July 20, 2012
Don’t “Choke” on the Bar Exam
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Sian Beilock, Associate Professor of Psychology at The University of Chicago and author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveals About Getting It Right When You Have To. The lecture focused on the science of why individuals choke under pressure and how to best avoid performance anxiety. While the lecture did not focus on the stress applicants feel taking the bar exam, it was wholly applicable.
When pressure and anxiety to perform is high (like the bar exam), the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our working memory, focuses on the anxiety instead of recollecting essential information for successful performance. When a student is filled with too much anxiety, regardless of their aptitude, the anxiety interferes with their thought process and almost turns off their working memory to anything other than the stress of the event. This is why we often see highly intelligent and capable students perform below expectations in testing situations.
There are several ways to help students avoid this prefrontal cortex reaction. One, which is often employed by commercial bar reviews, is taking practice tests under timed conditions. These simulations help the brain overcome stress and will likely prevent students from “choking” during their actual test because they have established coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. Therefore, during the real test, they can practically operate on autopilot without stress interfering with their working memory.
Additionally, positive self-talk is an important aspect of testing success. Professor Beilock suggests that writing about your stress for ten minutes before an exam will free working memory. This cognitive function can instead be applied to performing well on the exam.
The simple act of acknowledging fear and stress prior to taking the bar exam could make the difference between passing and failing. I have told each of my students, especially those struggling with intense testing anxiety, to try the writing exercise each morning of the bar exam. I am hopeful that it will calm their fears and help them reach their highest potential next week.
It's About to Begin
Are you about to begin law school? Do you want some advice about how to succeed?
Here it is: Focus on learning, not grades or class rank.
I know, that sounds easier than it is and may even strike you as a little trite; but it is the secret to success in law school. If you focus on learning and compete only with yourself and the material, you are likely to do the one thing that is most important -- prepare yourself to serve that first client.
Three years from now, grades and ranks notwithstanding, some client is going to come to your office and place in your hands something critically important to her. It may be a liberty interest, a property interest, or even her life or the life of a loved one. She may not say it aloud, but by showing up at your door, she will be asking you, begging you, not let to her down.
Your only real job over the next three years is to be ready for her. Keep her in your mind's eye as you study each subject, since you cannot know now what she will put into your hands. Let her face drive your preparation for class, your research and writing projects, everything you do in law school.
Whether that first client is what you imagined will not matter; he or she will be real, and the matter placed in your hands will be critically important. Worry about that over the next three years, and the grades and ranks will take care of themselves. You focus on being ready to take care of that client.
July 19, 2012
The Straight-A Syndrome
When I was a school administrator, I often found that new teachers who had always made
straight A's sometimes struggled to understand why their students could not grasp concepts with the same ease. Those teachers understood deeply the material they were teaching, but they did not necessarily understand their own grasp of it -- in other words, how they had processed the material and mastered it. Lacking that key self-awareness, they had difficulty helping others process concepts deeply because they could not explain the intellectual steps they themselves used.
Law professors can often suffer from the same flaw. Having mastered the law with approaches that came to them seemingly intuitively, they find it perplexing that others cannot do the same if those others are intelligent and hardworking. They believe that students either have the ability to succeed in law school or they don't, and those that don't should wash out without any "propping up" by ASP programs.
Those of us in ASP would agree if things were so simple. In fact, ASP would be unnecessary, as some faculty contend, if success or failure in law school depended exclusively upon innate ability. What we know from our experience with students, however, is that innate ability is not enough; many with the innate ability to excel in law school fail to do so not because they lack the intellectual horsepower or the drive to succeed but because they have been inadequately trained in the strategies required to master the law and cannot make the intuitive leap that some of their more fortunate colleagues can make. That lack of training is by and large nothing more than the luck of the draw.
A student, for example, who has learned how to develop carefully constructed, text-based interpretations of literary works may transfer those skills rather quickly to the highly precise, text-based analyses of judicial opinions. For him, proving that he is accurately seeing the world through the eyes of the author may engage skills that now seem intuitive rather than learned. Another, equally bright student may never have had an opportunity to learn those skills before law school, so those skills come not through intuition but through explicit instruction. That student, once she has mastered the analytical skills, may be better equipped to articulate those skills and the steps to their mastery. She may also have a better sense of where students are likely to make missteps.
She is also likely, as a professor, to gravitate toward ASP or at least to support it. Her colleague for whom legal analysis seemed intuitive may drift in precisely the opposite direction, believing with his whole heart that providing students with ASP “crutches” damages the profession and misleads students who ought to spend their tuition money on something else.
One of the best things I ever did as director of our ASP program was to host luncheon meetings with small groups of professors who taught our first-year courses. I gave them a very brief overview of the program and then took five minutes to show them what I teach students to do for after-class review (I stole the after-class review strategy from Dennis Tonsing). Then I asked them for input to the program. I asked what they saw students struggling with and how I might help them develop strategies to learn more effectively.
The professors were thrilled with what the program was doing and eager to provide input. I have never done anything special that my ASP colleagues around the country are not doing, but now my fellow professors are in on the secret. They realize that I am not propping students up; instead I am handing them the keys to learning the law.
Our non-ASP colleagues are not necessarily insensitive or uncaring; they may simply have never realized how they themselves learn or how others can be taught those learning strategies successfully. We need to take the time to show them what we really do. Some of our colleagues suffer from the straight-A syndrome, and it has an antidote -- us.
July 18, 2012
Job at CUNY Law
Job Title: Director - Irene Diamond Professional Skills Center (Academic Resource Center
Job ID: 6098
Location: CUNY School of Law
Full/Part Time: Full-Time
Directs curriculum development and operations of a learning resource center.
- Designs, implements and monitors a comprehensive student support program based on targeted
academic resources such as tutoring, remedial and/or other related support services
- Administers all curricular, administrative, and financial aspects of the center; oversees design and
delivery of various programs sponsored by the center
- Performs outcomes assessment and creates strategic plan to further develop center offerings
- Ensures ongoing faculty and staff development to support high quality student services delivery;
promotes best practices in field
- Manages annual budget; develops proposals and other initiatives for expanded center funding
- Cultivates and maintains strategic partnerships; serves as primary liaison to faculty and administrators
to plan and execute center activities
- Manages professional, instructional and clerical staff
- Performs related duties as assigned.
Job Title Name: Academic Resource Center Director
Higher Education Officer
CAMPUS SPECIFIC INFORMATION
The Director of the Irene Diamond Professional Skills Center will assist the Academic Dean and the
Director of Academic Support Programs in designing and implementing all aspects of the Law School's
Academic Support Program. This is primarily a teaching position. The Director will work with first- and
second-year students as they develop the doctrinal, academic, study, and time-management skills
necessary for success in the Law School's program of study, on the bar exam, and in practice. The
Director may teach weekly first- or second-year skills sessions; teach academic support sections of
required doctrinal courses; work with students individually or in small groups; and train and supervise
teaching assistants. The Professional Skills Center also designs and administers the Summer Law
Institute (a three-week intensive introduction to law study) and the Pre-Law Program (a mandatory
orientation program for all entering students). The Director will be involved in planning and teaching in
those programs. In keeping with CUNY's integrated approach to academic support, the Director will also
help develop faculty workshops on pedagogy and serve as a resource to faculty in the areas of
skills-based teaching and testing.
The Director may have additional responsibilities as determined in consultation with the Academic Dean
and the Director of Academic Support Programs.
This job may include evening and weekend duties.
Bachelor's degree and eight years' related experience required.
The successful candidate must be committed to the public interest and access missions of the Law
School and the role of an integrated academic support program in law school. She or he should possess
excellent writing, speaking, and organization skills. Experience in a law school academic support
program, or other relevant teaching experience, is strongly preferred. JD degree is preferred.
$82,299 - $102,253; commensurate with experience.
CUNY offers a comprehensive benefits package to employees and eligible dependents based on job title
and classification. Employees are also offered pension and Tax-Deferred Savings Plans. Part-time
employees must meet a weekly or semester work hour criteria to be eligible for health benefits. Health
benefits are also extended to retirees who meet the eligibility criteria.
HOW TO APPLY
To apply, go to www.cuny.edu, select "Employment", and "Search Job Listing". You will be prompted to
create an account. Return to this job listing using the "Job Search" page and select "Apply Now".
It is recommended that you combine your cover letter and resume into one document.
If you have any inquiries, please contact Maryann Ruggiero at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open until filled with review of applications to begin 7/26/12.
JOB SEARCH CATEGORY
CUNY Job Posting: Managerial/Professional
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
We are committed to enhancing our diverse academic community by actively encouraging people with
disabilities, minorities, veterans, and women to apply. We take pride in our pluralistic community and
continue to seek excellence through diversity and inclusion. EO/AA Employer.