Thursday, February 22, 2018
As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up. Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others. Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free." You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."
There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week. It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.
It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday. But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us. So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam. You've earned it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Every year, I am aware of the stress that bar studiers experience the week before the bar exam but I continue to be surprised by its various forms of manifestation. Some bar studiers are so fearful of the exam ahead that they consider sitting for the bar exam at a later date, some anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, while others simply doubt their ability to pass after all the time and work they have invested. It is perfectly normal to have concerns and be nervous about the bar exam but when they ignore progress they have already made throughout the bar review process and when self-doubt, fear of failure, and a defeatist attitude dominate then momentum and progress made thus far could hinder the last few days of bar exam preparation. It is heartbreaking to be aware of the obstacles a bar studier has overcome to get to this point in bar preparation then see every bit of confidence they built up seemingly disappear. Worse of all is when the bar studier who served as the support system for other bar studiers breaks down. Fear is contagious and particularly when those who have relied on the strength of another become overwhelmed and scared when that person is overcome by fear and doubt.
If we are what we think then we must derive words that manifest our intentions and hopes. Even if we do not completely believe all that we say, we can at least state a desire we might like to see manifested and propel ourselves into making it a reality. Similarly, a change in attitude and a positive outlook on a situation may well become reality. I encourage bar studiers to have a few positive affirmations they can read out loud, say to themselves, or say with others. I ask them to think about something other than: “I will pass the bar exam.” I ask them to be specific with their choice of words to counter negative thoughts.
Below are some of the affirmations bar takers have shared with me over the years. Each is unique to individual bar taker’s state of mind and concern.
“I am capable of passing the bar exam because I have done everything necessary and in my power to ensure that result”
“I have been given endless talents which I can utilize to tackle unanticipated subjects on my essays and tasks on the MPT”
“I have a process for tackling MBE questions and when I panic, I will go back to my process”
“I have prepared for whatever comes my way (proctor failing to give 5-minute warning, others getting sick, others discussing issues I did not identify, etc..) on each exam day”
“I will stay away from people who create additional stress until the bar exam is over in order to surround myself with positivity”
“When I panic about my surroundings on exam day, I will remember that I have done this before (completed 200 MBEs in 6 hours) in bar review and get into my zone”
“I am capable, I made it through law school and can make it through this exam”
“I was very focused in my preparation for the bar exam so I am prepared”
“I will turn my nervous feelings into productive and positive energy to maximize my performance on this exam”
“I know most of what I need to know and what I don’t know I have a strategy for”
“Every day I got better at the tasks and will be my best on bar exam days”
“Passing the bar exam is not ACING the bar exam, it is achieving the passing score and I can do that. I reject the spirit of perfectionism”
“I succeed even in stressful situations”
“Today I release my fears and open my mind to new possibilities”
“Whatever I need to learn always comes my way at just the right moment”
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Are your students struggling with reading comprehension difficulties?
Well, it might be just related to something quite surprising...the ever-increasing emphasis in on-line reading over paper-based reading.
You see, according to educational researchers in Norway, even controlling for learning differences in student populations, on-line readers statistically underperform in comparison to paper-based readers (as ascertained by test results concerning reading comprehension). Anne Mangen, et al, "Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension," International Journal of Educational Research, 58:61-68 (2013), available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com
According the article, at least based on my own reading of the article, there are several possible reasons for the disparate tests results between on-line readers versus paper-based readers such as:
First, on-line reading often requires scrolling, which seems to negatively impact spatial orientation of the text because it disrupts our abilities to mentally represent and recall the material.
Second (and closely related), on-line reading lacks the visual certainty of knowing where to re-locate material that one is struggling with because on-line text is fluid (with different parts of the text never occurring preciously on the same page of the screen) in comparison to paper-based texts (in which we often visually recall a certain passage from its spatial position, for example, in the upper-left hand-side of the page in the text book). In other words, paper-based readers might perform better in comparison to on-line readers because paper-based readers can more easily reconstruct a mental image, leading to more efficient recall during assessment of the material previously read. Those same clues are often lacking in on-line text presentations.
Third, on-line reading seems to impair our overall metacognition abilities (our abilities to monitor and assess our own learning) because on-line reading tends to be perceived by us -- at the outset -- as a familiar way to glean information quickly (and almost effortlessly). In contrast, paper-based reading tends to be perceived by us -- from the get-go -- as requiring much more effort on our part in order to make sense of the text, which by implication suggests that paper-based reading pushes us to better monitor whether and to what extent we are learning through our reading as we move back and forth through the text. In other words, in on-line reading, we tend to overestimate our reading abilities.
If the article's conclusions are true, then that leads us to wonder whether, the next time we see one of our students struggling with reading cases, dissecting statutes, or analyzing multiple-choice or essay problems, perhaps we should first ask about their reading. Are they primarily reading using on-line text or paper-based text? The answer to the question might just lead to a memorable breakthrough in one's success in law school.
That leads me to one final thought.
I wrote this blog trying, as best I could, to read the Norwegian article online. So, please take what I've written as a grain of salt...because...I might have well have overestimated my own metacognition of the research findings.
In fact, writing this blog has been mighty hard work on my end because it's required near-endless multi-tasking as I switched screen shots between the article and the blog. In short, I very well might have demonstrated the merit of this research based on my own, perhaps mistaken, paraphrases of the research findings. I'll let you be the judge. Just make sure you print out the article before you read it! Oh, and if you're not sure if you can recall how to read old-fashioned paper text, here's a funny video clip that'll serve as reminder: https://www.youtube.com/medevialreadinghelpdesk (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Here's great research news that you can bank on, whether you are an ASP professional or a law student!
In brief, just having one academic course with individualized feedback corresponds to an increase of about a third of a letter grade. So, if you are a law student, make sure that you take advantage of your law school's resources - both in-class and out-of-class - to get individual feedback (and lots of it) each and every week. And, if you are an ASP professional, what a great opportunity to encourage law students to learn by doing.
Not quite convinced...
Check out the research details in the article entitled "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law School Performance" by Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis at: Impact of Individualized Feedback
In the interim, here's a snapshot from the article's abstract:
"...[S]tudents in sections that have previously or concurrently had a professor who provides individualized feedback consistently outperform students in sections that have not received any such feedback. The effect is both statistically significant and hardly trivial in magnitude, approaching about 1/3 of a grade increment after controlling for students’ LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA, gender, race, and country of birth. This effect corresponds to a 3.7 point increase in students’ LSAT scores in our model. Additionally, the positive impact of feedback is stronger among students whose combined LSAT score and undergraduate GPA falls below the median at the University of Minnesota Law School."
So, get a power boost on your academic performance by getting lots of feedback throughout the semester about your learning. As the research suggests, you'll be glad you did! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Lately, I have met with students with a variety of concerns about overall academic performance last semester. Many are assessing whether or not newly implemented strategies and approaches will benefit them during the spring semester final exam period. With the middle of the semester fast approaching, some students are already expressing regret regarding their academic performance and exam preparation thus far.
I have heard the word “regret” tossed around so many times lately. In exploring what students perceive “regret” to mean for them, I have discovered that it has different connotations for each student. For many of these students simply articulating their concerns and developing an action plan they can quickly implement has proven positive. Below are a few ways we (the students and I) have participated in addressing various student concerns:
Energy directed toward thoughts about steps one has failed to take, where the semester is going, or fears about failure is misdirected. That energy is better used when specific tasks are identified and implemented to yield expected results.
Students often panic when they see what others are doing or the work product that others have generated when they have nothing to show for the time that has now elapsed. Seeing what others do should be motivating rather than demoralizing. Furthermore, personal life issues, financial concerns, career concerns, summer opportunities, graduation, and the bar exam are some of the thoughts that consume time and prevent students from concentrating on more pressings tasks at hand. While all are valid concerns and considerations, they do not have to be simultaneously contemplated. Instead, they need to be prioritized.
Generate a Game Plan
Of course, this sounds very obvious but when I sit down with a student and really probe what a student’s plan is to address academic, life, and career concerns, often the student has nothing concrete to share. They have ideas and general plans but no timelines, deadlines, processes for setting realistic goals, systems for attaining goals, assessment mechanisms, and alternative options. All of which will help redirect energy and eliminate distractions because they have a process for addressing concerns which helps limit distractions and their energy is focused on implementation as they realize how much time they do have to accomplish goals.
Revisit Problem and Plan
Simply having a plan and implementing it is insufficient. Revisiting initial concerns to assess whether a plan addresses various elements is very important. A game plan may be effective for certain aspects but not for others. Simply adopting someone else’s plan may prove ineffective for one student, while requiring little or significant adjustment to suit another. Assessment keeps students on tasks, allows them to recognize successes, and encourages them to move forward. Being open and willing to make adjustments is necessary as well.
A positive attitude and positive expectations go a long way. Of course, life is filled with unexpected events which can affect one’s positivity meter but a good attitude goes a long way.
Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is always difficult but it challenges you with something you are not familiar or accustomed to and that challenge allows you to discover your potential. Trying approaches and strategies which might seem outrageous to you might yield positive results. Also, if you are simply repeating and doing what has not served you in the past, how are you ever to yield positive and different results?
Regret is simply regret unless you do something about it particularly when you still have lots of time to make significant changes that can yield positive results. Nothing is final until it is final and nothing is over until it is over. You still have ample time to turn things around. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Grit: a noun, meaning courage and resolve; strength of character.
Numerous law review articles and research studies have discussed the importance of "grit" in law school success. But grit isn't unique to academia; rather grit is essential for success in virtually any intense, high-stakes environment, including the Master Sommelier's exam and the Olympics. Don't believe me? Watch SOMM and WINNING to see just what I mean. These two documentary movies (both currently available on Netflix) highlight the importance of grit, and help remind law students that:
1. You typically learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.
2. Getting back up and trying again, especially when you're exhausted, is essential.
3. You should strive for perfection, so that if you fall a bit short, you'll still be successful.
4. You should want to succeed for yourself, not to please someone else; internal motivation is key.
SOMM "takes the viewer on a humorous, emotional and illuminating look into a mysterious world—the Court of Master Sommeliers and the massively intimidating Master Sommelier Exam. The Court of Master Sommeliers is one of the world's most prestigious, secretive, and exclusive organizations. Since its inception almost 40 years ago, less than 200 candidates have reached the exalted Master level. The exam covers literally every nuance of the world of wine, spirits and cigars. Those who have passed have put at risk their personal lives, their well-being, and often their sanity to pull it off. Shrouded in secrecy, access to the Court Of Master Sommeliers has always been strictly regulated, and cameras have never been allowed anywhere near the exam, until now."
SOMM puts the effort needed to pass the bar exam into crisp perspective. Law students will undoubtedly identify with one, or several, of the study strategies employed by the sommelier hopefuls. Students may also appreciate the various outsiders' viewpoints offered by each test-taker's significant other.
WINNING is one film about "five legendary athletes. The compelling and inspiring story of the journeys of tennis champion Martina Navratilova, golf great Jack Nicklaus, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, track and field star Edwin Moses, and Dutch Paralympian Esther Vergeer. Through candid interviews and footage of their most exciting championship moments, WINNING reveals their dreams, challenges and triumphs and explores why some athletes achieve greatness."
WINNING highlights how impactful external pressures to succeed can be on one's psyche. Those who succeeded in the athletic arena did so because they personally wanted to win. Viewers takeaway a real appreciation for the concept that a genuine desire to prove to yourself that you can achieve your own goals will motivate you to wake-up early and stay late each day. In addition, WINNING teaches the importance of striving for perfection while also maintaining realistic goals and expectations. Students of the law, just like Olympians, are benefitted when they remain vigilant about identifying their personal weaknesses and looking for ways to improve upon those skills. (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
This is the third week of classes and usually a time when many of my 3L students start thinking about the bar exam because they have either submitted bar applications, are working to complete applications, or have received materials from bar review vendors to start studying early for the bar exam. In response to articulated concerns of students I work with on a regular basis, particularly last year’s group, I decided to use this opportunity to build a bar support community among students. This is in addition to addressing fundamental questions related to bar applications and early bar study from the general population of students.
Last year we had a small group of dedicated 3Ls driven by the fear of the bar exam and who planned to sit for the exam in several different states. We had a few “real talk” segments to address fears about the bar exam, why students fail the bar exam, financial concerns during bar review and immediately after, and law school debt. This was also the opportunity to visit or revisit some of the skills and content addressed in the voluntary bar preparation course offered by the institution that not every student enrolled in. This was also a timely opportunity for me to form and solidify a better acquaintance with my students. We talked about home life and its impact on bar preparation, how students manage stress, and the financial challenges students face. These discussions allowed me to direct students to resources I was aware of or at least alert the students to other resources I heard of later. They also identified individual support system(s) for use throughout the bar study process. As a result, students checked-in with one another, encouraged each other, went to each other in moments of panic and sent encouraging messages to each other each day of the bar exam.
This year, with added work responsibilities and being the sole person responsible for academic support and bar support, I thought it impossible to offer the program again this year. However, students know how to get me on board. Several of the students who were part of the group last year and passed the bar exam appealed to me by phone and email to offer the program again this year to current students. Additionally, they encouraged current students to approach me about repeating it. Peppered with questions, I found room in my schedule and decided to repeat it this year only if a certain number of students signed-up. The threshold was met and I have a new set of students this semester.
We had our first meeting and even though it will be added work to my heavy schedule, I am equally very excited and optimistic about working with this new group of students. I have already learned so much about them individually and about their families. They are an enthusiastic group and I look forward to their growth and success on the bar exam. It is my ardent opinion that we must support our students holistically as they prepare for this high stakes test that is the bar exam. Although we cannot address all challenges students experience; we can help them through some challenges which might put them in a better mental state to prepare for and sit for the bar exam. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
January 8, 2018, was the first day back for all of our students. Although students had bold ideas and plans for the break; the question is whether or not they accomplished all or some of their aspirations and goals. The result is that students were successful in some things but fell short in others. Regardless of what the successes and shortcomings were, January 8th arrived and students had to go with the flow whether they were ready or not.
The first week of the spring semester is typically quite busy, not because I have an endless list of tasks to tackle, which by the way I do, but because there is a constant stream of students stopping by my office and I am putting out a number of unanticipated fires. Student interactions vary, many 3Ls are excited as they realize that this is their final semester of law school. Their conversations are filled with self-reflection about the challenges they overcame and the successes they now enjoy. I am typically excited for these students yet equally sad that students I have worked with for almost three years will soon move on. Some students want to share their incredible academic achievements particularly in courses they found challenging, some are thrilled by increases in overall GPA they now experience, and others are honored for achieving the highest grade in a certain class. Some of the 1Ls are hard on themselves as anticipated perfect GPAs have resulted in a “B+” or an “A-“ grade in certain classes, not recognizing their very good accomplishments but viewing them with disdain.
I am also greeted by some students I have never seen before, who tell me they will not be strangers to my office any longer because they now realize that they might need to seek additional help. A unique thing at this time is receiving panicked emails about bar application deadlines, selecting a jurisdiction to take the bar exam, and countless other concerns about the bar exam. For many others, contemplating the next steps after law school is frightening as they have yet to identify job prospects. Other than the constant flow of students in my office, there are random events that occur and require my attention such as a reserved room miraculously becoming unavailable, thus requiring a last minute rapid solution to this problem.
Although the start of the semester is usually busy, there is also a simultaneous element of fun, excitement, and challenge. When the students are not around, the building is quiet which is great at first, allowing me to be productive but very quickly becomes too quiet. The energy students exude fuels the building, keeps us moving, and is the very reason why we are here. Each year brings new opportunities to meet new students, to learn new things, and to see new growth. The students push me to become better at what I do and challenge me each and every day; thus, enabling me to bravely take on new suggestions and revamp my various activities and programs every year. Happy Spring 2018 to all. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, January 4, 2018
I've already fallen. Chocolate got me. I tried, super-hard; but try as I might, chocolate just has a magical grip on me.
That raises an interesting question.
Are there any New Year's resolutions that I actually might keep so that they become part of my life?
Well, I've got a resolution that both you and me (whether you are a teacher or a student) can bank on for making a meaningful difference in your law school experience.
In short, do less studying..and more learning.
That's right, less studying. You see, studiers study. They read and re-read, they highlight and re-highlight, they underline and re-underline their class readings, notes, and outlines. But, unfortunately, the data shows that these common study techniques are poor ways to learn. Don't believe me? Check this article out by Dr. John Dunlosky, entitled: "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning," in which Dr. Dunlosly surveys the learning science behind what works best for learning: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf
Now, before we throw away our highlighters, please note that Dr. Dunlosky acknowledges that highlighting is "fine"...provided that we recognize that highlighting is just "the beginning of the learning journey." In other words, to go from a studier to a learner involves moving beyond re-reading, highlighting, and underlining to become one that actually experiences, reflects, and acts upon the content. That sounds hard. And, it might be. But, it is not impossible, at all. Indeed, Dr. Dunlosky focuses on a handful of low-cost, readily-available learning strategies that can meaningfully improve your learning. Here's just a few of them:
First, engage in retrieval practice. Rather than re-reading a case, for example, close the casebook and ask yourself what was the case all about, why did I read it, what did it hold, what did I learn from it, etc.
Second, engage in lots of exercise with practice tests and problems. It's never too early to start.
Third, as you engage in learning through practice tests, aim to distribute the practice experiences rather than massing them in condensed, concentrated cramming sessions. You see, what we learn through distributed practice sticks. What we learn through cramming, well, we just don't really learn because it quickly disappears from our grasp.
Fourth, as you engage in learning through practice exercises, try to interleave your practice with a mix of problem types and even subjects. In other words, rather than just focusing on negligence problems in mass, for example, work a negligence hypothetical followed by an intentional tort problem and then a strict liability problem and finally back to a negligence problem. Far better yet, interleave torts problems with contracts hypotheticals, etc.
Fifth, as you engage in learning, try to elaborate why the rule applies...or...explain to yourself what steps were needed to solve the problems that you were analyzing...or...figure out what facts served as clues that you should have discussed certain issues.
That's just a few learning strategies that you can implement right away, as sort of a New Year's resolution to you, to help you do less studying this new year...but far more learning. So, here's to a new academic term of learning! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, December 21, 2017
|"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—|
|I took the one less traveled by,|
|And that has made all the difference."|
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
We are all travelers in this journey of life. It seems to me that I've been traveling some pretty busy and clogged highways as of late. You see, I'm constantly on the internet - from email to the web and on every road in between. Perhaps you too.
But, I noticed something extraordinary wonderful this week. The emails have slowed, nearly to a stand still. It's provided me with a very special gift at this holiday time. A chance to reflect, to ponder, to observe, to relate to others, and even an opportunity to settle back and read a real book (one with pages that you turn by hand, almost like those old, very old cars, with cranks to open and close car windows rather than electronic switches that zip windows up and down in a flash).
Interestingly, it seems like too much of a good thing can, well, be too much. And, the internet with its numerous electronic enticements and inducements might just be that good thing that can easily take over our lives.
Obviously, I'm not against the internet. I'm on it right now as I write this blog. But, according to researcher Dr. Steven Illardi at the University of Kansas, too much reliance on technological wizardly can be hazardous to one's well-being:
"Labor-saving inventions, from the Roomba to Netflix spare us the arduous tasks of our grandparents’ generation. But small actions like vacuuming and returning videotapes can have a positive impact on our well-being. Even modest physical activity can mitigate stress and stimulate the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin—powerful neurotransmitters that help spark motivation and regulate emotions. Remove physical exertion, and our brain’s pleasure centers can go dormant." https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-personal-tech-is-depressing
In the midst of this holiday season, why not take the "road less traveled" by giving yourself a wonderful gift by unplugging from the internet, even if just for one day. But first, let me be frank. Unplugging is not for the faint of heart; it takes purposefully choosing to travel down a different road, which perhaps at first blush, seems like a very lonely and difficult road.
You see, as Dr. Illardi relates, there's a research "study from 2010, in which about 1,000 students at 19 universities around the world pledged to give up all screens for 24 hours. Most students dropped out of the study in a matter of hours, and many reported symptoms of withdrawal associated with substance addiction." In other words, in choosing to take this road less traveled, even for just 24 hours, be ready to be ambushed by your own mind.
But, there's great news for those who kept moving on the "road less traveled" by staying unplugged for 24 hours. As Dr. Illardi states, "[T]hose who pushed through the initial discomfort and completed the experiment discovered a surprising array of benefits: greater calm, less fragmented attention, more meaningful conversations, deeper connections with friends and a greater sense of mindfulness."
So, as I wrap up my final blog of 2017, I'm about to go dark...I'll be shortly turning of the power switches to my computer and my so-called smart phone. At least based on the research, that's a very smart road to travel on. I'd love for you to travel with me and let me know how it goes! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
This week, I find myself void of creativity, innovation, and energy. My energy and strength were transferred to all of the students I interacted with over the last two to three weeks. On a daily basis, I have managed to complete only one administrative or planning task simply because emotions related to the preparation, anticipation, and taking of exams consumed my attention.
Student questions, concerns, and desires to debrief post exam consumed the remainder of the work day. Today is the last and final day of exams and I am almost as depleted as the students I see roaming the halls of the building. I, therefore, look forward to a short break within the next few days.
Although nervous energy consumed the hall outside the exam rooms; students remained filled with hope as they discussed their plans for the break. I was mistaken for an exam taker by a proctor, gave my final pep talk of the semester, and smiled as each student entered the exam room.
All the very best to students everywhere! Enjoy your break, see you next year, and remember these few quotes:
“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over” - Guy Finley
“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were”- Rainer Maria Rilke
“The beginning is always today” - Mary Wollstonecraft
Monday, December 18, 2017
Hearty congratulations to all of our ASP and bar prep colleagues for another semester of caring about and helping students! You are often the unsung heroes at your law schools. But those of us who share the commitment to students recognize your hard work. We appreciate the ideas you pass on to the rest of us regularly. We know you are an ever-present network of support behind each of us as ASP and bar prep professionals.
It has been a very busy fall semester. We congratulate you on the many hours you listened to, encouraged, prodded, and supported students. We all have memories of students' successes and stumbles and their laughter and tears from this semester. As grades come in, we will be cheering with some and consoling others. As graduates gear up to take - or retake - the February bar, we will be alongside them.
You may be tired right now. You may be dealing with staff shortages or budget cuts. You may be adding more duties to your already overloaded job description. You may even be a bit discouraged.
Now is the point in the semester to take some time to sit quietly and reflect on your many accomplishments. Remember the times when you made students' journeys more bearable because of encouraging them to persevere, believing in them, and providing strategies to assist in their success. Cast your eye down the lists of names for December graduates and fall bar passers and realize how many of their lives you touched for the better. Reread the thank you emails and notes you received over recent semesters.
Well done, colleagues. You matter. You make a difference every single day.
Relax and rest during the days you have off in coming weeks - whether a short holiday break or a full semester break. Recharge your batteries. Your students and graduates will once again need your expertise when the new semester begins. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Most of our first-year students have now completed their first semester of law school! Congratulations to all of you for hard work and perseverance! You deserve a round of applause and pats on the back for all of the things you have accomplished. At times the legal jargon, workload, and challenges of legal thinking and writing may have seemed overwhelming. But you did it! Wow!
Let's look at some of the things you accomplished this semester:
- You learned a new vocabulary of specialized legal terms and every-day terms that have a different legal meaning.
- You learned how the federal and state court systems work - in more detail than you ever thought you needed to know.
- You learned how the federal and state legislative systems work - with all the political and balance of powers nuances that cause complexity.
- You researched a variety of issues, drafted a variety of legal communications, and condensed your thoughts into precise, concise legal prose.
- You read and analyzed hundreds of court opinions, waded through an avalanche of uniform code and restatement sections, and parsed multi-layered rules of procedure.
- You survived the deer-in-the-headlights moments of Socratic Method and learned to think on your feet while answering questions you had not known even existed.
- You then synthesized and condensed it all into outlines to study for exams that encompassed an entire semester's learning.
- You reviewed reams of outline pages, completed practice questions ad nauseum, and distilled it all into attack outlines.
- You spent long blocks of time sitting in exam rooms applying your knowledge to a sea of fact patterns as your fingers cramped from typing.
- You learned how to deal with section dynamics, made some new friends for life, challenged yourself intellectually, and learned from legal experts.
- You participated in student organizations, listened to guest speakers on topics you knew nothing about before, and likely participated in community service.
Did you realize that you did all of that in just five short months? Hooray! Huzzah! Whoop-whoop! Cheers! Enjoy your semester break. Spend time with friends and family. Catch up on sleep. Relax. We are all proud of you for your accomplishments and look forward to seeing you at the beginning of a new semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 14, 2017
As they say, first impressions matter.
That got me thinking about the sorts of first impressions I am making with my students when the first contact that I have with most of my students is, unfortunately, often through my course syllabus. So, with finals nearly over for the fall term, I am taking a fresh look at my course syllabus to try to look at my syllabus from the viewpoint of my students.
What tone does my syllabus set?
What does it say about our upcoming term together?
Does my syllabus present the course as a "painstakingly dull walk through a dimly lit path" or does it "shine with adventures in learning?"
Well, truth be told, my syllabus is rather drab, littered with dates and topics and reading assignments but really without much of a heart of excitement. And yet, I really am excited about working with my students next semester with the goal of embarking on a richly-awarding journey together in learning. So, why not make that excitement shine in my syllabus? But how?
Well, here are a just a few free resources that I came across to help me evaluate, reflect, and re-write my syllabus so that I can better set the stage for an exciting adventure of learning with my students next term.
First, I love Cornell University's "Course Decision Guide" because it walks through step-by-step reflective questions to help me "size up" my course before I re-draft my syllabus in terms of learning objectives, learning activities, formative assessment activities, resource issues, student motivation, summative assessment, etc. https://www.cte.cornell.edu/CourseDecisionGuide
Second, I appreciate the insights shared by Mary Bart in her article entitled "A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning," reminding me in a "big picture sort-of-way" of concrete tips to set a positive learning environment right from the get-go just by how I frame my course description, for instance, in my syllabus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/a-learner-centered-syllabus-helps-set-the-tone-for-learning/
With these resources as a initial start, I'm off to re-envision my syllabus so that the first impression that I make with my students next semester is hopefully a positive one that gets us started off strong on a cooperative learning experience together. Let the adventure begin...with me rethinking and remaking me (or at least my syllabus)! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
How individuals manage difficult moments or periods of crisis is very telling of who they are as individuals, their perseverance, and their strength. As the title states, what happens when students are in the process of taking an exam and the computer screen goes blank or freezes? This might be a remote possibility if the student has done everything to ensure that the laptop and software are in perfect working order but unforeseen circumstances inevitably do occur. I always encourage students to mentally prepare for the worst case scenario and consider how they would address such a situation. There are three general categories of reactions I have observed students adopt.
(1) It’s over.
These individuals are in complete panic and cannot get past the fact that something went wrong. They might even be paralyzed, unable to move forward, and unable to adopt a new course. They are doing all they can to ensure that the computer will work again. They lose precious time but have convinced themselves that there is no other way they can complete the task. They are preventing themselves from moving forward in an effective and efficient way. They might even throw in the towel and give up at this point. This is a defeatist attitude which is not helpful on the exam or in the future.
(2) I can’t do this.
These individuals panic and might even say to themselves a number of negative things but they will ultimately complete the task at hand. These individuals are frustrated and thrown off by the sudden development but are somehow able to get it together and complete the task at hand. The negative self-talk is a defense mechanism used to cope with the stress but despite the discomfort, they finish the exam by handwriting in a Bluebook.
(3) I can do this.
These individual are accustomed to facing challenges and adversity in life and solving problems; therefore, they tackle the situation head-on. While they initially may be thrown off by the turn of events, they nevertheless go on and face the challenge. They might immediately start writing in a Bluebook while simultaneously attempting to reboot their computer but they continue to proceed with the work. The frustration often kicks in after the exam is turned in because they were on autopilot during the exam.
Of course, people will react in different ways depending on their level of comfort with the subject area, perceived and actual difficulty, and ability to manage crisis situations. Having a plan for whatever worse case situation can be helpful if you are ever faced with such a situation or one similar to what you have anticipated. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
As our students sit for their end of semester exams in a few short days, I consistently deem it important to encourage them to keep all things in perspective and remain focused. Whether or not they adhere to my advice is another story. Nevertheless, I provide the following information to our students, particularly first-year law students:
(1) Remember Why You Are In Law School
Revisit why you decided to come to law school, consider the things you always wanted to accomplish with your law degree, and focus on your purpose for being here. Visualize where you want to be which justifies the reason why you are here. Remember who you are doing it for. Maybe you are doing it for grandma who sacrificed everything to ensure that you got the education necessary to get you where you are now. Maybe you are doing it for your children, younger brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, or friends who look up to you and are motivated and inspired by you. Maybe you are a first generation high school, college, and/or law student and you want to show your family again that you are able to do this. Maybe you want to help individuals in your neighborhood, community, city or state, whatever the reason for you being here, remember it. A law school exam is minimal in the larger scheme of things you have accomplished in life and the challenges you have overcome in life thus far. You have passed tests in the past and you can pass these as well.
(2) Focus On The Task At Hand
Concentrate on all things exam preparation and being in the right frame of mind to take your exams. This might be a good time to visit professor office hours if you have not already and to work effectively in your study groups. You might want to get rid of all distractions so cut off social media, maybe even cable television and silence your cell phone during the study period. You will have plenty of time after exams to enjoy all of the activities that appeal to you. If you have friends and family members who would be a distraction to you then you might want to tell them that you will check-in with them after break. Don’t be shy about seeking help. Attend all course reviews offered by your professor.
(3) Stay Motivated
You may not have started off the semester strong but you can finish strong. Realize the adjustments you need to make and when you need to take a break. Find supportive people who can help keep you on task and on track. Help each other stay on track. The fear you feel is probably the product of the exhaustion you feel from the semester. Don’t let stress take over so much that you are ineffective in preparing for exams. Worry takes away from doing. Replace the worry about the exam with actually doing the work. Remember that you are not striving for perfection in your knowledge or preparation. Focus less on the grade and more on the learning and retention of information.
(4) You Can Do It
You made it this far, so you can complete the journey. You did not quit during orientation week, you did not quit in week seven when your legal writing assignment overwhelmed you, nor did you quit in week fourteen when the semester ended and the threat of exams was looming. By not quitting, you have already proven that you are not going anywhere and you have tenacity so why would you quit now. You were smart enough to get into law school and you are smart enough to pass your exams. Finish this journey with all you have, put forth your best effort, and let the chips fall where they may. All you can do is your very best in the time you have remaining so do it! If law school was easy then everyone would do it and everyone would make it to this point.
All the best to the 1Ls and upper-level students taking exams soon, if not already! (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Here are some quotes that may keep you going during exam studies. Keep plugging! You can do this! (Amy Jarmon)
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your nonsense. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The expert in anything was once a beginner. Helen Hayes
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao Tzu
All things good to know are difficult to learn. Greek proverb
It's hard to beat a person who never gives up. Babe Ruth
It always seems impossible until it's done. Nelson Mandela
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Vince Lombardi
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. Arthur Ashe
Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb about. Solomon Short
It's okay not to know but it's not okay to not try. Anonymous
You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals. Booker T. Washington
Thursday, November 30, 2017
There's a new documentary film out, telling the story of the co-authors of the Curious George adventure stories as they fled Paris for their lives with bicycles the couple hand-built from spare parts just 48 hours prior to the invasion of Hitler's troops. http://curiousgeorgedocumentary.com.
You see, the authors Margaret and Hans Reys were German Jews. Traveling south to neutral Portugal and "sleeping in barns and eating on the kindness of strangers" along the way, the couple eventually made their way to New York City. According to columnist Sarah Hess, who writes an article about the famous authors and the young filmmaker responsible for bringing to documentary life the incredible story of the Reys, the authors were, in part, imbuing Curious George with their own life experiences in learning to overcoming adversity by constantly maintaining a sense of curiosity and optimism despite the tremendous odds against them. Sarah Hass, "This is George," The Boulder Weekly, pp. 26-29 (Nov. 2017).
In Sarah Hass's article about the new documentary file, we read about how the film came to fruition through the efforts of an aspiring young filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazki. Yamazaki grew up in Japan reading the Adventures of Curious George. She loved the stories. Because of the international fame and relevance to children across the world, Yamazaki couldn't believe that no one had yet to tell the "story-behind-the-story" of the Rey's. Id. at 28-29. But, that almost stopped her from telling the story.
You see, Curious George was famously successful; Yamazaki - in her own words - was just a 24-year old filmmaker and director. In particular, as related to us by Sarah Hass, Hass explains that "deep down Yamazaki wondered if she was really the right one to tell the Rey's story. Shouldn't a more experienced director take on such an iconic tale? 'But, you know what I realized?' she ask[ed] rhetorically. 'If I had waited to start until I knew what I was doing, or until I knew I was the right person to do it, I still wouldn't have started." Id. at 29. (emphasis added).
So, Yamazaki went forward despite her lack of confidence in herself, "rely[ing] on borrowed equipment" and lots of IOU's to "pull it off," producing a documentary movie that would not have come to fruition without Yamazki overcoming her own lack of confidence in being a great story teller. Id. at 29.
With final exams just having started (or starting soon), many of us feel so inadequate, so inexperienced, so unfit to even begin to prepare for exams. Yes, we'll try our best to create often-times massive outlines, which turnout to be nothing more than our notes re-typed and re-formatted. But, it's not massive outlines or commercial flashcards that lead to success on our final exams. Rather, it's following in the footsteps of filmmaker Yamazaki and getting straight to the heart of the issue by step-by-step producing the final product - a film that captures what Yamazki learned and experienced in her curious explorations of the life stories of the Rey's in their own true adventures in overcoming adversity to achieve success.
As law students, most often we do not feel that we know enough to start actually tackling practicing exams. But, we are not tested on the quality of our study tools or how much law we memorized from flashcards. Rather, we are evaluated based on our abilities to communicate, probe, and plumb problem-solving scenarios, mostly often in hypothetical fact patterns based on what we have studied and pondered throughout the academic term. That means that - like Yamazaki - we need to overcome our lack of confidence and just start struggling forward with tackling lots of practice final exams.
Be adventures. Be curious. Be bold. Yes, that means that, like Curious George, you will find yourself making lots of mistakes, but it's in the making and learning from our mistakes in practice problems that we learn to solve the problems that we will face on our final exams. So, tell your own story of adventures this fall as you prepare for your final exams. And, best of luck! (Scott Johns).
P.S. The best sources for practice exams are your professors' previous exams. But, if not available, feel free to use some handy, albeit relatively short, past bar exams problems, available at the following link and sorted by subject matter: http://www.law.du.edu/oldcoloradoexams
Thursday, November 23, 2017
As highlighted in a recent article by Jerry Cianciolo, taking on an appreciative disposition reaps great benefits in terms of our health, our emotional state, and our mind too. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-substitute-for-complaint-free-wednesday-1511216941.
Citing to a Harvard article from 2015, Mr. Cianciolo relates that complimenting others leads to "positive changes in [our own] physiology, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and social relationships.” Let’s be real. That’s something we could all use in law school.
And yet (and not surprisingly), the opposite brings downsides. According to Stanford neurologist Robert Sapolosky, complaining and worrying leads to such negative health implications as adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure.
But I have to be honest. I’m a big-time worrier. To be frank, it seems like the stresses of law school life only serve to accentuate my worries. Perhaps you’re like me. If so, I have great news.
Our viewpoint is a matter of our choice. We can decide whether to worry or wonder, to complain or compliment, to lament or thank.
So, in the midst of this thanksgiving season, please join with me in choosing to spread some sunshine towards others, perhaps with a gentle smile of warmth to someone in law school that seems all alone, or a kind word to a friend that is having a difficult time of it preparing for final exams, or a generous spirit to someone who is down and out as we commute to campus. And, in the process of choosing to live out a thankful attitude in our words and deeds, our own hearts will radiate with warmth and gratitude. That’s something to be mighty thankful for throughout this season of law school as we turn the corner from our law school classrooms to preparing for final exams. And, it just might help with our problem-solving too! (Scott Johns).