Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, April 30, 2018

Modeling Failure

The best plans don’t always work out as intended.  Trying something new with a course or activity may sound groundbreaking.  However, the reality is sometimes it doesn’t work.  Students may dislike the program and not engage in the work or the message doesn’t click with students.  Our response to those difficulties can help train our students to overcome similar occurrences.    

I had one of those groundbreaking failures this year.  I planned to create super-learners.  I completely agree with Louis Schultz’s arguments in his article and have implemented similar programs throughout my tenure at OCU.  The art of learning can make a huge impact on students, and the earlier students understand how to learn, the better they can perform in school and on the bar.  I took that idea a step further.  I heard presentations and read articles about Millennial students.  One tidbit I latched onto was the notion that Millennial’s won’t do what they are told “because I said so”, but they want more information for why they are told to do something.  I knew I could provide them that information, so I started planning to assign learning articles.

I teach Legal Analysis to every 1L.  I found good articles about spaced repetition, testing effect, reading on a screen, self-regulated learning, mindfulness, and growth mindset.  I thought reading the articles combined with short discussions and activities related to those topics would produce better learners that remembered significantly more than ever before.  I was wrong.

Students despised the new readings.  To be fair, I chose longer articles that took a while to read.  Legal Analysis is 1 credit hour and credit/no credit graded, so they felt the reading was disproportionate to those facts.  My philosophy was the reading benefitted them and provided the why when I told them to start outlining early in the semester or study a certain way.  However, the students were probably correct.  The amount of reading was long, so many of them didn’t do it.

In essence, my new idea and integration failed.  I am sure that happens to everyone.  However, our response to our own failures is the best way to model improvement to our students.  As a former type A law student who did well in law school, I don’t handle being wrong very well (or at all really).  My frustration was that I knew the science, which is clear that certain activities are best for students.  Anecdotally, I have seen our best students use these methods for years.  From a learning science perspective, I did know more than most of the students, as do many of you.  That knowledge doesn’t matter though if the students don’t receive or internalize it.  Being substantively correct doesn’t help students succeed if they ignore the message.  Frustration or complaints about students not showing up to sessions, doing the reading, or putting in the effort are legitimate, cathartic, and unproductive.  If we want students to overcome their failures, creating a new solution can model that behavior.

Constant improvement is critical to success in law school and the practice of law.  We all know that is true in Academic Support as well.  New students, research, and technology make change inevitable.  I will rely on much shorter articles or more excerpts next year to decrease the amount of reading.  I will utilize more of the learning science during the spring after students receive a set of grades and realize they need help.  My hope is to balance the need to convey the information with the willingness of students to acquire the information.

My planned changes will help the new group of 1Ls but also show the 2Ls that their opinion matters.  I ask students every July to analyze their own BARBRI MBE report to find improvement areas before the bar.  They are much more likely to follow that advice if they already saw me make changes based on their experience and suggestions.  Modeling improvement can encourage others to also seek improvement, which can make a huge difference whether some students succeed.

(Steven Foster)

Advice, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink


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