Sunday, September 16, 2012

Part II: The power of accountability for students

Some of my students struggle with getting their work done in a timely manner.  They succumb to electronic distractions: cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail.  They take 2 - 3 hour naps.  They allow a 2-hour reading assignment to bleed over into 3 hours.  They wander around the law school chatting with friends. 

Setting up accountability mechanisms works well for many of these students.  They lack  self-discipline, but can meet expectations when someone else is going to monitor what they do.  Some examples of accountability strategies are:

  • Students with major papers to write can set up a series of deadlines when they will confer with their professors or turn in certain work (if the professor is willing): topic discussion; outline of initial research; initial bibliography; first drafts of each paper section.
  • Probation students meet weekly with me and know that I will ask about their reading and briefing, outlining, writing progress, and reviewing for exams each time I see them.  Having to be accountable keeps most of them on track.
  • Married students post their study schedules on the refrigerator at home so that their spouses know when they should be studying rather than watching television.  They give their spouses permission to monitor their time and hold them accountable if they are not adhering to the schedule.   
  • A law student will ask a classmate to help them stick to a study schedule.  The student gives the classmate permission to call them to account if they are wandering around chatting, taking too many breaks, or avoiding an assignment. 
  • A law student agrees to meet another law student at the library for several hours of individual study so that the appointment is incentive to show up and study instead of doing other things.
  • A law student joins a study group that has a weekly agenda of review topics and practice questions  that each member agrees to complete individually before the study group meets.
  • A student calls a significant other or parent every evening and gives that person permission to ask what they accomplished that day in studying.
  • A student uses one of the on-line time management programs to monitor use of time so that it is readily apparent how much time was used for studying versus breaks and other tasks.

Most students do not want to disappoint others even though they regularly disappoint themselves on study tasks.  If accountability provides the initial way for a student to break bad habits regarding starting or completing study tasks, then the law student should  take advantage of the willingness of others to help them stay on track.  In time, studying will hopefully become a matter of self-discipline.  All of them will need self-discipline in practice!  (Amy Jarmon) 

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