Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

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).

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dare to Disclose?

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

Generations X, Y, and Z Affect Academia in a Myriad of Ways

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 .

October 7, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 6, 2017

More on the Electronic Devices in the Classroom Debate

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)

October 6, 2017 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

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

Illustrating the Law Thru "Picture Books": An Ancient Practice that Might Help in Learning Today!

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)

September 28, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Study Group Matchmaking Service

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:

  1. What's your name?
  2. Which professors do you have this semester? (check all the boxes that apply)
  3. Rank your VARK learning styles from most preferred (1) to least preferred (5).
  4. Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or introvert?
  5. Do you prefer to lead a group meeting or simply attend the meeting?
  6. 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)?
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Members will agree to a set of rules and standards to ensure that the group functions optimally.
  3. Each group will be limited to 2-4 individuals.
  4. 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)

September 26, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

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

1L Enrichment Groups

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

Diverse Learners and Group Work

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)

September 8, 2017 in Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Better Teaching: Could it Actually Mean "Less" Teaching?

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.

 https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/five-characteristics-of-learner-centered-teaching

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).

September 7, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Smarter Law Study Habits

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."

(Amy Jarmon)

 

September 4, 2017 in Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #2: Set Reasonable Expectations

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.

Plant june 3

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:

Reasonable Expectations chart 2

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)

August 29, 2017 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Beloit List and a Faculty Member's Response

We always know it is the beginning of another academic year when Beloit College publishes its annual list of things we need to know about college freshmen. For those of us at law schools, it gives us a reprieve for a few years before these changing mindsets arrive at our doorsteps. But it keeps us current on the ever-changing status quo of American culture.

Here is the list for this year's college freshmen: Mindset List for Class of 2021 Freshmen. And here is the list reflective of the mindsets of many of our first-year law students during their freshman year: Mindset List for Class of 2017 Freshmen - Our 1L Class.

Robert Scherrer, a faculty member at Vanderbilt, has published a professor mindset list in response to help students understand their 50-something faculty members. His list was posted on the Inside Higher Education update and is included here: A 50-Something Faculty Mindset List. (Amy Jarmon)

August 25, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Possible ASP Motto: CHANGE LIVES

There's a place amidst the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range of New Mexico where college students lead high school teens across the rugged mountains on 10-day backpacking trips.  

As the backpacking guides race from their office to the meet their new crews hailing from around the nation (and the world too), the guides reach high to tap a sign as they exit the office door that reads simply:  

"CHANGE LIVES."  

I love that phrase.  

It's not that the camp is about "changing" lives...but that individual guides reach up to signify their commitment to "change" lives today.  The first is about others (i.e., the camp) having an impact on the backpackers.  The second, in contrast, is about me individually making an impact on people that I am charged with serving.

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

As I thought about our work in ASP, I wonder if that might be a great motto for me.  Why not install that sign above my office door?  I could then tap it when I go to classes as a reminder of my purpose...in the present...to teach for the betterment of my students.  And, I could reach out and touch it when I go to meetings.  That might really make a big impact on my motivation.  I could tag it when I meet with other faculty and staff as a reminder of my purpose to work among my colleagues as an ASP professional to change lives.  

You see, it's often the little things that can make a mighty difference, like committing ourselves daily to be on the lookout for any and all opportunities to change the lives of our students for the better.  So, today, feel free to reach high in a symbolic tap of the sign!  (Scott Johns).

August 24, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Think Twice Before Banning Laptops: A Note on Accommodations and Diverse Thinking and Learning

Pause keyboard

I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.

The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).

I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students.  And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes.  But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.

So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability.  This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students.  But, it could still be an issue. 

If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.

Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?

One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.

Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?

Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue?  I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions. 

And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?

We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”

Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)

August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What Type of Learner Are You? A "Passive" or an "Activist" Learner?

Perhaps you've heard the term "self-regulated learner."  
 
To be honest, I'm not very good at regulating myself (or anyone else at all).  So, the phrase "self-regulated learner" tends to fall flat on my ears because I just don't think I've got the gumption, the fortitude, and the heart to be all that disciplined and focused.  And, it sounds so downright mechanical that just saying the term sort of disheartens me; it leaves me feeling like I just don't have what it takes to be a learner (self-regulated or otherwise, i.e., unregulated I suppose). 
 
So, that brings me back to the term "self-regulated learner" that sounds so burdensome to me.  
 
Excitedly, there’s an article in this week's Wall Street Journal providing “five tips for honing sharper skills” that cites to a handful of academic studies concerning best learning practices, what the WSJ -- joyfully in my mind --calls the "activist approach" to learning.  
 
 
As journalist Sue Shellenbarger confirms in the article, the activist approach to learning is what academics most often label as self-regulated learning.   Wow!  I was thrilled to learn of a term that made sense to me because, after all, that's something that I can do (and I don't have to be perfect to do it well--I've just got to work at it).
 
In particular, I love the phrase “the activist approach to learning" because it suggests that learning really is all about creative reflective work both individually and with others in producing, improving, and refining one’s understanding of the world.  So, as you begin to embark on your legal studies as a entering 1L student (or continue your studies as a rising upper-level law student), focus your learning energies this week on active learning.  
 
Here's a few tips as gleaned from the WSJ article, re-focused a bit for the context of law school learning:
 
1.  Plan ahead.  Schedule your midterm exams, final exams, and papers in one big calendar.  That's because studies show that such scheduling preparation helps you set the stage for understanding what's going to be required of you as you progress through the academic term.
 
2.  Actively seek out help.  When you don't understand, go see the professor. Talk to your academic support professionals.  Meet with student affairs.  That's because studies show that those who went to office hours were more likely to earn higher grades all things considered.  I know.  It's tough to go meet with your professor.  But, your professors are more than eager, they are downright excited, to meet with you.
 
3.  Quiz Yourself.  Lots of times.  Cover up your notes and ask what are the big concepts.  Pick out the main points in your case briefs.  In some ways, be your own mentor, your own teacher, by asking yourself what you've learned today.  Engage in lots of so-called retrieval practice.  Unfortunately, too many of us (me included) re-read and highlight, which mistakenly results in us being familiar with the materials...to the point that we have a false sense of security that we understand what we are reading or highlighting (when we don't).  Avoid that trap at all costs.  Push yourself.  Question yourself.  Quiz yourself.
 
4.  Limit study sessions to 45 minutes at a time.  Concentrate boldly...and then take a walk, a break, or just sit there staring out the window at beautiful view.  That's because there are studies that show that the best learning happens when we mix focused learning with diffuse big picture reflection (even on things not even relevant to what we have been studying).  That's great news for me because I am a big day dreamer!  But, just remember to turn off the social media and email and notifications during your focused study sessions.  Then, relax and soak in the atmosphere.  Get lost in your thoughts.  Work your learning back and forth between focused concentration and diffuse relaxation.  It's A-okay!
 
5.  Find out what the test covers (and looks like).  Do it now! Don't wait until a few days before the midterm or the final exams.  Grab hold of your professors' previous exam questions. Get a sense of what is required of you, how you will be assessed in the course, what sorts of tasks you'll be required to perform on your exams (and papers too).  Most entering students are surprised that they will be rarely asked to recite the facts of a case (or any cases at all).  Rather, most law school exams look quite different than the case briefing exercises and Socratic dialogue that seems so all-important during the many weeks of regular class meetings.  So, help yourself out in a big way and get hold of practice exam questions for each of your courses.
 
 Now, that's the sort of activist learning that we can ALL engage in!  So, be bold and be active in your learning!  (Scott Johns).
 
 
 

August 17, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Essentials for 1L Students to Consider - Part 2

In my post yesterday on this topic, I covered three aspects important to 1Ls understanding the law school environment and succeeding in their studies: professional education, long-term memory, and active learning. This post considers two more aspects: comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses and time management.

Comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses. Most incoming students are used to courses that have multiple tests and assignments that make up the final grade. Each test or assignment covered a segment of the course. No course or assignment covered the entire material for the 15-week course. The non-cumulative nature of the tests and assignments encouraged students to learn the material in a compartmentalized fashion with no incentive to remember or understand the material in a more comprehensive manner.

Students have told me that professors often let them drop the lowest grade among the tests or assignments. If you didn't understand the content (or didn't bother studying enough), you would get rid of that low grade as if it never happened. Other students have told me that they could opt out of the final test for the semester if they exceeded a certain score for prior work or were happy with the grade they already had. And a few students told me that a good cry or tale of woe for the professor would always get them a grade change so that the preparation for a test or assignment wasn't crucial.

In legal education, many doctrinal courses (doctrinal examples: contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal procedure) end with a comprehensive exam covering all 15 weeks of material - even if there have been practice exams or some writing assignments. Active learning and long-term memory (see Part 1 of this blog topic) are essential to the best grades on these exams. By actively learning the material during class preparation, class attendance, and note review, there is less effort required later. By striving for understanding and not just memorization through outlining and reviewing outlines, the depth of knowledge improves, awareness of nuances develops, and long-term memory is built. By applying the concepts in practice questions throughout the semester, law students can self-monitor their understanding and improve their test-taking skills. 

Think of it in practical terms: we forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review the material. If you wait too long to revisit material, you have massive amounts to relearn because it has become vague or completely forgotten. Students who wait until late in the semester to outline confide that they can no longer decipher their class notes or remember the context of sentences that meant something many weeks ago. The myth at my law school is that you begin to study for exams 6 weeks out. But that means a law student is trying to relearn 9 weeks of mostly forgotten material while trying to learn 6 weeks of new material at the same time. Exhausting and stressful to say the least!

The best plan: spread review and practice throughout the semester. By scheduling their outlining, reviewing of outlines, and practice questions throughout the semester, law students can have memory work for them rather than against them. Regular review means that 12 or 13 of the 15 weeks of the course can be ready for the exam before the end of classes! Only the newer material will have to be pulled together; the other already mastered material can be more generally reviewed and refreshed through additional practice questions. Being able to accomplish exam studying throughout the semester, leads us to the next aspect of law school.

Time management. We know from national data that diligent undergraduate students study a maximum of 19-20 hours per week; and most undergraduate students report studying far less - some less than 10 hours per week. Students filled all their free time with student organizations, sports, part-time work, social activities, social media, and other leisure aspects. Most students tell me that they wrote papers a day or two before the due date and studied for tests only a few days (or hours) unless it was a really hard course. Many students tell me that they had a weekly routine for student organization activities/meetings, exercise or intramurals, part-time work, and some social activities. Rarely did they have a routine study schedule; at most they had a calendar of due dates. They studied when they felt like it.

Law school requires students to master time management if they want to get the grades they have the potential to earn. A full-time law student needs to study 50-55 hours per week if the active learning, long-term memory, and regular review are to occur as well as thorough class preparation and completion of assignments. A part-time law student needs 35-40 hours per week for the same results usually. We know statistically that most new law students have probably never studied that much in their lives! If new students have worked full-time before law school, then they are used to 40 or more hours of employment each week.

New law students will need 2-3 weeks of settling in to law school before they can set up a regular routine for all tasks. They need to learn how to read and brief cases, develop an understanding of what their professors teaching styles and emphases are, learn the legal vocabulary, and begin to experience legal writing. But by the end of 2-3 weeks, it is time to set out a routine time management schedule to provide for class preparation, outlining, review, practice questions, and legal writing assignments. That schedule should also include sleep, meals, exercise, and down time.

The idea is to know when you will get things done rather than wondering what you should do next. We tend to fritter away time when we don't have structure. And today it is easier to fritter away massive amounts of time with electronic distractions! You can flip tasks up and down during the day as tasks take less or more time. But you try each day to complete your daily tasks. You can build in several blocks of undesignated study time during the week for unexpected study tasks or especially lengthy tasks that occur - this allows you to easily see where to move or add tasks to your schedule rather than panic. Realize that you will become more efficient and effective at all of your study tasks with practice and will likely be able to decrease time blocks in your schedule for some tasks or for a particular course. 

Schedules will need tweaking; but with realistic time blocks and better organization of life tasks (errands, laundry, meal prep, etc.), it is possible to have a routine that works most weeks. So Tuesday during 3-5 p.m. you read for Civil Procedure; you go to bed at 11 p.m. and get up at 6 p.m.; you outline the week's contracts material on Friday 10-11 a.m.; you work on your legal writing assignment on Wednesday 1-3 p.m.; you go for a run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday  3-4 p.m. and then eat dinner 4-5 p.m.; you review part of your contracts outline 2-3:30 p.m. on Saturday; you complete practice questions for Torts on Sunday 3-4 p.m.; and so forth.

By structuring your weeks, you will feel less overwhelmed because you can literally see when you will get things done. By including appropriate times for sleep, meals, exercise, and down time, you gain school-work balance. By gaining expertise in time management while you are in law school, you will be able to carry that skill over to practice. Many new attorneys are stressed by the demands of practice if they are not skilled at time management already.

Once again I encourage you to use the academic support resources at your law school. If comprehensive final exams and time management are not part of your educational experiences already, ASP staff can assist you in learning strategies to prepare for final exams and assist in setting up a routine time management schedule. You can learn these new skills and strategies with the assistance available to you. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Essentials for 1L Students to Consider - Part 1

New law students can improve their adjustment to law school if they consider several aspects of their educational background, study habits, learning styles, and lifestyles before they enter law school. By being more intentional in considering these aspects, law students can be more aware of their strengths and preferences. They will be less shocked by some of the differences between legal education and prior education. They can be aware of changes they will need in their approach for a successful legal education.

Three aspects to consider are included in this post; a follow-up post will consider two more aspects.

A professional school education. Many undergraduates take a variety of courses which they perceive as merely fulfilling requirements and not useful in real life. Courses are frequently one-off content rather than building a foundation of concepts for future courses or life tasks. One may take the history of fine arts, calculus, or physics to fulfill general education requirements without any thought of needing the knowledge again - and often with the hope of never using the information again.

Some undergraduates choose majors based on whim, reputation for easy grades, or popular trends as a means to get the degree without any expectation of having a job in those fields. Education seems less important if it has no relevance to one's future. For example, a survey several years ago showed that engineering students preparing for a career path studied nearly twice as many more hours per week as their liberal arts counterparts.  

Law school curricula contain courses that are designed to improve skills that lawyers need every day (critical reading, critical thinking, critical writing). Many 1Ls consider their legal research and writing courses the bane of their existence. Those skills are essential to success in the legal profession where research and writing are daily tasks. Also, law students who regularly skimp on reading and briefing for doctrinal classes, find they are ill-prepared for efficiently and effectively analysing hundreds of cases in practice. For some students, the first summer clerking position can be a nightmare and hopefully a wake-up call for more diligence.

In addition, many courses contain legal content that is foundational to the bar exam and basic legal knowledge for practice. Most law school curricula require a number of the courses that appear on the bar exam. For example, even though a 1L vehemently declares he will never practice criminal law, that content is going to show up on the bar exam. (I also know from experience that some corporate litigation CEO client will walk in and want you to talk intelligently about what to expect after his son's drug arrest even though you obviously will refer him to a criminal defense colleague.) 

The importance of long-term memory. Working memory (previously called short-term memory) is premised on the fact that the information is only needed for a short period: until the presentation is over, until the test ends, until the paper is handed in, until the course ends. After the deadline, concepts and information are immediately forgotten. The educational trash can is filled to the brim. Cramming promotes this short memory span because the brain is expected to retain the information for a use-by-date close at hand. There is no intention to retain the knowledge for reuse. The grade, and not the future, matters.

Long-term memory builds a foundation of concepts and information that are reinforced and applied over a period of time. Law school, the bar exam, and legal practice all go more smoothly with a focus on long-term memory. Briefing cases, note-taking, reviewing class notes, outlining, reviewing outlines, and applying the information to new scenarios throughout the semester build long-term memory. Long-term memory is like a filing cabinet of organized and readily accessible information in your brain.

When a third-year course refers to concepts from first-year contracts, law-term memory allows the concepts to come back with little or no review. When one's summer clerkship assignment focuses on a search-and-seizure issue, the concepts from criminal procedure are there as a base of knowledge on which to begin. When the bar exam course rapidly covers dozens of courses in six-eight weeks, long-term memory promotes review of those courses rather than the total re-learning of massive amounts of material that was lost if only working memory was used.

In practice a lawyer depends on long-term memory for building expertise in specialty areas of law. Lawyers want to recall similar client facts, prior cases read, statutory language, and more. Although they will constantly update their knowledge and research new twists on prior issues, they depend on a depth of knowledge and understanding of the law to gain competence and confidence. Even remembering the basics from law school courses can save time in interviewing a client or researching. 

Active learning as a way of life. Active learning requires engagement on the part of the learner and self-monitoring. An active learner in law school does more than read the large number of cases to say that the assignment is done. The active learner asks questions while reading the cases, considers how the cases are similar and different, relates the legal concepts to the subtopic and topic, and considers how those legal concepts would be used in different scenarios. The active learner has thought about the material and tried to synthesize the different cases before going to class.

Although law professors will go over the cases at least somewhat in class, they will not tell the students everything they need to know. They will expect law students to prepare well and understand the basics from the cases and consider inter-relationships among cases. The class discussion will often focus on more nuanced concepts, policy arguments, and application of concepts to new scenarios. Professors may use the Socratic Method of questioning to get students to think about these aspects that springboard off of the cases. Professors may throw out hypothetical facts to get students to consider twists on facts and how the law will (or won't) apply. Students are asked to argue both sides of the scenario for plaintiff and defendant.

Memorization of the black letter law is important; however, it is only a beginning. Law students need to continue to review the legal concepts and inter-relate them to better understand how the law applies to the topics and subtopics through outlining. They need to actively engage in applying the concepts to new fact scenarios through practice questions so they know how to use the law to solve legal problems. 

Passive learning promotes little engagement with the material and an attitude of just doing the assignment rather than critically thinking about the material. It is this type of learning that many students tell me they have most often experienced in prior educational experiences. The textbooks laid out the concepts without any need to think about them or ferret them out of the text. One just needed to read and memorize what the texts said. The professors often lectured to tell them exactly what they needed to know for the tests. Knowledge was clearly laid out to be learned in a rote way in many courses. The A grades went to those who could spout the most dates, facts, definitions, etc.  

Some students relate that even in courses where they had to discuss themes or apply concepts across works of various authors, they were often expected to espouse the professor's stated views rather than apply the themes or concepts more critically or innovatively. If creativity was allowed, then some tell me that everything written was accepted as good ideas without having to carefully support arguments or consider counter-arguments.

These law school aspects of professional education, long-term memory, and active learning may be alien to some law students. As a result students might initially make learning choices that will cause them to falter. They will approach legal learning with strategies that worked in prior education but do not work in law school. They will not see each course as building skills and knowledge needed to pass the bar and become a competent professional. They will approach class preparation as a passive task to be completed rather than an active learning exercise. They will become frustrated by the law school classroom because professors do not tell them what they need to know for an A grade and instead expect them to make leaps in thinking through questions and hypotheticals they do not understand. They will mistakenly believe that a good grade will be produced by cramming and mere memorization of the law because that worked in the past. 

If you are a new 1L student, consider what your background has been like in past education. If any of these aspects of legal education are different from your prior education, the good news is that there are academic support professionals who can show you new strategies tailored to learning in law school. You can succeed and not just survive in the different learning environment. Seek out the ASP resources available at your law school. (Amy Jarmon)   

August 11, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)