Thursday, October 3, 2013
Some of my law students avoid study groups because of prior problems they had with group work during undergraduate study. You know the problems:
- a slacker who let everyone else do the work on the group project but got the same good grade
- the student recounting the story did all the work for the group so it was done right
- a dominating person who demanded things be done the way s/he said
- an unpleasant person who sneered at or put down the others in the group
- a disorganized group that took longer than necessary on every task
- a totally confused person who slowed down the group's progress
- a group meeting that degenerated into a social occasion every time
Some of my law students avoid study groups because of prior problems with law school study groups. The problems were usually law variations of the above problems.
Here are some tips for making study groups positive experiences with good results:
- Realize that study group is somewhat of a misnomer. The purpose is not to study together every day (as in read and brief every case together). The groups are typically tied to review and application tasks.
- The size of the group often correlates to the number of problems that a study group will have. The highest number range that generally works well is three or four students. Group dynamics and logistics become more difficult as the number of people increases beyondthat number.
- The group needs to have agreement on the purposes for the group. Examples: Will the group make outlines together? Will the group members instead share their own outlines? Will the group review topics/subtopics in depth each week? Will the group do practice questions together?
- The group needs to have agreement on how often it wants to meet and whether it wants a set day and time to meet each week.
- The group needs to have agreement on the etiquette for the group. Examples: Does everyone have to agree for someone to be added to the group? How will the group handle someone who is a slacker? How will the group curtail rudeness, arrogance, or other negative dynamics? Will the group share group-generated materials with non-group members?
- The group needs to recognize different learning styles and structure itself in a way that facilitates learning for everyone. All learning styles have merit: global processing, intuitive processing, sequential processing, sensing processing, reflective thinking, active thinking, visual, verbal, aural/oral, kinesthetic/tactile, etc. Some examples of how differences can be acommodated and honored are:
- Globals and intutivies focus on breadth; sequentials and sensors focus on depth. All four processing styles are legitimate. Each student prefers two of the four styles. All four styles used together will allow students to look at material from 360 degrees for better learning.
- Reflective thinkers will learn more from the experience if each meeting has an agenda for most of the time so they can prepare and reflect ahead of time (we will cover depreciation and do problems 1-3 in the practice question book at the next meeting). Active thinkers can usually tolerate an agenda as long as a portion of the group time is open-ended (we can bring up any question or topic after the structured part of the session).
- Aural (listening) learners may listen quietly rather than participate in the discussion or may summarize at the end of the discussion. Oral (talking) learners may ask lots of questions or learn by explaining material to the others.
- Visual learners may want the group to work on flowcharts, spider maps, or other visual organizers. Verbal learners may want the group to use acronyms to condense rules or concepts.
- Kinesthetic learners will need some breaks within a long study group session. Tactile learners will stay more focused during active learning such as practice problems.
- If a study group is having difficulties with group dynamics, decisions about purposes or etiquette, or using its time well, the academic success professional at the law school may be able to make suggestions on how to correct or minimize the problems.
- Some students will prefer to choose one study partner rather than have a study group. This option is fine. The important thing is getting at least one other perspective on the material outside one's own head.
If used well, study groups or study partners can be a positive boost to learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
During the final week of bar prep, memorization is paramount. Overlearning the law is the best way to conquer the bar exam. MBE success requires quick recollection and MEE success requires depth of knowledge- both of which rely on memorization.
When studying this week, above all, try to understand your learning preference(s). Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to be successful with your memorization. However, if you are still looking for other ways to memorize, here are a few ideas:
- Find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Even drawing pictures can help you create a memorable visual.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, white boards, or a tape recorder.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that have been created by your bar prep.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone else (a family member, friend, or roommate). Or, talk to yourself- it's ok, you are studying for the bar!
- Color code, use different fonts, or hand-write rules over and over in order to individualize the material and make it more memorable.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it.
- Study while you move- walk, ride a bike, bounce on an exercise ball, or use an elliptical.
Good luck on your memorization this week!
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Global processors are always looking for the big picture, the overview, or the roadmap in learning - they want to know the essentials and the end result. Intuitive processors are curioius about concepts, abstractions, theories, and policies and seek out relationships among ideas - they are synthesis peole. When these two breadth-processing styles combine as strong preferences, the learners can sometimes assume they know a course when they only know the gist of a course.
These processors are more tempted to take shortcuts in learning: skim a case, read the canned brief, produce a cursory outline, and write conclusory memos. They often come out of exams with comments like "I guess I didn't know Torts as well as I thought." They are shocked when reviewing an exam to see that they never analyzed element three even though they knew the analysis. The analysis stayed in their heads instead of making it to the paper for the professor to grade.
Global-intuitive students tend to make mistakes on exams that stem from their breadth of learning without sufficient depth of learning, thinking, and organizing. For example, on fact-pattern essay exams, they leave out the steps of their analysis because they think the professor will know how they got from point A to point D without having to lay it out. It is true that the professor knows how to get there, but the professor needs to know that the student knows how to get there (rather than a lucky guess) to give points on the exam. On multiple-choice exams, they tend to pick by gut rather than carefully consider every answer option. Consequently, they look at the options that match their conclusion (guilty, admissible, liable) and miss the best answer that is not guilty unless, inadmissible unless, or liable only if. Alternatively, they may not know which of two better answers is best because they do not know the nuances of the law on which the question turns.
There are several ways that global-intuitive students can help themselves to develop more in-depth understanding of the law and gain more points on exams:
- Avoid shortcuts that tempt one to only know the gist of a course: canned briefs, scripts, outlines of other students.
- Spend time memorizing the precise wording of the rules, definitions of elements, and other law so that one is not fuzzy on elements, factors, variations. or other items.
- For essay exams: Write out fact-pattern essay answers instead of just thinking about them; get feedback from professors, teaching assistants, or classmates on the depth of analysis.
- For multiple-choice exams: Complete lots of practice questions and read the answer explanations in the book to learn the nuances of the law rather than just the gist of the law.
- Take the time to read, analyze, and organize an essay answer. The rule of thumb is to use 1/3 of the time for a question to do these steps and then 2/3 of the time to write the answer.
- Use a chart to organize the essay answer rather than hold information in one's head. Rows can indicate the parties to the dispute. Columns can indicate the elements or factors that need to be discussed. One can enter facts, cases to be mentioned, and policy arguments in the appropriate cells as a careful read of the fact pattern is completed.
- When writing the essay answer, change the audience one writes to - instead of writing to the professor, write the answer as though explaining the law to a non-lawyer (your cousin, grandmother, little brother). Connecting the dots is easier when writing to a lay audience.
- When writing the essay answer, ask "why?" at the end of each sentence. If an explanation for the statement is not there, keep writing and add the "because" to the sentence.
- Carefully weigh each answer choice on multiple-choice tests; look for the best answer rather than the superficially right answer.
- Slow down in exams and use all of the time given. Global-intuitives tend to finish early which often indicates that they missed smaller issues, did not fully analyze the arguments, or did not read the questions carefully enough.
Monday, April 1, 2013
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)
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
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
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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)
Thursday, August 23, 2012
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:
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:
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:
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)
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
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)
Thursday, May 17, 2012
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."
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)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
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: www.smartdraw.com; free download (doesn't say how long the trial lasts)
NovaMind5: www.novamind.com; 30-day free trial
Inspiration: www.inspiration.com; 30-day free trial
The Brain: www.thebrain.com; 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)
Saturday, July 23, 2011
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 ...
Saturday, March 19, 2011
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)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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)
Monday, February 28, 2011
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)
Saturday, February 26, 2011
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)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
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)
Monday, November 16, 2009
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)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
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
- Graphic organizers
- Mind maps or spider diagrams
- Tree diagrams
- Yes-No decision maps
- Venn diagrams
- Time lines
- Pie charts
- Organizational charts
- 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:
- Smart Draw
- One Note
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)
Saturday, June 20, 2009
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)