Thursday, May 24, 2018
There's a line in the movie "The Greatest Showman" that goes something like this: "Comfort is the enemy of progress."
Attributed to PT Barnum, that got me thinking.
I began to wonder if comfort might also be the enemy of learning, or at least perhaps a barrier to learning.
That's because learning is, frankly, uncomfortable. And, it's uncomfortable because we learn from our own mistakes. And, mistakes are, well, hard for us to accept because they show us that we are frail and have much to learn.
In my own case, I got to thinking that I might be trying to create such a "perfect" learning environment, so perfect, that I might be leaving my students with very little room for making mistakes. In short, if that is the case, then there is very little left for my students to do, and if my students aren't doing, then they aren't making mistakes, and if they aren't making mistakes, then they really aren't learning at all. My quest for perfect teaching might be crowding out learning.
Of course, it's important to inspire our students, to serve a role models of what it means to be learners, and to create optimal learning environments. But, an optimal learning environment might just mean a lot less of them watching, listening, and observing me and a lot more of me watching, listening, and observing them. That's really hard for me to do because, quite simply, I want to help them along, I want to speed the learning process along, and I want to make learning as simple as possible because I don't like to see my students be uncomfortable.
That's especially true in the bar prep world. Much of bar prep is focused around talking heads featuring hours after hours of watching lectures hosted by prominent academics. And, those lectures (and especially re-watching those lectures) can lull us into a false sense that we are learning. In short, we can get mighty comfortable while watching lectures. But, unfortunately, watching is not learning. It might be an important and indeed necessary first step on the way to success on the bar exam, but, I daresay, no one passes the bar exam by watching others solve legal problems. Instead, people pass the bar exam because of what they are doing after the bar review lectures. And, that is really uncomfortable, especially in bar prep, because the stakes are so high and we make so many mistakes along the way. In fact, because the questions are so difficult, it's hard to feel like we are learning when we are making so many mistakes.
That's where we can come in as academic support professionals. We can dispel the myth that learning comes "naturally." No it doesn't. As I heard on a recent radio program, no one drifts into losing weight (or gaining strength or developing any new skill at all). We have to be intentional. We have to act purposefully. So too with learning. We don't become good at solving legal problems by osmosis, by watching lectures, by sitting on the sidelines observing others solve legal problems. We become good at solving legal problems by solving legal problems (and lots of them). And, I'm pretty sure that those wonderfully rehearsed bar review lectures didn't come out perfectly on the first cut. In fact, take a look at any of the back scenes from any movie. There are lots of outtakes that didn't make the cut. But, without the outtakes, there wouldn't be a movie because, like learning, making a movie means making a lot of mistakes along the way. So, as we support our students this summer as they prepare for their bar exams, let's give them room to learn. Let's help them appreciate that none of us became experts by being experts. Instead, we became good because we recognized that we weren't very good at all in the beginning but we keep at it, over and over, until we started to make progress, until we started to learn. Of course, along the way, it didn't feel very comfortable. But, because we know that learning is hard, humbling work...for all of us...it's okay to be uncomfortable. So, this summer, let's help our students embrace the uncomfortableness of learning by being myth-busters, and, in the process breaking down the real barriers to learning, namely, believing that learning comes naturally for everyone but us. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Like many of my colleagues, I am attending the Annual Association of Academic Support Educators Conference but that does not mean that work stops. Students know I am away but the panic does not subside despite leaving them with human and other resources. In between sessions and late evening into the night, I check email, respond to phone messages, critique essays, and prepare for bar exam programming. Many of the student messages I have received relate to bar exam preparation as some students have completed a week of bar review while others started bar review programs this week. Below are a few categories of student questions and concerns.
How do I learn the material?
I particularly love this question because it means that students are thinking about what they are doing while considering the long-term impact of what they do now. Furthermore, considering the depth of understanding rather than simply being able to recall information contributes to better performance on various components of the bar exam. This question often comes up when students have completed about a week of bar review and have likely covered two to three subject areas. They usually recognize the fast pace of the program and volumes of material they need to know but also anticipate what they have yet to cover. Students also recognize that simply watching lectures, reading material, and doing homework do not necessarily equate to studying for the test. In sum, students realize that passive review is helpful in the short term but they also need to retain, retrieve, and apply the information which might require active learning for long-term maximization of effort. We discuss how active work on the bar exam components until the end of the bar review period could help. We also discuss memorization, practice under timed and untimed circumstances, skill development in each of the components of the bar exam, self-care, and how to incorporate all of these things into their day to day lives.
How do I memorize the information?
This is another question I appreciate because yet again, students are considering the long-term access to information while possibly determining if they truly understand the information. Simply “looking at,” “reading,” and “hearing” a lot of law does not result in retention of the information. We discuss activities and tools past bar studiers used to memorize information and to revisit the information on a regular basis. Some examples include writing down all they can recall from memory for a particular topic, flash cards, random pop quizzes, and using a variety of bar review applications.
How do I use all of these resources?
This question relates to the issue of excessive bar review resources. Many well- intentioned alums who may have been successful on the bar exam the first time around, the second time around, or later feel the need to share their knowledge with current bar takers. Some of the offered advice is good, some horrible, and some does not apply to the individual shared with. The worse scenario is when one bar taker receives advice and materials from practically ten different individuals, all possibly swearing that a specific system or book is what led them to pass the bar; therefore, urging the bar taker to do the same. There are students who have materials from more than one bar vendor and numerous supplemental bar support books. They are overwhelmed and do not know what to do nor where to start. I instill in these bar takers that they paid for a bar review program and should start there. They should also have a general awareness of resources available to them, talk to me about various challenges along the way so as to collaboratively identify possible solutions, and discuss the incorporation of suitably identified resources. Simply doing everything everyone did does not necessarily help. I remind them that they are operating within a limited timeframe and most of them are pressed for time and each person needs to journey through.
How do I stay motivated?
To my astonishment and concern, this year as compared to previous years, some students have expressed a lack of motivation on day one and week one of bar review. Usually, adrenaline motivates them on day one and at least through week two but that does not seem to be the case. Several students are fatigued by the three-year law school journey while others took a vacation between graduation and bar review and both now experience difficulties getting into the swing of bar review. To address this, we discuss how to manage the upcoming three day weekend particularly since they have a “day off” (technically). This might be an ideal opportunity to rest and recoup once plans have been made for effective time management of the bar review period and also after completing assignments.
Happy Bar Review Season to all my colleagues who participate in bar review preparation! (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, May 13, 2018
I always reach this last gasp of the semester with mixed emotions. I am glad to end the rush of the last several months. I look forward to starting my long list of summer projects.
But, I will miss having as many students present in the building. There will be some bar studiers who stay in Lubbock and a small number of summer school students. Most students will head to other parts of the state or farther afield for summer clerkships.
It is always a time of reflection for me. I think about programs and resources - the successes, the so-so's, and the won't-do-that-again's.
But mostly I think about individual students. After all, they are the reason that I love the work I do.
- I think about the first-year students who learned new skills to succeed in law school and surprised themselves with how much they have learned.
- I think about probation students who turned around their skills to succeed this semester and regain their confidence.
- I think about upper-division students who came back for "10,000-mile check-ups" or to hone specific skills we had started to work on previously.
- I think about upper-division students whose friends urged them to see me for help because "it worked for them last year."
- I think about the students who just needed someone to talk with, to vent to, or to steal away for a few minutes of tears in an office that always has a ready box of tissues.
- I think about the graduating third-year students who I have seen grow as individuals as well as new professionals - that proud parent feeling that ASP'ers often have.
Yes, summer will give me a chance to reorganize, develop new programs, and take a bit of a break for some travel. Three months of projects ahead of me before the ASP whirlwind will begin again.
But, you know, it will be the anticipation in August of the arriving new class and the returning students that will bring a big smile back to my face. The summer is nice, but not what I look forward to the most. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, May 10, 2018
I just had one of the best weekends of my life.
But, before I get into the details, here's a bit of background about law school life in general.
As summarized by the Colorado Supreme Court, a 2016 survey of 3300 law students at 15 law schools indicated that law school life is, simply put, brutal to one's well-being.
Here's the specifics:
- 23 percent of surveyed law students reported mild to moderate anxiety with another 14 percent reporting severe anxiety
- 17 percent of surveyed law students reported being depressed
- 43 percent of surveyed law students reported binge drinking at least once in the previous two weeks
In short, law school life can be really tough. I know. In my case, anxiety started to first take over my life...as a first-year law student in law school. There's so much to think about, which I translate into "there's so much to worry about." And, I was worried about everything, especially being called upon, in which, of course, I felt like I would finally be revealed as a fraud - an imposter not really belonging in law school. Ever since I have realized how powerful our thoughts can be to our well-being.
That brings me to my recent weekend adventure...
You see, it started just like any other weekend - busy. In fact, extra busy. So, busy that in my rush to wash my blue jeans, I forgot to check my pockets. Yep, my gleaming smartphone took a deep water plunge into the washing machine...for a good hour (my pants were really dirty). The good news is that my phone was really clean now. The great news...I actually felt relieved. I felt free. I no longer had this overarching, almost itching desire to constantly check my phone for messages, texts, and yes I'm old-fashioned, phone calls. Simply put, my phone was dead. Completely lifeless. Just a bunch of fancy sparkling metal and glass that couldn't speak to me, write to me, talk with me, or respond to me.
At first, to be honest, that left me speechless. But, oh what a weekend did I have! Or, to put it better, what a weekend did I experience!
Why, I started to connect to real things, real people, real situations, real life. And, in the course of connecting (or rather re-connecting), I started to feel less anxious. I wasn't worried about constantly checking email. It was almost gleeful.
Now, I don't recommend washing your phone. But, it was a lesson well-worth the price of admission. Even now, with a replacement phone at hand, I try to leave it behind. That's because the farther away my phone is from me, the better my own well-being.
So, with finals almost finished (or nearly so), take a weekend get-away that will be, simply put, priceless. Put that phone of yours away; bury it for the weekend; and go meet up with the world.
For more tips on developing well-being, please see the ABA's "Well-Being Took Kit for the Legal Profession," written by Anne Bradford, available at:
For the entire article regarding the survey results of law students, please see David B. Jaffe, et. al, "Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being," available at:
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam. Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores. In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.
Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers." People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores. I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students. And, that brings me to the field of human performance.
You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits." Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."
In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc. As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance. However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance. According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.
That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage. We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon. As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam. Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?
Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results. And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc."). Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."
And, that's where we come in. Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined. It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam. Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice." So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk. Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This week marks our last full week of classes. I have my last scheduled meetings with students and say goodbye to many of the 3Ls, as this will be the very last time I will interact with them in this capacity. These final meetings typically signify moments of nostalgia for 3Ls, many of whom did not believe they would make it to this point, completion (almost) of their law degree. I also use this time to wrap-up a number of programs and to thank and bid farewell to the teaching assistants hired through my program. Obviously, this is a week filled with goodbyes even though I will see most of these students throughout the exam period and/or at graduation. It is important to reflect on experiences and the law school journey, to keep things in perspective, and to take stock of accomplishments. Otherwise, students tend to focus on the work rather than the successes achieved over the past few weeks, months, and years. It is also timely for me to reflect on my own experiences of the year.
I remind each 3L that this is our final formal meeting. Some were anticipating this meeting while others were intensely focused on the task at hand and did not even remember. We collectively reminisce our first meeting which typically occurred sometime during their 1L year. We highlight some of the challenges they encountered and overcame, including a few seemingly impossible goals now achieved. I congratulate them on their hard work, determination, and achievements. I wish them further success as they move ahead and remind them that the same hard work and determination can be applied to their preparation to sit for the bar exam. The students thank me for the help throughout the years that enabled them to tackle various tasks. Usually, the students do not appear emotional at this time but some do at commencement.
I recently sat down with one of my TA’s during our weekly session and realized again that despite sharing information, through multiple mediums, about all of the services and programs my office offers, students only focus on what they need at the moment and forget or overlook everything else. This TA is well aware of the teaching assistant program because she used it as a 1L and became a TA but she was unaware of many other programs despite the fact that we went over this information during TA orientation. This semester, this TA helped me critique student essays so we interact weekly to discuss student progress, upcoming assignments, and general concerns. I was behind responding to a few of her email messages so we discussed the content in person. Whenever we discuss the program or event that captured my attention this or that week, she always says: “I had no idea you did X.” or “That is an amazing resource for students.” or “Your office does so much.” She then asks additional questions and I always smile. If anything, this reinforces a fundamental reason why I need student support, students get to know me and they provide free advertising for my office to other students.
All the very best to the 3Ls on the last lap of their law school experience and thank you to all of the teaching assistants who help academic support professionals maximize their reach. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, April 16, 2018
Have you ever had a long, hard day and come home to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream? I hope that isn’t just me. I will eat the entire pint despite the fact that I am trying to eat healthier and exercise more. Something about the end of the day makes eating grilled meat with green vegetables difficult. Five Guys Burgers is just more appealing, and the research gives me an excuse for why I keep stopping at the wrong place.
Willpower research helps us understand the best time to complete tasks and when we are more likely to succumb to temptation. Studies show that taxing intellectual endeavors requiring focus and willpower drain our energy to resist later temptations. Participants are more likely to eat a donut, cookie, or treat after a difficult task. Positive interactions during the difficult task can help retain some willpower. Understanding the research can help our students accomplishment more by using the right times of the day for studying.
The studies explain many student habits during law school. Law school classes are taxing endeavors. At the end of the day, most students are exhausted. The exhaustion leads to decreased willpower which makes it easy to stop studying, fail to complete readings, not complete practice questions, and focus more on electronics than law school. Students are behaving in predictable ways even though we continually tell them to add the extra work. Many students don’t have the willpower to complete what is already assigned, much less additional exercises.
My schedule during law school made completing tasks much easier. Before law school began, I made the choice to put studying as my top priority. I hadn’t made that choice in undergrad, so I knew I needed to make a change. My philosophy was to treat law school like a job. I arrived on campus for my first class and continued focusing on law school until I left. I read for the following days between classes and limited my lunch break to approximately 45 minutes. After my last class, I stayed on campus and read instead of going home. I left once I completed all my work. My routine and location made completing everything easier. I also completed all my assignments in a reasonable amount of time. I didn’t need tons of extra willpower because I created a good routine. Due to that plan, I can count on one hand the amount of class readings I missed in 3 years of law school. Good plans use willpower efficiently.
I urge students to follow a similar approach. Taking long breaks and saving reading to the end of the day makes completing work difficult. Class interactions are draining. The intellectual rigor of law school takes a toll. Being at home and exhausted makes it easy to go to the couch or surf the internet instead of finishing readings. Most people’s willpower in the evening is so low that failure to complete everything is inevitable. We all know that once you don’t complete an assignment, catching back up is difficult. Being behind leads to stress, and law school becomes unbearable. The stress decreases willpower leading to more uncompleted assignments. The cycle can be devastating. Creating a schedule is good, but being intentional with when tasks are scheduled can increase the likelihood of getting all the work done. Don’t merely create a plan. Create a good plan to efficiently use willpower to increase the chances of accomplishing all the tasks.
Willpower is a newly researched topic. The research can lay the foundation for how we schedule our day. We should encourage everyone to create schedules that are realistic and maximize study time when we are most motivated. Everyone will learn and retain more when studying at optimal times.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I'm a clipper. That's right. I keep an assortment of articles that intrigue me and then I return to them periodically to reflect on what I have learned. One article caught my attention today...and...just in the nick of time. You see, I'm just plain tired out. Perhaps you are too, trying to do too much and to be too much. Just spread out too thin to make much of a difference in the world, it seems.
So with classes starting to come to a close for many of us and our law students, I thought I'd take a pause to reflect on some principles that might help me become better at being better. Here's what I mean by that. Rather than being better at doing things, perhaps I might become better at being, in short, at being human. I love that word "being" because it deals with the "hear and now" rather than the tomorrows. It's loaded with action...in the present moment. So, what action did I take that helped me get back to the present today?
Well, I've been carrying around an article that I clipped out dealing with New Year's Resolutions. With so much stress right now as I try to finish teaching my courses, preparing for finals, and getting ready for the summer bar passage season, I thought that now was the perfect time to reflect on what I had learned about being a better person from an article entitled "Set the Bar High for Your 2018 Resolutions" by Jason Zweig (Wall Street Journal dated December 30-31, 2017), available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/lessismore Here are some of the quotes:
- "Talk less; listen more." Unfortunately, much of the time, I'm talking but not listening. I love the advice here because it helps remind me to appreciate the other person, to value the other person, to embrace the other person. On a personal note, within the world of academic support, I find that I am often too quick to provide solutions before I've yet to even understand the problem. So, this is great advice when working with students too.
- "Learn something interesting every day." That's right; be curious. As I drove to school today, I was passed by a school bus. That's right - a school bus. Yes, I am a slow driver (at least usually when I'm headed to work; much faster when I'm headed home!). As the bus passed me by, I happened to notice something strange about the school bus. It was from a public school that was named something like "The School for Expeditionary Learning." That got me thinking. Perhaps that's the way that I might better describe the learning process with my students. Be courageous in your learning. Be daring in your learning. Be expeditionary in your learning.
- "Get home 15 minutes earlier. It will make you 15 minutes more efficient the next day." To be honest, I'm not quite sure I understand this advice. But, here's my take nonetheless. Much of my day is hurried and busy because I let it be that way. Take for instance email and messaging. Rather than disabling notifications, I just keep getting these pop-up alerts, right from the get-go of my day, taking me off message from what my first priorities ought to be. So, here's my take on this quote. Disable notifications. Only look at email in the middle of the day after I've already worked on the big tasks at hand. Don't let the little things get in the way of doing the great things each day.
- "Stop walking with your phone in your hand all of the time. Look up and see how beautiful and strange the world is." I did one better, at least I think so. I am practicing leaving my phone in my car while at work. That's because I find that even if I just carry my phone with me I feel drawn to it. So, I make it unavailable to me in order that I can't fall prey to its tantalizing alerts and beeps that so often distractingly beckon for my attention.
- "Introduce yourself to all the people at your job [school] whom you see every day but haven't met yet." As a corollary to no. 4 above (leaving your phone behind while at school), you'll have a lot more time to actually take note of the people around you. So, share a smile with them. Look one another in the eyes. Maybe even say a friendly word or two. You see, I suspect that one of the loneliest places in the world is right in the midst of the crowd, especially a law school crowd. If true, there are many people all around us that are yearning for a place of fellowship, a place of relational togetherness, a place to belong. That's definitely me. So, rather than wait for others to say hello, I thought I'd just take the initiative and extend a friendly greeting to those I know...and those I don't too. The more the merrier!
With all of the stresses and strains of our busy law school lives, I was so glad that I happened to clip this article. It reminded me that often its the little things of the here and now that are really the great things. Unfortunately, so often I have it backwards. I'm busy, so busy that I don't have time to do anything meaningful at all. So, I took a brief pause today to remind myself of what it means to be a human being in relationship with others. That sure looks much more exciting that staring yet again at my phone. So, have fun smiling...and being too! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It is about that time of the semester when students are simply tired. Most, if not all of their major commitments are completed and the final commitment is probably to finish off the semester. At this time, moaning and groaning are common. Some students simply want classes to end so they can begin to prepare for exams while others would rather skip exams and begin the summer break.
From this group of students, I hear: “I am over it!” “I don’t care anymore.” “I am ready to graduate.” “Get me out of here, I have completely checked-out.” For many 3Ls, fatigue seems to weigh them down as the end approaches; commencement marks the end of their legal education and the beginning of their professional careers. As students, they worked hard for almost three years as they assumed leadership roles, were members of student organizations, worked with various legal entities, participated in legal clinics and a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and have almost completed the requirements for graduation. These students are simply tired! Completing and submitting bar applications seemed to mark the end but they are quickly reminded that they still have final exams ahead. Gearing up for commencement by ordering graduation regalia, notifying family and friends, and planning graduation celebrations are exciting activities that seem to serve only as a distraction from the inevitable, exams. I try to remind students that “their journeys are not over until they are over,” they still need to pass classes to obtain their degree. They probably do not want to return to the same institution after walking across the stage at commencement or self-sabotage by failing to complete one of the requirements necessary to sit for most bar exams, completion of a law degree. This reality check appears to provide temporary motivation for some.
For this group of students, 2Ls, the thrill of the first semester of the second year of law school has disappeared. They began the academic year excited and motivated because they got to select their course schedule and participate in all of the activities they hoped for in law school. Many probably overcommitted themselves to a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities they ambitiously thought they could simultaneously undertake. They were initially motivated by the excitement and energy earned from study abroad, externship, legal work, and courses completed over the summer. New extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that motivated them now appear routine and in retrospect, many realize that they overcommitted themselves. At this point, 2Ls are desperately trying to re-energize in order to finish the semester strong. Those who already have summer opportunities lined-up seem less motivated. My reality check to this group is: “you did it to yourself, you committed to these activities so you need to finish your commitments.”
These students are simply in shock that legal writing is officially over or will be over within a matter of days. They have spent so much time with their appellate briefs and it was a major aspect of their second semester. A task that seemed impossible at first manifested in the completion of the appellate brief, oral argument, and the legal writing course. Many tell me that for the first time in months, they happily and restfully took naps or slept for a full eight hours. Many are also excited to devote their complete attention to preparing for final exams. Some students whom I have not seen in a while are suddenly appearing in my office to discuss final exams. The realization that the end of the first year of law school is in sight seems overwhelming. My reality check to this group is: “you have a lot of work to do because you somewhat disengaged from your doctrinal classes and now have limited time to get on track so plan wisely and maximize the time you have remaining.” (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Over the weekend there was a lot of talk in my house about Easter baskets, which got me thinking about law school survival baskets. If you know a law student who is about to start studying for spring exams or perhaps the bar exam, consider making them an Exam Survival Basket. Pre-assembled gift baskets are readily available online, but for a fraction of the cost you can create your own. You may want to include things from the list below—in no particular order:
Daytime cold or allergy medicine
Trail mix or granola bars
Beef jerky or peanut butter
Law student’s favorite snack
Coffee shop gift card or K-cups
Empty Ziploc bags
Ear plugs (cordless)
Stress ball or playdough
Poster board for mind-maps
Contact case and saline solution
Backup reading glasses
Good luck token, like a stuffed animal
University branded swag like a coffee mug or hooded sweatshirt
Business card of the law student’s bar preparation / academic support professor
Happy belated Easter! Happy Passover! Happy April!
(Kirsha & Roxy Trychta)
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. Being exhausted from grading numerous writing assignments into the wee hours of the morning, Prof. Katherine Lyons and Prof. Aimee Dudovitz (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) caught my attention with the title of their talk: "Integrating Quick Classroom Exercises that Connect Doctrine and Skills and Still Allow You (and Your Students) to Sleep at Night."
Frankly, this was a presentation that spoke directly to me. It was medicine for my tired heart and my hurried mind. I needed sleep (and lots of it)!
My favorite tip was what I'll paraphrase as the "one-moment question."
Just pop on the screen a one-moment research question and ask your students to get to work researching, drafting, and writing a quick 5-10 minute email answer. That's right. Start with researching. As the professors made clear, don't let them blurt out an answer. Instead, make them work. Tell them to start looking on the internet, digging into the legal research engines for their answers. Then, based on their own research discoveries, direct your students to write out short emails to provide you with precise answers to that particular question. Once submitted, now you can open up the classroom for a well-researched and informed conversation about the answer to the one-moment question. And, because the answers are super-short, it shouldn't take much time to at least make a mark or two on each answer as follow-up feedback.
As an example, Professors Lyons and Dudovitz suggested that one might ask - in the midst of a civil procedure class discussing the propriety of "tag" jurisdiction for instance - whether a plaintiff could properly serve a corporate defendant by serving the summons and complaint on an out-of-state corporate officer just passing through the local airport of the plaintiff's forum state. As a tip, the professors suggested that you pick out a question that has a bright-line answer based on jurisdictional precedent (and one that can be easily researched). And, as they suggested, as a bonus have the students keep track of their research trails in arriving at their answers.
That got me thinking. In my own teaching this semester, perhaps I should ask my students - in the midst of our studies of constitutional law - whether a state such as Colorado could hypothetically prohibit out-of-state residents from being licensed as Colorado attorneys and, if not, why not. To confess, I'm pretty sure about the answer but not exactly certain of the reason. But, I think it has to do with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause. So, I better take heed of the professors' advice and start researching for myself. In the process, I think that I might just become a better learner (and teacher too)! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Please see yesterday’s post by my colleague Kirsha Trychta for great background information and resources here.
What is happening in cyberspace
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the ABA Law Student Division are cosponsoring a Twitter Town Hall. The hope is to have a national conversation from coast to coast today. More information here:
Here’s what’s happening at our law school
- Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to wear green to show support for mental health awareness.
- The Office of Student Engagement asked that students share what they do to manage stress in law school. Faculty and staff were asked to share stress and anxiety relief strategies, highlight stress-reduction techniques and healthy recipes.
- A student organization, the Mindfulness Society, in collaboration with the Office of Student Engagement is hosting a lunch segment providing tips on stress and anxiety management in anticipation of final exams. Fun activities and take home treats are planned for those who attend.
What are you doing today?
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning techniques, but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
“Strive for Progress, Not Perfection” is the text on my laptop. Whenever I present a workshop or go before students using my laptop that is what they see. I selected this phrase because so many students are consumed with perfection at everything they do that they often lose sight of progress made. They forget about those obstacles they overcame which are fundamental to their knowledge base and ability. They are no longer novices because they have some experience. It is all about perspective.
Perfection may seem like a worthy goal to work towards or even try to achieve but in reality, it sometimes does more harm than good. Perfection is often an unattainable goal that can halt progress. Perfection for law students often means receiving “A” grades in all courses, achieving a perfect GPA, and involvement in coveted extracurricular activities. Whenever one or more of these is not achieved, students are left feeling less than adequate and feeling as though they do not belong in this environment. They focus on their mistakes and challenges which highlight negativity. In reality, very few students achieve the perfection they yearn. Not striving for perfection as a goal means that students can endeavor to improve their competencies and abilities, better themselves, become more effective and efficient with each task, and so much more.
Currently, several of my students have the “end of semester blues” as they grapple with project and paper deadlines, looming exams, and fear of not finding summer opportunities. This is usually when students express to me their overwhelming frustrations which may be summed up by one or more of the following statements:
“I have been told NO multiple times, I don’t know if I can fill out another application!”
“It appears that there is simply not enough time to complete everything I have to complete!”
“I am tired of having to work ten times harder than others and still fail to get opportunities that others seem to easily have access to with lesser credentials!”
“I feel like the environment is rejecting everything I care about right now. How do I realign my passions with what I am learning and doing?”
“I am rethinking whether I can make a difference.”
It is my opinion that mistakes are the best way to learn, improve, or progress and it is imperative that students make mistakes and experience some challenges. Mistakes and challenges are necessary for learning, as well as building courage, perseverance, and problem-solving skills. In life, mistakes will happen and challenges will occur. It is the memory of each challenge and mistake that reminds the student of what they have overcome and their ability to prevail. It is my ardent belief that if students can honestly attempt their very best at whatever they do, then at the end, they will feel fulfilled even if they have not fully achieved what they perceive as success.
It is important to repackage perfectionism. Perfectionism should be seen as incremental progress rather than a single ultimate goal. There is so much joy that comes with celebrating each achievement regardless of how small or big. Commit to honestly performing your best, slowly edging your life closer and closer to where you want to be. Celebrate each and every success, failure, challenge, and mistake along the way. You may sometimes fall but as long as you get up after each negative experience and keep trying, you will make progress. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, March 19, 2018
Have you ever completed a task you didn’t want to do? Of course you have. We all do. Think about how you felt during the process. Were you encouraged about the accomplishment or were you just ready for it to be over? Did the feeling depend on your ultimate end goal? Grit researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth would suggest passion for the ultimate end goal makes a huge difference in perseverance and success.
Headlines and quick recitations of research indicate grit is a common denominator of successful people. Individuals, especially stressed and busy law students, can make assumptions about what grit entails based on a common understanding. Many people, myself included, heard small pieces of information and assumed grit meant hard work and perseverance in face of all obstacles. However, Dr. Duckworth suggests grit contains more than the common understanding. She argues perseverance is a major component, but perseverance combined with passion is critical for long-term grittiness.
Dr. Duckworth’s research into passion with perseverance resonates with me. I love playing golf. I am not uniquely good at golf, but I continue to play. After the glory of DST, I can go to the driving range once a week after my kids go to bed. I set goals and continually try to improve. However, I only improve about 1 shot a year on average, but I keep working hard on the process. Contrast golf with my low desire for running. Running is a great activity, but I tend to get bored and winded. Some OCU faculty and staff form relay teams to participate in the Oklahoma City Bombing Run to Remember in April. I participated last year and trained just enough to make it through the 5k leg. My desire to complete a run associated with the largest tragedy in my community keep me training and helped me complete the race. After April, I didn’t run again until November to start training for a 10k leg this year because I didn't have a larger reason to overcome my lack of desire to run. Even now, training is hard. My body hurts, so I keep making excuses to not follow my regimen. My desire is low, so I will not put in as much effort as I should. I also predict I won’t keep running after April again. Most of my running gains will be lost by next year.
Passion is a critical ingredient to get through law school. At orientation, I make first-year students write down why he/she wants to be an attorney. I tell them halfway through the semester they should read their why statement again. Any time they are stressed or finding classes difficult, I suggest going back to the why statement. Passion and the why can provide enough motivation to continue through struggles. No one will like every assignment. No one will like every class. Re-reading the reason for attending was to help unrepresented groups or provide a better life for family can be enough to complete the assignment in a way to learn the material to retain it for success on finals and the bar exam. Combining the why with perseverance can help overcome many of law school's challenges.
Learn how to tap into passion now because it will be critical in the practice of law. No one will like every deposition, client, case, discovery request, or contract. Trudging through it without passion won’t provide the best advocacy or work product, and that is not the grit that leads to success. Finding your passion for the end goal and persevering is what leads to long-term success.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Some law students who chat with me about discouraging grades take the view that this "failure" is permanent and unprecedented among others. Because many of them experienced only good grades before law school, they erroneously think that successful people never fail. They also worry that they cannot bounce back from this "black mark" on the academic record.
Here are some quotes that may help law students get perspective back on their discouraging grades:
- All things good to know are difficult to learn. Greek proverb
- The expert in anything was once a beginner. Helen Hayes
- You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals. Booker T. Washington
- If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time. Steve Jobs
- Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th. Julie Andrews
- It always seems impossible until it's done. Nelson Mandela
- Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. African proverb
- Tough times never last. But tough people do. Dr. Robert Schuller
- Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over. Guy Finley
- The beginning is always today. Mary Wollstonecraft
Getting a discouraging grade can lead to evaluating our errors and making permanent improvements that lead to positive future outcomes. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
In our created bar support group (link here), candid conversations evolved into the development of two primary camps. Group A includes those who absorb all information and have countless questions. Group B includes those who seem to panic each and every week as new information is presented. Even with the development of these two camps, all students support one another.
Group A students plan to sit for the bar exam in jurisdictions that administer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and several non-UBE jurisdictions. These students are excited to discuss questions they either asked but did not receive what they consider satisfactory answers or to reaffirm knowledge or concerns. These students take notes, ask a number of great questions, anticipate concerns that I have not even thought about, and appear eager and grateful each and every week. Our pre and post session discussions are vibrant and these students extend the discussions to involve other students who did not opt to join their sessions. This enables me to reach more students without additional programming.
Group B students generally plan to sit for the bar exam in non-UBE jurisdictions and one UBE jurisdiction. Obviously what exam a student takes is of no consequence because fear is fear. My goal is not to generate fear unless it is motivating for individual students. I encourage students to prepare and anticipate various scenarios throughout bar review so as they arise; students are not shocked but have a plan of attack. With this group of students, after each session they communicate how overwhelmed they are by new information and questions posed. We then discuss why the information may or may not relate to them and how to manage and compartmentalize the new information received. We typically end on a good note.
For example, a discussion addressing the pros and cons about where to study during bar review, to my surprise, significantly overwhelmed one of the students. Because I am very familiar with the student, we discussed choices she made 1L year and the impact those choices had on her academic performance. We also discussed her transition from undergraduate studies to law school, how ineffective it was for her to study back home over breaks, and highlighted some of the positive choices she made and their impact on her academic performance. She left the conversation with a plan she was comfortable with and we collectively decided it might be helpful for us to check-in after each session to discuss her individual circumstances.
As a bar support group, we have met seven times thus far and have five more meetings. As students pick-up their caps and gowns and start to receive books and schedules for their bar review program, these are all signs that the end of their law school career is upon them. This leads to a number of conversations about the excitement of graduation, the fear of bar review, and the true end of an educational journey. Education was predictable for many and serves as a safety net but now the realities of “adulting” are quite overwhelming and is probably the source of most of the fear that students in the bar support group experience. Whenever we have candid conversations, the fear of the end of what is familiar and facing the unknown is overwhelming for many. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
On Monday, March 5, the first day of the week-long spring break, the campus of Michigan State University welcomed several different visitors. You most certainly may have heard about the event through various news outlets but if you did not, then here is a link to a local news outlet in case you missed it.
During spring break, most of our students are out of the building but a few stick around to work on projects, outlines, prepare for competitions, and/or simply hope to get ahead before the semester recommences. All students cannot afford to go home or on a trip several times a semester or year, few stay local by choice. For those who stick around for whatever reason and who may have lost focus due to the events on campus, a number of alternative events were planned by various entities at the university. However, it was equally as important to the law students that they have something specific to support the law student constituency group. The Black Law Student Association with the support of Diversity and Equity Services Office created an alternative event titled “MSU Law BLSA Unity Space.” The program was intended to serve as an individual or group study time with inclusive conversation and food.
I showed up at the law school event because I am the student organization adviser and was in the building. As expected, there were few students in attendance and the event was free-flowing. It was a great community building event, with not much studying. First-year students met upper-level students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Students ate and connected with other students from their state of origin. At this event, I realized that I interact, on an individual basis, with students from different social groups who do not typically interact with one another. Students shared advice about courses, law school experiences, summer opportunities, feelings of isolation and alienation, and negative classroom experiences. We also engaged in more serious conversations about protests, history, voices, law school citizenship, and empowerment. The event was more than what the organizers and participants anticipated. Some students were curious about what was occurring on campus and followed the protests and speech on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The event went beyond the anticipation of both organizers and participants.
The comfortable setting enabled students to ask administrators about their experiences in law school which lead to candid conversations. Students appeared elated, realizing that administrators were human beings with conflicts and challenges. It humanized us all. Administrators for student engagement, career services, and the Dean stopped by to interact with students. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with students I have never previously interacted with. Our students are so talented and it was great to learn about their talents, knowledge, and interests. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, March 5, 2018
The sun is breaking through the clouds. Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks. Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising. Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks. Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.
For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday. 9 glorious days not being in class. 9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams. Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.
My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities. 4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams. Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May. Rest and recharge is key.
The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams. My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class. Spend the morning catching up on the outline. Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible. Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon. Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.
Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer. A couple of those evenings, do nothing. More resting and relaxing. Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume. Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships. Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break.
Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective. Take time to enjoy life. Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April. Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject. Success requires a good plan.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Congratulations Feb 2018 Bar Takers!
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a suggestion for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Or, Instagram them. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).