Thursday, December 7, 2017
'Tis the season, they say.
But, for many law school graduates, the month of December seems like a herculean challenge because a number of graduates are preparing to retake the bar exam next February...after receiving devastating news that they did not pass.
So, let me write directly to you...to those of you who did not pass the bar exam this past summer.
First, you do not have to be a repeater. Repeaters repeat, with the same outcome likely to result. Instead, it's time to take advantage of the information and the experience that you had and turn it into a "fresh start." You see, you have "inside information," so to speak, that first-time takers lack. You know what it's like to sit for the exam, and, in most states, you have concrete information about what you did that was great along with inside scoop about where you can improve.
But, where is this inside info?
It's in the scores that you received along with your answers. The first step on your "fresh start" journey takes incredible courage but is key...grab hold of your exam questions and answers and work through them, one by one, reading the questions, outlining answers, writing solutions, and reflecting on what you learned through re-writing the exam. In the process, you'll be able to see firsthand where you can improve. That's important information that is not available to first-time takers. So, take advantage of it.
Second, don't focus on studying but on learning. You see, success this time around on the bar exam is not a matter of working harder but rather working differently. [That's why I’m always reluctant to call it studying because the focus should be on learning.]. From a big picture viewpoint, as Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emerita of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University describes, learning involves three overlapping activities focused on (1) content; (2) experiences; and, (3) reflection.
Let me be frank about the content phase of learning. We often feel so overwhelmed by the content, particularly because it comes to us from bar review companies in the form of massive detailed lectures and equally massive detailed outlines, that we never move beyond the content. In short, we don't feel like we know enough to practice. Consequently, we tend to be immobilized (i.e., stuck in) in the content stage. Instead of experiencing problem-solving first hand, we tend to re-read outlines, re-watch lectures, and in general create gigantic study tools before we have had sufficient experiences with the content to know what is really important in the big scheme of things.
And, in my experience, most often when people don’t pass the bar exam on the first time around, it is almost always NOT because they didn’t know enough law but rather because they wrote answers that didn’t match up with the questions asked. They were stuck in the content stage, spending too much time learning answers rather than experiencing questions. As mentioned above, that's because we are so naturally focused on trying to learn and memorize the law. But, I can’t EVER recall someone not passing because they didn’t know sufficient law. It’s almost as though we know too much law that the law becomes a barrier...because we write all of the law that we know in our answers...even if it is not relevant.
That’s why the second stage is so important – experiencing the content through active open book practice.
And, the third stage is critical too – reflection – because that is where we dig in to see patterns in the bar exam questions over time.
With that background in mind, let me offer a few suggestions so that you are not a repeater but a "fresh start" taker on your bar exam next February.
1. Avoid the Lectures! I would not redo the bar review commercial lectures. At the most, if you feel like you must, feel free to listen via podcasts while exercising, etc. In other words, just get them over and done with so that you can move quickly into the experiencing stage using the content of actual practice problems to solve problems for yourself. In other words, the least important thing in successfully passing the bar exam on the second go is listening to the lectures or reading outlines. Rather, as you work through practice problems, take the time to dig in and understand whether you really understood what was going one...that's the sort of experience in practicing along with the sort of reflection that makes a huge difference.
2. Daily Exercise! Establish a schedule so that you exercise consistent learning every day. The key is to be on a daily regimented schedule because it’s in your daily actions of experiencing and reflecting through actual bar exam problems that leads to big rises in bar exam scores.
3. Practice Makes Passing Possible! Right from the "get go," take advantage of every practice exam you can. Most of your days, from the very beginning of your studies, should be engaged in practicing actual bar exam problems and reflecting on what you learned. Don't try to learn the material through reading the outlines. Dig in and use the outlines to solve practice problems.
4. Reach Out To Your Law School! Meet once per week, on a schedule, with someone at your law school to talk out your work. Bring one of your written answers or a set of MBE question that you have done or a performance test problem that you just solved. You see, according to the learning scientists, when we explain to someone the steps that we took to solve a problem, it sticks with us. So, take advantage of your local ASP professionals on your law school campus.
5. Make Your Learning Work Count! Skip the commercial bar review online homework and drills. If the problems presented by your commercial course are not formatted like actual bar exam problems (essays, MBE questions, or performance test problems), don't do them. Period. That's because the bar examiners don't test whether you did the drills or the online homework; rather, they test whether you can communicate and solve hypothetical bar exam fact pattern problems. So, focus your work on the prize. Only do bar exam questions.
6. Two-Thousand! Okay...here's a number to remember. According to a recent successful "fresh start" taker, the number is 2000. That's right. A recent taker said that she/he did just about 2000 MBE questions. That's really experiencing the content. You see, it’s important to work through lots and lots of bar exam problems because that helps you to see fact patterns that trigger similar issues over and over. And, if you do that many questions, you don’t really have time for commercial bar review online homework or making gigantic study tools or re-watching the lectures over and over. Instead, you’ll be using your time...wisely...for what is really important, learning by doing. In particular, focus your learning (not studying!) on probing, pondering, and reflecting through every available essay and MBE question that you can. Unfortunately, we often hear of people slowing down in the practice arena during the last two weeks to make big study tools and to work on memorization. But, memorization doesn’t work without content...and content doesn't work with out experiencing lots and lots and lots of practice problems. In other words, by practicing every possible problem that you can get your hands on you are actually memorizing without even knowing it.
7. The Final Two Weeks! In the last two weeks, while you are still spending the bulk of your time practicing problems, for an hour or two a day, start to run through flashcards, or your old study tools, or posters, or your subject matter outlines. But, do so in a flash. It doesn’t matter whether you use commercial flash cards, your own note cards, or your own short subject matter outlines, etc., just pick something and use it to reflect on your learning. Here’s a suggestion: The learning science experts say that it is important to “elaborate,” i.e., to explain and talk through what you are learning and ask why it is important, etc. In other words, as you run through your study tools, put them into your own words, e.g., vocalize them, sing them out if you’d like, or even dance with them or put some “jazz” into them. In short, make your study tools live! However, always remember that the best way to make your study tools come to life is to use them to work through lots of bar exam problems throughout the last two weeks of bar prep.
8. Be Kind-Hearted To Yourself! Realize its okay to have melt-downs. Note, I said meltdowns not just a meltdown. Everyone has them, and they happen more than once. That's being human. So, be kind to yourself. Feel free to take time off for short adventures. The important thing is to take some time to rest and to rejuvenate, in whatever form works for you. My favorite is ice cream followed by a close second with hiking and even watching Andy Griffith shows (you’re too young to know what that is!).
Well, with that learning background as a foundation and these steps in mind, I wish you well as you prepare for success on your upcoming bar exam! (Scott Johns).
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).
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).
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Last Thursday (October 26) was National Pumpkin Day and today is Halloween; it seems like a fitting day to conclude my “Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson” series.
For the first four installments (read #1, #2, #3 and #4 here), I not only detailed my experience growing a giant pumpkin, but also tried to empathize with first-year law students. For this final post, I’d like to focus on “passion,” which I believe is an essential element to successfully transition from novice to expert.
You have to be truly passionate about the work in order to perform at a competitive level over a sustained period of time.
During the early morning hours on October 14, I officially entered my pumpkin in the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Grower’s annual weigh off. At 516 pounds, my pumpkin took 35th place out of 38 eligible entries.
Many of the more experienced growers were impressed with her* shape and color, but commented that she was simply “too small” to be a real contender—even in the rookie category. These other growers would then immediately follow-up their statement with a question about my plans for next year. Although each of their questions varied slightly (e.g. “What seed will you grow next year?” “Will you be performing a new soil test?” “Do you think you can outgrow your husband?”), implicit in every question was the notion that I would undoubtedly be growing a pumpkin again next year. I responded to each of their questions with a straightforward answer: “I’m not going to grow another pumpkin. This was a one-time-thing for me.” Then, almost universally, a sense of disbelief would appear on the questioner’s face for a brief moment before a Cheshire Cat grin would settle in across their lips. The grinning grower would respond with something like “Oh, give it a few months. You’ll be itching to plant a seed in the spring.”
After the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that the other growers simply did not (or perhaps more accurately, could not) believe me. Because these vegetable enthusiasts love growing pumpkins so much, they are unapologetically eager to get back in the patch and try something new. The fact that I was not as equally eager seemed too confusing for them to accept. But for me, most days in the patch were a chore that I could manage, not a task I wanted to master.
I suspect that both the “can do” folks and “want to do” crowd exists in the law student population as well. The question then becomes what do we, as academic support professors, do to assist the “can do” students; that is, those students who are able to achieve the minimum benchmarks of success, but are likely disinclined to challenge themselves during their three years of school. Can we motivate someone to evolve from “can do” to “want to do”? And, is the evolution really necessary?
With regard to the latter question first: I submit that the evolution is imperative to long term success in the legal field. Extrapolating from my own experience trying something new and challenging, I feel comfortable asserting that in order to be content and fulfilled while working long hours, you have to be truly passionate about the project. Therefore, if a law student possesses a can-do attitude, but doesn’t actually enjoy the work, he will eventually lose interest and the quality of the work will suffer. In law school that translates to mediocre grades, but in legal practice poor quality work may result in the loss of a client or even malpractice. In addition to producing lesser quality work, the student will be fundamentally discontent and unfulfilled. Perhaps this helps explain the extraordinarily high rates of depression among law students. The difference between me—the novice pumpkin grower—and the law student is that I have the luxury of walking away after one season. Giant pumpkin growing is just a hobby, not a career path. On the other hand, most law students—because of financial commitments, family pressure, or a lack of personal insight—are not in a position to just walk away from law school after one year. Even if the student finds the entire first year a laborious chore, his can-do attitude will likely convince him to return for another year.
So, if we conclude that the can-do student is likely to persist through all three years of law school, even if he finds the entire process somewhat miserable, then what can we do to help transition his mindset from can-do into one of want-to-do? How can we make him passionate about his project? I suspect that identifying the student’s long-term career plan and then tying law school tasks directly to his individual goal(s) may prove useful in reframing his motivation. A more defined end goal may motivate the student to engage beyond the basics and eventually spark a real passion. Numerous ASP articles outline the benefits of curiosity, self-directed learning, and internal motivation in achieving academic success. My own experience echoes these scholars' findings.
Looking forward: next time I encounter a can-do student, I plan to spend a few extra minutes trying to identify his real passion, and (hopefully) tie that passion directly to his legal studies. In short, I hope to spark a passion for the law which should better equip and inspire the novice to transition into an expert who is excited about facing new challenges and his own potential for exponential growth.
*Like most sailing vessels, giant pumpkins are referred to using female pronouns.
Happy Halloween! (Kirsha Trychta)
Novice grower at 516 pounds on the left; expert grower at 1,337 pounds on the right.
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)
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)
Saturday, October 7, 2017
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at ways the academy will change with Generations X, Y, and Z as students, faculty, and administrators. We tend to consider these generations as learners and lawyers, but we may not fully appreciate how our law school environments will change when they become faculty and administrators later. The link is Generations Article .
Friday, October 6, 2017
The debate on electronic devices in the classroom and no bans/partial bans/total bans continues as Generation Z enters the classrooms of higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently looked again at the issue: Gen Z Changes the Debate. (Amy Jarmon)
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)
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Perhaps surprisingly, there might be some ancient history right under your nose illustrating the value of creating "picture-books" to teach, guide, synthesis, and communicate legal principles at work. At least, that's the case at one law school's library (and it might be the same at your law library).
As related by the Wall Street Journal, the use of illustrations to depict the law is nothing new. And, it's not really old either because a brief internet search provides lots of exemplars, even in legal educational settings, of the value of "seeing" the law through pictures and illustrations. So, as you approach midterms or just want to help catch the "big picture" overview of your notes and outlines, feel free to doodle. Let yourself go wild with your legal imagination. Create something in a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words. That will be a great way to remember all of those words without having to try to even remember them!
For your reference, here's the article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/laws-picture-books-the-yale-law-library-collection-illustrating-the-letter-of-the-law-1506460653 (Scott Johns)
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Last year a self-confessed shy student came to my office in search of a study partner. She wanted to form a study group, but was uncomfortable soliciting classmates to join her group. She asked me if anyone else had inquired about the same thing, and if so, would I please put them in contact with her. Her request sparked an idea: an ASP-coordinated study group matchmaking service. Now in its second year, the Study Group Matchmaking Service has been a hit with first-year students. The service aids students in identifying other classmates who share their same learning preferences and study schedules. The service also provides a proposed structure for the study groups, with recommended meeting times, a pre-identified group leader, and suggested activities tied to the group's expressed learning preferences. For anyone who is interested in trying out the service at their school, here is a "How To."
Step One: Create a Survey Form
I start by creating a short, online questionnaire (using Qualtrics, which is similar to Survey Monkey). The 7-question survey asks:
- What's your name?
- Which professors do you have this semester? (check all the boxes that apply)
- Rank your VARK learning styles from most preferred (1) to least preferred (5).
- Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or introvert?
- Do you prefer to lead a group meeting or simply attend the meeting?
- When do you prefer to study: early morning, right before class (7-9am); midday, between classes and on the lunch break; afternoon, right after classes (4-6pm); evening (6-9pm); or late night (after 9pm)?
- Is there anything else you think Professor Trychta should know?
The online form allows me to download the responses into an Excel spreadsheet and then electronically sort answers to select questions, which helps in the matchmaking process. If your school uses the StrengthsQuest program or a Myers-Briggs personality inventory during Orientation, you may want to incorporate that information into your intake survey as well.
Step Two: Announce the Service
In mid-September, I send out an email describing the Study Group Matchmaking Service. I also post the same information to Facebook and TWEN. The email reads:
Are you interested in joining a (new) study group? The Academic Excellence Center seeks to group interested first-year students together into highly effective study groups. The benefits of an AEP study group—as opposed to your “friends group”—are many:
- Membership to the group will be based on your individual learning preferences (visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic), introvert/extrovert status, and other academic variables. If you don’t know your learning preference, click here to find out.
- Members will agree to a set of rules and standards to ensure that the group functions optimally.
- Each group will be limited to 2-4 individuals.
- Prof. Trychta and the Dean’s Fellows will be available to assist the AEP study groups with room reservations, locating practice problems, identifying ideal study strategies, and resolving disputes.
The other benefits of any study group include sharing case briefs, reviewing class notes, preparing group outlines, and, most importantly: group problem solving. If interested in being matched with a few like-minded classmates, complete this 7-question intake questionnaire (hyperlinked in original) by [next Thursday]. I’ll send out group announcements on [Friday morning], and you can plan to meet your new study group for a quick “hello” at 1:00 p.m. after Torts.
Step Three: Form the Groups
After the students complete the survey, I use the Excel document to look for patterns in their responses. I start by sorting the students based on their professors. Next I look for self-confessed group leaders and try to assign one leader to each potential group. Along those same lines, I try not to put two leaders in the same group, to minimize the opportunity for conflict. Then I break these groups into smaller subgroups based on learning preferences and desired study schedules. I am also mindful not to stick an introvert in a group with three extroverts, or vice versa. This process goes relatively smoothly for most of the students. However, the last few students can prove hard to place, especially if no one else shares a particular student's same preferences. For the handful of hard-to-place students, I reach out to them individually. I tell them honestly that I'm having difficulty placing them in a group because of X reason, and ask them how important that particular preference is to them. I also tell them about the next-best-fit group and ask if they would be interested in that group instead. For example: "Dear Lynn, I think the group mentioned below would be a good fit for you, except that they want to meet in the morning. Otherwise, everything else checks out. Would you be interested in joining an AM study group?--Prof." After everyone is assigned, I schedule a speed date.
Step Four: Schedule a Speed Date
The next step in the process is to introduce the group members to each other. I begin the process with an email, detailing the results and next steps:
Thank you for signing up for an AEP study group. This year, we had 25 people request a partner. Each partnership or group should be between 2-4 members. Less than 2 is not a group, and more than 4 is unwieldy. The members of your proposed partnership or group are: H.R. and A.A.
I tried to group students together based on their expressed learning preferences, class schedules, and personalities. You each have Professors Trychta, Cady, & Rhee, are available to study in the early mornings, prefer read/write and kinesthetic techniques, while disfavoring aural learning techniques. On paper, you’re a great fit. (FYI – There are two other Trychta-Cady-Rhee groups: (1) M.D. & T.G. and (2) A.L., B.D. & M.H. You may find it helpful to collaborate with them periodically.)
Signing-up for the matchmaking service does not mean that you must join the group. Instead, you should plan to meet briefly in the lobby [on Friday] after Torts class to introduce yourselves and discuss the goals of the group. Treat this initial meeting much like a first date. If you opt to join the group, then you should promise to commit to the group for the rest of the semester. If the members of your group can’t reach a consensus about some aspect of the study group’s objectives or rules, let me know. Perhaps I can reassign some of the members or suggest a compromise.
The most effective study groups are those that have clearly defined objectives and rules. For example, the purpose of your group may be to (a) outline or (b) discuss hypotheticals. The group should discuss the options, and then make a conscious decision based on what the members hope to get out of the group study experience. To aid you in determining the group’s rules, I’ve attached a sample “contract.” Feel free to use, modify, or ignore the sample contract, as your group sees fit.
Obviously, you may choose to run your group however you decide. But I note that group problem solving works most effectively when the members of the group (1) ask someone to introduce a specific problem or issue, (2) appoint a scrivener and a leader, (3) identify all the potential issues, but not the solutions (4) then discuss all the possible answers, (5) consult resources for additional help, and finally (6) organize and summarize what you learned.
Moving forward, your group may reserve law school classrooms and conference rooms for study sessions by making a request at the Student Services front desk. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
As mentioned above, I attach a sample study group contract to the email. You can Download Study Group Contract using the interactive link. I'm quite confident that I stole this contract idea from someone on a blog or listserv several years ago, but I cannot remember who drafted it. If you're the original author, please feel free to reach out to me and I will happily give you a proper attribution credit.
Step Five: Stay Out of The Way
Lastly, I make myself available in my office during the meet-n-greet hour, but I do not affirmatively attend the event. Once I have identified and disclosed a potential group match, I stay out of the way unless specifically asked by students to intervene. While I actively oversee the Dean's Fellows study groups, I assert no ownership or responsibility over these Matchmaking Groups. Rather my job is to simply facilitate an introduction. With little oversight, admittedly, not every group will work out, but a few do. In fact, I still see one group from Fall 2016 meeting regularly in the lobby as second-year students. And, that alone is enough motivation for me to continue the service. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, September 25, 2017
We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.
There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.
But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).
The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.
So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!
One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)
September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 18, 2017
I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).
Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.
Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.
The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.
We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.
As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)
September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 8, 2017
A summer article posted on Inside Higher Ed looked at whether groups work for everyone and how to improve the experiences. The post by Margaret Finnegan, Department of Criminal Justice at California State University, Los Angeles, is here. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Last term I went for the lunch and came away hungry...hungry to learn more about learning!
That's right, our campus "Office for Teaching & Learning" brought in a special speaker to share with us her tips on best practices for teaching our students to learn. Her name - Dr. Maryellen Weimer.
Wow; she was an amazing speaker because, for the most part, she spoke very little but got us thinking and working collaboratively with others on how it is that we learn, how our students are doing in their learning, and what sorts of things we are seeing within our classrooms that might best encourage learning.
In short, we were working harder than Dr. Weimer in thinking about learning. It was no "free lunch," at all. But, it was one of the few lunch presentations that I can still recall, and better yet, find invaluable to my teaching.
That brings me to the issue of what might be the so-called "best practices" for engaging ourselves in learning-centered teaching with our students. Fortunately, Dr. Weimer has written a brief article entitled "The Five Characteristics of Lerning-Centered Teaching," which summarizes her work in helping faculty become better teachers.
As academic support professionals, this is an excellent link to share with your faculty.
In the interim, let me briefly summarize the list of five characteristics by asking a series of short questions that you might ask of your faculty:
First, are you working harder at learning than your students? If so, then you might be working too hard at teaching your students, so much so, that you are doing the learning for them. That is to say, they might not be learning because they aren't really challenged to learn and don't really have to learn since you are doing most of the learning for them.
Second, are you teaching your students the content by embedding skills within your instruction? If not, then, you are - again - doing the learning for your students because learning requires active engagement in critical thinking, evaluation of the evidence, analysis of the arguments, and the generation of hypotheses, hypotheticals, and examples.
Third, are you asking your students what they are learning and how they are learning? If not, take time both in casual conversations with your students and in more formalized classroom exercises for reflection on how it is that we (ourselves and our students) learn.
Fourth, are you sharing the learning responsibilities with your students by giving them some measure of control over how they learn? If not, try working collaboratively with your students, for example, to create assessment criteria for assignments or even establish due dates for some assignments within a window of available dates.
Fifth, are you promoting collaborative learning in engagement with other students within rich learning communities? If not, look back at that word "rich." Too often, our students are not learning deeply and well because they treat learning as a "solo" experience - an experience not to be shared with others. But, as any teacher will tell you, the best way to know something is to teach it to others. That means that we should devote part of our classroom learning exercises to teaching our students how to learn collaboratively with others, i.e., how to learn from and with others.
Perhaps by the best way to summarize the article might be in quoting Confucius:
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."
I take the first - reflection - to be the at the heart and soul of great experiences in learning. I take the second - imitation - to be going to classes, taking notes, and receptively re-reading them in the hope that some of what the professor said might rub off on me. I take the third - experience - as the "trial by fire" method of learning in which students spend most of the term reading cases, creating case briefs, observing lectures, and developing massive course outlines without ever tackling actual final exam problems until it is too late (i.e., on the actual final exam).
With this list in mind, feel free to join me as I try to step back from the podium and the front of the classroom to better engage with students in the actual process of learning-centered teaching. (Scott Johns).
Monday, September 4, 2017
In our current world of formative assessment, readers may be interested in a July article by Jennifer Cooper and Regan Gurung on SSRN regarding their empirical analysis of law student study habits. The article can be found on SSRN at Smarter Law Study Habits.
Jennifer sent me the following short description of the article:
"The article features findings from the first learning strategies survey designed specifically for law students, the Law Student Study Habits Survey, developed in collaboration with a Ph.D./ learning strategy expert. In a nutshell, early and frequent use of practice “testing” (multiple choice, short answer, hypos, professor’s past exams, etc..) and elaboration were positively correlated with law GPA, while more passive learning strategies typically relied on by law students – reading and briefing cases, outlining, and cramming, without practice applying the law – were negatively correlated with law GPA."
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
You may recall from part one of this multi-part series that this year I decided to undertake a new and difficult task (specifically, to grow a giant pumpkin) in hopes of gaining more insight and perhaps empathy for what it's like to be a first year law student. Here’s my second lesson:
The novice and the expert should work together at the start of the endeavor to articulate reasonable expectations for a first project, second project, third project, and so on, which will enable the novice to continually assess herself in light of both current expectations and future expectations.
After you’ve identified the seed that you’ll be planting, you have to establish a planting schedule. Most expert growers begin their season in April with the help of greenhouses, heated soil cables, and indoor grow lights. By planting a seed in April (as opposed to waiting for the last frost in late May), the expert squeezes in several more weeks of growth before the October harvest. Ideally those extra weeks of growing will translate into additional pounds on weigh-off day. This novice, however, was not enamored with the idea of caring for a seedling indoors, while still teaching spring semester courses. So, I had a choice to make. My expert-coach and I then discussed a reasonable goal for a Level One grower. We settled on getting a pumpkin to grow and survive until October, regardless of its size, shape, or color. Next time (I’m making a big assumption here), I could focus on all the Level One details plus shape or size. Then, in a future year, I could hone shape and size.
With the Level One goal firmly established and no longer focused on the potential bonus pounds, I agreed to start the seed indoors in early-May. (I was pretty confident I could simultaneously watch a pot of dirt and grade final exams.) I kept the tiny plant inside until Mother Nature gave the all clear that it was safe to move outdoors. My “late” start in May put me behind the expert growers from the very beginning, but right on target for my Level One goal. Throughout the summer, I was able to measure my progress against other rookies while also taking note of what I would need to do next time if I wanted to compete with the experts.
Below you can see my pumpkin plant making its debut outside on June 3. 2017.
This multi-level plan, where each level becomes increasingly more complex than the last, aligns nicely with ABA Standard 314 regarding formative assessment. For example, in the legal writing context, a multi-level plan might look like this:
Too frequently, students learn the basics of legal writing in their first-year and then inaccurately conclude that the same quality of work will be acceptable on a future project. Arguably, the novice will be in a better position to appreciate the long-term game plan if presented with the entire strategy at the outset. Sharing each level with the learner at the outset should aid a student in understanding that what might earn them an “A” on a Level One project will not earn them an “A” on a Level Two project, such as a law review note or seminar paper. Rather, the benchmark for minimal competence will continue to evolve as the student become more familiar with the foundational skills.
Having firmly established and identifiable benchmarks for each level also enables the student and professor to have a meaningful conversation about expectations. For example, a moot court coach is better positioned to explain that although a particular appellate brief would be “passing” in any Appellate Advocacy course, the work product is insufficient for success at a Moot Court Competition. In addition, establishing the big picture at the outset allows the professor to focus on level-appropriate feedback. As I discussed in the first post, less is more with regard to feedback. Therefore, if a professor and student both know that the student is working on a Level Two project, then the professor can focus her feedback on the skills unique to Level Two success. Meanwhile, the professor can refrain from offering detailed feedback about the skills that will be learned in Level Three.
In short, I suspect that a majority of legal writing programs have firmly established benchmarks for each writing course or year of matriculation. This novice’s advice is to share the big picture with the students at the very beginning, so that both the professor and student can readily and accurately articulate where the students falls on the scale from novice to expert. (Kirsha Trychta)