November 07, 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
By ALINA TUGEND
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
October 13, 2008
The Processing Learning Styles Part III
In this final segment in the series, I want to describe the differences between active and reflective learners. In addition, I shall give some practical ways in which these two types of learners can better use their particular styles in law school. Again, I shall focus on "strong scorers" on these characteristics because it is easier to see the differences between them that way.
Active thinkers are people who say "let me do something with this concept to think about it." The "doing" may be talking it through, asking lots of questions, working out a practice question, or some other active mode of dealing with the information. Active thinkers may fearlessly start talking about something they know little about; by the end of the conversation, they will have a better understanding than at the start of the conversation. They may ramble in that process or change their minds completely before they get to a final answer or statement. Active thinkers tend to participate in discussions whether in meetings, study groups, or other settings. They are happy to work through any topic without forewarning. They tend to be excellent brainstormers. They may write quickly during an exam without a great deal of planning to their answers.
Reflective thinkers are people who say "let me think about this concept before I have to do anything with it." These thinkers need time to reflect before they talk, write, or work on practice questions. They will often sit quietly in meetings, study groups, or other settings and listen. They tend to be adept at summarizing material. They may not give all of the steps in their analysis when they speak because they have internally reflected on the material and consider the end result to be more important. Very strong reflective thinkers may not like open-ended questions because they give too little structure for their reflection. If asked a "yes" or "no" question, a reflective thinker may just state "yes" or "no" without any explanation.
Depending on their other processing styles (global-intuitive or sequential-sensing), the active and reflective learners may vary by type. The active-global-intutive learner may discuss in more general and conceptual terms; the active-sequential-sensing learner may discuss with more steps and details. The reflective-global-intuitive may internally process the overview and concepts, provide less of that process out loud, and focus more on the overview and concepts in the response. The reflective-sequential-sensor may internally process in a more methodical way with more attention to detail, provide less of that process out loud, and focus more on steps and details in the response.
Active thinkers sometimes are also high scorers on oral learning and kinesthetic/tactile learning because these preferences focus on participation and application which are both very active modes of learning. Reflective thinkers sometimes also score high on aural learning and verbal learning because these preferences provide greater opportunity to be a reflective observer. However, both types of thinkers come in a vary of learning style combinations.
Active and reflective learners can sometimes irritate each other because their approaches are so very different. Here are some of the conflicts that they relate about one another if they do not understand that both learning styles are legitimate:
- Active learners are attention seekers because they always want to talk whether they know anything or not. Reflective learners are not team players because they listen to everyone else's ideas rather than participate.
- Active learners take forever to get to the answer and waste everyone's time with their rambling thinking. Reflective learners never explain their analysis fully and only offer their conclusions.
- Active learners have no structure to their study group sessions and want to talk about anything and everything in no particular order. Reflective learners want everything in study group to be over-organized and are control freaks.
- Active learners get bored in study groups that are just one member lecturing to the other members. Reflective learners are willing to teach a topic in study group once they have had time to prepare.
- Professors sometimes think active learners are disorganized or unprepared because they ramble to an answer. Professors sometimes think reflective learners are unprepared and undisciplined in their thinking because they pause so long to answer and then do not give all of their thought process.
Here are some ways that the two types can be more productive but still reflect their differences:
- Both types of learners should spend more time when reading cases to reflect on what the professor may ask in class for both the case-specific and synthesis aspects of what they have read. Reflective learners will be more confident if called on in class, will not be as startled by the questions, and will be more likely to include their thought processes in their answers if they have reflected before class. Active learners will be more prepared in class to give organized answers rather than rambling answers and can write down clearly the questions they need to ask in class rather than ask the professor partially formed questions.
- Both types of learners should learn actively in class rather than be passive learners. Reflective learners will be less likely to volunteer unless they are "comfortable." However, they can self-monitor and engage in class by silently answering any question, comparing their answer to the answer of the reciting student, and listening to professor comments in reponse. Active learners are typically more apt to volunteer in class and talk through the analysis with the professor to stay engaged. However, they can also use the silent method to stay engaged if a professor only calls on students and does not take volunteers.
- Both types of learners should spend 1/3 of their time on an essay question thinking about the analysis and organizing the answer and 2/3 of their time writing the answer. Their exam writing will improve with adequate analysis and organization. Reflective thinkers will allow themselves the reflection time they need to notice all of the aspects to include in an answer and to organize their analysis completely. Active thinkers will provide themselves with time to analyze so that they will not forget aspects that should be mentioned and will not meander in their written answers.
- Both types should have input into the format of a study group. Reflective thinkers truly need time to reflect on the material before the study group. If the study group sets an agenda beforehand for the main topics to be discussed and which practice questions will be discussed, the reflective learner will be able to prepare and participate more effectively. Active thinkers need some flexibility in the study group to discuss topics that were not on the pre-planned agenda. If the study group allows for some time within the meeting for questions about any topic, the active learner can have time to ask what has suddenly popped into his head.
- Both types of learners can benefit from practice questions. When both types of learners share a study group, they may want to do practice questions separately as well as together to account for their learning differences. Reflective learners may prefer to use practice questions only after they have thoroughly reviewed a topic so that they feel prepared to do something with the material. After review and individual working of questions, they will be ready to discuss them in a study group session. Active learners may prefer to use practice questions to help them think through a topic after some review while not having fully learned the material yet. They then will want to add more questions after a thorough review of the material. They may use the study group setting at either of these stages in review.
Active and reflective thinkers need to consider their other absorption and processing styles to combine their multiple modes of learning. As with other learning types, active and reflective learners are unique individuals within their general categories. (Amy Jarmon)
October 09, 2008
The Processing Learning Styles Part II
My prior column focused on four of the processing styles (global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing) and three categories of learners based on the combinations of those four styles: "Top-Down" (Global-Intuitive), "Bottom-Up" (Sequential-Sensing), and "Middle-Out" (Global-Sensing or Sequential-Intuitive). I explained the general characteristics of each processing style and each category of learner.
It is important to realize that all four types of processing (global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing) are essential for the best results in studying and on exams. We must use all four processing styles no matter which are our actual preferences. Thus, one needs to see the overview (global), understand the parts and the steps of analysis (sequence), realize the inter-relationships among concepts (intuitive), and recognize the important facts and details for the analysis (sensing). Although one will use one's preferences first in learning, one then must "lean back" and use the opposites.
In this column, I want to discuss how the main two categories of learners (global-intuitive and sequential-sensing) take advantage of their strengths and avoid the possible pitfalls of their preferences by using their opposite styles. With practice one can take advantage of preference strengths and compensate for styles that may be initially overlooked.
Global-Intuitives can assist their learning by considering the following strengths that they have and using them consistently:
- Always keep the big picture of a course or topic in mind so that the parts of the whole will make sense. This way you never get stuck on a sub-topic or topic without understanding its importance to the overview.
- If the professor or casebook does not provide a preview of the material, look at the table of contents or a "big picture" study aid to gain a roadmap. By previewing the material, you will be able to fit each part more naturally into the whole even if the professor initially isolates it as a separate unit.
- Always think about the inter-relationships between the concepts for synthesis into the whole. For example, consider how the elements of negligence are related, how four cases on dominant tenant's rights are similar and different, how the intentional torts are similar and different from one another, or how two separate hearsay rules might interact.
- Use graphics to see the big picture of the sub-topic, topic, and course. The type of graphic used will vary with the course, topic, and ways the visual learner personally "sees" material.
- Structure outlines by one's natural tendency to use topics and sub-topics rather than focus on indivdual cases. These learners immediately realize that most cases (unless they are major ones) become mere illustrations of the concepts rather than the "be all and end all" in an outline.
- Use your natural abilities to not get bogged down in minute details and to emphasize the essentials of a course.
However, global-intuitives must realize potential pitfalls in learning and take action to minimize them. Here are a few suggestions for improving one's studying and exam performance:
- Read cases and other materials for depth of understanding rather than for the gist of the material. Avoid scanning and highlighting to learn later; instead focus on learning while you read.
- Avoid canned briefs as a shortcut. You need to focus on learning legal reasoning skills yourself rather than relying on someone else's work. In law practice, you will not have canned briefs, and headnotes are not always dependable or in-depth.
- Beware of glossing a topic rather than learning it at enough depth to provide detailed analysis and to understand nuances. Make sure you could explain the topic to a non-lawyer with clarity and detail.
- Drill regularly on rules and steps of analysis to increase retention so that you do not paraphrase the law or skip steps in the analysis of a problem.
- Use practice essay questions with model answers to determine whether you really know material as well as you think you do. If you consistently miss points made in the model answers, then you are skipping steps or avoiding important details.
- Practice essay writing techniques as well as the content during practice questions. Organize the exam answers first in outline or chart form to force a more detailed analysis. Write out a number of questions in full and compare them to the model answers.Connect the dots in essay analysis by using several techniques: 1) write to a non-lawyer audience such as a relative rather than to the professor so that the analysis has to be more complete; 2) at the end of every sentence ask "why" to check if the statement is merely conclusory or has been explained.
- Use practice multiple-choice questions that supply detailed answer analysis to determine whether you really know the material well enough to see nuances. By analyzing your mistakes, you can self-correct for missed nuances in the law or sloppy reading and thinking.
- On multiple-choice exams, beware of picking "by gut" instead of reading each answer choice carefully. Analyze each choice methodically being careful to consider all of the relevant facts and all of the elements of the rule.
- Read fact patterns, questions, and answer options carefully rather than scanning. Read all exam instructions instead of assuming you know what the instructions will say.
- Time chart for all exams so that you use all of the time provided rather than rushing through the analysis for multiple-choice questions or the analysis and writing for essay answers.
- Ask a sequential-sensing study partner to point out when you are glossing material, skipping steps of analysis, paraphrasing rules too broadly, missing nuances in the law, etc.
Sequential-sensors can assist their learning by considering the following strengths that they have and using them consistently:
- Use your natural ability to organize in your understanding and memorizing of methodologies, bright line tests, and other steps of analysis. You will be methodical in working through each exam question this way.
- Use your natural ability to notice facts and details in reading essay exam fact patterns carefully and noticing nuances in multiple-choice answer options. You will make few careless mistakes this way.
- Use your natural ability to organize and recognize important facts by outlining/charting exam answers with the necessary information to apply the law to the facts. Note the facts, policies, case analogies, and other aspects that need to discussed for each party in the answer outline/chart.
- Use your natural abilities at organization and detail to connect the dots in your written analysis so that the professor is able to find the points in your essay answers quickly. You maximize points by "showing your work."
- Use flashcards, acronyms, or other methods to memorize the rules and elements so that they are recalled automatically during the exam.
- Understand the parts or units before trying to jump to the big picture. Understand the separate cases, the separate sub-topics, and separate topics before synthesizing them.
However, sequential-sensors must realize potential pitfalls in learning and take action to minimize them. Here are a few suggestions for improving one's studying and exam performance:
- Before reading a case, take a couple of minutes to survey for important information: plaintiff-defendant categories; thumbnail sketch of the dispute; the level in the appellate process; whether the case will focus on precedents, statutes, policy or a combination of these; the holding; the judgment. Surveying is not the same as scan reading the case. It is quickly finding pieces of information to give yourself a framework for reading the case.
- Keep your briefs brief so that you do not get bogged down in minute detail. Use your casebook margins to note important information as you read the case. Then condense to the most important information in your brief. Thus, your brief and margin notes complement one another rather than duplicate work.
- Use additional techniques to shorten your briefs. Use bulleted or numbered lists of phrases rather than sentences and paragraphs. Use paraphrases rather than long quotes.
- After reading cases on a sub-topic, synthesize them. How are they similar and different from one another? How do they relate to the sub-topic? How do they relate to the topic as a whole?
- After studying separate sub-topics, synthesize them. How are the sub-topics similar and different from one another? How do they relate to the topic as a whole?
- Use graphics to see the overview of a topic and the inter-relationships of concepts as well as the separate parts and steps of analysis.
- Try to condense material to the essentials before you outline. If you cannot curb your tendency to include minute detail, condense your outlines further several times during the semester to focus more on the overview and inter-relationships.
- Practice lots of questions to become more efficient in your test-taking strategies. You want to have your techniques on auto-pilot so that you do not waste time in an exam trying to decide what to do.
- Stay within the four corners of the fact pattern during your analysis. If "what if" and "how about" predominate your thinking, you have probably wandered outside the fact pattern as written. You may be considering a phantom issue that is not in the fact pattern. Writing about phantom issues wastes time and gains no points.
- Time chart on all exams so that you do not spend too much time on some questions and then have to rush through the final questions (or, even worse, not finish all questions).
- Ask a global-intuitive study partner to point out when you bogged down in minutia, are worrying over unimportant points, have missed the inter-relationships among concepts, have missed the overview of a topic or the course, etc.
As mentioned previously in Part I, the "Middle-Out" learners need more individual evaluation because of the crossover in styles. However, using the descriptions in Part I to understand the particular combination of styles, a Middle-Out learner can use today's suggestions to determine which techniques seem to best match that person's crossover combination.
The final part in this series will focus on the active and reflective learners. Part III will discuss the characteristics of these learners and practical ways for them to use their styles more effectively. (Amy Jarmon)
October 08, 2008
The Processing Learning Styles Part I
A great deal has been written about the absorption learning styles: Visual, Verbal, Oral, Aural, Kinesthetic, Tactile. However, the discussions often overlook the processing styles: Global, Sequential, Intuitive, Sensing, Active, and Reflective. These styles are critical to how students process information, perform on exams, and work together in study groups.
Although much more could be written about these learning preferences, here are some highlights. I shall describe each type as to the "strongest scorers" because it is easier to understand the preferences in those who exhibit them at high levels.
Global learners prefer to have the "big picture" first so that they can know how to insert the parts within that overview. In a sense, the global learner is looking for the roadmap to the course and its various topics. If a professor previews the material in a topic, the global learner will gain from that "here is where we are going for the next two weeks" perspective. Global learners also benefit from looking at a table of contents to see how the topic relates to the whole course and how the sub-topics relate to the topic. Global learners can also benefit from a topic-subtopic syllabus from the professor.
Sequential learners prefer to look at each unit first and only seek the bigger picture after they are comfortable with the parts. For sequential learners, each case is a separate unit and each sub-topic and topic are separate units initially. Sequential learners only seek the bigger picture or overview after they are comfortable with the parts. Sequential learners must remind themselves to synthesize material. Thus, a professor who summarizes the material in a topic will help sequential learners by that "let's look at where we have been the last two weeks and pull it all together" perspective. Sequential learners are sometimes uncomfortable that a professor starts in the middle of the casebook instead of going in the sequence that the editor determined.
Intuitive learners prefer ideas, policies, theories, abstractions, and the inter-relationships among these concepts. In a sense, they love ideas no matter how useful the ideas are and become excited by innovations. They can quickly manipulate and retain concepts. Intuitives can sometimes understand the concept or provide the "answer" without knowing how they arrived at the insight. A policy-driven course is often a delight for the intuitive learner. The law school mantra of "it depends" is less burdensome to intuitive learners because they deal well with ambiguity.
Sensing learners, however, prefer facts, details, and practicalities. They will notice each fact in a long fact scenario. They will know far more details about the cases and the "black letter law" than their fellow students. They are not particularly interested in the theoretical and abstract aspects of the law unless they can see practical uses for those aspects. A policy-driven course is often drudgery for the sensing learner. Ambiguity is frustrating because these students often come from academic disciplines that required right answers.
If students are both global and intuitive, they are often termed "top-down" learners. They work from the overview with inter-relationships of concepts as their first step and then fit the pieces in place with some detail. Global-intuitve learners sometimes think they understand a course because they have the gist of the material, but actually lack a depth of knowledge for closer analysis. Class notes for these learners often comprise just the main points and have little detail. These learners tend to make shorter outlines because they readily condense material and discard details before they outline a section. They can get impatient with the details of an assignment. In an exam they may misread questions because they are not reading closely or may forget the details of what they read because they focus on the general idea. These learners may not read test instructions at all because they assume they know what the instructions will be.
Global-intuitive learners may remember that a rule has six elements but have trouble remembering a different element each time they recite the rule. Alternatively, they may paraphrase a rule too drastically. These learners tend to not connect the dots in exam analysis to receive the maximum number of points because they write to the professor (s/he knows that so I do not have to include it). They are less prone to organize an exam answer carefully before beginning to write. Consequently, they juggle material in their heads and forget to discuss some facts, mention cases that apply, or consider all the steps of analysis. In addition, they may think they wrote something in the answer when they did not or repeat part of an answer because they forget they already said it. On multiple-choice questions, they may pick by gut rather than carefully analyze each answer choice. They commonly finish exams earlier than other students: essay exams because there is nothing more to say although their answers were "conclusory"; multiple-choice exams because there is no inclination to review "gut" answers.
If students are both sequential and sensing, they are often termed "bottom-up" learners. They learn each case as a separate unit with an eye for details. They are loathe to finish reading a case until they understand every word and every detail. They tend to write very detailed briefs, sometimes with extensive quotes. Each sub-topic is a separate unit to be understood in detail. Sequential-sensing learners sometimes stay bogged down in the separate parts and details and forget to learn the overview and inter-relationships of concepts for a topic or the course as a whole. These learners tend to have "mega" outlines because they are reticent to condense material and leave any details out as they outline a section. They are methodical in their thought and tend to notice methodologies, steps of analysis, and bright line tests. They rarely misread anything. These students often teach their global-intutitive friends the law in depth. To their frustration, those global-intuitive friends often get higher grades because they have promptly discarded any details that seem unnecessary and find the big picture of the material.
Sequential-sensing learners tend to retain the organization of analysis whether it is the questions to ask whenever a topic comes up or the specific elements of rules. They tend to be organized in their exam writing and to outline an answer naturally before writing. Sometimes they see phantom issues because they know so much detail that they are sure the issue must be there somewhere in a question. They might write more on a correct issue than will actually receive points because they have included everything they know about the topic. They may second-guess themselves with constant "what if" and "how about" questions which are outside a multiple-choice question and fact pattern. As a result, they will change correct answer choices to wrong answer choices. These learners tend to have time management problems in exams because they spend too long on individual questions (whether essay or multiple-choice) and then rush through the final questions or never get a chance to answer some questions because time has been called.
"Middle-out" learners also exist which crossover the styles. These leaners would be Global-Sensing or Sequential-Intuitive. In a sense, the crossing over means that they process in both directions at once rather than in one direction. For these learners, the crossover tends to act as a balance between the two opposite dimensions. There appear to be fewer "middle-out" learners. "Middle-out" learners are often older students with work or educational experiences that have tended to support this bi-directional learning. For these learners, it is harder to generalize their characteristics. Instead one needs to read the type descriptions and discuss the types in light of that learner's specific scores on each dimension.
For all of these types, they can frustrate each other greatly if they do not understand the different processing types and the legitimacy of all learning styles. Opposite types sometimes "take it personally" when someone does not explain things the same way in a study group because they assume the other person is just being difficult or that they have the only "right" way to learn. Members become exasperated that the other person drones on about unimportant details or paraphrases rules or other transgressions. In addition, when professors teach to only their own learning styles, the students who are opposites struggle more to follow what is happening in class and to learn the material. Without an understanding of different styles, a professor may inadvertently misjudge a student's class performance merely because the student processes information in a very different way.
So how do these learners use their preferences to advantage and avoid the negative tendencies of their learning styles? My next column (Part II) will address strategies and solutions. Part III will talk about the active and reflective dichotomy among learners. (Amy Jarmon)
September 25, 2008
Update on regional differences
I wrote a while back (maybe March?) about my irritation with the hyper-focus on generational differences (The Millenials v. Gen X v. Boomers) and the under-focus on how other differences, such as region, shape classes of law students. I received some feedback from that blog post, mostly about whether regional differences are as real and important as I thought they were. Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (Sept. 23, 2008) has a great article on regional personality differences, titled "United States of Mind", that really delves into a study of the "Big 5" personality inventory by state.
I am posting a link to the article here, but I don't believe it is accessible online unless you have a subscription to WSJ.
March 17, 2008
Resources for Visual Learners
A large number of my students have higher scores for visual learning than verbal (read/write) learning when they take learning style assessments. Obviously, they have to use both learning styles in law school. However, by converting material to visual graphic organizers to absorb it, process it, and retain it, these students will be better able to convert it back into verbal forms for the exams.
I have listed some web-based and hard copy resources below that may assist your visual learners.
- Students can explore three K-12 educator web sites to discover a variety of graphic organizers for learning. Although the examples will talk about photosynthesis or the plot for Huck Finn, the students can easily relate to which of the organizer formats might be useful for different law courses. The three web sites to check out are: Write Design on Line; Education Place; and The Graphic Organizer.
- A software that helps students to produce flowcharts easily can be found at Inspiration Software. Although the company offers several software products, law students want to click on Inspiration 8.0. There is an option for a 30-day free trial. One of the nifty aspects of this software is that once the student has made the flowchart, she can choose for the software to produce a skeleton outline of the information.
- The Gilbert Outline Summaries Series uses more visuals than any other study aid series that I have discovered. Some of the different graphic formats used by the series are: tables, columns, time lines, decision charts, relationship charts, and checklists.
- The CrunchTime Series uses decision flow charts.
- The PMBR Finals Law School Exams Series uses tree diagrams.
- BarCharts is a laminated chart series that uses color and columns of information.
- The newest version of Microsoft's software apparently includes a better program for making graphic organizers than earlier versions. I do not have Office 2007 on my computer yet, but several students have mentioned the changes.
In addition, my students regularly use several methods to make their own graphics:
- A dry erase board can be used to create the graphic with colored markers. Once the student is satisfied with the result, she can turn it into a hard copy.
- A large newspaper pad with black pages (like what is put on an easel in a workshop) can be used to create graphics. Some students use masking tape to put the results on their apartment walls so that the graphics are in constant view.
- Different color post-it notes representing different concepts or levels in a hierarchy can be taped to the same type of newspaper pad blank sheets. The ideas can be connected by drawing lines with highlighters.
For our visual learners, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, some of them hesitate to maximize on this capacity because others have told them verbal ways to learn in law school. When I encourage them to use their visual preference more frequently, they often report major breakthroughs in learning, retaining, and recalling information. (Amy Jarmon)
February 11, 2008
More Lessons from Ballroom Dancing
A few months ago, I shared my insights on how learning ballroom dancing is similar to learning law. After writing that post, I decided to work towards the my long-term dream of competing in ballroom dancing.
I had seven weeks to prepare for my first competition. In that time, I had to learn three new dances (rhumba, foxtrot, and swing) and perfect those and two other dances (waltz and cha cha). Here are some of the lessons that I learned and how they relate to our law students.
- Learning something new can be scary. There were days when I wondered what I had gotten myself into with my dream. I was frequently reminded of how I felt as a 1L trying to sort out mysterious courses about which I knew nothing and questioning whether law school had been a good idea.
- Learning something new can be frustrating. I wanted to learn steps more quickly than was humanly possible. When I got frustrated at my "slow" learning, I had to remind myself that I tell my law students to be patient and take one day at a time. I tell them that any new skill takes time.
- Learning something new can be embarrassing. I stepped on my instructor's feet. I looked like a klutz in front of a World Champion dance coach. I had regular mental blocks in mid-dance. Through it all, I had to know how to laugh at myself and realize that it was not the end of the world. I sympathized with our students who are sure that the professor and everyone in class will remember their abysmal class performance for years to come.
- Learning something new is easier if the instructor understands how I learn. My dance instructor tries very hard to explain things to me in ways that I can understand. He combines approaches to match how I learn: talking through steps, listening to my questions, verbal analogies, diagrams, and application as needed. ASP professionals earnestly try to be cognizant of learning styles. When our faculty colleagues do the same, more students can have the lightbulbs turn on in their brains.
- Learning by tying new information to old information really works. New steps came more quickly when I could relate the rhumba to similar steps in cha cha, foxtrot to similar moves in waltz, and swing to English jive. Our students also need to make associations of new learning to old learning or experiences for greater comprehension. When they try to learn in isolation, they fail to see connections that help them build on learning.
- Learning the basics of something is not the same as perfecting that learning. I realized that I can pick up the patterns and steps fairly quickly. However, the styling and technique (that make the dances beautiful to watch) take much longer for me. Our students often pick up the gist of a course pretty quickly. Unfortunately, some of them do not realize how necessary precise rule statements, deeper understanding for perceptive analysis, and the fine points of fact patterns affect them.
- Learning can be both exciting and drudgery. The feelings of accomplishment and improvement over the weeks were inspiring. I could see how far I had come. However, doing the same three steps in a pattern hundreds of times to get my foot position or arm position correct was drudgery. Necessary, but not fun. Many of our students love the law. Many of our students do not love law school because of the drudgery that can accompany learning.
- Learning requires practice for many hours. I could not just read about the dances, watch videos of ballroom dancing, or have my instructor tell me about the steps. I had to practice diligently. I went to hours of lessons. I practiced steps at home while I balanced a book on my head so that my posture and frame were correct. I did various exercises to train my muscle memory. I condensed pages of notes on things to correct for each dance into the essentials to continue to work on right before the competition. Too many of our law students spend hours reading, listening in class, and memorizing but never practice before they walk into the final exams. No wonder their hard work has insufficient payoff.
- No matter how well we do, there is still more hard work ahead of us to get better. I was delighted to win the third place trophy for the overall competition first time out. However, I now know what to work on before the next competition. I have not perfected any of the dances. And, for years to come, I can improve. Our students need to realize that they need to perfect their study habits over time. No matter the initial success there is room for improvement. Newcomer level versus gold level is something that requires on-going dedication.
- After all of the hours of hard work, life happens. I was petrified for the first five heats in the smooth competition in the morning and again for the rhythm competition in the afternoon. During the other 50 heats, I was fine. I made mistakes that I had not made for weeks. I suddenly did a cha cha step during the rhumba. Hearing my students talk about their test anxiety during finals seems all too familiar now. When they tell me they blanked or that they could only remember contracts in their torts exam, I have greater empathy.
- Ideally, learning never ends. No matter how competent we may be in some areas of our lives, we shall meet challenges during which we are incompetent at the beginning. However, competence grows as we open ourselves to learning new things. We need to make sure that our law students remain open to learning new things and having the courage to be novices. We need to cheer them on for their successes even when they are focusing on their failures.
Ballroom dancing has been good for me as a learner. Now I can use my recent experiences to help my law students learn. (Amy Jarmon)
February 09, 2007
Keeping Kinesthetic-Tactile Students on Target
Many of my strong kinesthetic-tactile learners struggle initially in law school. Among other things, they have never had to read this much dense material; they have never had to study this much; they have never had to sit as much; and they have never had to use such structured time management to succeed.
In discussing study problems with hundreds of students with a strong KT preference, I have learned a number of nuances about these learners' needs. Many of my "KT's" have deepened my understanding of this type through their descriptions of what has (or has not) worked for them.
What does it mean to be a KT? Well, to put it simply "kinesthetic" means movement/activity. And, "tactile" means touch/application. These learners can usually take advantage of the preference if they include movement and active learning and "hands-on" application in their studies. Although each KT learner is unique because of other overlapping learning styles, strong KT's do seem to share some characteristics.
Why do so many KT's not take advantage of their preference already? I find that these are the children, teens, and young adults who have been told all their lives by parents and teachers to sit down, sit still, stop fidgeting, get back to work, and be more like "good little boys and girls." They have also been told by those same parents and teachers to stop getting dirty, making messes, getting into everything, touching everything, and taking everything apart to see how it works.
Many KT's are self-conscious about what they have always felt were bad characteristics or habits rather than their natural learning attributes. In a sense, they often need to re-discover their best ways of learning after years of suspecting they were educational misfits. I find that this is especially true for non-traditional students who came through the educational system prior to increased understanding about learning styles.
What can KT's do to add "movement" and activity to their studying in constructive ways? Here are some suggestions:
- Pace around the room when learning a speech or presentation; when studying flash cards; when reading a case section that has the KT stumped; when learning an outline.
- When studying alone, talk with one's hands while learning a speech or presentation or when trying to explain a case, sub-topic, or topic to an empty chair, spouse, or family pet. (Cats condescend to listen as long as you use a voice that suggests you are showering them with compliments. Dogs will listen very attentively and actually look at you as though you are brilliant.)
- Move one's body during study: play with a rubber band, paper clip, or pen; tap a foot; shift around in the chair; twirl a strand of hair; move one's head in time to music; crack one's knuckles (yes, some of my KT's really do self-report that they do so).
- Take more frequent small breaks when focus is lost. Five or ten minutes will usally help as long as the KT gets up and moves -- a walk to the water fountain; a trip to the student snack bar; a lap around the law school. (But, make sure the break does not extend to hours.)
- Study with "white noise" to mask distracting external noises: turn on a fan; play instrumental music; turn the TV on at "mumble" or mute level; go to a coffee house or restaurant and sit out of the high traffic zones.
- Study in areas where one does not feel confined in spatial terms: a larger library table rather than a tiny carrel; the door open to the carrel; seating areas in the library that have larger chairs or couches.
- Study with repetitive movements or gentle recreational movements: review an outline while on the tread mill; recite rules while folding the laundry; study flashcards while on the stationary bike. If the KT is also an aural lerner: listen to an audio tape while walking around the neighborhood; listen to an audio tape while washing and waxing the car or cooking dinner; discuss a topic with a study buddy while walking across campus. (Some KT's have observed that you need to be a coordinated KT to do some of these techniques.)
- Stay active as a learner in order to maximize focus, understanding, and memory. Ask questions while reading. Talk with others about the material. Participate in class discussions.
- Use study group/buddy time wisely: take short breaks to retain focus; avoid marathon study sessions; ask to read the questions or lead the discussion when one's focus is wandering; avoid holding group sessions in cramped or austere settings.
- KT's often focus better through typing notes because the rhythmic movement in typing is beneficial. Many strong KT's comment that they lose focus when they handwrite their notes.
What can KT's do to add touch and "hands-on" application to their studying in constructive ways? Here are some suggestions:
- Add touch to movement while studying: stroke the family pet; handle a smooth stone; sqeeze a stress ball; run a hand over the fabric on the couch.
- Do as many practice questions as possible. It is the application that cements learning for KT's.
- Make up "spin-off" hypotheticals from the facts of a case after reading so that it becomes obvious how one applys the rule/reasoning/policy to new situations.
- If also a visual learner: use a dry erase board to outline the answers to practice questions; to construct graphics; to outline a legal memo; to solve a problem set.
- Enroll in courses that focus on the application of legal concepts: clinics; negotiation; mediation; trial advocacy; client interviewing; externships; internships.
- Enroll in doctrinal classes where professors use "hands-on" teaching techniques as well as more traditional methods: small groups to work on fact patterns; class members arguing for plaintiff or defendant; role plays as judges; arguing a motion before the professor judge; etc.
- Participate in law school activities that allow you to "do something" with the law: team competitions in advocacy, negotiation, or client interviewing; income tax assistance programs; other pro bono work; tutoring; researching for professors on real legal problems (rather than theoretical projects).
- Gain summer or semester legal experience so that classroom concepts become "real" through dealing with clients and their cases in practical ways.
Finally, what should KT's avoid or curtail in studying? What should KT's add to increase study success? KT's can be distracted more easily than other types. Here are some areas to consider:
- Avoid sitting near the back of the classroom because one is farther away from the professor and as a "fringe participant" can become bored and lose focus. (KT's naturally pick the back rows of the room because they feel less confined.)
- Avoid sitting in areas of the room where there are distractions that will make focusing on class harder: windows for gazing outside; doors and hallways for listening to hallway noise and conversations; classmates who are chatter-boxes during class; students who work crossword puzzles or play solitaire on their computers;.
- Study at home only if one is not distracted by the TV, computer games, house chores, nap time, or other home comforts.
- Study in a place that allows one to spread out study items while not being distracted by friends or lots of activity.
- Disable the Internet capability on your computer if you are prone to instant message, surf the web, read e-mails, or shop on-line when you should be studying. (For this reason, some KT's tell me they only study at the local coffee shops that do not have free Internet access.)
- Gain more awareness of becoming bored or losing focus. Consider realistic amounts of time for reading and other study tasks when structuring a time management schedule.
- Include exercise in a weekly schedule for at least three times a week for 30 minutes. By expending pent-up energy, KT's can focus better when they sit down to study.
With awareness and practice, KT's can implement additional ways to use the KT preference in conjunction with their other absorption and processing styles of learning. (alj)
January 21, 2007
See the Forest, Grasshopper
In a posting a few days ago, I discussed briefly the problem many students have seeing the forest for the trees. In talking with one of my students about that problem – one he had observed in himself and had overcome – I asked what he does to step back from the individual trees in the casebook and see the larger forest.
He told me that he takes each section of his outline and writes a prose explanation of the entire section, as if he were explaining it to someone else. He says, in effect, "Here's how defamation works." He then explains the basic concept: its rules, exceptions, defenses, competing minority and majority views, its underlying logic and its roots in public policy, etc.
He said that studying a linear outline does not pull those relationships together for him. Until he converts his outline into a coherent prose explanation, it is simply a list of concepts, not something he understands deeply and can manipulate to analyze a new set of facts.
Each prose explanation, on the other hand, becomes what he calls "the filter I pour the facts through." It his guide for sifting the facts to see where the questions lie and how the law might answer them. He does not use it, by the way, as a prewritten exam answer, a mechanical regurgitation of concepts into which he can sprinkle facts; he truly uses it as an analytical tool for attacking fact patterns and resolving the questions they raise.
What he has discovered is the power of learning by explaining. By forcing himself to explain the law to himself in writing, he necessarily comes to understand it more deeply and completely.
We who teach understand the dynamic he has discovered because we see it in our own work every day. Every teacher admits that she came to truly understand her subject when she had to make it clear to her students. My student simply applies that lesson to his own learning and makes himself teacher and student in the same moment. (dbw)
October 24, 2006
ADD, ADHD, and the Law School Experience
A reader suggested to me today that this blog devote some discussion to the difficulties faced by law students with ADHD. I think the suggestion is a good one. Let me begin, at least, with a recommended article. Professor Robin A. Boyle recently published "Law Students with Attention Deficit Disorder: How to Reach Them, How to Teach Them," 39 J. Marshall L. R. 349 (2006).
Among other things, the article gives a helpful overview of empirical research concerning ADD and ADHD, as well as the implications of that research for law school pedagogy. Included in those implications are twenty-five insightful, practical suggestions for more effectively addressing the needs of law students with ADD and ADHD. (dbw)
March 28, 2006
Confessions of a Former High School Debater
In my first year of law school (on the first day), I met the man I ultimately married. We were already dating by the time we had to do oral arguments for our legal writing class and our TA’s thought it would be good ‘ole nifty fun to make us argue against each other. We both agree that I won (did I mention that he is a very smart man?).
Our first year students will be doing their oral arguments for their legal research and writing classes over the next weeks. Now, for me, oral arguments were always the fun part of the class, but then again I was a (geek alert!!) high school debater (and on the math team, too!) and I thought oral arguments were just peachy. Sadly, most of our students are not as excited by the prospect of this activity as I was.
I have seen a number of panic-stricken, yet well dressed, students this week who have come to me for advice and to answer the age old question, “why do we need to do this?” My answer is always this, “because I said so.” Oops, actually, that would be my answer for my kids, for students I say, “Because the ultimate weapon in a lawyer’s arsenal is the courtroom and being comfortable there means you have the edge over your adversary.”
It is that simple. “I’ll see you in court,” is often considered a threat (at least on TV and in movies) but if you cannot make good on that threat, you will not be the most effective lawyer you can—and you have an ethical obligation to be a zealous advocate for your clients, not someone who makes empty threats. Oral arguments are the first step in finding a comfort level in court.
Granted, there are attorneys who don’t see the inside of a
courtroom after their bar swearing-in ceremony. I know a lot of lawyers who would rather never go to the courthouse and
not just because parking is a nightmare (which it is). But I really believe that being able to
navigate a courtroom is an essential skill for lawyering. In fact, I often recommend that my
probationary students take a trial practice class or a clinic to get some
courtroom (or courtroom-like) experience.
I have found that students who lack confidence in their exam-taking abilities really thrive in a more practical lawyering-skills kind of class. I think some of these students are more hands-on learners who need to see the way the rules of evidence operate in court rather than manipulate them on paper only. Not only that, but a practical kind of class (especially a clinic) can help a student rediscover their initial reasons for wanting to come to law school. It can be an epiphany to remember why you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. I have found (anecdotally) that this will improve a student’s grades across the board and not just in that class or clinic.
As for my nervous first year students, I tell them my old courtroom stories of embarrassing situations I lived through. My favorite: the judge who figured out that I did not know to stand up whenever addressing the court, so he signaled me to stand when I did. Well, since I did not know why I was standing, I didn’t know when to sit down either, so he gave me another signal to sit. That judge had me randomly jumping up and down for an entire proceeding using hand signals. In the end, I caught on that he was having fun at my expense and we all had a good laugh. Which taught me the most valuable lesson about oral arguments, “Never, never, never, take yourself too seriously.” Thanks, Judge Lauria! (ezs)
November 14, 2005
We Don't Have Arts and Crafts...
It is time for my students in academic distress to register for spring classes. Because I am often asked for advice on these matters, I am often conflicted. Should I advise students to take classes that will be sure things or to take something new and interesting to rejuvenate their passion for law school? Should I discuss exam styles with these students: "Well, he's great, but his entire exam is multiple choice," or "I hear people have needed IV fluid during the exam, but the subject is on the bar..." -- or even worse -- "Oh definitely take it with that professor, there's no exam, just a book report; no really, I'm not kidding on that"?
Do I point students in academic distress toward the easiest path; the one that might be better for their GPAs, or the one that might be more challenging but would recapture their interest in law?
After being in Academic Support for about three and a half years now, I do have some "insider" information on the professors, exams and classes; but I still try to get students to challenge themselves. I have even administered the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – I had to take a class to qualify to do it, so don't try this at home!) to provide some insight into students' learning styles and what classes and/or professors might be a more "natural fit" for various students' personalities.
I know that sometimes a slam-dunk kind of class can restore badly damaged self-esteem. In addition, classes that are "skills-based" can remind students about the end goal of law school: lawyering. Some students find these classes (like trial practice and negotiation) the antidote to a bad spell of more doctrinal classes. I also think that everyone should take a clinical class or do an internship; perhaps this stems from my co-op experiences in law school.
Eventually, all my advice boils down to this: take a variety of classes. Think of your course selection somewhat like using the food pyramid. Look at what you need to take and what you want to take. Mix statutory (or code) and case law classes because these are two different types of analysis you'll need for the bar. And ALWAYS take one fun class – the class where doing the work is not a chore.
And finally, it is often worth it to take the 8:00 a.m. class, especially if it is graded on a curve. Why? Because if you are the only one who shows up, you'll do better on the exam than anyone else. (ezs)
November 10, 2005
Learning and the Internet: A New Study of Teen Blogging May Have Lessons for Academic Support Professionals
The Associate Director of our law library at UMKC, Lawrence MacLachlan, just passed along a link to a study by the PEW Internet & American Life Project that may be of interest to academic support professionals. The study, "Teen Content Creators and Consumers," describes teenagers' use of Internet blogs, both as readers and creators. The subjects of the study are in an age group that will be arriving in law schools within the next five years or so, and it might be worth our time to consider how the use of blogs may drive students' collaborative learning and even professors' teaching of law courses.
It is a fairly short read and well worth the time to see what is happening among our future students and very probably among many of our current students. (DBW)
August 25, 2005
Learning Style Survey Self-Assessments
From Joe Landsberger's site ...
As Academic Support people, we are interested in learning styles. Earlier this year, some learning style surveys/questionnaires appeared on this blog ... here is another group, distilled from Professor Landsberger's site (which was featured in my earlier August 25 posting, below).
DVC Learning Style Survey for College
... includes four categories of styles (visual/verbal; visual nonverbal; tactile/kinesthetic; auditory/verbal), and a self-assessment web-based tool. Results/scores are based upon 32 questions. (Previously featured on this blog ... from Diablo Valley College in California.)
Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire (Felder/Silverman)
... includes introduction, learning preferences on four dimensions (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global); and a self-assessment instrument self-scored. Results/scores are based upon 44 questions.
The SuccessTypes Learning Style Type Indicator (Pelley)
... this type indicator is based on the Myers Briggs Type Indicators (Extraversion, Introversion, Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, Judging, Perceiving). Results/scores are based upon 28 questions.
Learning Disabilities Resource Community
... this is a self-assessment instrument based upon Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences (linguistic, mathematic, visual/spatial, body/kinesthetic, naturalistic, music, interpersonal, intra-personal). Results/scores are based upon 80 questions. (djt)
August 13, 2005
Oldy but Goody
If you know Ruth Ann McKinney, and her work, you know what I mean when I say that when I read this sentence, I knew the author who wrote it was on the right track: "Professor McKinney's approach is as close to perfect as I've found and is well worth copying." (The same author includes material from, and praise for, Professors Cathaleen Roach, Kris Knaplund, and Paula Lustbader.)
The sentence was not written subsequent to publication of Ruth's recent book Reading Like a Lawyer. No, this was written after publication of Ruth's brief article, "Using Small Groups to Solve Big Problems," in the Winter 1994 edition of "The Learning Curve" (back in the Days when Kris Knaplund was the Learning Curve Editor).
Who wrote these essays? Stephen R. Marsh, who describes himself as a "dedicated teacher with multiple publications, significant practice experience and diverse research interests." (Read his CV)
The first essay, "Why A Solution Is Necessary," provides an historical context, explaining what (in the author's opinion) is wrong with legal education, and why.
"Reaching Solutions" addresses the teaching of substantive law, legal writing skills, and legal skills.
"Applications" provides the nuts and bolts of how to implement the solutions proposed in the prior essay, including what can be done and what should be done.
The appendix to this collection contains the perspectives of other authors and commentators.
Provocative? Oh, I don't know. See what YOU think. Example: "...one group is even worse than doctors. That group is law professors. Just like the doctors, the profs know, or should know, that the methods they use to teach actually make it harder to learn the material. That is, law professors provide a net negative input into the learning process. Is it any wonder that some professors have developed an incredible level of arrogance, have displaced themselves, and treat the students and support faculty like dirt, isolating themselves from all others?"
Agree? Disagree? Correspond with attorney Marsh by email to discover his many other writings.
(If you are unfamiliar with "The Learning Curve," visit the April 14th blog entry featuring the Curve and its current editor, Natt Gantt.) (djt)
August 05, 2005
A Hip Way to Hit the Road
Even though I live in country in Vermont, where cell phone reception is so random that my monthly phone bill can often feel more like a donation rather than compensation for service, I still have a thing for gadgets and advances in technology.
Yet, I'm not into gadgets just for the sake of the gadget. My interest is always with an eye toward how to use the latest technology to help me to do my job faster, more efficiently and more in sync with my personal learning style.
And, hey, it is cool that I can have my calendar, phone book, family pictures and any documents that I am writing in a tiny gadget that fits in my pocket. (A cumbersome paper calendar? Haven't kept one since 2001).
My latest purchase? An IPod. Yes, my husband rolled his eyes when I purchased the pink leather cover and the hip arm band to use the IPod while exercising, but there's more than just the neat accessories that attracts me to the IPod. I'm becoming aware of the tremendous opportunity to use the technology to help law students to learn better and to help me to work smarter.
For example, it can function as an external hard drive, with incredible memory capability. For the ADHD student who needs music in order to focus, the player is pocket size and can hold an audio library. It can slip into a pocket and be brought anywhere. (My IPod has 476 songs and an audio book that I purchased and downloaded and still has 1.4 gigabytes free of the 4.0 GB capacity).
The capacity to use the IPod to become a more efficient attorney is available. For instance, one can record onto the IPOD with additional accessories. Interested in reading more, you might want to read this article about the use of an IPod in law practice. (els)
August 01, 2005
Multiple Intelligences & Legal Education
Kirsten A. Dauphinais, Director of Legal Writing and Assistant Professor of Law, University of North Dakota School of Law, has produced a detailed and insightful article (11 WLLREALJ 1) about legal education in light of Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Writing in the most recent issue (Winter, 2005) of Washington and Lee's Race and Ethnic Ancestry Law Journal, Professor Dauphinais explains the Multiple Intelligences theory and endorses the proposition that taking a new, more expansive approach to recognizing and evaluating student capabilities could help legal educators provide a better education for aspiring lawyers.
Professor Dauphinais posits, "...just as we tend to admit law students who were just like we were, so too do we evaluate them in the way we were evaluated. ... Perhaps we should not hold ourselves out as the exclusive paradigm for 'how to think like a lawyer.' Law professors are but a narrow, and one might argue, not very representative, segment of the overall lawyering population."
Consider this bold assertion: "There should be movement away from legal education as a spectator sport, where students are relegated to the role of onlooker, while the instructor performs before the class. Under such a model, the more students are actively engaged in the learning process, the better they retain the knowledge."
Just a thought: after reading this article, consider passing it along to your teaching colleagues. (djt)