Friday, August 30, 2013
Hat tip to Paul Caron of the Tax Professor Blog for his post on Mark Edmundson's book, Why Teach?
The link to the post is: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2013/08/why.html
Sunday, August 25, 2013
I run a study group program in which 2L's and 3L's lead study groups for first-year students. Assisting me is a "senior study group leader" who visits the groups (because I am a professor, I do not visit the groups for fear of disrupting the dynamics). The senior leader observes quietly, and meets later with the group leader to discuss what the group leader thought went well and what he would like to have improved. I always tell my senior leader to spend the first three weeks popping into the groups and waiting until she "catches the study group leader doing something right." She then jots a note or dashes off a quick email to the leader telling him what he was doing effectively and why she thought it so effective.
I used the approach when I was a secondary school administrator working on staff development. The effect was amazing. I quickly became perceived as a supportive coach rather than a critic, and therefore a welcome visitor to the classroom. Within a short three weeks, I could meet with the instructor and simply ask what the instructor thought went well and what might have gone better. The instructor would nail both questions with uncanny accuracy 99.9% of the time. We would then brainstorm how to capitalize on the successes and improve the weaknesses. Most of the time, the instructor discovered both answers with little or no prompting from me.
We would do well to use a similar approach in our individual meetings with students. Perhaps we should always first try to catch our students "doing something right" and tell them why it is "right" -- i.e., consistent with what we know are effective learning strategies. Then we can ask the student what she thinks may not be working as well as she would like. A little guided reflection will probably yield not only an accurate assessment but a predictably useful solution as well, generated not by us alone, but by the student herself in partnership with us. She will own the solution and will be more likely to implement it. A little follow up may be all that is needed after that.
Friday, August 23, 2013
This week all the students came back to school; it's wonderful. I am teaching Property for the first time, to evening students. Teaching a 1L course for the first time is nerve-wracking, although I have eight years experience teaching at the law school level, and five years teaching doctrinal courses. I had prepared all summer. I had retreated to my father's distraction-free vacation house in Vermont to cram for four days before the start of the semester, just in case there was something I missed during my summer-long preparation. I didn't feel ready (I never do), but I knew I had done everything I could to prepare for this course.
Yesterday was my first Property class. I had planned for an interactive class, exploring the origins of Property law and the theories behind the development of Property. I planned to use a series of images to show how legal positivism effected our understanding of property as a government-regulated set of rights and duties. And then...the projector did not work. A call to IT later, I learned that it started overheating earlier in the day, and it could not be fixed for class. I had 2 minutes, and I had to re-work my lesson plan, removing the discussion and the use of images.
Teaching snafus happen, usually at the least opportune time. It was my first class, at a new school, with new students. Yet the class was a success. It was not as good as my original lesson plan, but the students didn't know what they were missing. The students were excited to have a class that focused on discussion.
New teachers see veteran teachers with their class, but they rarely see the snafus that are a normal part of the teaching process. There is no magic to avoiding teaching snafus. I over-prepare for class, because I live in terror of losing my memory and having nothing to say to students. Although I wanted to use images to illustrate complex theoretical concepts, I knew the material well enough to teach it in myriad ways. Other veteran teachers prepare just enough, and trust the teacher-student interaction, fueled by intellectual curiosity, to carry them through any mishaps.
Trust your students. They want to learn. Even when a topic is new to you, you have more experience than your students. You have have enough material to impart the lessons they need.
New teachers...snafus will happen. (RCF)
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Students often ask how to determine which concepts in a case should end up as part of the case brief’s reasoning section. Because judges do not simply ramble in their opinions, every sentence is an important part of the reasoning that drives the opinion. Therefore, what should students capture in their case briefs?
The answer lies in one of the key purposes of briefing cases: identifying the legal principles and the logical steps that will be necessary for resolving similar issues on an exam. In other words, students should learn to brief cases the way lawyers brief them – to draw out the analytical templates courts use when addressing particular issues. In doing so, students will not only begin preparing themselves for their exams, they will accomplish the most important purpose of briefing cases: training themselves to think like lawyers and judges.
They should focus the reasoning portion of their briefs on the future. They should ask themselves which concepts will be useful to them when they are answering an exam question; those are the ones they want to capture and later put into an outline that will guide their analyses on the exams.
Below is a list of the types of concepts students should watch for, not only in the cases but also in class discussions. In fact, if they print off this list and keep it next to them when they are in class and when they are reading and briefing for class, they may find it easier to separate the important concepts from the background and case-specific concepts that will not likely drive a future analysis.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BE GETTING FROM READINGS AND CLASS DISCUSSIONS?
Key themes running through the course
Accurately stated rules
Precise understanding of the logic underlying the rules, tests, definitions, and their
corollaries and exceptions
Key policy aims underlying each rule, etc.
Essential steps in the logic of applying each rule, etc.
Critical similarities and differences among rules, among tests, etc.
Critical attributes of facts that satisfy or do not satisfy the rules, definitions, etc.
Archetypal fact patterns that implicate each rule
i.e., what dynamics are always present when a particular rule is implicated?
E.g., transferred intent in battery: one person always propels something toward another and hits a third person instead. The means could be throwing, driving, mailing, pushing, or any of a thousand other means. The dynamics always boil down to the same thing.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
The following announcement was posted on the Balance in Legal Education listserv by Mike Schwartz and may be of interest to many ASP'ers who also teach other classes:
Please save the date for the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning's Summer Conference hosted by Northwestern University School of Law, "What the Best Law Teachers Do," June 25 - 27, 2014, in Chicago.
Published by Harvard University Press and currently sweeping the legal blogs, What the Best Law Teachers Do introduces readers to twenty-six professors from law schools across the United States, featuring close-to-the ground accounts of exceptional educators in action. Join us to
interact with these instructors and learn more about their passion and creativity in the classroom and beyond.
Confirmed presenters at this conference include Rory Bahadur (Washburn University School of Law), Cary Bricker (University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law), Roberto Corrada, (University of Denver, Sturm College of Law), Meredith Duncan (University of Houston Law Center), Paula
Franzese (Seton Hall University School of Law), Heather Gerken (Yale Law School), Nancy Knauer (Temple University, James E. Beasely School of Law), Andy Leipold (University of Illinois College
of Law), Julie Nice (University of San Francisco School of Law), Ruthann Robson (CUNY School of Law), Tina Stark (retired, formerly Boston University School of Law), and Andy Taslitz (American University Washington College of Law).
The co-authors of What the Best Law Teachers Do, Sophie Sparrow, Gerry Hess, and Michael Hunter Schwartz, will provide a framework for the presentations and a global sense of the takeaway lessons from their study.
Presenters teach a wide variety of courses across the curriculum including administrative law, civil procedure, clinics, constitutional law, criminal law, criminal procedure, election law, family law,
labor law, legal writing, pretrial advocacy, professional responsibility, property, sexuality and the law, torts, transactional drafting, and trial
Please mark your calendars for June 2014.
Michael Hunter Schwartz | Dean and Professor of Law UALR
William H. Bowen School of Law
(o) 501.324.9450 | (f) 501.324.9433
twitter.com/deanmhschwartz | ualr.edu/law firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Friday, August 16, 2013
We are wrapping up orientation here at UMass, and here are some thoughts about what can go right and wrong during orientation:
1) Orientation is the time to set the tone for law school.
Orientation sets the tone, and too often, the tone is "let's scare you out of your wits." It's hard to come back from that. Let them know it's hard work, but you are their for them, and they can succeed. If students start the year feeling like their faculty and administration are unapproachable, they will not approach. I know some crotchety professors think that is a good idea--they are wrong. If a student can't talk to you before a small issue becomes a major catastrophe, you will be dealing with that major catastrophe for a long time.
2) Orientation is not the time to practice "hide the ball" with new students.
Most law schools have a practice class during orientation (ours is tonight). Too many times, I have seen professors try to prove how clever they are by starting with "hide the ball." It's a very bad idea. "Hide the ball" is a bad idea, but it's a very bad idea during orientation because the students have no context. They have no idea that "hide the ball" is a method of teaching word clarification, examining ambiguity, or eliciting student opinions. It's a technique that alienates and confuses students when they already feel overwhelmed.
3) They don't need to know everything right now...so follow up!
I am guilty of the belief that I need to teach them everything up to outlining in orientation. But too much information too soon just confuses new students. They need the essentials; how to read, how to brief, and where to go for more information. Save the advanced lessons for workshops later in the semester. This also saves you a major headache; if you overwhelm students during orientation, you will just need to re-teach the lessons at a later date anyway.
4) Orientation should be a whole-school event.
Orientation should not be an ASP-and-legal writing affair; the whole school should be a part of orientation. Let students meet the amazing night staff in the library. Introduce them to the maintenance staff who will save them when they lock themselves out of the building, their car, or get trapped in an elevator or bathroom. Let them meet ALL the professors; show them that the entire school is behind their success.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Most law schools will hold orientation for new first-year students within the next couple of weeks. It is an exciting time - and a bit scary. Here is my top ten list of things 1L students should think about and do before arriving for the first day of law school:
- Move in a few days ahead of time to get unpacked and settled. You will feel less hassled if your apartment is ready, you have explored your new city, and you have taken care of cable, Internet, and errands before orientation begins.
- Take care of as many school-related tasks as you can beforehand: parking permit, school e-mail account, immunizations, payment of bills, and other items. Most law schools have ways for you to accomplish many tasks on-line ahead of your arrival.
- Make a list of the reasons why you want to go to law school and to be a lawyer. When you get tired during the semester, the list will remind you why all of the hard work is worth it.
- Make a list of the personal attributes that you have and the values that you hold dear. These things make you unique and worthwhile as a person. When you get overwhelmed and begin to wonder who you are, the list will ground you and remind you that you are still that unique and valuable person.
- Consider what you want to say to introduce yourself to the myriad of new people you will meet. Everyone who is a new first-year student is outstanding, so bragging and bravado will probably be less successful than you may think. You want to come across confident and genuine. Also think about the different audiences that you will be meeting: fellow 1L students; upper-division students; professors; decanal staff.
- Spend time with your family and friends now. You are going to enter a very busy phase in your life. You will not have the same amount of leisure time as you have been used to previously. Fill your last summer days with quality time spent with others.
- Participate in your favorite activities before you leave home. Go to the movies; play pool with friends; go hiking or camping; spend the evenings salsa dancing; read fluff novels. You can have regular down time in law school if you manage your time well. However, some activities may need to be saved for special occasions or vacations rather than being weekly events.
- Prepare your mind set for new experiences, different challenges, and the need to adopt new strategies. Law school will require new study methods, present new ways of writing, and require acceptance of "it depends" analysis. You will be less stressed if you can remain flexible and open to new ideas and methods. Most law students feel uncertain initially until they gain more expertise in this new environment.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side. Whatever your belief system is, you will feel less alone and overwhelmed if you are not carrying the weight of the world all by yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep and establish a routine now. For your brain to work well, you need at least 7-8 hours of sleep at regular times each night. Start going to bed and getting up now to match what your class schedule will be. If you do not know your classes yet, aim for 11 p.m. bed time and 7 a.m. wake up.
Safe travels to your new law school. Best wishes for your semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
This will be a short post today; I just want to alert readers to an New York Times article about the difficulties facing law students with mental health issues and the bar exam. I think the article brings up a lot of issues we need to think about in ASP and as a profession.
I don't know if I completely agree with the author. I have worked with many, many students with mental health issues and disabilities over my nine years in legal academia. I do believe most law students with mental health issues should be allowed to practice (if they meet all the other qualifications for the bar). I think the question posed on many character and fitness evaluations discourages law students from receiving the mental health assistance they need, and I think the question should be removed. I am troubled by the tiny, tiny minority of students (I can count them on one hand) who do not have their issues under control, and then threaten to sue under the ADA when their "deeds" (to use the same term as the author) lead to their removal from law school. Their "deeds" are a function of their mental illness, and they argue they should be allowed to continue because they are being persecuted based on the label, not the deed. The threat to sue stops law schools from acting in the best interest of the student and their peers. The threat stops some law schools from notifying the bar that the student may need assistance before they are fit to practice. This tiny minority of students use their diagnosis as a defense and a weapon. It is unfair that a fraction of law students with mental health issues cause disproportionate harm, but the bar needs to consider the threat lawyers can pose to the public.
I know that I will receive a number of angry comments because of this post. However, I am not discussing the students who have their issues under control, and I do think that the vast majority of students have their issues under control; I think we need a better way to help and support students with mental illness. I am questioning a blanket ban on inquiries stemming from mental health issues.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Summer is the season that non-bar prep ASPer's decide they are going to get caught up on everything. However, that is rarely the case. Although it can feel like eternity to be stuck in an office when the sun is shining and the beach is beckoning (especially for those of us in New England and the Midwest, where the sun only shines 5-6 months a year), the reality is that the summer flies by. UMass begins orientation next week. Classes start for all students in two weeks. My to-do list is still very long, and I have little time to finish everything that needs to get done. Despite the pit in my stomach when I look at my list, I know everything will get completed. Here are some tips for wrapping up the summer:
1) Make a two-column list:
In the first column, lists everything that has a concrete due date. In the second column, list all the amorphous, ambitious projects that have no end-date. Start with the projects that have a concrete deadline that is coming up soon, things like a lesson plan for orientation, or finishing a syllabus. At the end of the day, take 20-30 minutes to analyze your date-less projects; are these projects that need to be done? Are these projects actually many mini-projects, that can be tackled by task, over time?
2) If you have big projects on your list, break them down into manageable components:
I read some great advice in an Inc. magazine article; whenever you have a major goal that you can't seem to reach, work backwards. Break down everything that needs to get done, then group the tasks into categories. When you check off a category, you will feel a special excitement--you can see that you are getting closer to your goal.
3) Minimize distractions:
Don't multi-task. You just get a lot of things half-completed, usually poorly. If you need to compulsively read the news (me) or compulsively check email (many people), try one of the free software programs that de-activates you from the internet for a period of time (see Freedom, http://macfreedom.com/). This article gives basic information on ten other programs that help you focus on one project at a time http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus.
4) Schedule your projects, and move meetings around to accommodate project completion (not the other way around):
There is an excellent TED talk that discusses why meetings are a waste of time (see here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html). Alas, I also find they are a necessary evil. But I find that when I put meetings first, and task-completion second, I never get anything accomplished, but I have acquired a new to-do list from all the meetings I've attended. When you really need to get things done, it's best to switch priorities. I schedule tasks into my calendar, and all meetings have to be scheduled around the tasks.
5) Schedule your email:
In nine years working in academia, if there is no constant refrain, it's that email is a massive time-suck. I've read a thousand different suggestions for minimizing that time-suck, from only reading email three time a day, to answering all emails immediately, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. None of these worked for me. However, I learned to stop using email as an excuse. I let people know when I will be answering emails immediately, and when they should expect a wait before they receive a response. What I have found is that people respond quite well when I let them know ahead of time that I am in a busy period and they may have to wait for a response. Students, who are known for becoming angry when professors don't respond to their emails immediately, have been amongst the most understanding when I have let them know they may need to wait for a response. Students become angry when they feel like they are being ignored. If you let them know what is on your plate, and promise them a response within a certain time-frame, 95% of them will be great about the delay. When I know I have to get things accomplished, I set an auto-reply on my email that tells people what I am doing and when they should expect to hear from me (usually within two weeks). I also add a message that lets them know who they should contact in case of emergency.