Friday, February 7, 2014

The State I Am In

Although there have been several signs of the Apocalypse lately, including a snowball fight in my South Carolina front yard and the appearance of Prince in a sitcom with Zooey Deschanel, I have been operating under the assumption that the world will continue to turn. Consequently, I have spent most of the past few weeks meeting with students who did poorly in their first semester.

There are many, many studies showing the importance of self-evaluation. The first thing I have students in trouble do is fill out a 5-page form asking them to relive the past semester.  How many classes did they go to?  How much time each week do they spend reading?  When did they start outlines?  What were there grades in each class?  Better or worse than they thought?  Did they go to tutoring?  Did they come to my workshops?  Ever meet with me?  Ever meet with their professors?  

Once they take a hard look at what they did, we start making a plan of improvement.  Most of the time, the biggest self-reported issues are: 1.  Started outline too late,  2.  Spent too much time preparing for class (and no time preparing for exam), 3. Let Legal Writing get away from them, and  4. Never sought help.

When we've worked this out, I start helping them with outlines, scheduling, and we start with simple practice problems to get IRAC under control.  I also make sure they meet with their profs.

While meeting with all of these students may be disheartening (and involve a large investment in Kleenex products), this semester I've had the great pleasure of having many returning, Second, or Third year students swing by my office and tell me how much they've improved (several CALI awards, many at least one entire letter grade jumps).  So, I know this approach helps the vast majority of them.

Although, as always, there are the students I am extremely worried about.  As I write this, the car keys of one of my in-trouble first years continue to hang on a hook outside my office.  It has been three days since he left them here and I emailed him -- I haven't heard anything.  How is he getting home?  Is he looking for them?  Did he forget he owns a car?  Is he now living the movie "Badlands"?  Did he steal someone else's car with his best girl by his side fleeing from one safe house to another with Boss Hogg on his tail as he tries to swing back to Columbia in time for Civil Procedure at 8 am?

At any rate, the fact his keys are still sitting here does not inspire confidence.

(Alex Ruskell)

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