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).
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Monday officially marked the first day of the fall break for our students. This technically means that students have left the building until next week. First year law students who heeded warnings and upper level students who viewed the break as an opportunity to get ahead academically occupy study rooms in the library and classrooms throughout the building. A student or two might stop by my office or honor a scheduled meeting but this is also my opportunity to maximize my student-free time. While the students are away, I have much to accomplish but can also practice some self-care.
This is the first period of time since the semester began that I can sit, think, and complete a task without multiple interruptions. This is the perfect time to tackle some big projects and tasks that require minimal interruptions or multitasking. Below are just a few things I accomplished during this short week:
(1) Met and worked with a handful of students
(2) Met and discussed a January project with my supervisor
(3) Met with a colleague to discuss another January project
(4) Purged a number of papers
(5) Worked on mock exams
(6) Left the building for lunch
(7) Walked outside for some fresh air
(8) Took a personal day off from work
I hope that as Academic Support Professionals, we can all take a deep breath, rejuvenate, spend some time with family and friends, and come back energized to help students finish the semester strong. (Goldie Pritchard)
Saturday, November 18, 2017
It is a stressful time of the semester for many law students. Even if they have kept up with tasks, there is more to do. And if they are feeling behind, it can seem overwhelming.
As we draw closer to Thanksgiving, it is a good time to count one's blessings to put the stress into perspective.
Consider these law school and legal profession blessings:
- Being in law school and preparing to enter the legal profession are privileges that few people have.
- Being a lawyer will allow you to impact positively many clients and your community throughout your working career.
- Law school introduces you to people who will be life-long friends and colleagues.
- Learning the law challenges your status quo each day and forces you to use your intellect in new ways.
- Learning the law provides you with knowledge and insights that impact many aspects of your daily life: signing a lease, buying a house, filing your taxes, evaluating TV news stories, financing a car, writing a will.
- Law skill will advance your critical reading, critical writing, and critical thinking skills beyond what you envisioned before attending.
- Learning the law is valuable for many areas of employment whether you choose to practice or use your legal knowledge in industry, government, health care, or a myriad of other career paths.
Now consider all of the non-law-school blessings we have compared to so many other people in our world:
- Freedoms provided by living in the USA
- Family and friends
- Shelter, food, and clothing
- Safety and security
- Financial means
If your perspective becomes too narrow with upcoming exams on the horizon, just step back and broaden your perspective. Remind yourself that you are blessed in many ways. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
It can be quite difficult to adopt and maintain a positive outlook when everything around you seems to be falling apart. You may not find yourself in a position to have a positive attitude when time seems to evade you and you simply cannot find ample time to complete each and every task. This is a particularly stressful period of time for various populations I interact with; therefore, why not address positive thinking? 1Ls have possibly received feedback from a midterm and now have to change everything about the way they study, all while balancing their final writing assignment for the legal writing course. 2Ls and some 3Ls completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and some are now questioning whether or not they adequately prepared for the exam to obtain the desired score. Others are hoping to have successfully passed the MPRE so they do not have to take it again or take it for the third time if this is their second go at it. 3Ls are starting to panic as they realize that this is the last set of exams and all that stands between them and a law license are bar applications, final grades, and the bar exam. For all these groups, there are a few short weeks prior to final exams and each day gets them even closer.
With the above-mentioned concerns and the semester progressively nearing a close, students are tense and quite stressed. I try to keep all of this in perspective as I interact with these students individually and collectively. A positive attitude is infectious and with each interaction, my intent is to highlight positivity thus enabling students to focus on the “big picture” while remaining positive in each challenge they face along the way. A positive disposition can lead to success when obstacles are no longer viewed as obstacles but rather seen as opportunities. Individuals are more disposed to help others with a positive attitude and more likely to avoid those with a negative attitude. Negative thoughts, words, and attitudes generate negative feelings, moods, and behaviors. Negativity can forge a pathway to failure, frustration, and disappointment. I have witnessed students talk themselves out of opportunities and successes simply because of fear which generated negative attitudes.
How then does one address the inevitable occasional negative feelings? Creating a vision board with a list of things you aspire to have and are working towards. Stating weekly affirmations that uplift, encourage, and empower you. Adopting positive words in your inner dialogue or when interacting with others. Being cognizant of your negative internal dialogue and quickly changing it to positives can work wonders. All the best with the final stretch. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, November 2, 2017
With many law students facing final exams in just over a month, this is a great time for students to reflect on their learning with the goal of making beneficial improvements before it is too late, i.e., before final exams are over.
There are many such evaluation 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.
And, if you are a law student, there's no need to wait on your teachers to ask these questions. Rather, make them part and parcel of your learning today.
So, whether you are currently serving as a teacher or taking courses as a student, you'll find these questions to be rich empowering opportunities to make a real difference in your learning! (Scott Johns).
Monday, October 30, 2017
I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.
One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.
An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, October 29, 2017
We are at a time in the semester when students may be having motivation problems. Yet this is also the time in the semester when they need to stay motivated. Here are some tips to keep on track during the remainder of the semester when focusing on school work becomes difficult:
- Breaking large tasks into smaller tasks to make them less daunting can help motivate you to get your work done. It is easier to get motivated to read 5 pages than 30 pages or to outline one subtopic than an entire topic. On your to-do list, list 6 blocks of 5 pages rather than 30 pages together; list multiple subtopics rather than an outline topic. Cross off each smaller task as you complete it to see your progress.
- If you are having severe problems in your motivation to even get started on a small task on your to-do list, make the task even smaller. Tell yourself to read just one page or to outline just the first rule. Still problems? Then tell yourself one paragraph or one element of the rule. There is a point when you will realize it is ridiculous that you cannot complete a teeny task and thus might as well get started. Getting starting is usually the hardest part; most people can continue once they get started.
- Congratulate yourself each time you finish a task. Pat yourself on the back for your diligence. Set up a reward system: small rewards (cup of coffee, 5-minute meditation, snack) for small tasks; medium rewards (15-minute walk, short phone call with a friend, 2 short chapters in a fluff novel) for medium tasks; big rewards (a restaurant dinner, going to the cinema, an hour's play with a pet) for big tasks. Choose rewards that are meaningful for you.
- Avoid the moaners and groaners among your fellow law students. Hearing other people whine, complain, or spread doom and gloom affects your own mood. Wish your pessimistic classmate luck and walk away before you get infected with negativity.
- Find places to study away from the law school if necessary to stay motivated and positive: the main university library, other academic buildings, your apartment complex business center, the public library.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Yes, there are a lot of bright people here in law school. But remember that you were admitted because you also are one of those bright people. Besides, you are comparing yourself to the facades that others are projecting. This point in the semester causes a lot of false bravado that may not be backed up with as many study hours, as much exam preparedness, and as much confidence in reality.
- If you are not good at staying positive and motivated, ask a family member or friend to become Chief Encourager. Call or meet with that person for a pep talk each day. In addition, read positive scriptures, quotes, or sayings each morning and each evening to keep you motivated - maybe even post them around your apartment.
- An accountability partner may also be needed in addition to an encourager. Meet another law student at a certain time at the library. Each of you will do your own work, but having to meet gets you where you need to be to start studying. It stops you from spending another hour watching TV or playing video games at home.
- Watch out for de-motivating blood sugar drops in the afternoon. If you start to drag mid-afternoon, have a healthy snack: apple, granola bar, handful of nuts, yogurt, etc. Keep snacks in your backpack or carrel to provide a quick energy boost.
- Sunlight affects your mood. To combat the fall blahs, take a few minutes each afternoon to get outside the law building or your apartment and into the sun. Walk around the outside of the law building two times. Sit on your patio in the sun.
- Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious meals. Get some exercise. All of these lifestyle factors affect motivation. It is hard to stay focused on your studies if you are tired, hungry, wired on sugar and caffeine, or imitating a slug.
If you need help getting organized and motivated, visit with the Academic Support Professionals at your law school to get some assistance. I guarantee you that you will not be the first law student they have seen struggling with motivation. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Hat tip to Professor Mainero at Chapman...
In a recent new release from the California Supreme Court, the Court set out its reasons for not adjusting that state's current minimum passing bar exam score of 144 (1440 or 72 percent):
In the release, the Court discusses the following major points.
- The California Bar Exam has seen wide fluctuations in first-time pass rates since the state first begin using the current cut score of 144 (1440 or 72 percent) in 1987, and that more recent bar exam pass rate declines mirror bar exam pass rate declines across the nation based on published NCBE research findings.
- The Court acknowledged that the current cut score was "not established through a standard setting study," i.e., whether the bar exam's cut score measures minimum competency, and that most if not many states similarly lack such research studies.
- Thus, using July 2016 answers and scores with a panel of court-appointed subject matter experts, an independent psychometrician largely concluded that the a score of 139 (1390) [69.5%] was the baseline value for measuring minimum competency (though the study was questioned by two independent researchers and by many in the legal education community).
- Based on largely on the lack of data, the Court at this point in time is not convinced that the cut score needs adjustment based on either the independent psychometrician's research nor based on the numerous amicus letters the Court received.
- The Court will revisit the issue based on any "appropriate recommendation."
For those of us in the ASP community, we were hopeful. But, even though at least for now the Court did not amend the cut score, perhaps there is still a glimmer of sun shining through this news release right into our domain of expertise.
That's because the Court then goes on to "encourage the State Bar and all California law schools to work cooperatively together and with others in examining (1) whether student metrics, law school curricula and teaching techniques, and other factors might account for the recent decline in bar exam pass rates; (2) how such data might inform efforts to improve academic instruction for the benefit of law students preparing for licensure and practice; and (3) whether and to what extent changes implemented for the first time during administration of the July 2017 exam — that is, adoption of a two-day exam and equal weighting of the written and multiple choice portions of the exam — might bear on possible adjustment of the pass score.
Speaking plainly, the Court is reaching out to each of us in the field to provide the evidence as to what have actually been the factors in the most recent declines in bar pass rates (and how to improve legal education and the licensure exam). At least based on our own research study, it's not due to LSAT declines. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2842415. That's because we have seen dramatic swings in bar passage rates with very little fluctuation in LSAT scores at the 25 percentile and the mean. In other words, it seems like LSAT scores have, at least in our case, played very little (to no) role. If not LSAT, then what?
Well, here's a possible list of some of the factors:
- Increases in student debt loads.
- Increases in the numbers of bar takers studying largely or solely through online bar review learning platforms despite years of experience primarily as classroom learners.
- Changes in the bar exam subjects matter scope or format.
- Changes in the way(s) that we teach students to learn (and perhaps changes in the way students learn).
That's just a few possible other factors. But, without evidence, at this point in time the California Supreme Court will not adjust its bar exam cut score.
So, the time is ripe (or, to use a bit of contrast law terminology, "time is of the essence") in providing the Court, legal educators, the bar, and the public with what might be the appropriate cut score to measure minimum competency and whether the bar exam itself is actually up to the task. So, make your voice known today; share your thoughts and inspirations. Put it down perhaps in a draft SSRN article or essay or your own blog. But, make a record of what you know because what you know might make a real difference down the line in empowering people to succeed on the bar exam and as professional attorneys too! Simply put, there's no time to waste. (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
On an average day in my office critiquing a student’s essay, the phone rang and I picked it up saying hello. The caller identified himself but I was unsure about who he was. I asked him to kindly repeat the name. He repeated his name and qualified it by saying I am the parent of law student XYZ. I then immediately recognized who the person on the other end of the phone was. I had met this parent and his daughter prior to the start of the semester. At that time, we had an interesting conversation and he asked me to “look out” for his daughter as she began her law school journey. Once I recalled the earlier conversation, we proceeded to have a fruitful phone conversation during which the parent highlighted information from recent conversations with his daughter. He said that his daughter mentioned that I was very helpful to her, the various programs offered by my office were of great assistance and significantly contributed to her smooth transition to law school. The parent further indicated that the phone call was to thank me for all I had done thus far for his daughter. I was shocked and equally touched probably because I have never before had such a conversation with the parent of a student other than at graduation when the law school journey is over. This very brief conversation with the parent reconfirmed a fundamental reason for enjoying what I get to do.
I have heard the many conversations about undergraduate “helicopter parents” and how they are progressively becoming graduate and professional school “helicopter parents” but as an academic support professional, I have not yet fully experienced this phenomenon. Moreover, I would not characterize my interaction with this parent as “helicopter parent” in nature. I do not see how a parent’s expression of gratitude is comparable to a parent who might have excessive and overprotective interest in their child’s life. If I were interacting with a helicopter parent, I would expect to receive regular phone calls or email messages and would be peppered with questions, suggestions, and expectations.
We do not always reflect on the impact we have on the students we interact with. I must admit that I do get into the groove of the semester and perform certain tasks on autopilot as I manage each and every task, situation, or challenge. I may be on autopilot but I am well aware of the unique needs of individual students. I must admit that I can be quite demanding of certain students, especially when I see their potential and communicate it to them, as some students require a more tactful approach and a few more words of encouragement. How I engage with students may vary based on what I know about the student, what motivates them, what keeps them going, and what they need to be redirected and/or re-energized. Appreciation, recognition, and gratitude are all motivating factors that are of immense value to students we interact with. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 16, 2017
I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.
I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.
Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!
Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)
October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 12, 2017
The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist
As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year."
Most of us don't think that's too awful. I certainly depend on mine...and all the time. It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology. But, here's the rub. Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.
Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds." https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw
First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities. In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups. In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam. In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach). In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall. Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway. But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise. The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture. Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.
Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes. In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material. In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.
Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills. In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation. Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present. The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available. The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy. The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]." In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.
Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities. In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer. The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events. Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information. In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information. And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."
Plainly, that's a lot to think about. And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire." On that question, this article does not opine. But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade. Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes. (Scott Johns).
Monday, October 9, 2017
The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.
Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.
Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.
Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)
October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
The hustle and bustle of day to day academic support life does not always allow for me to say all that I would like to say to the countless students who contact me to let me know that they passed the bar exam. In the moment, I am excited, I might scream, my heart and my soul are filled with joy, and I might even shed a tear as the bar passer and I recall the challenges they overcame to make it to this point. While addressed to one individual, this letter addresses most of what I would have liked to say but may not have. I am certain that I missed something so please forgive me in advance.
I am so very proud of you!!! You passed the bar exam and did it on the first try! You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I am certain that your family is very excited for you. Many of your former law school colleagues have stopped by to ask whether I heard about your success and expressed their joy, excitement, and pride. You are an inspiration, a role model, and mentor to others who will walk in your shoes very soon so please do not take that role lightly. I also look to you for support of soon to be bar takers so please do not forget to provide me with any advice you have for those who will soon sit for your state bar exam.
At this time, passing the bar might be a surreal experience but I am here to remind you that you did it. I also want to remind you of what it took for you to get here because the journey was not a simple walk in the park. You sacrificed a lot in the past three years. Was it worth it to you? I want you to take some time prior to your swearing-in ceremony, prior to the start of your job, prior to your journey to finding a job, or prior to the official start of your legal journey to reflect on your legal education journey so that you never forget what it took to achieve this success.
Remember the community you come from and what lead you to consider pursuing a law degree. Maybe you are a first-generation college student, first-generation graduate, or first-generation professional school student so you had to sort through how to navigate the necessary steps to attend law school. Maybe everyone around you said you could not make it to or through law school or maybe you had a supportive family who believed that you could achieve anything and you were slated for success. Maybe you were the only one in your community to graduate from high school and/or college. But you did it and that in itself is an achievement you should be proud of.
Remember all that you sacrificed to attend law school and how much of a toll it took on you, your children, your marriage, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your family, and all those around you. Maybe you moved from across the country to attend law school. Maybe you gave up a well- paying job to live like a college student to pursue your dream of obtaining a legal education. Maybe you left an environment you felt comfortable in to move to one where you stuck out like a sore thumb and never really understood or felt a part of. Maybe you had to leave significant others behind or become a different type of parent, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter, brother, or sister to achieve your dream. Maybe you were not as “present” as you used to be, missed holiday celebrations, and other significant life events to obtain your law degree.
Remember the countless hours you devoted to law school studies and bar exam studies. Maybe you were admitted through a conditional admission program, alternative admission program, or simply opted to participate in a pre-law school program, early start program or jump start program. Maybe reading cases, understanding concepts, briefing, outlining, and drafting memoranda took you longer than the next person to master or at least get comfortable with. Maybe law school studies posed the first academic challenge you have ever experienced in life. Maybe you sacrificed hours on course preparation, did not yield the expected results but you kept going. Maybe you experienced many challenges during your summer bar studies. You had no idea how you would manage all of the subject matter and apply it when necessary. Maybe your scores and feedback on essays, Multistate Bar Exams (MBE), Multistate Performance Tests (MPT) and mock bar exams were subpar and you were unsure about whether you would pass the bar exam. Maybe your entry credentials did not “guarantee” law school or bar exam success but you nevertheless dispelled every single one of those myths - you PASSED!
Remember when you said that you were “over law school”, law school was not for you, and you wanted to and also planned to go back home and never return. Maybe you felt like an impostor, alienated, alone, pushed to your limit. What would have happened had you given up on your dream? Would you have experienced the success you now have? The world would have lost an amazing attorney, YOU!
Remember when you ran out of funds and had no food to eat, no means to buy books, and thought you might become homeless. You became resourceful, learned about the options available to you, and overcame each and every one of those obstacles. Your classmates, professors, friends, and family may not have known about your needs and thought you were doing alright. Remember when your grandmother passed away, when your classmate passed away, when your mother or your father told you they had cancer, and when you faced countless other tragedies. Those experiences may make you relatable to some of the clients you will encounter or at the very least will motivate you to support causes that impact various indigent, disenfranchised, and struggling communities and individuals. You are also a stronger person because of what you have experienced.
You did that! No one else! You stared fear and challenges in the eye and emerged stronger, wiser, and capable. Someone once told me: “what is meant for you is yours, and no one can ever take it away.” This statement holds true for you.
You are an amazing person! You inspire me every day and by sharing your story with me, many others will benefit. You persisted in the face of challenges when some others gave up.
My only advice is that you remember the positive things others did for you and do it for someone else if and whenever you are able to. That is the biggest reward you will ever experience. My role as your coach was to push you so that you would see your endless potential and to propel you beyond your own limited dreams and aspirations because hopefully, I saw more in you than you saw in yourself. Remember all that you are, all that you experienced, all that you accomplished and did not accomplish, and where you have been. Never be so important as to deny your ability to lift someone else up. You are done with one challenge and I am certain that you will experience countless others in the months and years to come but you are equipped for it all. Believe it!
All of the very best,
Your ASP and Bar Coach (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, October 2, 2017
I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.
Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.
A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.
But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)
I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.
It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams.
So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.
I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.
It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)
October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)