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)
Monday, June 1, 2009
My post will serve two purposes; first, hopefully I will clear up some confusion about the differences between these three concepts; second, I want to plug the LSAC conference next week, and mention that Amy (Jarmon) will be discussing learning preferences and cognitive processing styles during the session titled "ASP 202."
There is a flurry of talk about learning preferences, cognitive processing styles, and multiple intelligences. That is a great thing; as ASPer's, we are often the first to suggest ways to improve law school teaching, and knowing how people learn best is incredibly important when brainstorming ways to help students learn. However, many people use these terms interchangeably, when they are very different concepts that have very different applicability in the law school setting. I am not an expert on the first two (learning preferences and cognitive processing styles)--Amy wears that crown, and I strongly suggest everyone go back to her columns on 10/8/2008, 10/9/2008, 10/13/2008, 3/17/2008, and 2/9/2007 as a refresher. I wrote (and defended) my master's thesis on Howard Gardner's work with Project Zero and multiple intelligences, so this is an area I feel very comfortable discussing with anyone who has questions.
Learning preferences (or learning styles)refer to someones preferred method of absorbing information; visual, auditory/aural, read/write, and kinesthetic/tactile. Someone who is primarily a visual learner prefers to absorb information through charts, mind maps, and diagrams. An auditory or aural learner prefers to learn information by listening to it. Aural learners like the Law School Legends Series of CD's, like to record classes, and should read their notes aloud as they transform them for outlines. Read/write learners prefer to absorb information by reading and writing; law school is made for them. Kinesthetic/tactile learners like to touch, feel, and move with the information. They learn best by doing; dividing their notes into columns by topic and flash cards work well for them. Few people fall into one category exclusively; most of us are multi-modal learners. Our learning preferences can change over time. An excellent resource on learning preferences is at www.vark-learn.com; check it out of you have not had a chance.
I will only go into cognitive processing styles briefly. Amy is the guru, and her posts on 10/8, 10/9, and 10/13/2008 do a far, far better job than I can explaining the different processing styles. I am using Amy's descriptions for this post. There are four processing styles; global, sequential, intuitive, and sensing. Global learners prefer to see the big picture, sequential learners prefer to look at each unit first and only seek the bigger picture after they are comfortable with the parts, intuitive learners prefer ideas, policies, theories, abstractions, and the inter-relationships among these concepts, and sensing learners prefer facts, details, and practicalities. These processing styles work together. You will frequently encounter global-intuitive learners and sequential-sensing learners. These also work together with learning preferences; any type of cognitive processing style will have learning preferences as well. An example: a global learner, who prefers to process information "top-down" can also be a visual learner who likes to create flow charts that start with the big picture and later connect the smaller pieces. Learning preferences and cognitive processing styles are not the same, but complimentary preferences. A learning preference is a preferred way of delivery of information, while processing style is the way the information is organized and understood by your mind AFTER delivery.
Multiple intelligences refers to the limitations of measuring intelligence solely from the Stanford-Binet intelligence-quotient model. Currently, there are eight intelligences, as defined by Howard Gardner, the "father" of the multiple intelligences movement; linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and (the newest) naturalistic. Linguistic and logical-mathematical refer to the types of intelligences tested on the Stanford-Binet IQ test most people associate with "intelligence" in the western world. These are also the intelligences valued in law school. Howard Gardner, an educator working with the Project Zero research project at Harvard, posited in 1983 that the traditional method of measuring intelligence left out large segments of the population, such as people with a gift for music, or people who are skilled at interacting with others or possess that undefinable "charisma" that draws people to them. Interior designers must possess spatial intelligence to arrange furniture to highlight the benefits of a space.
To excel in law school, law students must have highly developed linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. However, as a lawyer, they must posses both interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. Law school is frequently criticized for valuing linguistic and logical mathematical intelligence while neglecting the interpersonal intelligence necessary to deal with clients and associates. The high levels of depression and substance abuse plaguing the profession may be a symptom of the lack of intrapersonal intelligence among lawyers.
But here is one of the areas where ASPer's can get confused; bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is NOT the same as kinesthetic/tactile learning preferences, auditory/aural learning preferences are NOT the same as musical intelligence, and spacial intelligence is NOT the same as a visual learning preference. A person will highly developed bodily-kinesthetic intelligence will be an excellent dancer, excel at sports, and greet people with hugs. They may, or may not, prefer to learn new information by touching or moving. Many dancers, as well as athletes, prefer visual representations to learn new moves or plays. Similarly, someone with highly developed musical intelligence is likely to prefer to learn things by hearing them, but many composers actually prefer visual methods of absorbing information. Many people with highly developed spacial intelligence are multi-modal, and need to move (kinesthetic/tactile) pieces in order to visualize the end result; architects draw blueprints and create models. In summary, no matter what your intelligence, you can have ANY learning preference or cognitive processing style. In law schools, multiple intelligences have limited applicability on a small-scale, one-on-one level, but have great applicability when designing new courses and curriculum that reflects changes in the profession. Learning styles and multiple intelligences are not interchangable terms. They are very different concepts that address completely different things; learning is not an intelligence.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the blog, or talk to us after "ASP 202" next Thursday in St. Louis! (RCF)
Friday, February 27, 2009
The typical law school class is heavily focused on cases. Consequently, to 1L law students, the cases often seem to be the essentials rather than mere vehicles for bringing them the essentials they will need for developing a bigger picture of the course. Part of their misunderstanding of how to use cases is caused by our teaching methods and part may be because of their learning styles.
Some law professors expect their students to know every detail of every case for class recitation. Others just touch on a few points from the case. The former style suggests to some students that they need to know every detail for the exam. The latter style may leave some students wondering which details tie to those points or which details were important.
Professors will often throw out a series of hypotheticals to get their students to understand nuances of the application of a legal rule. And, professors may give no answers to those hypotheticals and leave the ultimate task of getting from the cases to the big picture for students to discover in their studying outside of class. Some students will walk away not knowing how the class discussion of cases related to the hypotheticals and what they were supposed to learn.
Does this mean that these professors are bad teachers or bad people? No. It does mean that some 1L students struggle with determining what is ultimately important in the course.
Because of their learning styles, some students will struggle more than other students in making sense of law school classes and cases. Global-intuitive learners will tend to have less problem than the sequential-sensing learners in the class.
Global-intuitive learners naturally process everything looking for the bigger picture and the inter-relationship of ideas. They prefer essentials because details are not particularly attrative to them. The highly detailed professor will have them wondering why they have to sit through all of the trivia. The professor who touches on a few points, throws out unanswered hypotheticals, and expects the students to pull it all together is more understandable to these learners. However, if these learners are high scorers on their learning styles, they may miss important details, organization, and nuances of analysis.
Sequential-sensing learners naturally process each case and each sub-topic as discrete individual parts. They think about units and the facts and details of those units. They naturally gain security from knowing everything there is to know about a case. They only look for the bigger picture later. The stronger their preference for "bottom up" learning, the harder it will be for them to see the bigger picture. It is these learners who sometimes get "left in the dust" of our typical law school case approach. Without help, they may get to the bigger picture too late to do well on the exam. (By the way, these students actually know more law usually than any of their global-intuitive friends.)
(In the "old days" of law school teaching, global-intutitive professors probably predominated and may have thought that the sequential-sensing student was not made of the "right stuff" to be a good lawyer. Fortunately, more awareness of learning styles means that both processing types are seen to have advantages and disadvantages in the study of law because all four processing steps are needed for the best essay answers or memos. And, in practice, the client benefits most if both types of learners are on a team for the case.)
My sequential-sensing learners struggle in deciding what can be discarded for their outlines. They are concerned that they will leave out something important. They are concerned that they need to know it all - every minute detail and every tiny fact.
Over the years, I have tried to find ways to help these sequential-sensing learners get a different perspective on cases. They will still read in more detail and still have separate units initially, but they can get to the bigger picture more quickly with some help. I talk a great deal with them about synthesis of cases, of sub-topics, etc.
By chance I came up with a basic analogy to help sequential-sensors understand the relevance of cases to the overall course. We talk about cases being like motor vehicles that may drive into your driveway but are ultimately owned by someone else and just "visiting."
The shiny little sports car: These zippy little cases pull into your driveway with little cargo capacity. As a result, there is less of importance to unload. Perhaps, you will find a definition of an element or an exception to a rule.
The family sedan: These sedate cases pull into your driveway with large trunks of essentials. One may find a substantial rule discussion, a sizeable interpretation of a statute, and/or a well-reasoned opinion with steps of analysis.
The family station wagon: These workhorse cases will be loaded down with many essentials (using even the roof rack). In addition to the type of cargo found in a family sedan, they often come loaded with extra policy discussion, additional variations on rules (minority and majority rules, restatement rules, model code rules), discussions of ambiguous or vague statutes, and/or discussion of multliple issues.
The U-Haul rental truck: These vehicles are the really major cases driving into your driveway. Think U.S. Supreme Court and state court of last resort. These major cases are packed with important essentials: doctrines of epic proportion, significant policy discussion perhaps, methodologies or bright-line tests, involved discussions of multiple precedents, complex issues and points of law, and/or possibly dissents and concurrences.
Whatever the motor vehicle size of a case, however, you let it drive away. You do not park it permanently in your driveway. You unload the essentials for your outline and wave goodbye to the driver with a thank you.
My sequential-sensing learners suddenly understand that it is okay to let go of the myriad of details once the essentials are spotted for their outlines. They begin to see that their task is to find only the most important cargo. They begin to see how cases are mere vehicles that fit together into a bigger picture of sub-topics and topics and applying that law to new fact scenarios. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 7, 2008
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
Monday, October 13, 2008
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)
Thursday, October 9, 2008
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)
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
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)
Thursday, September 25, 2008
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.
Monday, March 17, 2008
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)
Monday, February 11, 2008
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)
Friday, February 9, 2007
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)
Sunday, January 21, 2007
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)
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
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)
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
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)
Monday, November 14, 2005
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)
Thursday, 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)
Thursday, August 25, 2005
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)