about. It was clear who the talented singers were, who were the comics, and who had dazzling PowerPoint skills. It was also clear which students were the leaders in a team. Student teams were playing to their strengths in learning and in demonstrating the information. And I collected some valuable teaching materials including handouts, slides, and presentation ideas.
All of the presentations over the last four years, while not uniformly excellent, were still very well presented, often with points I had not anticipated. The exercises had a profound effect on the class and their positive response to later material in the course.
One final point, and this may be the most important point of the experiment. No grade or credit attached to the assignments, yet students responsibly fulfilled their obligations and the level of conversation about the topics was excellent. I was watching students taking responsibility for their own education, not relying on my topical expertise at the front of the room, but finding new ways of teaching me what I thought I already knew. In short, they kept me engaged too.