Wednesday, September 20, 2017
“I understand everything we have covered thus far and I am able to follow along in class!” This statement summarizes what I have heard thus far this academic year from several first year law students and I have to say that I am a little concerned. In the past, very few first year students verbalized such sentiments. Some students have an acumen for law school learning and do in fact understand and know what they need to do. Others think they “understand everything” but when pressed, realize there might be a little more that they could work on. I am always apprehensive when students display such confidence so early in the semester. What further concerns me is that several of my upper level students have also heard the same from first year students and expressed their concern to me. Could this be a new phenomenon? Is this a rare group of first year students? Do more students have an acumen for law school learning or am I simply hyperaware of first year law students I interact with?
There is often a very thin line between confidence and overconfidence. It is my opinion that some confidence about law school ability is good, particularly with courses that employ the Socratic Method. The faster a student understands why the course is lead using the Socratic Method and overcomes the fear and embarrassment of providing an incorrect answer or simply being on the spot, the more meaningful the learning experience becomes. Students who recognize that the Socratic Method is not an affront on their intelligence, ability, knowledge, and/or understanding are apt to have a very positive learning experience. However, the danger of getting too comfortable with the in-class dynamics and forgetting that their exams require written responses demanding them to tap into their ability to communicate their understanding in writing. Some students bypass arriving at this point because early on, they were significantly disarmed by the teaching technique that they never regained their confidence and sense of self as they were distracted by the emotions generated by the Socratic exchange.
Belief in one’s ability is always good as it allows students to reach heights of academic performance but overconfidence, an excessive sense of assurance in one’s ability, can be counterproductive. Overconfidence often prevents students from taking advantage of opportunities and programs destined to develop and challenge them to the next level of excellence. Often, overly confident students do not take advantage of Teaching Assistant lead directed study groups, skills workshops, review sessions, and other programming intended to help students excel. They may also have a group of a few upper level students they listen to and hang on to each word they utter. However, some of the advice might be misleading because often time upper level students forget their journey and process. They focus on end techniques they deem effective, forgetting that trial and error allowed the development of such effective processes. Overconfident students are individuals who may or may not stop by my office in the spring semester to solicit assistance only to realize that several of their requests and concerns were addressed in programming in the fall semester. They missed an opportunity and have to visit these skills for the first time in the spring.
I sincerely hope that my concerns about my first year law students are misplaced; nevertheless, I anticipate a busy spring semester. (Goldie Pritchard)