June 03, 2011
Now that grades are out
Most law students have received their spring semester grades at this point. The cheers and groans are probably echoing somewhere near you. Grades can be a euphoric high, a dismal depression, or somewhere in between. Here are some ideas how to view your grades wherever you fall in the class:
For those who are at the top of the class (however you want to define that measure):
- Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off, and you can celebrate.
- Evaluate your study habits. Even though you are happy with your grades, you still want to take some time to consider your semester's studying to improve your study skills. What were your strengths and weaknesses? Do you need to become more effective in your reading, note-taking, outlining, writing/researching, or exam-taking skills? Do you do better in certain types of course or exam requirements?
- Consider your options. Do your grades give you confidence to sign-up for more challenging courses for next year? Do your grades suggest that you want to re-think your career goals? Do your grades mean that you can now become involved in student organizations or community service where you were hesitant to do so before? Do you now have the confidence to try out for a competition team, apply to be a research assistant, or participate in the write-on competition after all?
- Evaluate your summer plans. Does your evaluation of your study skills suggest that you need to spend time this summer on specific skills? Are there areas of the law that have picqued your interest that you want to read about during the next weeks? Do you have the confidence now to apply for summer law jobs that you doubted you could get before?
- Enjoy your academic postion, but do not let it go to your head. Some law students make the mistake of letting an inflated ego become an obstacle. They may slack off because they think they are invincible and will actually see their grades drop at the end of the next semester as a result. Or they may become a bit arrogant and think they are better than fellow students, staff, faculty, and deans. Arrogance does not win friends or influence people.
For those of you in the great middle of the class:
- Work through any frustration or anger about your grades. Occasionally I will talk with law students whose dissatisfaction with their grades leads them to vent emotionally rather than taking positive actions to improve. If you find yourself saying any of the following things, you probably need to step back and regain some objectivity: "I was in the hard section and would have done fine in another section." "If I had Professor A instead of my professor, I could have had a better grade." "Course C is a dumb course any way, so it wasn't my fault." "It is not fair that there is a curve." "The prof should have given me the B because I was only 3 points away."
- Do not make the mistake of considering yourself to be mediocre or just average. You are holding your own. Remember that you entered your law school class with the best and the brightest of college and university graduates. You are still who you were when you entered; the competition changed. You are not necessarily destined to remain in the great middle. You can break out of the great middle with appropriate changes.
- You can improve your grades by becoming a smarter studier. Take some time to think through what worked well and what did not. Be honest with yourself. Did you put in your best efforts or slack off at some point? Did you take shortcuts rather than become more efficient and effective? Did you use all of the resources available to you at your law school - professors' office hours, supplemental study groups, academic support professionals, writing specialists, advisors?
- Make a plan for improving your study skills. Instead of just changing up things at random or latching on to every piece of advice you hear from upper-division students, make an appointment with the academic support professional at your law school. That person is able to help you objectively evaluate you strengths and weaknesses and look at sound strategies for improvement.
- Review exams with your professors for any courses in which you received a C+ or lower grade. You should try to do this as soon as possible on your return for the next semester. You want to determine what you are doing well and need to continue. You want to get specific feedback on what you need to improve on for higher grades. Take copious notes during your discussions with the professors and share them with the academic support professional at your school to get advice on strategies and techniques for improvement.
For those of you in the bottom portion of the class (however you want to define that measure):
- Deal with your disappointment with your grades and move forward. Do not let discouragement prevent you from improving your grades in the future. All law students can learn more effective ways to study. You definitely want to work with the academic support professional at your law school to evaluate what went wrong and what you are doing right. Avoid being your own expert. You obviously need someone else's expertise in study strategies to sort out what can be done.
- Review each of your exams with your professors. If this will not be possible until the fall semester, make yourself notes about each exam that you took. Did you run out of time? Did you have trouble with one section but not others? Were you confused by a particular topic that was tested? Did you panic or freeze up during the exam? As soon as possible in the new semester, make an appointment to go over the exam to discover your strengths and weaknesses. The more specific the feedback, the more information you will have to guide your improvement.
- Look hard at your time management and tendency to procrastinate. It is not unusual for law students to have problems with these two areas. Many law students received good grades in undergraduate courses with little work and last-minute cramming. There was less material to learn. The material was rarely as dense as law cases. Multiple tests or other assessments made it easier to fall into cram mode. Again, your academic support professional can help you develop better skills in these problem areas.
- Evaluate your goals, motivation, and commitments. How do you want to use your law degree upon graduation? Do you want to be in law school right now? Do you like the study of law? Are there other variables (family, financial, medical) that suggest you need a leave of absence to get things sorted out? Is law school a priority in your life right now?
- If you are being placed on probation, find out exactly what that means. What is the standard that you must meet? What time period do you have to meet that standard? Are you required to take a certain number of credit hours during your probation semester (some schools have a higher requirement for probation students)? What happens if you have to repeat a required course while on probation? What resources are available to you (academic support professional, advisor, tutoring, counselor)?
For those of you who are facing academic dismissal:
- Be honest with yourself. After you get over the initial shock, you need to evaluate how you ended up in this place academically. Is law school where you really want to be? Is being a lawyer a priority for you? Did you put in the effort that was needed on your academics? Were there circumstances outside school that caused you problems?
- Find out your law school's procedures and policies. Every law school is different. You need to determine your law school's way of doing things. You should be able to find this type of information in your law school's student handbook (look on-line if you were not handed a hard copy during your 1L orientation). If you cannot find the information, contact the Associate Dean for Academics, Registrar, or other appropriate person at your law school for help.
- Find out what options you have (if any). Some law schools allow dismissed students to petition for readmission (continue on with your class) or re-entry (repeat your 1L year) on the basis of extraordinary or exceptional circumstances. Some law schools make you sit out at least two years before you can reapply. Some law schools have entirely different options.
- Get some advice from an authority on the school's policies and procedures if you need to consider options. You preferably want to talk with administrators who work most closely with students on these issues. If possible, schedule an appointment. Consider a telephone discussion if you cannot make it back to campus. Write down your questions ahead of time so that you do not forget to ask everything.
- Have a Plan B. There are always other options than law school if a petition is not successful or you cannot petition under your law school's policies. You can apply to a graduate program in another field. (Yes, people who leave law school for academic reasons do get accepted in other graduate programs.) You can get a law-related job until you can re-apply. (Think paralegal or legal assistant, for example.) You can get a non-law-related job until you decide what to do more long-term. You can get a roommate to help with expenses on your apartment.
- Remember that leaving law school does not mean that you are a failure. The study of law is not a good match for everyone. There is a niche out there that will use your talents and abilities. You will be successful in life - law is not the only career path. You are the same bright, talented, exceptional person you were before law school. All that has changed is that law school did not work out. That is actually okay even though it may not feel that way right now. You will be fine.
Whichever category matches your grades, don't get stuck in the place where you are. Evaluate. Strategize. Move forward. And, believe in yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
May 19, 2011
Ten tips for preparing for your 1L year
Throngs of eager 1L students are awaiting the fall semester to start law school. Many of them want to take some constructive steps to prepare themselves to do well academically and personally. Here is my advice on ten things that will pay off big time:
- Have fun with family and friends this summer. Law school is a marathon that tends to consume one's time. The carefree days are over come August. Relax now. Spend time with the people who are important to you. Make sure your energy levels are high for the start of the semester. You won't get a true break until December after your exams are over.
- Read voraciously. The type of reading does not necessarily matter. The main point is that you get used to reading large numbers of pages each week. Also practice summarizing the main points of what you have read: the story line, the important events, the main points. Mix it up: novels, biographies, history, philosophy, plays. Whatever strikes your fancy is fine - it does not have to be about the law. In fact, reading doctrinal law books may not be helpful because you will not have the classroom context for what you are reading.
- Read one or two books on academic success by academic support professionals or law professors. There are lots of books on succeeding in law school. The advantage of reading books by academic success and professor experts rather than by ex-law students or attorneys is that those who are currently involved with law students on a daily basis and have professional expertise in law school success are more likely to give you well-rounded advice rather than narrow "this worked for me advice." For book suggestions, watch this blog for later postings.
- Visit a courtroom. If you have never observed a court hearing, now would be a great time to sit in the public gallery and absorb the world of law. Attend a variety of court proceedings if possible in your area: federal, state; traffic, civil, criminal, family; trial, appellate. Too many law students come to law school with no clue about what happens in court. The latest legal sitcom or movie is the closest they have ever been to the real thing. Observing in court will provide you with context for your legal studies.
- Evaluate your motivation for going to law school. Internal motivators are helpful when the deadlines pile up: planned to be an attorney for a long time, want a profession in which you can help others, interested in an area of law, relates to prior work experience, like reading about the law. Try to expand your personal list if at all possible. External motivators are less likely to sustain you when the workload seems huge: want to make lots of money, didn't know what else to do, your parents want you to be an attorney, you didn't get into a Ph.D. program.
- Evaluate your readiness to study long hours. Many 1L's have been able to get top grades with very little studying prior to law school. Most law students tell me that they studied less than 20 hours per week in college. For a law student to get grades commensurate with academic potential, it will be necessary to study consistently 50 - 55 hours per week in a full-time program. (Cramming does not work in law school because there is an overwhelming amount of material, application of concepts is critical rather than mere regurgitation of material, and retaining material long-term is important for the bar exam).
- Evaluate your time wasters. Law students who get into academic difficulty often do not use their time wisely to complete the many tasks that are required. The biggest time wasters for law students seem to be surfing the web, using social media, talking on the phone, playing video games, taking naps, and watching television.
- Have a realistic financial plan. 1L students are not allowed to work under the American Bar Association rules unless they are in part-time or evening programs. (After the first year, law students are allowed to work 20 hours per week maximum under the ABA rules.) Plan what you can realistically spend each month and stick to your budget. You don't want your student loans to run out before the end of the semester because you did not allocate monies well. You will not be able to focus on academics if you are fraught over bills.
- Talk with your family and friends about the demands of your upcoming law school life. Law school is not like your prior educational experiences. You will have to study harder (and smarter) than ever before in your education. You will be with classmates who have been the best and the brightest at their colleges and universities. Most law schools have a grading curve with a C or C+ median for 1L students - A and B grades are not as easy to come by in law school. You need to talk with your family and friends about your no longer being able to take every weekend off, going on a fun-filled vacation during Thanksgiving or Spring Break, or having lots of company come visit. You need them to understand that you have to be very focused and diligent if you plan to get top grades.
- Get on a regular 8-hour sleep schedule now. Law school study demands that you be alert so you can be productive, focused, and retain material. Research shows that you should go to bed and get up at a regular time each day (varying by only 2 hours on the weekend) if you want your brain cells to work optimally. A minimum of 7 hours of sleep is needed for good brain function. I suggest getting 8 hours because it is likely that you are already sleep-deprived (Americans and the Japanese are the most sleep-deprived nations in the world). You can cut back to 7 1/2 or 7 hours if you need to once law school starts.
These ten tips are based on what has worked well for thousands of law students over the years. Your 1L year will be exciting, challenging, exhausting, and demanding. However, you can succeed easily if you do not misplace your commonsense. (Amy Jarmon)
May 14, 2011
A 3L's perspective on relationships with professors
I would like to give a hat tip to Sue Liemer at Southern Illinois University for bringing the following blog post to our attention on the Legal Writing Prof Blog. Although the student's posting on Beyond Hearsay is specifically related to legal writing professors, I think it has merit for relationships with all doctrinal professors and ASP'ers.
J. Richard Lindsay, a 3L at Southern Illinois, writes about learning humility as a law student writer so that he could learn from his legal writing professor instead of seeing his professor as an enemy. He writes about professors becoming allies when law students are able to get past the hurt and frustration of criticism of their work. The link is here: Uncovering Secret Allies: How Humility Can Lead to Great Relationships. (Amy Jarmon)
May 06, 2011
The importance of getting together with colleagues
Yesterday I met with other members of the ASP community at the NECASP (New England Consortium of Academic Success Professionals) at BC Law for our annual business meeting. While we did take care of business, the primary value in the meeting was the exchange of ideas between others in the Academic Success community. Amy's wonderful post on exhaustion highlights the importance of rejuvenation, and meeting with colleagues can help remind you of the importance of peer support. In addition to the joy of swapping stories with friends in the ASP community, I learned about some fantastic innovative programs at New England law schools. This is my shout-out:
1) UNH Law's Sunny Mulligan and Alice Briggs summer program for select incoming law students. Tremendous effort that went into planning a program that builds on the strengths of other summer programs, while bringing a unique New Hampshire touch to their program. Sunny and Alice have had great success avoiding stigma (the great bane of ASP) by embracing transparency in their programs. Sunny also talked about the innovative partnership between Career Services, ASP, and the Externship Program at UNH. I believe UNH is on the cutting edge with their program, and it is something all of us should be exploring during this time of belt-tightening at law schools.
2) Alex Ruskell at Roger Williams runs both the Honors Program and ASP. This is a neat, and somewhat unusual, group of duties, but it has benefits. Coming to the ASP office loses it's stigma (fast!) when it is as likely the student is visiting because they are in the Honors Program as it is they are looking for help. Alex also has a fantastic summer program for incoming students, and he had several ideas I plan on using if I go back to working on pre-orientation.
3) Lis Keller at BC was not only a gracious host, but brought up some challenging theoriesabout who ASP should serve. This is a concept we are looking at in more depth for our fall conference. BC Law's first-year orientation occurs three weeks into the semester, when students are ready to hear about outlining and preparing for exams. This approach to orientation inspired a lot of discussion within our group about how this can be employed at other schools. Many of us felt that some of what we do in orientation goes over the heads of our students who have no context before the start of the semester. BC's approach is one that I envision more schools will employ if they can find a way to fit it into 1L schedules.
4) Louis Schulz and Elizabeth Bloom at New England-Boston filled us in on the details of their comprehensive ASP, which includes programs for students through all three years of law school. Louis is always moving a thousand miles an hour, and the breadth of programs sponsored by NE-Boston demonstrate his energy and ingenuity.
5) Liz Stillman and Janet Fischer from Suffolk facilitated discussion among our group on the benefits and possible costs to students when ASPer's write job recommendations. This is a timely topic, as we are being bombarded with stories about the state of the job market. Janet made the connection between the job market and the upswing in interest in ASP that many of us are seeing.
I came home from the meeting excited about the innovation within ASP, and grateful that I belong to such a wonderful, warm, supportive community. (RCF)
April 20, 2011
Unusual fonts may aid in learning
Helpful tips for students:
1) We learn better from re-working the material.
This piece of gold is hidden on the second page of the article. It's saying what we have said in ASP for ages; reading a canned outline, or memorizing the outline of a 2L who booked the course, will not increase learning. Re-working your own notes into an outline will help you learn the material.
2) Try one of the unusual font types for your outline.
"Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully"
3) We overestimate our own ability.
One of the great lessons from law school exams: if you feel like you nailed it, you probably didn't. The material you are being asked to learn and apply on a law school exam is difficult and complicated. The majority of exams you will encounter as a law student have more complications and nuanced issues than you have time to answer. You should feel as if you didn't hit everything. If you feel like you knew everything on the exam, you probably oversimplified the issues.
4) We all take shortcuts. We all forget we take shortcuts.
Students should always take practice exams before finals. Actually taking the exam is important. Many students will read the fact pattern, "answer it in their head" or take a couple of notes, and then read the model answer. This is more harmful than helpful. Students will unconsciously overestimate what they understood if they have not taken the test and written a complete answer. This gives them a false sense of confidence. Students need to take a cold, hard look at what they understood and what they missed. the best strategy is to take the practice test under timed conditions with a study group, and correct answers as a group. This gives students a chance to discuss what they did not understand. It's easy to lie to ourselves, it's harder to lie to a group.
Summary of the article:
"Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another." These are the keys to learning more efficiently and effectively. (RCF)
April 12, 2011
More thoughts on exhaustion
I read Amy's post on exhaustion, and I felt like someone was speaking to me. Then I read Amy's post on not having enough time, and I felt as if someone was answering my un-vocalized concern. Her posts inspired me to add to Amy's suggestions (which are all brilliant, by the way).
Like many of the students who make us want to pull our hair out, I am a "when I feel ready/when I'm in the mood" worker. I can't predict when that time will come, but I do need to match tasks to mood or I don't do them as well as they need to be done. I am disciplined enough so that everything that needs to get done gets accomplished. But emotional and mental energy play a large role in how I schedule my day and when I complete tasks. At this time of the year, my energy reserves are pretty low, and my stress level is pretty high. Scheduling tasks in a way that gives them the time they deserve without completely burning me out is critical to maintaining my own health.
- If I know I have a day of busy work ahead of me, I come in an hour or so early and try to knock a couple of high-mental energy tasks off my list as soon as I walk in the door. I know I can't do more than one or two of these tasks at a time and I need to psych myself up to get them done. Because these types of tasks suck the mental energy out of me, I choose to do them on mornings when I know the rest of the day will be busy, but not difficult.
- If I have a high-emotional energy task (such as an angry student) that I cannot choose to schedule when I feel most prepared, I find a close colleague who will give me a pep talk before the task. I am very lucky in that I have a number of wonderful colleagues I can turn to when I need someone to tell me that "this too shall pass" or that I just need to get through the meeting, and then we will go buy some chocolate.
- Don't fear the mental health day if you need one. It's easy to think of all the things that need to get done and convince yourself that it's impossible to take a day to take care of yourself. But you are no good to the students if you are ready for a meltdown. Last week, after driving 2 hours to a regional campus, and getting stuck in more than 3 hours of traffic on my way home, I chose to take the next day off from work. Did I have 100 things that needed to get done? Yes. Would I have been effective? No. I was exhausted, frustrated (I hate driving), and I had pressing personal matters (doing my taxes) that were weighing on me. I got twice as much accomplished when I came back to work the following day because I took care of myself first.
Keep your head up. Even when you feel like putting your head on your desk would be really comforting, or when the exhaustion makes you want to cry. Remember that smiling, even if you don't feel like it, can improve your mood. And we are all in this together, in an exhausting, but wonderful, enriching field. (RCF)
April 09, 2011
Are you getting exhausted as an ASP'er?
This point in the semester is always difficult for me as an ASP'er.
I have so many student appointments that my calendar looks like a major airport with circling planes waiting to land. Not only do my regulars come in, but now is also the time for triage appointments. It is when I do crash consultations in the hallways, at the coffee pot, and in the parking lot. I regularly expand my slots by coming in early, eating lunch at my desk between appointments, and staying late.
Group workshops are still on the schedule. Hmmm, those handouts for next week need to be revised.
There are three application and interview processes that I am involved with in some way for student positions for ASP. It is great working with students who want to be Tutors, TAs, or Dean's Community Teaching Fellows - but the paperwork end is a drag.
Several major project deadlines are on the horizon. It seems that after 5 p.m. and on weekends are the most ideal times for those to get done. Ahhh, more administrative support would help - is anyone out there listening?
Of course, there is committee work. It is crunch time for those duties as every committee tries to wind down for the academic year.
And, I am teaching EU law: juggling student presentation appointments with finishing Power Points, writing my exam, grading assignments, and planning review sessions. I really enjoy my seminar students, but often shake my head at the extra hours needed in my day.
It is the time of the semester when I have so many coughing, sneezing, flu-carrying students sitting in my office that I inevitably fall deathly ill at least once. Ah, that puts me behind on an already crammed schedule!
There, I have that off my chest (literally and figuratively). So, I manage this time of the semester by doing what I tell students to do:
- Use windfall time during the day when a student shows up late for an appointment or the appointment ends earlier than I expected.
- Match small tasks to small time slots. Even 5 or 10 minutes can be useful for an e-mail or phone call or administrative task.
- Evaluate five or six times a day what my priorities are and how to re-organize my time.
- Work on major projects in small increments to get forward progress.
- Let no one task consume my entire day so that I do not get hopelessly behind on all other tasks.
- Negotiate deadlines to remain as realistic as possible in what can get done when.
- Cut out the non-essentials: what is mere frills, what provides little payback, what can wait until the summer.
To all of you getting tired at this point of the semester, I understand your plight. May your time and stress managment skills conquer! (Amy Jarmon)
March 19, 2011
Learning your teaching style
We write a lot about discovering student's learning and processing styles. But few of us spend a lot of time thinking about our teaching styles. We teach the way we were taught, the way that feels most comfortable to us, or the way we are told to teach by our employer. A handful of people change their teaching style based on what they learn at conferences. As ASPer's, we busy, and few of us have a lot of downtime to think about why we teach the way we teach and reflect on our teaching style.
I am using teaching style in the broadest possible way; all the things you do to prepare to teach and how you teach students. This is unique to every individual. Learning is a complex interplay between teachers, students, and students and peers. We all have preferences. We all need to understand our preferences to do our best to help students learn.
The one-on-one teacher: Whenever I go to a conference, I hear attendees talking that one-on-one is the best method for teaching students. It is assumed, not discussed. I have heard countless times "I could teach them anything, if I just had enough time to teach them one-on-one." No one seems to question the validity of the statement. One-on-one teaching is a teaching style, and one that does not work best for everyone. It is not true that everyone could teach anyone anything if they could just work with them one-on-one. It is a great method if it is your strength, but it is not everyone's strength. I a lot of former practitioners prefer one-on-one's because it is how they worked with clients. My message to new teachers is that they should think before they assume this is the best way to reach all students. It's not the best way, it is a preference. Just as we would not assume there is a best learning or processing style for students, don't assume one-on-one's are the best teaching method because that is what you hear from colleagues.
The student-group leader-teacher: This is a common way of delivering ASP at many law schools. ASP professionals are expected to teach students to lead groups of students. There are some brilliant ASper's who use this method to great success; Joanne Koren at Miami and Mike Schwartz at Washburn immediately come to mind. However, there is no one master method for teaching student leaders to run student study groups. If you are an intuitive teacher, teaching students to teach students is difficult. Intuitive teachers are ones whose teaching reflects the needs and the makeup of the class. It is a more spontaneous, reactive way to teach, although it requires as much, if not more, preparation. Intuitive teachers master the subject material so that they can change the direction of the class on the fly to reflect how the class is moving that day. If this is your teaching style, it is difficult to translate this method to student leaders. You cannot tell student leaders to master the subject material. Most intuitive teachers have significant classroom experience, and it is rare for a student leader to have the teaching experience to be intuitive with the students they are leading. Intuitive teachers can learn how other teachers teach student leaders, but it is not their preference. And there is nothing wrong with finding that is not the best way to reach students.
The classroom teacher: Not everyone is cut out to be a traditional classroom teacher. There are some magnificent, awe-inspiring classroom teachers in ASP and doctrinal teaching, such as Rory Badahur at Washburn or Paula Manning at Western State. If you don't prefer classroom teaching, it doesn't mean you aren't a good teacher. It means your preference may be one-on-one or leading student leaders. I find that there is a spectrum, at one end are pure classroom teachers, and at the other, pure one-on-one teachers. Most people are somewhere along that spectrum. The difference is in how the teachers use peer learning. Classroom teachers need to cede control of learning to the students to be successful. This is not something everyone is comfortable doing. You need to build trust between teacher (you) and the students, and trust between peers. This is a skill. It's much easier for student's to feel safe in a one-on-one than it is for a class to feel safe. Safety is critical to learning because students need to push boundaries in order to learn, to move outside of their comfort zone, and to risk being wrong.
Every teacher needs to do some of every type of teaching. However, everyone has preferences in how they work with students. My message to new teachers--there is not a right or wrong preference, no master method that is most successful with students. When a colleague, even a very respected colleague, tells you that they have found a method that works best with students, realize they have found their method that works best based on their teaching preferences. That method may not work best for you. You need to reflect on your skill set and your preferences. The method that is most likely to reach your students is the method that reflects your preferences and strengths.
I have a non-ASP colleague at the undergrad who is one of the most brilliant one-on-one teachers I have ever observed. However, this teacher dislikes classroom teaching, and finds it ineffectual at reaching students. This educator was reflective during the job search, and found a position that consists primarily of one-on-one instruction, with limited classroom time. I am fascinated by one-on-one methods because I greatly prefer classroom teaching, and find a full day of one-on-ones to be draining, and for many students, counter-productive. I find students understand much more from peer learning in a class than in a one-on-one. I find that students are better at translating their misunderstanding of material to each other than to me. My colleague and I both receive great evaluations reflective of our respective teaching preferences. Our student body overlaps, so we know that the evals are not reflecting student preferences (i.e., students who like one-on-ones going to the colleague, students who like classroom teaching to me), but our strengths.
My message to new teachers: reflect on your preferences and your strengths. Your students will learn best when you play to your strengths as a teacher. There is no one master method of reaching students. Just as we respect student learning and processing differences, respect teaching preferences. (RCF)
February 07, 2011
Writing and Running
This is a call to everyone in ASP who has something to say, but is afraid to write. Most of us don't need to write for our job. However, if you don't write, it's almost impossible to move past "staff" status. There aren't as many writing mentors in ASP as there are doctrinal folks who can help junior faculty while they are writing. So I am writing about my writing process to let new ASPer's know that it is not them; writing is tough. But it's worth it.
I have been working on a major writing project for the last couple of months. I finally finished this weekend; I had to do the bulk of the writing on days off and weekends because my workload was too heavy to allow much writing 9-5. Finishing a writing project is both a relief and filled with anxiety. It is incredibly satisfying to be done, but then comes the intense worry that it's not good enough, a citation is missing, or that I forgot a topic essential to the discussion. One of the reasons I don't write as much as I should (outside of this blog) is due to the anxiety it provokes when I finish. Unless I have a deadline, I will never stop second-guessing my work.
Writing is a lot like running. I am a long-time distance runner (almost 20 years!). Even for the best writers, it's sometimes a grind. In both writing and running, it's hardest when you are out-of-shape. We generally don't think of needing to be "in shape" to write, but writing makes writing easier and more fluid. This does feel a little unfair, because when you most need to feel good about writing (or running) is when you are getting back after a long break. But that is when it is hardest and most painful.
For nearly two months I resorted to exhaustive, probably unnecessary, research because writing was too painful. I could not get more than a paragraph or two on a page, and I knew I needed 10,000-15,000 words. It seemed insurmountable because I had not written that much in years. I knew I could do it, but I could not remember how I did it, what my process was, what I did in terms of a timeline. But after two months, I found that my one-two paragraphs while researching out came to about 3000 words, and suddenly I had about 20% of the project done. And it didn't seem like I could never do it. When I would come back to running after taking time off due to illness or injury, it would seem like I could never get over the 1-3 mile range. And then, after a couple of months, I could hit 5 miles without stopping. And at five miles, a half marathon doesn't seem so unreasonable after all.
The second hardest time is when you get writer's block, or in running, when you plateau. This usually happens when you have been at it for a while. You become acclimated to the process and you stop responding. Nothing you do seems to make it better. This tends to happen at the worst possible time; when you need to get a project finished, but your mind is empty, or when you are training for a major race, and your legs don't want to cooperate. The experts say beware of overtraining, but work through it. It will break. This was were I was at about two weeks ago. I desperately needed to get past the 5000 word mark, but everything I wrote was terrible. None of it fit with the theme. I couldn't transition between topics. Every word was painful. But I knew I had two weeks, so I worked through it, and it did come together. But during that period, I probably erased more than I wrote. Through erasing and rethinking, I came out with a much stronger theme.
The last painful period for me is finishing up. As I said at the start, I never want to finish because I am afraid it's not good enough or dreadfully flawed. The easiest way for me to get over this is to send it out to be proofread. As soon as I hit "send" I think of five topics I needed to cover but forgot while I was writing. I would never remember what I needed to add if I didn't hit send. The anxiety of someone else reading my work, and finding it lacking, produces the adrenaline to put it all together. Quite honestly, what I send out to be proofread usually is lacking. It's not my best work, and it's not even very good work. In running, this is usually the period when I need training partners to keep going. I am in a pretty bad state about two-three weeks before a race, and I need companions to keep me going. I will not walk unless injured, so even when I hate running, I keep going because I am too proud to be the person who slows down the group.
In that last rush of adrenaline, I can usually knock out a substantial portion of the paper. The fear won't go away until it's published. In this way writing is still like running...you cross the finish line, and you immediately start planning your next race. In my case, I wrote three pages of a law review article while finishing my last work. Writing and researching made me realize how much more there is to say on the topic. So I started with just a heading. Then I jotted some notes about where I wanted to go with the topic. The I took a break from the major project and put in several more topic headings. There was no fear, no anxiety, as there is when I start writing after a long break. It was smooth. (RCF)
January 07, 2011
New Year's Resolutions
Do you make resolutions each year for changed behaviors that you wish to implement during the coming year? Most of us do. And statistically, most of us are not successful at those resolutions. Why is that?
Well, we may set too many goals. We include a long list of behaviors that we want to change that would overwhelm any one human being. Suddenly we expect ourselves to improve in ten or twelve areas at once - usually areas that we have always struggled with during our lives. We resolve to lose 75 pounds, get rid of all debt, stop smoking, never procrastinate, eat more fruits and vegetables, do a major cleaning every week, be nice to everyone in the world who isn't nice to us, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, save the whales, and .... You get the picture.
Our students often set too many goals at once as well. They tell themselves that they will get all A's, turn in every paper 3 weeks early, be President of six clubs, volunteer ten hours per week, work at the most prestigious law firm twenty hours a week, and do it all with full scholarships.
When we set too many goals that are all major changes or accomplishments at once, we become overwhelmed quickly. First, we feel pulled in a thousand directions and do not know where to focus. Second, we quickly realize our progress is minuscule or at least slow. Third, the moment we fail at one of the goals we are tempted to give up on that goal. Fourth, when we fail on one goal, we may assume we will inevitably fail at them all and become discouraged.
We also often set unrealistic goals. We want to make huge leaps in our lives instead of taking manageable steps that eventually will lead to that huge leap. We want to lose that 75 pounds NOW, instead of losing 1-2 pounds per week for however long it will take. We want to get rid of all debt NOW, instead of paying off one credit card balance at a time after we have cut up the cards.
Again our students set unrealistic goals. It is inevitable that my students on probation will announce that they will get only A's the next semester. Instead, they should focus on doing the best they can each day because it is consistent, hard work that produces good grades. Instead of declaring that every paper will be turned in three weeks early, they should focus on meeting each deadline for each stage of the paper on time or perhaps several days early. They should resolve to be a committee member or officer in one club and do an excellent job for that club.
We often fail to ask for help with our goals. We are more likely to succeed if we have help. Think about going to the gym - if you have to meet a friend there for a spinning class, you are more likely to attend. If a friend helps us stay accountable by pulling us out of the store when we get tempted by the $300 pair of shoes, we are more likely to avoid extra debt.
Some students feel ashamed of their weaknesses and avoid asking for help. But going it alone can be - well, lonely. If students align themselves with friends and family who will help them meet their goals, they will be more likely to succeed. A friend who encourages the student to read for class is far better than the friend who encourages one not to read or to go out for a drink. A sister who calls and asks for a list of what the student got done that day is trying to help the student stay accountable. Academic success professionals often help students with accountability by setting up regular appointments and asking the hard questions about the student's progress on academic tasks. Professors are happy to work individually with students who are sincerely working to improve.
Here are some tips for those New Year's resolutions that law students are contemplating:
- Limit the list to no more than 3-5 items that are truly achievable. Pick goals that one has a good probability of meeting rather than "pie in the sky" goals. For example, outlining every week in a course is achievable while making the world's best Commercial Law outline is not.
- For each goal, break it down into the small steps or tasks within the larger goal. As each small step gets crossed off, progress is made which serves as encouragement for more progress. For example, a paper can be broken down into all of the research, writing, and editing tasks.
- When back-sliding occurs, do not give up. Accept that everyone is human and get up and start again. For example, when one oversleeps and misses class, get the notes from a friend and move on - go to bed earlier, set two alarms, and get up when the first alarm goes off.
- Set up a support system that will help you achieve your goals. Ask family and friends to telephone regularly to discuss your progress, encourage you when you are having trouble, and praise you when you make progress. Find a mentor (professor, administrator, staff member, local attorney, or upper-division law student) who will actively support you in your goals. Ask fellow law students who are equally serious about changes in their grades/lives to team up as accountability and study partners.
Change can be daunting. Behaviors are learned. As a result, they can be unlearned. The longer a bad habit has existed, the longer it will take to replace it with a good habit. But, it can be conquered. (Amy Jarmon)
December 02, 2010
It's that sickly time of the year
Every year it comes, and students aren't ready for it. It's the sickly time of the year. Windows are closed, germs have no where to go, people forget winter hygene (wash hands frequently, sneeze into your elbow), and students start to get sick. The sickly time of the year usually coincides with the panicked-about-exams period. Students who kept telling themselves that they have plenty of time to write those outlines, catch up on their reading, and prepare for exams realize that exams are coming, and they are not ready. Add in a bad cold or the flu and you have students facing a crisis. While it may not seem like a crisis in the global scheme of events, law students are not known for keeping things in perspective.
What do you do for your students when the sickly time of the year comes? First, bring out the tissues and the hand sanitizer. You don't help anyone when you are sick yourself. Next, help them create a plan. Not only does this help them see what needs to get done, but it also helps manage the panic. Students are no longer facing a big unknown, because they have a plan. If the panic becomes overwhelming for them, refer them to professional help.
While the advice is not ground-breaking, it can help you manage the barrage of emails and visits you get when students face sickness and exams in the same month.
July 21, 2010
Faculty interface for non-faculty ASP'ers
Each law school has a different "fit" for the ASP staff member within its community. Some of us are contract administrators for 9, 10, or 12 months. Some of us are tenure-track faculty. Some of us have multiple hats: doctrinal teaching or legal research and writing plus ASP or bar prep.
At the law schools where ASP'ers are not full faculty members, they sometimes can feel a bit "out of the loop" from the faculty - especially if their offices are in isolated locations or their schedules do not bring them into contact with faculty on a regular basis. ASP'ers should not be shy, however, about becoming integral members of the law school community.
Here are some tips for having more involvement with faculty and getting more exposure for your ASP program:
- Give every faculty member a general flyer on your ASP services for students. Make it a handy reference sheet so that they can tell students more about the types of services that you offer and the topics that you cover.
- Give every faculty member information regarding dates/topics for your workshops or other events that you are holding for students each semester. Again, it gives them a handy reference when they are talking with students.
- Give every faculty member a small stack of your business cards so that they can hand them out to students. A student is more likely to e-mail for an appointment if the address is right in front of her.
- Give every faculty member a flyer on how you may be able to help them. Include services such as consultation on a specific student's learning problems, solving typical student learning problems for their course material, developing visuals in the classroom, understanding how learning styles affect the classroom dynamics, in-class workshops on particular study skills, etc. Your own expertise will guide what services you might be able to offer professors.
- Ask a new faculty member to lunch to tell her more about your office and ask how you may be able to help her settle in to your law school/city.
- Attend faculty functions that may not relate to your duties directly but allow you to have more time with faculty. Show your interest in what they do: in-service talks on faculty research, coffee klatch time, lunches to honor faculty publications, dinners for faculty awards. The more faculty see you as part of the overall law school community, the more you will be seen as a colleague rather than a satellite function of the law school.
- Attend faculty meetings if you are allowed to do so. You will learn a great deal about your law school, faculty concerns, and faculty colleagues' personalities. Know the etiquette for your school, however. Speak only if that is allowed. Vote only if you have that privilege.
- Volunteer to be ex officio on faculty committees as appropriate. For example, your expertise might be helpful on a faculty subcommittee considering a for-credit bar prep course.
- Announce your presentations and publications within your school's newsletter or news website as appropriate. Your colleagues will be interested in your contributions to the law school's reputation regionally and nationally.
- Offer to teach a course outside ASP in a specialty area that you have if your law school will allow that option. If your practice expertise was in entertainment law or admiralty law, your law school might welcome an elective course in that area. Make sure that you will have the time to juggle teaching with your ASP duties before you offer though!
I have always been fortunate to have good faculty colleagues to work with at each law school. But, I have to remind myself to make the time to keep up those relationships. We all get so busy that it is easy to become isolated in ASP and "not get out much" as a result. (Amy Jarmon)
July 12, 2010
Tips for getting the most out of conferences
Alas, it is conference season. I know many ASPer's are just getting back from Elon Law School and LSAC's conference on counseling. I wish I could have joined everyone, but sadly, I am still in a travel freeze. After 5 years, and countless conferences, here are some tips for making the most of the experience:
1) Be social, even if you are an introvert
Yes, sadly, ASP can be sort of clique-y. It's not intentional; many of us have known each other for many years, and some of us worked together for years before we switched schools, moved, etc. However, it is worth remembering that 90% of us where the uncool kids in school growing up (we were way too smart) so we welcome everyone as adults. We are not mean girls (and boys), I promise. Say hi. If you are shy and uncomfortable, let us know. Most of us were uncomfortable at our first conferences as well. The only way to get the advice and help you want is to break into the cliques and start talking to people. Really, we are like a congregation of kindergarten teachers once you know us.
2) Be a joiner, even if you are not a joiner.
You need exposure. To get exposure for your program, school, etc, you need to join things. AALS, LSAC, Institute for Law School Teaching and Learning, Humanizing Legal Education. When you are at those conferences, be a joiner. Go to the (sometimes stupid and quirky) social functions. Join subcommittees. When you join things, be social and let people get to know you and what is great about your program. The legal academy is a tiny place, so everyone knows someone at your school. This is instrumental for your career. You never know when you may need a phone call placed on your behalf to your boss/dean, letting her/him know what a great job you are doing. the only way to for that to happen is to be social, and be a joiner.
3) Ask questions
We tell our students there are no stupid questions, and then we are afraid to ask questions as conferences for fear of sounding stupid. As someone who has presented a ton, I don't think I have ever heard a stupid question. We completely understand that people new to the profession need to ask basic questions. We want to help. Conferences are places where you should be asking questions.
4) Toot your own horn. No one else will.
While being social, be sure to mention your accomplishments. If you feel like you don't have any accomplishments, then just tell people what you are doing. No one else is going to let others know the great things you are doing at your school. ASPer's are the modest, non-competitive ones in the legal academy, which is self-defeating at times.
5) If you are would like to present at a conference in the future, tell somebody
The powers-that-be (that change from year to year, conference to conference) don't know if you would like to present unless you let people know. ASP is unlike other areas of the legal academy, in that you don't necessarily have to write a paper in order to present something that you are doing. While we are a many-talented group, I haven't encountered any mind readers among ASPer's as of yet.
June 04, 2010
Welcome to Summer!
For most ASPer's, summer is here. Depending on your roleat your school, this may be a quiet time to catch up on reading and planning for the upcoming year, or it may be the beginning of your busy season, if you are involved in bar prep. Regardless of your role, be sure to take some time to reflect on your hits and misses during this past school year. Re-evaluate what programs you want to continue, update, change, or throw out for the upcoming year. Be sure you take some time to re-evaluate your program for yourself. We spend so much time justifying our programs to our schools, that we sometimes forget that everything is a work-in-progress, and not all programs are meant to survive year after year. It's okay to have a program that flops, sometimes in spite of your best efforts. Use your misses as an opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of your students. Sometimes students change faster than we do, and our programs are just not reflecting their current needs. Sometimes a program misses and there is no explanation why it did not work. The key is not to be afraid of failure, and not to take successes for granted. Sometimes it seems as if law school curriculum is set in stone (and from the Stone Age) but ASP needs to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of our students.
If you do have some spare time this summer, there are a handful of new or revised ASP books on the market that could be helpful to you. I suggest everyone take a look at Carolina Academic Press (CAP) website and check out their new titles, as well as West and Aspen. Don't be afraid to ask for a desk copy; publishers offer them so you can check out their books and recommend them to students.
Even if you are involved in bar prep, take some time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Staycation, vacation, or just a couple of days off--everyone needs a break.
Everyone should take advantage of the wonderful conferences being offered this summer and early fall. As always, LSAC has some amazing conferences planned, as well as the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference in Topeka. (I am an presently out of the conference loop because of time constraints and budget cuts, so I may be missing some.) It is wonderful to catch up with colleagues and share successes and horror stories (we all got 'em!)
For the next couple of weeks I will be leading orientation sessions for incoming freshman, and then I am off to teach 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at Stanford for a couple of weeks (my version of a vacation), so my posts may be a bit more sparse than usual. Here is to wishing everyone a wonderful, healthy, relaxing summer! (RCF)
May 27, 2010
Orientation Highs and Lows
Orientation started here at UConn last week. This is a wonderful time of the year when I get to meet my incoming freshman and help them start their college careers on the right foot. It's a refreshing change of pace to work with excited, happy kids looking forward to the next stage of their life. This is also an incredibly busy time of year; at least two days a week I meet with more than 30 students a day to go over their courses and career plans if they are pre-law. Here are some of the things I have learned from orientation over the past two years.
The excitement and enthusiasm for the future of 18 year olds can cheer up anyone. They are not the jaded, cynical teenagers we see on TV. They see the world for all the amazing potential it holds.
18 year olds can't wait to be adults and have the privileges we often feel are burdens. It reminds you of all the great things that go along with responsibility.
This is the chance for an ASPer to help pre-law students choose classes that will help them succeed in law school. Classes that stress critical thinking, analytical writing, and use of primary sources provide a great foundation for law school.
Parents, please let your children choose their own path. Nothing is more heartbreaking than working with an 18 year old who already looks defeated because their parents have decided they will be happy if they become a lawyer (doctor, investment banker, engineer). A colleague spent more than an hour with one student who could not choose one elective; it was the only class his parents did not pre-choose for him. He was overwhelmed by all the classes he wished he could take, but couldn't.
Rateyourprofessor.com. It's insidious. (Disclosure: I am ranked, at two different schools, and I am well-ranked. I still hate it.) It is not monitored, and it's the worst possible way to choose professors. It breaks my heart to see kids choosing classes based on who is the easiest grader, rather than the classes where they will learn the most.
You have to watch people make mistakes, and you can't stop them. We see a lot of this in ASP. It happens at the pre-law stage just as much. From choosing "easy" classes instead of great learning opportunities, poor lifestyle choices, to ignoring enrichment opportunities, it's hard to watch people make mistakes. And it's hard for their professors not to tell them they are making mistakes.
While I am specifically referring to freshman orientation here, all these lessons are true for law students just beginning their journey as well. We should take the time to appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a fresh perspective on life.
May 05, 2010
ADHD in adults (in law school)
I thought this was interesting, especially as so many of us are preparing students for finals.
"I see adults with ADHD who are in medical and law school or running companies, and at some point, they hit a ceiling. Their coping mechanisms aren't effective anymore," says Peter Jaksa, a clinical psychologist who works with ADHD patients in Chicago.
Many people in law school are incredibly smart, and managed to succeed in college (and sometimes a prior career) because their intelligence overcame their inability to focus or concentrate. No matter how naturally smart someone is, reading cases and fact patterns requires prolonged focus and concentration, which is why many students "hit the wall" when they get to law school.
However, it's sometimes very difficult to get a sense of what the real issue is with a student. I don't know any MD ASPer's, but most of us aren't qualified to make any sort of diagnosis, only suggest testing by a specialist. Students who don't like law school, who find the cases boring and work monotonous, can have similar "symptoms" as students with undiagnosed ADHD. It's not our place to diagnose students, just give them their options and suggest testing. ASPer's should not feel like they have to have an answer for every student issue. Sometimes what we are seeing is more than an academic issue, and has a medical cause. (RCF)
April 24, 2010
The balance between "let me help you" and "you are an adult now"
I find as an ASP'er (and a faculty member when I wear that hat) that I regularly have to decide where to draw the line between offering assistance and allowing students to make their own decisions (and sometimes as a result, mistakes).
Take for instance the chronic "no show" student. This person has a standing appointment on my calendar (usually because of probation status) but part way through the semester disappears. It usually starts innocently enough - one of us has to re-schedule because of illness or out-of-town commitments. Our school does not have any immediate penalty with teeth to it if a probation student does not attend appointments. I make the gesture of a reminder e-mail encouraging the student to return to our scheduled appointments. But, I ultimately allow the student to decide if she wants to accept the assistance available.
Another example is the student who tells me that she is going to attend a workshop or make an appointment to discuss a particular study problem. Sometimes the student neither show ups for the workshop nor contacts me for an appointment. If I later bump into the student in the hallway, I'll follow up with encouragement to make an appointment so we can address the issue. After that, I drop the matter.
A final example pertains to the elective courses that I teach. I always have 30% of the grade connected to a presentation. I strongly encourage students to meet with me the week before their presentations so that I can alert them to any problems with their planned PowerPoints or handouts. If a student chooses not to meet with me, then the presentation may be incomplete or inaccurate and cost the student points that could have been gained with some additional pointers from me. When a student does not make an appointment within the expected time, I do not interfere since it is the student's choice (and responsibility) to request assistance or not.
The dilemma, of course, is that some students who most need the assistance are the very ones who do not take advantage of it. If I go beyond offers of assistance and encouragement, however, I end up playing a parental role. And lessons about asking for assistance are perhaps better learned in law school than later in life when the stakes are higher. The reality is that students will be on their own when they leave us. Employers and judges are not going to hold their hands. (Amy Jarmon)
April 21, 2010
Do teachers grade more harshly when they use red pens?
Some interesting science to report...at least one presenter at every ASP conference mentions that students feel that red pen makes it look as if the paper is "bleeding" negative comments. A new spin: teachers actually grade more harshly when using red pen. Another reason why green, pink, purple might be better bets when giving student feedback.
(I realize this link doesn't look like it fits with my post...it does.)
And a link to the full study is here:
The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards
by Rutchick, Slepian, and Ferris
April 12, 2010
Maybe you are not cut out for this place
I stumbled upon this blog post at Above the Law (I read ATL daily to keep up with what my students are reading about law school and legal careers). I am posting the link at the bottom of the page. It is written by a lawyer-turned-therapist who works with lawyers who are miserable because of their jobs. Disregarding the comments posted by readers, I found this is excellent advice for law students who are really, really unhappy being law students. Some unhappy students did not know what they were getting themselves into, or they were pressured into law school by well-meaning family members, or they are simply in crisis and need to take some time to sort out their life. No, this is certainly not a blog post that simply slams law school or being a lawyer (the WSJ just ran an article on the number of blogs devoted to that topic). It does have a very tough-love tone to it. I would rather have students who are miserable leave law school after one year of law school with 30, 40, or 50+k debt, than see them miserable three years later,150-200k in debt, and getting the type of negative feedback from senior associates and partners that is mentioned in the post. I would never pressure or even suggest to a student that they should leave, but if they open the door in a conversation with me, I don't have a problem showing them this article and discussing their options with them. These are not easy conversations to have with a student. No one relishes the thought of talking with a depressed student about leaving what they thought was their life's work and planning to pay off five-figure debt without a degree to show for it. But talking students through the bigger picture helps them find their own way: this is their life, and they need to be happy because they won't get a second chance. (RCF)
April 08, 2010
Failure as a choice
ASP'ers want students to succeed. We want them to live up to their academic potential. We want them to get A's and B's as often as possible. We want to congratulate them on their hard work. We want to see them blossom as they learn management skills to deal with stress, time, and organization.
Let's face it, most of us are practical problem solvers at heart. We desire to point students in the right direction. We suggest strategies and techniques that are based on learning or memory research. We teach all of the basic legal study skills. We brainstorm with students for possible solutions to their unique issues.
A few students get sidetracked by obstacles beyond their control: undiagnosed learning disabilities, hospitalization, family emergency, personal tragedy. They may have chosen to succeed but had their efforts cut short. These students' resulting academic difficulties may well reflect their exceptional circumstances rather than a choice to fail.
However, other students choose failure rather than success through a variety of daily decisions. They choose not to attend ASP workshops. They choose not to ask their professors for help. They choose not to attend structured study groups or tutoring sessions as 1L's. They choose not to use appropriate study aids to clear up their confusion. They choose not to complete practice questions for feedback. Even students who are required to participate in ASP can choose not to implement what they learn.
Some students compound these choices with other behaviors. They skip appointments for the flimsiest excuses. They do not prepare for class. They take their maximum absences without concern for learning. They party rather than study. A few may even feel entitled to good grades merely because they pay tutition and have succeeded in the past. A few may try to coast on their gifts of gab and ingratiating charm.
At law schools where there is not a second chance, students are suddenly faced with the consequences of their decisions. At law schools where a period of probation allows "rehabilitation" for prior decisions, many students will make new choices to succeed so that the consequences will not be dire. However, some probation students will have damaged their GPA's so severely that academic dismissal will become an almost certain mathematical conclusion.
ASP'ers can offer services, warn about bad choices, and counsel students about behaviors. But, sad as it may be, we cannot stop some students from exercising their personal right to fail. (Amy Jarmon)