Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Sequential-Sensing Students May Mistake Class Preparation for the Ultimate Goal

Sequential processors focus on the individual units before them (cases, subtopics, topics) rather than look at the bigger picture (how these units combine into a whole).  Sensing processors focus on details, facts, and practicalities rather than look at ideas or synthesis (the inter-relationships of concepts, subtopics, etc.).  When these two depth-processing styles are combined in a student as strong preferences, the students can become too focused on pieces and detail and miss the broader view, inter-relationships, and policy arguments.

Several strong sequential-sensing learners have mentioned to me in the last few weeks that they feel that the only time they are focused on what really matters is when they are reading and briefing for class.  When they are outlining, reviewing their outlines, or doing practice questions (all of these steps are in their weekly schedules), they fear that they are not expending their energies on what really counts.

After several of these comments came close together, I decided to step back and analyze why these issues were surfacing after I thought we had discussed what one is trying to accomplish in law school courses.  I realized that for these individuals we had not yet fully formulated what one does in law school versus what one will do in one's specialty in practice.

These students saw their job in law school as learning all the law in a course so that they were ready to practice that legal area later.  They had missed the fact that they are learning topics for a course (but not all of the law for that specialty) to gain critical thinking and writing skills and general knowledge to solve new legal problems (for exams).  Once they are in practice, they will focus on learning all they can about their own practice area(s).  However, law school does not expect that level of in-depth study; it expects familarity with a variety of areas of law and application of the concepts to new legal scenarios.

Sequential-sensing students feel more secure in preparing for class because they mistakenly think that memorizing everything about individual cases is the most important task.  Because synthesis and big-picture thinking are more uncomfortable for them (especially if policy is involved), they feel less convinced that outlines, review, and practice questions are full-fledged studying.

Once these students realize that class preparation is important but not the be-all and end-all, the light-bulb comes on for them.  They are still less comfortable with the synthesis and big-picture thinking that lead to application, but they can see those broader study tasks as legitimate.  By releasing themselves mentally from having to know every minute detail in each case and each sub-topic and each legal area, they begin to make the transition to the additional levels of learning that will allow them to succeed on exams. They push themselves to synthsize the material and fit it into the bigger picture.  They realize that practice questions assist them in this process and help them to apply the law on exams.  (Amy Jarmon)




April 1, 2013 in Learning Styles, Reading, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 2 of 2 (Guest post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)

In the first installment of this post, I suggested that for some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can get in the way of law school success. “Older” students, having lived and worked and experienced a little more than most of their peers can tend to let their own point of view and perceptions about the world interfere with legal reasoning. Rather than seeing the legally significant issues in a fact pattern, they focus on the implausibility of the facts and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seems in the context of their own experience or personal values.

With these students, my strategy is to have them start by adding a phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins). I want them to remember that a fact pattern is a closed universe and that adding facts or injecting personal insights into it will only derail their best efforts.

Then I give my students five steps for looking at a fact pattern and drawing out the legally important issues:

  • Call of the Question – Start at the end of the exam and read the call of the question so you understand what you are being asked to do.
  • Acts – Rather than trying to spot and analyze whole issues, start instead by reading the fact pattern sentence-by-sentence and highlighting any act or failure to act by a party – anything someone in your fact pattern says, does, or chooses not to do.
  • Resist Judgment – You do not have enough information yet to know whether any of these acts give rise to a legally significant issue. Resist making any judgment about whether the act is relevant, worthwhile, good, bad or otherwise because all you know right now, is that somebody said or did something.
  • Elements – Assuming you studied and know all the elements of every issue you might be tested on, go to each act and consider if it could be one element of an issue. Remember, don’t skip or overlook an act just because it seems like a little thing. The seriousness or severity of the action doesn’t matter. Whether you think the action would lead to a legal action in real life doesn’t matter. What matters is whether that act in the fact pattern, taken at face value could satisfy one element of something you are being tested on. On the other hand, you don’t want to force an issue that simply isn’t relevant. Some facts ARE there to tempt you into a time-wasting, grade-crushing wild goose chase. In order to stay on target, ask:

a) Is the issue you’re thinking about within the testable universe? (i.e. DO NOT analyze a Criminal Law issue in a Torts exam.)

b) Is this issue relevant to the call of the question? (i.e. DO NOT discuss the rights of B vs. C when the question is asking only about the rights of A vs. B.)

c)  Are there other facts that satisfy each of the other necessary elements to make out this issue? DO NOT speculate about other elements based on your common sense or some past experience.

Success vs. Relevance – This is the fifth and final step I ask my students to think about because I want the word “success” to trigger a few different cautionary flags.

The success of the issue: Just because a complaining party has a weak case (weak elements) and is likely to lose doesn’t mean the issue isn’t worth raising. If you can make a good faith, “straight-faced” argument that each of your elements is supported by some fact or facts, it is probably a relevant issue, win or lose. In fact if you can make a good faith argument that MOST of your elements are supported by facts, you should raise the issue. Weak facts or a missing element bear on the success of an issue, but are never a reason to not raise it. Being able to explain to your professor why an issue fails is just as important as being able to show why an issue succeeds.

The successes a student brings into the exam:  You are walking into the exam with a point of view based in your life experience.  Your successes and accomplishments have equipped you to identify and solve many challenging problems, to relate to people and empathize with their circumstances. HOWEVER – here in this exam, you must leave those successes and accomplishments behind. Relating to the people in your fact pattern and empathizing with their circumstances will distract you from seeing what is relevant and keep you from engaging in effective legal analysis.

Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth

February 24, 2013 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Guest Column, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 1 of 2 (Guest Post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)

For some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can be immense stumbling blocks to law school success.

I began to think about this last semester working with several students in my 1L class. Relative to the majority of law students, these students were older, which is to say they had lives after undergrad – careers, families, mortgages and other “grown-up” milestones. Each came to law school with a clear point of view, seeing his or her world through a lens of experiences, beliefs and ideals accumulated over years. One student had been a nurse and another was a university librarian. One had struggled with substance abuse and one student, already a working mother of four young children had recently earned her undergraduate degree.  When I met these students it was clear that each was rightfully proud of where they had been, or at least what they had overcome to get here. They remained very mindful of and connected to the lessons learned in former lives and seemed hesitant to loosen their grip on those memories for fear of losing themselves in the disorienting new world of law school.

As I worked with these students on ways to approach hypothetical fact patterns, I noticed that many had great difficulty issue-spotting. They focused rather on the implausibility of the fact pattern and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seemed in the context of their own experience or personal values. Most often, talking with a student about why he or she didn’t raise a certain important issue in his or her practice answer, I would find out that the student saw the issue, but chose not to raise it, deciding that in “real life” nobody would seriously go to court over those facts, or that it didn’t make sense to spend time discussing an action that would be obviously unsuccessful. Years of engaging in moral reasoning and practical life decision-making seemed to have handicapped these students’ ability to engage in effective legal analysis.

This challenge posed a difficult conundrum.  In order to support my students, I needed to connect with them, earn their trust and demonstrate that I sincerely understood and valued who they were and where they had come from to get here. On the other hand, I had to ask them to look past those valuable former-life lessons and experiences in order to develop the analytical flexibility required to succeed in the law.

So my compromise solution has been to adapt an essay exam strategy that capitalizes on the likelihood my students would focus on the story and the actions of the parties in a fact pattern before recognizing the legally significant issues.

I start with one general instruction:  Always, always always add a single phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins).  I remind them that fact patterns exist in isolation, as if on an island. No facts can be added and no additional facts are needed. They must also be mindful of the island’s inherent hostility and distrust toward visitors, outside opinions or new perspectives. A student’s point of view and common-sense life lessons, while personally valuable and hard-won, will prove confusing and unwelcome if brought to the island and applied to the facts.  With this simple, starting prompt, I hope to remind students, whether they are prone to mix life experience with legal reasoning or not, to keep an objective mind about the fact pattern so that they, in turn, don’t  lose the objective of the exam.  The additional tools I give students to avoid this pitfall and others will follow in a later post.


Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth

February 22, 2013 in Guest Column, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Do I Memorize All These Rules?

Law students have a large number of items to memorize so that they can state the law precisely, know the exact definitions, use the correct steps of analysis, ask the right questions to analyze a topic, or connect the right policy arguments to a topic.  At times the volume of information to remember can be daunting.

Here are some things that can be helpful when students are considering how they want to do memory drills:

Memory drills usually work best in shorter bursts of 30 minutes or less.

The number of memory drill time blocks per week will depend on the number of rules or other items that must be memorized.  A course with lots of rules will need more drill blocks than one with fewer rules.

Because the brain can only memorize a few chunks of information at a time, memory work should be distributed throughout the semester rather than crammed in at the end of the semester.

Memory techniques should be matched to what works for an individual student - how did one successfully memorize material in the past, for example.

A combination of memory techniques may be needed by one student while another student has one memory technique that always works.

Possible ways to memorize material include:

  • Flashcards: some students learn more by handwriting their own than using software
  • Writing a rule out multiple times
  • Reciting a rule aloud multiple times
  • Drawing a spider web, mind map, or other visual of the rule
  • Acronyms: taking the first letter of each word (for example the elements) and remembering them with a silly sentence (duty, breach, causation, harm becomes DBCH and then becomes Debbie's boa constrictor hid).
  • Rhymes or sayings: assault and battery are like ham and eggs.
  • Storytelling: coming up with a story that weaves together the words (for example, the soldier was on DUTY when a tank BREACHed the wall of the fort, etc.)
  • Peg method: combining a numbered list with rhyming words (one bun, two shoe, three tree, four door, etc.) and then a visual image combining the item (bun, shoe, etc.) with the word that needs to be remembered (example: one bun duty is a sticky bun with a soldier saluting it; two shoe breach is a man's business shoe with a tank tearing apart the toe as it drives out, etc.)

Every student has to put in the time memorizing the material.  However, remember that memorization alone will not garner a high grade.  It is the beginning of learning.  One has to understand what is being memorized and be able to apply the material to new legal scenarios on the exam with a thorough analysis.  (Amy Jarmon) 

September 26, 2012 in Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Beloit Mindset List

Thank you to John Edwards at Drake for reminding us that it is the time of year for the Mindset List. 

Beloit College has published its latest list which explores the world view of entering college freshmen (Class of 2016).  I have included a link to it here for all of you who want to know what to expect in four years:

Beloit Mindset 2016

For those of you who want to refresh yourselves on what the Beloit Mindset List said about the Class of 2012 who just graduated from college and is now represents many of our new 1L class, the link for the list is here:

Beloit Mindset 2012 Graduates New 1L Students

And if you want to remind yourself about our 2L and 3L students or our non-traditional students, you can browse the lists for respective years at the main page:

Beloit Mindset By Year

I am always a bit surprised at some of the items on the list while others make me chuckle.  Those references that we all use in class become more outdated each year.  (Amy Jarmon)

August 23, 2012 in Learning Styles, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fixed and Growth Mindsets - Another Resource

Thanks to Jennifer Cooper at Thomas Jefferson for the mention on the ASP Listserv of a book review recently written by Tracy Turner, who is at Southwestern, regarding Dweck's book and using the mindset ideas in legal writing: Teaching Ourselves and Our Students to Embrace Challenge.  (Amy Jarmon)

May 23, 2012 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Additional Items on the Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset

Hat tip to Jennifer Romig at Emory University for a link on the LRW Prof listserv for an article on using fixed-mindset feedback versus growth-mindset feedback with students who are struggling.  The summary on several studies dealing with undergraduate math students can be found here: Be Careful When Comforting Struggling Students.

Also a hat tip to Myra Orlen at Western New England for information on an article about Dweck's work and how the mindsets apply to law student assessment:

"Carrie Sperling, Arizona State College of Law, has co-authored an article entitled "Fixing Students' Fixed Mindsets: Paving the Way for Meaningful Assessment." The article draws upon Carol Dweck's work and places that work directly in the law school context."

For more information about Carrie: Carrie Sperling.  For an abstract and download version of her article: Fixing Students' Fixed Mindsets

I have found Dweck's concepts helpful in working with my students.  These extra resources are useful to anyone interested in learning more about the mindsets.  (Amy Jarmon)

May 17, 2012 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Free Trials for Graphic Organizer Software

Students and ASP professionals are always looking for ways to turn information into visuals.  There are several products that provide free trials of their software.  With the one exception noted, you will lose your work after the 30-day period unless you purchase the software.  So, print out what you make before your trial period ends if you are not going to purchase the software.

SmartDraw:; free download (doesn't say how long the trial lasts)

NovaMind5:; 30-day free trial

Inspiration:; 30-day free trial

The Brain:; 30-day free trial; will be able to access Personal Brain software after 30 days, but cannot edit or make new graphic organizers - the features in the purchased product are amazing, but this one is probably  not within most student budgets.

Have fun making your graphic organizers for exam study and workshop presentations.  (Amy Jarmon)

November 29, 2011 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learning differences between English and Chinese learners

Hat tip to Rod Fong at Golden Gate University School of Law for the following link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Chinese students.  (Amy Jarmon) 

His e-mail to me made the following observation:

"I saw this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about students from China.  Although it focuses on undergrads, I thought the discussion describing the differences in language and thought processes between English and Chinese learners could be helpful.  I recall some past discussions on our ASP listserv on working with foreign students." 

The link to the article is: Thinking Right: Coaching a Wave of Chinese Students ...

July 23, 2011 in Learning Styles, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Learning your teaching style

We write a lot about discovering student's learning and processing styles. But few of us spend a lot of time thinking about our teaching styles. We teach the way we were taught, the way that feels most comfortable to us, or the way we are told to teach by our employer. A handful of people change their teaching style based on what they learn at conferences. As ASPer's, we busy, and few of us have a lot of downtime to think about why we teach the way we teach and reflect on our teaching style.

I am using teaching style in the broadest possible way; all the things you do to prepare to teach and how you teach students. This is unique to every individual. Learning is a complex interplay between teachers, students, and students and peers. We all have preferences. We all need to understand our preferences to do our best to help students learn.

The one-on-one teacher: Whenever I go to a conference, I hear attendees talking that one-on-one is the best method for teaching students. It is assumed, not discussed. I have heard countless times "I could teach them anything, if I just had enough time to teach them one-on-one." No one seems to question the validity of the statement. One-on-one teaching is a teaching style, and one that does not work best for everyone. It is not true that everyone could teach anyone anything if they could just work with them one-on-one. It is a great method if it is your strength, but it is not everyone's strength. I  a lot of former practitioners prefer one-on-one's because it is how they worked with clients. My message to new teachers is that they should think before they assume this is the best way to reach all students. It's not the best way, it is a preference. Just as we would not assume there is a best learning or processing style for students, don't assume one-on-one's are the best teaching method because that is what you hear from colleagues.

The student-group leader-teacher: This is a common way of delivering ASP at many law schools. ASP professionals are expected to teach students to lead groups of students. There are some brilliant ASper's who use this method to great success; Joanne Koren at Miami and Mike Schwartz at Washburn immediately come to mind. However, there is no one master method for teaching student leaders to run student study groups. If you are an intuitive teacher, teaching students to teach students is difficult. Intuitive teachers are ones whose teaching reflects the needs and the makeup of the class. It is a more spontaneous, reactive way to teach, although it requires as much, if not more, preparation. Intuitive teachers master the subject material so that they can change the direction of the class on the fly to reflect how the class is moving that day. If this is your teaching style, it is difficult to translate this method to student leaders. You cannot tell student leaders to master the subject material. Most intuitive teachers have significant classroom experience, and it is rare for a student leader to have the teaching experience to be intuitive with the students they are leading. Intuitive teachers can learn how other teachers teach student leaders, but it is not their preference. And there is nothing wrong with finding that is not the best way to reach students.

The classroom teacher: Not everyone is cut out to be a traditional classroom teacher. There are some magnificent, awe-inspiring classroom teachers in ASP and doctrinal teaching, such as Rory Badahur at Washburn or Paula Manning at Western State. If you don't prefer classroom teaching, it doesn't mean you aren't a good teacher. It means your preference may be one-on-one or leading student leaders. I find that there is a spectrum, at one end are pure classroom teachers, and at the other, pure one-on-one teachers. Most people are somewhere along that spectrum. The difference is in how the teachers use peer learning. Classroom teachers need to cede control of learning to the students to be successful. This is not something everyone is comfortable doing. You need to build trust between teacher (you) and the students, and trust between peers. This is a skill. It's much easier for student's to feel safe in a one-on-one than it is for a class to feel safe. Safety is critical to learning because students need to push boundaries in order to learn, to move outside of their comfort zone, and to risk being wrong.

Every teacher needs to do some of every type of teaching. However, everyone has preferences in how they work with students. My message to new teachers--there is not a right or wrong preference, no master method that is most successful with students. When a colleague, even a very respected colleague, tells you that they have found a method that works best with students, realize they have found their method that works best based on their teaching preferences. That method may not work best for you. You need to reflect on your skill set and your preferences. The method that is most likely to reach your students is the method that reflects your preferences and strengths.

I have a non-ASP colleague at the undergrad who is one of the most brilliant one-on-one teachers I have ever observed. However, this teacher dislikes classroom teaching, and finds it ineffectual at reaching students. This educator was reflective during the job search, and found a position that consists primarily of one-on-one instruction, with limited classroom time. I am fascinated by one-on-one methods because I greatly prefer classroom teaching, and find a full day of one-on-ones to be draining, and for many students, counter-productive. I find students understand much more from peer learning in a class than in a one-on-one. I find that students are better at translating their misunderstanding of material to each other than to me. My colleague and I both receive great evaluations reflective of our respective teaching preferences. Our student body overlaps, so we know that the evals are not reflecting student preferences (i.e., students who like one-on-ones going to the colleague, students who like classroom teaching to me), but our strengths.

My message to new teachers: reflect on your preferences and your strengths. Your students will learn best when you play to your strengths as a teacher. There is no one master method of reaching students. Just as we respect student learning and processing differences, respect teaching preferences. (RCF)

March 19, 2011 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PowerPoint for Teaching and Learning

I sat in on an Business Law class yesterday. I sat in the back of the classroom, so I had a nice view of all the open laptops in front of me. I was impressed with how few students were using their laptops inappropriately during class time; I could see only two in a class of over fifty students. Most law professors can only dream of a class with so few students playing games. I was intrigued with how the students were taking notes on their laptops, and I think this method can be of great use in law school classrooms.

The PowerPoints are digitally distributed ahead of time, so students can load the slides on their computer before the start of class. The slides were also projected at the front of the room. The students with computers almost universally had the PowerPoints open, in the "notes page" format. (For those of you unfamiliar with the notes page: in newest version of MS PP, go to the "view" tab at the top of the screen, and on the far left of the format bar, there is a tab for "Normal", "Slide Sorter" and "Notes page". Click on "notes page".) From the notes page format, students could see thePowerPoint on the screen, and take notes underneath. I had never seen students do this before, but it made sense that this was an excellent technique for organizing notes. The notes correspond with the lecture. If a student misses a word during the lecture, they can figure out the context by looking at where they were in the presentation.

The instructor had an interesting method of using PowerPoint as an instructional tool. The slides were used as place keepers for the lecture. Each slide had text outlining a major point, along with some fun visuals, such as a picture of the schoolhouse from Brown v. Board of Education. The PowerPoints did not outline the lecture, just the main point of the topic. Students could not use the PowerPoints as a substitute for class attendance. Therefore, it did not matter if he distributed them before class. I know law school professors fear distributing their PowerPoints because they fear it will create an incentive for students to miss class or play during class. However, what I observed in the class was that the students were MORE tuned in to class lecture. If they lost their place in the lecture, the students did not feel as if they were lost for the rest of the class. They could figure out the context by looking at the slide.

I know that using scaffolds such as PowerPoint help students learn material. I know all the theoretical reasons why PowerPoint is a great tool. This was the first time I saw how student behavior matched the theoretical reasons for using PowerPoint. Most of the research I have read on using scaffolds, such as PowerPoint, to learn in class were based on student's assessment of their own learning, which does not always correspond with appropriate behavior in class. This was my first experience  witnessing the positive change in student classroom behavior when scaffolds are used appropriately. This is definitely a technique I will adopt in my classes in the future. (RCF)


March 1, 2011 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Movement to help you learn

Kinesthetic learners are those who learn and focus through movement.  Movement can be actual movement or "white noise" movement.  Each kinesthetic learner will have a selection of movement strategies that will match that student's own needs.  Consequently, one kinesthetic learner may choose different techniques than another kinesthetic learner.

What are some of the movement techinques that are part of the repetoire for various kinesthetic learners?  Here are just a few:

  • Movements to help focus in class: jiggling a foot, twirling a strand of hair, playing with a pen, typing, doodling, shifting in the chair.
  • Movements to help memorization: pacing during flashcard use, studying one's outline while on the treadmill, listening to an audio CD while washing and waxing one's car, talking with one's hands and pacing while learning a presentation.
  • Movements to regain focus: taking short breaks at least every 90 minutes, getting up and walking around for those 10-minute breaks, standing up while reading, moving to a different location, interspersing marathon study group sessions with breaks, volunteering to be the flashcard quiz-master for the study group when focus is flagging.
  • Movements for comfort: spreading out everything on a big library table rather than a small carrel, picking an aisle seat rather than being cramped in the middle of a row,  

Can kinesthetic learners have too much movement?  Yes!  Here are some things to consider:

  • Kinesthetic learners often become distracted more easily, so be careful to avoid anything that increases your distraction level.
  • Also make sure that your movements do not distract other students in their learning.
  • Make sure that taking a break is necessary  and not just an excuse to waste time (for example, you are unable to regain focus by asking questions while you read).
  • Make sure that the 10-minute break to walk around does not turn into an hour in the student lounge.
  • Make sure using your laptop does not become distracting for you - do not email, IM, surf the net, or play solitaire instead of focusing on class or studies.
  • Make sure that you pick a study location that is not distracting: avoid being where everyone will walk by or will stop and talk to you, avoid classroom back rows near doors that border noisy halls, avoid sitting near windows that will tempt you to watch what is going on outside.

What about white noise to help with focus?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Turn on a fan, dishwasher, air conditioner, or washing machine to mask noise outside your apartment.
  • Listen to instrumental music to drown out competing noises. 
  • Study in a coffee shop or restaurant where the murmur of voices and spoons on coffee cups can provide some background noise - but avoid traffic areas or use ear plugs.

Some kinesthetic learners have damped down the movements that actually help them learn and need to regain movement.  Why?  They had parents and teachers who were not kinesthetics tell them to stop fidgeting and stop taking breaks.  Consequently, they gave up movement for someone else's idea of "proper" studying.  (Amy Jarmon)    

February 28, 2011 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Educational Bookends

Two teaching techniques are known as the educational bookends: previews and summaries.  The idea is that you present a preview of the material ("Let me preview adverse possession for you.  We will be studying the topic for the next 2 weeks."), teach the material, and the summarize the material ("Let's pull together what we have learned about adverse possession over the last 2 weeks.").

Global learners (who need a road map of the topic before they can understand the sub-topics within the topic) will appreciate the preview step.  It helps them to understand how to fit the parts into the whole as the material is covered.  They will feel that they know what the "road trip" will be about and can enjoy the journey.

Sequential learners (who need to first understand each sub-topic before they can think about the overview) will appreciate the summary step.  It helps them to know where they have been and how the parts fit into the whole now that they understand the material in its segments. 

In short, each type of learner gets to the same destination in a different way.  By providing both a preview and a summary, the teacher starts or ends the journey appropriately for each type of learner.

The trick as a professor is to remember to do both steps and not just the one that matches your own style of learning!  (Amy Jarmon)

February 26, 2011 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Using color to learn

One dimension of visual learning that helps many of my law students is an awareness of how color can be connected to learning.  Some students can "see" material better when color is added: they organize the material more effectively, learn it more quickly, and retain it more easily. 

Here are some general observations about using color to support learning:

  • The amount of color may matter.  One student may be able to use the broad tip of a highlighter to highlight case material.  Another student may only be able to use a narrow underlining with a colored pen or pencil.  For the latter student, highlighting would be too much of a good thing.
  • The number of colors may matter.  One student may have a "rainbow" case book : facts in orange; issues in yellow; procedural history in pink; reasoning in blue; holding and judgment in purple; dicta in green.  Another student may only be able to use one or two colors; yellow for most items and orange if the professor stresses something in class.  
  • The consistency in color use may matter.  The student with a "rainbow" casebook usually needs to keep the color categories the same for every case.  Orange as facts consistently gives meaning to the color and allows the student to quickly find facts in the case.  (And in her brief if the heading "FACTS" is highlighted in orange as well.)  A student may always need to use red ink to indicate rules or blue ink to indicate policy while the remainder of class notes are in black ink (whether typing or handwriting).  However, another student might randomly change ink colors in her handwritten notes just to keep from getting bored so that consistency is unimportant.
  • The color chosen may naturally have meaning for a student.  When I talk with students who are color learners, they often seem surprised when I ask them why they chose a particular color.  They often respond that facts just are orange to them or rules just are red to them.  If they color code binders for different courses, they will respond that Civil Procedure just seems pink and Torts just seems orange to them.  Another color learner might use entirely different colors but will be equally sure that the specific color matches the concept or course.
  • Color may indicate hierarchy, categories, parts, or difficulty.  One student may tell me that green is for main topics, blue is for sub-topics, and yellow is for sub-sub-topics - color means hierarchy.  Another student may tell me that green is for one topic, blue is for another topic, and yellow is for a third topic - color means categories of material.  Yet another student will tell me that rules are green, policies are blue, and exceptions are yellow.  A fourth student may say that green indicates material they are having trouble remembering, blue indicates material they need to study more, and yellow indicates material they need to talk with the professor about.  Each student "sees" the use of color in a different way, though all of these ways are legitimate.  

Here are some practical ways in which color can be added to assist in learning:

  • Tabbing of a code/rule book or outline.   A whole world of possibilities opens up with multiple colors of tabs.  Tabs can indicate hierarchy (topics in red, sub-topics in blue, sub-sub-topics in yellow) or categories (pleadings and motions in red, depositions and discovery in blue, parties in yellow) or frequency of use (most often used in red, next most often used in blue, least often used in yellow), or difficulty to the student (known the best in red, known next best in blue, known the least in yellow).
  • Adding color to a graphic organizer.  By adding color to a black and white graphic organizer, many students can see the information more clearly and recall the organization better.  Multiple colors can be used to indicate hierarchy, categories, or other levels of understanding. 
  • Using color to organize course materials.  For example, a student might use orange binders, file folders, highlighters and index cards for Income Tax and everything in green for Wills & Trusts.  Finding one's materials for Income Tax means gathering together anything orange to get organized.  By thinking "orange" during an exam, some students would find that Income Tax information floated to the top of memory while other courses receded. 
  • Color coding items that one needs to draw attention to in studying.  Sequential-sensing learners sometimes have difficulty remembering and using policy.  By highlighting all policy in an outline in green, their attention is drawn to that area of difficulty for more drill.  Global-intuitive learners sometimes have difficulty remembering precise rule statements or definitions.  By highlighting all of these items in yellow in their outlines, they focus more on these specifics.
  • Color coding practice question answers to analyze difficulties.  An answer to a practice question should contain the law (rules, definitions of elements, etc.) as well as the facts as they apply to the law.  In addition, most professors want to see both plaintiff and defendant arguments.  And as appropriate, a student will need to refer to cases and policy.  Finally, a student may need to concentrate on paring down her language to be more concise and less flowery. 
    • A student could highlight the law and cases in yellow, the facts in orange, and policy in green to see if they are properly organized and balanced within an answer. 
    • Plaintiff arguments could be bracketed in pink and defendant arguments in purple to show that both sides are represented in the analysis. 
    • Flowery language could be circled in red to show where paring was needed.      

Color learners remark occasionally that they feel embarrassed because they should have outgrown coloring in grade school.  Sometimes they are teased by classmates.  They should ignore the jibes and continue to use color to advantage to improve their understanding, retention, and organization.  (Amy Jarmon)  

March 18, 2010 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doodling vs. Surfing

There was a recent article on the value of doodling while listening to a dull lecture (their wording, not mine). The study found that doodling while listening to the lecture improved retention of the material, well above the retention of people who were not allowed to doodle while listening. While I would not call all law school lectures dull, looking back at my handwritten notes, there are stars in the margins of many pages. (I drew stars on the margins of my notes since high school; I try to draw the perfect 5-point star.) One of the most brilliant law professors I know also doodles while listening to lectures, and she believes student computer games have taken the part of doodling in the margins.


What interests me about this study is not just that focused attention did not result in the best retention of material, but that I don’t know if there is a similar activity on the computer that can simulate doodling. I think that there are important differences between the sort of things our students do on computers and old-school doodling. I think the level of engagement with the distraction matters; my mind is on the game while I am playing because it requires thought. However, when I am drawing stars in the margins, my mind is still on the lecture while I am drawing, much like knitting while watching television or running on a treadmill and reading.  Additionally, I believe that doodling offers something that computers can’t mimic; we know that there is a mind-body connection in learning. Some people learn better when they are moving. While doodling does not require much movement, it requires more movement than moving an index finger to scroll on a laptop. Doodling frequently requires not just moving a writing utensil, but moving the paper, and re-arranging arm position. The movement takes the edge off the boredom, just enough so lecture sinks in.


The secondary effect of doodling is listening. While this sounds paradoxical, one of the problems with using a laptop to take notes is the “transcriber” effect.  Doodling stops students from being transcribers, and allows them to listen without focusing on transcribing every word.  (RCF)

November 16, 2009 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Learning Buffet for Visual Learners

When working with my visual learners, I remind them that visual learning has a "buffet" of strategies and techniques from which they can choose.  Each visual learner will have an individual assortment of favorites from that buffet. 

Some visual learners have to remind themselves of their favorite selections from secondary education or college.  Somehow at the start of law school, they abandon what worked for them previously as if the strategies could not possibly work with legal information.

Here are some selections from the learning buffet for them to consider:

  • Bullet-points for lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Bold, underlined, italics
  • All capitals
  • Different fonts
  • Different sizes for fonts
  • Text in different highlighted colors for printing
  • Different indentation levels for hierarchy
  • Symbols
  • Abbreviations
  • Textboxes
  • Graphic organizers
    •  Mind maps or spider diagrams
    • Tree diagrams
    • Yes-No decision maps
    • Venn diagrams
    • Time lines
    • Tables
    • Columns
    • Pie charts
    • Graphs
    • Organizational charts
  • Use of different colors for
    • Case categories: facts orange, issue yellow
    • Brief categories: facts orange, issue yellow
    • Points in handwritten notes: rule orange, methodology purple, important point red, policy green
    • Different parts of outline: rule orange, methodology purple, policy green
    • Categories for book tabs: formation of a contract red, statute of frauds green, parole evidence yellow OR topics red, subtopics green, sub-subtopics yellow
    • Memorization prompts: intentional torts blue, negligence green
    • Hierarchy within graphic organizers: main topic orange, subtopics green, sub-subtopics blue
    • Courses: torts orange binder and highlighters, contracts green binder and highlighters

Thre are a number of different options for students who wish to convert text into something more visual.  To name just a few, students can turn to:

  • PowerPoint
  • Smart Draw
  • One Note
  • Inspiration
  • Mindmeister

We often are unaware of the variety of graphic organizers that are available to us.  A number of helpful sites with examples can be found by doing an internet search for "graphic organizers free" or "graphic organizers for teachers."

Most visual learners have other absorption learning styles that they should use in addition to their visual learning: aural/oral and/or kinesthetic/tactile.  And, visual learners still need to use verbal learning effectively - they cannot ignore reading and writing.  (Amy Jarmon) 

October 27, 2009 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some tips on two commonly used learning styles questionnaires

I have mentioned in a number of postings and presentations that I use the VARK questionnaire for absorption learning styles and the ILS questionnaire for processing and absorption learning styles.  A request came in that I share some tips on ASPers using these two questionnaires with their students.

The VARK questionnaire letters stand for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic.  These four dimensions are all absorption style measurements.  Read/Write is the same as Verbal on a number of other instruments.  Aural can be used, with additional discussion with students, as a measure for Oral as well.  Likewise, Kinesthetic can be used to discuss Tactile learning.  Students will be multi-modal (2 or more styles are strong) or single mode (only one style is strong).  The link for the VARK questionnaire is: VARK Questionnaire.   

The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) surveys Visual and Verbal absorption styles and processing styles for Global or Sequential, Intuitive or Sensing, and Active or Reflective.  With ILS, the results are given as oppositional continua showing Mild (1 or 3), Moderate (5 or 7) or Strong (9 or 11) preferences for one of the two styles that are compared.  The link for the ILS questionnaire is: Index of Learning Styles.

Both of these questionnaires have the following common characteristics: 

  • They are free on-line to your students and provide printable results immediately upon submission of the questionnaire answers.
  • They are require a relatively short amount of time for students to take them.  The VARK is 16 questions, and the ILS is 44 questions.  Most students can complete both in 30-45 minutes.
  • ASPers can learn to interpret the results easily.  Some interpretation information is on the website for each instrument.  The results can be easily translated to a law school situation.
  • Both suppliers provide information on their websites on copyright permission for ASPers who wish to use the questionnaires with large groups or for research.

Here are some tips when using the instruments with your students:

  • Some students have trouble answering the questions because they feel that they would respond differently depending on the situation.  I suggest that they answer the questions as they would if they were in an undergraduate academic setting (if first-semester 1Ls) or in a law academic setting (other law students).
  • Make sure that students understand that they need to "layer" ALL of their style preferences together to learn best.  Some students fixate on one style ("I'm a visual learner.") and ignore the other dimensions that they need to use to their advantage.
  • Make sure that students understand that they need to use ALL of the styles even if they are not preferences.  They cannot refuse to read cases because they prefer visual over verbal.  Both reflective and active thinkers have to answer professor questions in class.  The best exam answers or papers will use global, sequential, intutive, and sensing styles even though the writer will only prefer two of those processing styles. 
  • Make sure that students understand that their non-preferences are "shadow" styles; students can strength their non-preferences with conscious effort and practice.
  • Remember that even within a category, a student is unique.  "Visual" learners have common traits but will pick different visual strategies because of their own visual score levels and their own "packages" of absorption/processing styles.
  • If the results for Visual-Verbal (Read/Write) are different for the VARK and ILS, I go with the ILS score.  There are 11 questions on the ILS that look specifically at Visual and Verbal.  VARK is only 16 questions total for all four preferences.
  • Very occasionally a student will tell me after our interpretation discussion that the questionnaire results are all wrong.  However, that happens rarely and is probably indicative of what "setting" the student was considering when the questions were answered.
  • Listen carefully to your students.  They often provide their own insights that help you learn more about the nuances of learning styles.  They also mention strategies that work that you never thought of when considering a style.

If you are new to using these questionnaires and want to discuss interpretation with me after you have read the website information and worked with some students, feel free to get in touch with your questions.  (Amy Jarmon)

June 20, 2009 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Distinguishing Learning Preferences, Cognitive Processing Styles, and Multiple Intelligences

My post will serve two purposes; first, hopefully I will clear up some confusion about the differences between these three concepts; second, I want to plug the LSAC conference next week, and mention that Amy (Jarmon) will be discussing learning preferences and cognitive processing styles during the session titled "ASP 202."

There is a flurry of talk about learning preferences, cognitive processing styles, and multiple intelligences. That is a great thing; as ASPer's, we are often the first to suggest ways to improve law school teaching, and knowing how people learn best is incredibly important when brainstorming ways to help students learn.  However, many people use these terms interchangeably, when they are very different concepts that have very different applicability in the law school setting. I am not an expert on the first two (learning preferences and cognitive processing styles)--Amy wears that crown, and I strongly suggest everyone go back to her columns on 10/8/2008, 10/9/2008, 10/13/2008, 3/17/2008, and 2/9/2007 as a refresher. I wrote (and defended) my master's thesis on Howard Gardner's work with Project Zero and multiple intelligences, so this is an area I feel very comfortable discussing with anyone who has questions.

Learning preferences (or learning styles)refer to someones preferred method of absorbing information; visual, auditory/aural, read/write, and kinesthetic/tactile.  Someone who is primarily a visual learner prefers to absorb information through charts, mind maps, and diagrams.  An auditory or aural learner prefers to learn information by listening to it. Aural learners like the Law School Legends Series of CD's, like to record classes, and should read their notes aloud as they transform them for outlines.  Read/write learners prefer to absorb information by reading and writing; law school is made for them.  Kinesthetic/tactile learners like to touch, feel, and move with the information. They learn best by doing; dividing their notes into columns by topic and flash cards work well for them. Few people fall into one category exclusively; most of us are multi-modal learners.  Our learning preferences can change over time. An excellent resource on learning preferences is at; check it out of you have not had a chance.

I will only go into cognitive processing styles briefly. Amy is the guru, and her posts on 10/8, 10/9, and 10/13/2008 do a far, far better job than I can explaining the different processing styles. I am using Amy's descriptions for this post. There are four processing styles; global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing. Global learners prefer to see the big picture, sequential learners prefer to look at each unit first and only seek the bigger picture after they are comfortable with the parts, intuitive learners prefer ideas, policies, theories, abstractions, and the inter-relationships among these concepts, and sensing learners prefer facts, details, and practicalities.  These processing styles work together. You will frequently encounter global-intuitive learners and sequential-sensing learners. These also work together with learning preferences; any type of cognitive processing style will have learning preferences as well. An example: a global learner, who prefers to process information "top-down" can also be a visual learner who likes to create flow charts that start with the big picture and later connect the smaller pieces.  Learning preferences and cognitive processing styles are not the same, but complimentary preferences. A learning preference is a preferred way of delivery of information, while processing style is the way the information is organized and understood by your mind AFTER delivery. 

Multiple intelligences refers to the limitations of measuring intelligence solely from the Stanford-Binet intelligence-quotient model.  Currently, there are eight intelligences, as defined by Howard Gardner, the "father" of the multiple intelligences movement; linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and (the newest) naturalistic.  Linguistic and logical-mathematical refer to the types of intelligences tested on the Stanford-Binet IQ test most people associate with "intelligence" in the western world. These are also the intelligences valued in law school.  Howard Gardner, an educator working with the Project Zero research project at Harvard, posited in 1983 that the traditional method of measuring intelligence left out large segments of the population, such as people with a gift for music, or people who are skilled at interacting with others or possess that undefinable "charisma" that draws people to them.  Interior designers must possess spatial intelligence to arrange furniture to highlight the benefits of a space. 

To excel in law school, law students must have highly developed linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. However, as a lawyer, they must posses both interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. Law school is frequently criticized for valuing linguistic and logical mathematical intelligence while neglecting the interpersonal intelligence necessary to deal with clients and associates.  The high levels of depression and substance abuse plaguing the profession may be a symptom of the lack of intrapersonal intelligence among lawyers.

But here is one of the areas where ASPer's can get confused; bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is NOT the same as kinesthetic/tactile learning preferences, auditory/aural learning preferences are NOT the same as musical intelligence, and spacial intelligence is NOT the same as a visual learning preference.  A person will highly developed bodily-kinesthetic intelligence will be an excellent dancer, excel at sports, and greet people with hugs. They may, or may not, prefer to learn new information by touching or moving. Many dancers, as well as athletes, prefer visual representations to learn new moves or plays. Similarly, someone with highly developed musical intelligence is likely to prefer to learn things by hearing them, but many composers actually prefer visual methods of absorbing information.  Many people with highly developed spacial intelligence are multi-modal, and need to move (kinesthetic/tactile) pieces in order to visualize the end result; architects draw blueprints and create models.  In summary, no matter what your intelligence, you can have ANY learning preference or cognitive processing style. In law schools, multiple intelligences have limited applicability on a small-scale, one-on-one level, but have great applicability when designing new courses and curriculum that reflects changes in the profession.  Learning styles and multiple intelligences are not interchangable terms. They are very different concepts that address completely different things; learning is not an intelligence.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the blog, or talk to us after "ASP 202" next Thursday in St. Louis! (RCF)

June 1, 2009 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Which kind of motor vehicle is this case?

The typical law school class is heavily focused on cases.  Consequently, to 1L law students, the cases often seem to be the essentials rather than mere vehicles for bringing them the essentials they will need for developing a bigger picture of the course.  Part of their misunderstanding of how to use cases is caused by our teaching methods and part may be because of their learning styles. 

Some law professors expect their students to know every detail of every case for class recitation.  Others just touch on a few points from the case.  The former style suggests to some students that they need to know every detail for the exam.  The latter style may leave some students wondering which details tie to those points or which details were important.

Professors will often throw out a series of hypotheticals to get their students to understand nuances of the application of a legal rule.    And, professors may give no answers to those hypotheticals and leave the ultimate task of getting from the cases to the big picture for students to discover in their studying outside of class.  Some students will walk away not knowing how the class discussion of cases related to the hypotheticals and what they were supposed to learn.

Does this mean that these professors are bad teachers or bad people?  No.  It does mean that some 1L students struggle with determining what is ultimately important in the course.

Because of their learning styles, some students will struggle more than other students in making sense of law school classes and cases.  Global-intuitive learners will tend to have less problem than the sequential-sensing learners in the class.

Global-intuitive learners naturally process everything looking for the bigger picture and the inter-relationship of ideas.  They prefer essentials because details are not particularly attrative to them.  The highly detailed professor will have them wondering why they have to sit through all of the trivia.  The professor who touches on a few points, throws out unanswered hypotheticals, and expects the students to pull it all together is more understandable to these learners.  However, if these learners are high scorers on their learning styles, they may miss important details, organization, and nuances of analysis. 

Sequential-sensing learners naturally process each case and each sub-topic as discrete individual parts.  They think about units and the facts and details of those units.  They naturally gain security from knowing everything there is to know about a case.  They only look for the bigger picture later.  The stronger their preference for "bottom up" learning, the harder it will be for them to see the bigger picture.  It is these learners who sometimes get "left in the dust" of our typical law school case approach.  Without help, they may get to the bigger picture too late to do well on the exam.  (By the way, these students actually know more law usually than any of their global-intuitive friends.)

(In the "old days" of law school teaching, global-intutitive professors probably predominated and may have thought that the sequential-sensing student was not made of the "right stuff" to be a good lawyer.  Fortunately, more awareness of learning styles means that both processing types are seen to have advantages and disadvantages in the study of law because all four processing steps are needed for the best essay answers or memos.  And, in practice, the client benefits most if both types of learners are on a team for the case.)

My sequential-sensing learners struggle in deciding what can be discarded for their outlines.  They are concerned that they will leave out something important.  They are concerned that they need to know it all - every minute detail and every tiny fact.

Over the years, I have tried to find ways to help these sequential-sensing learners get a different perspective on cases.  They will still read in more detail and still have separate units initially, but they can get to the bigger picture more quickly with some help.  I talk a great deal with them about synthesis of cases, of sub-topics, etc.

By chance I came up with a basic analogy to help sequential-sensors understand the relevance of cases to the overall course.  We talk about cases being like motor vehicles that may drive into your driveway but are ultimately owned by someone else and just "visiting." 

The shiny little sports car:  These zippy little cases pull into your driveway with little cargo capacity.  As a result, there is less of importance to unload.  Perhaps, you will find a definition of an element or an exception to a rule.

The family sedan:  These sedate cases pull into your driveway with large trunks of essentials.  One may find a substantial rule discussion, a sizeable interpretation of a statute, and/or a well-reasoned opinion with steps of analysis.

The family station wagon:  These workhorse cases will be loaded down with many essentials (using even the roof rack).  In addition to the type of cargo found in a family sedan, they often come loaded with extra policy discussion, additional variations on rules (minority and majority rules, restatement rules, model code rules), discussions of ambiguous or vague statutes, and/or discussion of multliple issues.

The U-Haul rental truck:  These vehicles are the really major cases driving into your driveway.  Think U.S. Supreme Court and state court of last resort.  These major cases are packed with important essentials: doctrines of epic proportion, significant policy discussion perhaps, methodologies or bright-line tests, involved discussions of multiple precedents, complex issues and points of law, and/or possibly dissents and concurrences. 

Whatever the motor vehicle size of a case, however, you let it drive away.  You do not park it permanently in your driveway.  You unload the essentials for your outline and wave goodbye to the driver with a thank you.

My sequential-sensing learners suddenly understand that it is okay to let go of the myriad of details once the essentials are spotted for their outlines.  They begin to see that their task is to find only the most important cargo.  They begin to see how cases are mere vehicles that fit together into a bigger picture of sub-topics and topics and applying that law to new fact scenarios.  (Amy Jarmon)   


February 27, 2009 in Learning Styles, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2008

We Can’t Multi-Task

I know some people will disagree with me, but we can’t multi-task. I don’t mean we can’t walk and chew bubble gum, but I do mean we can’t email friends, talk on the phone, and write a blog entry. However, I am also an offender of my own “no multi-tasking” rule. I multi-task because it has become an unfortunate habit reinforced by cultural cues. Like all bad habits, it’s hard to break. But it is also something that I am working on changing about myself, because it’s a cultural phenomenon that is harming law students who don’t know how to just focus on reading, OR writing, OR listening. Culture has told us that we need to be doing five things at once, but it’s a message that dooms many students as they try to email in class, listen to the lecture, and take notes. As ASP professionals, we need to model the best learning behaviors, but we are often interrupted by students who need help, phone calls, and emails for appointments, all while we are working on lesson plans, writing projects, and correcting assignments.  There has been some wonderful research that has come out recently that helps us push back against the cultural messages that tell us we are lazy if we are only juggling one task at a time.

To understand multi-tasking, we need to break apart three interconnected phenomena; productive daydreaming, multi-tasking, and self-interruption. When people (including some of the most respected ASP directors) argue that multi-tasking is not a problem, I believe they are actually talking about the related phenomena of productive daydreaming. Productive daydreaming, as its name suggests, is a good thing in moderation, and aids our thinking and processing. Productive daydreaming forces you to tune out when you have too much on your mind. It’s watching the snow fall, listening to running water, or doodling figure eights in the margins of notebook paper. It helps you make connections between material, connections that cannot happen when you are focused on activity. Productive daydreaming is often the product of too much multi-tasking; our brains become overstressed, and we start to tune everything out. Productive daydreaming is confused with multi-tasking because you are ostensibly participating in two things at one time; you are in a class while watching the snow fall. However, it is not multi-tasking because you are not engaged in any activity at all; you are letting your mind wander. Some of the best advice I received about starting a tough writing project came from Prof. Doug Kaufman of the Neag School of Education at UCONN. Productive daydreaming activities, such as mindlessly cleaning your kids rooms when you should be writing, are actually a critical part of the writing process, because they are giving our minds the chance to breathe. Too much productive daydreaming is not productive, such as when it becomes chronic, which brings me to the next activity often confused with multi-tasking…self-interruption.

Self-interruption is checking your email five minutes into a project, moving onto new project without finishing the last one, or channel-surfing. Self-interruption differs from multi-tasking because it is the rapid movement from one activity to another, rather than multiple activities at one time. Self-interruption has been called “attention-deficit trait” because it is a cultural phenomena, not a biological problem. We have taught ourselves to focus for shorter and shorter periods of time. Self-interruption can also be the product of depression or disillusionment towards a goal or project. This is a disaster when it is a habit of law students. Legal arguments are often complex and interconnected; it is impossible to follow and understand a legal argument if you self-interrupt after five minutes of reading. Self-interruption prevents students form reaching a flow-state that is critical to processing classroom discussion or casebook reading. It takes discipline to break multi-tasking and self-interruption habits, but it’s essential to doing well in law school.

So what have I learned about breaking the multi-tasking habit? I am reducing the number of distractions I have available to me when I am working on a complex project. Right now, I am typing the blog entry and listening to “Morning Edition” on NPR. My email is not up, I am not talking on the phone, and I am not playing with anything on my desk. Soon, I hope to work on only one thing at a time. (RCF)


Multitasking Can Make You Lose ... Um ... Focus
Published: October 25, 2008
Experts are finding that multitasking can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.

Learning to Multi-Task: Don't Bother
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
October 30, 2008

November 7, 2008 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)