Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Most law schools will hold orientation for new first-year students within the next couple of weeks. It is an exciting time - and a bit scary. Here is my top ten list of things 1L students should think about and do before arriving for the first day of law school:
- Move in a few days ahead of time to get unpacked and settled. You will feel less hassled if your apartment is ready, you have explored your new city, and you have taken care of cable, Internet, and errands before orientation begins.
- Take care of as many school-related tasks as you can beforehand: parking permit, school e-mail account, immunizations, payment of bills, and other items. Most law schools have ways for you to accomplish many tasks on-line ahead of your arrival.
- Make a list of the reasons why you want to go to law school and to be a lawyer. When you get tired during the semester, the list will remind you why all of the hard work is worth it.
- Make a list of the personal attributes that you have and the values that you hold dear. These things make you unique and worthwhile as a person. When you get overwhelmed and begin to wonder who you are, the list will ground you and remind you that you are still that unique and valuable person.
- Consider what you want to say to introduce yourself to the myriad of new people you will meet. Everyone who is a new first-year student is outstanding, so bragging and bravado will probably be less successful than you may think. You want to come across confident and genuine. Also think about the different audiences that you will be meeting: fellow 1L students; upper-division students; professors; decanal staff.
- Spend time with your family and friends now. You are going to enter a very busy phase in your life. You will not have the same amount of leisure time as you have been used to previously. Fill your last summer days with quality time spent with others.
- Participate in your favorite activities before you leave home. Go to the movies; play pool with friends; go hiking or camping; spend the evenings salsa dancing; read fluff novels. You can have regular down time in law school if you manage your time well. However, some activities may need to be saved for special occasions or vacations rather than being weekly events.
- Prepare your mind set for new experiences, different challenges, and the need to adopt new strategies. Law school will require new study methods, present new ways of writing, and require acceptance of "it depends" analysis. You will be less stressed if you can remain flexible and open to new ideas and methods. Most law students feel uncertain initially until they gain more expertise in this new environment.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side. Whatever your belief system is, you will feel less alone and overwhelmed if you are not carrying the weight of the world all by yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep and establish a routine now. For your brain to work well, you need at least 7-8 hours of sleep at regular times each night. Start going to bed and getting up now to match what your class schedule will be. If you do not know your classes yet, aim for 11 p.m. bed time and 7 a.m. wake up.
Safe travels to your new law school. Best wishes for your semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Summer is the season that non-bar prep ASPer's decide they are going to get caught up on everything. However, that is rarely the case. Although it can feel like eternity to be stuck in an office when the sun is shining and the beach is beckoning (especially for those of us in New England and the Midwest, where the sun only shines 5-6 months a year), the reality is that the summer flies by. UMass begins orientation next week. Classes start for all students in two weeks. My to-do list is still very long, and I have little time to finish everything that needs to get done. Despite the pit in my stomach when I look at my list, I know everything will get completed. Here are some tips for wrapping up the summer:
1) Make a two-column list:
In the first column, lists everything that has a concrete due date. In the second column, list all the amorphous, ambitious projects that have no end-date. Start with the projects that have a concrete deadline that is coming up soon, things like a lesson plan for orientation, or finishing a syllabus. At the end of the day, take 20-30 minutes to analyze your date-less projects; are these projects that need to be done? Are these projects actually many mini-projects, that can be tackled by task, over time?
2) If you have big projects on your list, break them down into manageable components:
I read some great advice in an Inc. magazine article; whenever you have a major goal that you can't seem to reach, work backwards. Break down everything that needs to get done, then group the tasks into categories. When you check off a category, you will feel a special excitement--you can see that you are getting closer to your goal.
3) Minimize distractions:
Don't multi-task. You just get a lot of things half-completed, usually poorly. If you need to compulsively read the news (me) or compulsively check email (many people), try one of the free software programs that de-activates you from the internet for a period of time (see Freedom, http://macfreedom.com/). This article gives basic information on ten other programs that help you focus on one project at a time http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus.
4) Schedule your projects, and move meetings around to accommodate project completion (not the other way around):
There is an excellent TED talk that discusses why meetings are a waste of time (see here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html). Alas, I also find they are a necessary evil. But I find that when I put meetings first, and task-completion second, I never get anything accomplished, but I have acquired a new to-do list from all the meetings I've attended. When you really need to get things done, it's best to switch priorities. I schedule tasks into my calendar, and all meetings have to be scheduled around the tasks.
5) Schedule your email:
In nine years working in academia, if there is no constant refrain, it's that email is a massive time-suck. I've read a thousand different suggestions for minimizing that time-suck, from only reading email three time a day, to answering all emails immediately, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. None of these worked for me. However, I learned to stop using email as an excuse. I let people know when I will be answering emails immediately, and when they should expect a wait before they receive a response. What I have found is that people respond quite well when I let them know ahead of time that I am in a busy period and they may have to wait for a response. Students, who are known for becoming angry when professors don't respond to their emails immediately, have been amongst the most understanding when I have let them know they may need to wait for a response. Students become angry when they feel like they are being ignored. If you let them know what is on your plate, and promise them a response within a certain time-frame, 95% of them will be great about the delay. When I know I have to get things accomplished, I set an auto-reply on my email that tells people what I am doing and when they should expect to hear from me (usually within two weeks). I also add a message that lets them know who they should contact in case of emergency.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
After a 2 month absence, I am back on the blog, and a huge thank you to Amy for covering for me while I was moving!
One of the things I noticed as I was perusing past posts is the number of ASP positions that have opened up recently. Several schools will be hiring new people in the coming months, and here are my preliminary, abbreviated thoughts on starting in a new position in ASP:
1) Figure out the reporting structure:
You need to know who you will report to, and if that is a different person from the one that writes your evaluation. In past positions, I have reported to the head of legal writing, the assistant dean for academic affairs, the dean of students, and the dean of the law school. You need to know if the person who gives you assignments also writes your evaluation.
2) When you know who you report to, make sure you know what their priorities are:
It's great to hit the ground running, but it's not so helpful if you come with a stellar plan for 1L ASP when your supervisor really wants you to focus on bar prep, 2L remediation, or intro to law/orientation programs. Before you start planning, you need to figure out where you should be spending the bulk of your time and energy.
3) Know the evaluation structure:
At some schools, this is anything but transparent. Know who is evaluating you, and how you will be evaluated. Ask a lot of questions if evaluations are a black box of opacity--opacity is not always a bad thing. I've worked at a school where evaluations were never talked about with supervisors; if there was a problem, they let me know early so I could fix the issue and move on. At that school, evaluations were not the time to discuss performance--performance was an ongoing topic of discussion, because growth was an ongoing project. I've been at (one) other school were opacity was a terrible thing; evaluations were subjective and designed to humiliate, so everyone knew who was "boss" at the law school. The evaluation structure was whatever the evaluator wanted to use, from any period of time.
4) Know what your admin. assistant/secretary can and cannot do for you:
Your admin will be your lifesaver or your worst enemy; try, try, try not to make your admin your worst enemy. Ask colleagues what your admin can and cannot do for you. Some law schools have one faculty secretary, and that person is overworked, yelled at, and stressed out all the time--do not make their life harder than it already is. Other law schools have several admins, and you are expected to delegate many tasks to them. But you cannot assume the latter; ask your colleagues.
5) Know where to get lunch, and if people lunch together (or, get to know the social culture):
The social culture of a school is critical; if you misread the social culture, it can damn you professionally. The social culture at UMass is wonderful--relaxed, and collegial. Uconn-Storrs (distinct from the law school) had a much more formal social culture, but one that was incredibly welcoming, warm and genuine. Uconn-Storrs has a very unique culture; everyone lunches together, everyday, at noon, in a conference room. Few law schools do this, but it was fantastic. I learned the informal rules of the office that way; I learned who to ask for what, when; and I learned how I could help people. One of the things I will miss most about UConn is lunching with colleagues everyday.
I am sure I will have much more to add about starting at a new school. But for now, I need to get back to writing a new syllabus and reading for my upcoming Property class. (RCF)
Thursday, July 18, 2013
The following e-mail from Louis Schulze (Chair) appeared on the Academic Support Section listserv for AALS to update ASP'ers on the status of LSASP and some assistance that is needed to update the website:
As you may know, the law school academic success project website is maintained by the AALS Section
on Academic Support. A few weeks ago, some questions arose on the ASP
listserv regarding how to gain access to that website. After some
troubleshooting, it now appears that those matters have been resolved, and we
are moving forward with continued improvements to the website.
As Chair of the Section, I’m happy to report that OJ Salinas, of UNC Law, has agreed to serve as Senior Editor of the website and Chair of the Section’s Website committee. You will be noticing some changes to the website in the near future, and I write today to ask for your assistance with some of these changes:
(1) Any person who recently requested access to the website should now have access. You should have received an email approving your request. If you recently requested access and have not
been approved, please contact OJ at [email protected].
(2) We need assistance with the “Contacts” section of the website. Could you please check your information and your school’s information for accuracy and report any changes to OJ? Also, if you were recently granted access to the website and would like to be added to the
contacts section of our website, please forward to OJ at [email protected] your school;
title; telephone number; and email. If you have one available, a photograph would be helpful (head shot is best for the website). If you have an updated photograph that you would like added to the website, please forward it to OJ, as well.
(3) We would like to update the portion of the website dealing with conferences. If you know of an upcoming ASP conference, could you please report it to OJ? If you recently presented at a
conference and would be willing to share your materials, could you email OJ? We want to continue to use the website as an ASP resource, and conference materials are valuable resources.
Additional changes are on the horizon for the website, and we look forward to rolling those out in the near future. In the meantime, I’m sure I speak for our community when I thank Jon McClanahan of UNC Law for chairing the website committee for several years now and doing a wonderful
job. Thanks also go to OJ Salinas for his recent work and for agreeing to chair the committee in the future. Finally, our entire community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ruth Ann McKinney for the hours upon hours of work she invested in creating the LSASP website, which is an incredible
Louis N. Schulze, Jr.
Professor of Law & Director of Academic Support
NEW ENGLAND LAW
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Dear ASP colleagues:
The Learning Curve is the official publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support, showcasing
brief articles treating theoretical or practical ideas related to student support and teaching excellence. Recently we shifted to a twice-yearly publication structure, and we look forward to sharing our first summer issue next month. Its articles explore ways to incorporate "Fun and
Games" into your programs.
We are considering articles for the January 2014 issue now, and we want to hear from you! We are
particularly interested in submissions concerning professional development in ASP, and encourage both new and seasoned ASP professionals to submit their work. Can you share some advice regarding scholarship – generating ideas, outlining, navigating the submission process, etc.? Are you doing
something innovative in your classroom? Do you have a fresh take on technology or what it means to be “ASPish”? Can you tell us something about the history of ASP teaching?
Please ensure that your articles are applicable to our wide readership. Principles that apply
broadly, i.e. to all teaching or support program environments, are especially
welcome. While we always want to be supportive of your work, we discourage articles that focus solely on advertising for an individual school’s program.
Please send your submission to [email protected] by no later than August 30, 2013. Please attach it to your message as a Word file. Please do not send hard copy manuscripts, and please do not paste a manuscript into the body of your e-mail. Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words, with light notes, if appropriate. Please note that Publisher does not support footnotes that run with text.
Endnotes or references lists will be used in publication and are strongly preferred in manuscript submissions.
For more information, or to inquire about the appropriateness of a topic, contact Jennifer Carr at [email protected]. Please include “Learning Curve” in the subject line of your inquiry.
We look forward to reading your work and learning from you!
The Learning Curve Editors
Jennifer Carr, Heather Harshman, and Courtney Lee
Thursday, June 20, 2013
I forgot how emotionally-draining, financially-challenging, and logistically complicated it is to move from one location to another. After four-and-a-half wonderful years, I am getting ready to leave UConn to join the faculty at UMass on July 1. I am very excited about the new job. However, the last two weeks (and the next two weeks) of my life have been consumed with the details of moving my life from CT to MA. These issues led me to reflect on the issues our students face when they start law school.
Many law students move long distances to start law school. For a student who comes from a family with the financial means to hire movers and take look-see trips for apartments, this is an arduous process. Just coordinating dates and times is challenging; apartment complexes either fill up very early (in college towns) or apartment managers do not know vacancies until the last minute (rural and suburban areas, law school detached from larger universities). Apartments that are beautifully photographed can be in terrible neighborhoods, or have serious issues. Look-see trips are very helpful when sorting out these problems. But for our students who have to look for apartments while living far away, and need to move their life in a U-Haul truck, this process is incredibly stressful and emotionally-draining. These students usually can't leave their jobs until the last moment, so they are moving, and starting law school, within a one-to-two week period. It doesn't leave much time to adjust to a new area, or relax before the whirlwind of 1L year.
This is something to think about as ASP professionals plan orientation and the start of school. We may not being seeing the best of our students in those early weeks. We may be seeing students still stressed out, exhausted, and not-yet focused on academics. (RCF)
Sunday, May 12, 2013
It is the end of the semester, and I suspect a lot of ASP'ers are looking forward to a lull in the hectic pace of ASP work. Some folks will have more of a hiatus than others because of low or no summer enrollments. A few folks are on 9- or 10-month contracts with the summer off. And those ASP'ers deeply involved with bar studiers will have a short lull.
Whether you are a one-person ASP operation or have a team and whether you have 50 invited ASP students or all law students as your target population, I imagine that you are ready for a change of pace. The last part of the semester is always fraught with students overwhelmed by exams, students confronted by personal crises, graduates gearing up for the bar exam, and a myriad of important deadlines. For those of us who teach ASP or other courses, we are/will be inundated with papers/exams to grade.
I love the lull because I get to do two critical things: complete lots of projects and recharge my batteries. In the age of portable electronic devices that get recharged nightly, I sometimes wish that I came with a battery as well. Since I do not come equipped, here is a list of my favorite recharging activities both in and out of the office:
- Attend a summer conference with other ASP'ers to get new ideas, renew old friendships, meet new ASP'ers, and remind myself how much I love my work - we are so lucky to have AASE at the end of the month!
- Find a new book by an ASP'er in the publishers' catalogs and delve into new perspectives on student learning, legal reasoning, or other facets of our work.
- Chat with faculty and other colleagues at my school to find out what they are working on this summer, to brainstorm ideas as to how we might work together next year, and to reconnect after we have all been so busy all year.
- Revamp at least one aspect of my program for a fresh perspective: a training manual, workshop packets, my ASP group exercises, a selection process for upper-division students who work in ASP, a Power Point presentation.
- Read through my collection of thank you notes from students to remind myself of the impact that ASP work has.
- Spend more time with friends and family now that overtime hours and evening events will lessen.
- Sleep in on some Saturday mornings to recharge quite literally.
- Indulge in fluff novels that have nothing to do with the law - no John Grisham for me.
- Catch up on all the movies that I have missed and summer releases.
What are your favorite ways to recharge? I wish all ASP'ers good ends to the semester and blessed summer months. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The mandatory meeting for first-year students (optional for upper-division students) to discuss our registration process for next year's classes was held last week. Registration will start next week. For first-year students, the process can create a great deal of stress because it is another "unknown" to them.
The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs explained the ins and outs of the curriculum requirements beyond the first-year required classes. The Registrar explained the actual procedures for registration.
And then the rumor mill started to make the process even more stressful. The sources were sometimes upper-division students' comments but often just from imagination:
- Horror tales about registration for rising 2L students (computer freezes, no places in popular courses because rising 3Ls will take all the spots, long wait lists, etc.) while ignoring changes in the system and statistical realities.
- Rumors that students will fail if they get Professor X while swearing they will get an A with Professor Y - even though course statistics do not reflect these guarantees.
- Rumors playing up the fear factor of different professors' exams or teaching styles or course topics and ignore that different students learn and test better in different ways and have different backgrounds and interests.
- Moanings about the audacity of the law school's hiring of unknown visitors/new hires/adjuncts who cannot be easily pigeon-holed.
So what is the 1L student to do to survive registration and choosing the best class schedule? Here are some tips that I give students when they consult with me:
- Know the requirements for graduation: credit hours, normal course loads, required doctrinal courses, skills development courses, writing courses, certificate programs, dual degree programs.
- Think ahead beyond the next semester to the full academic year and the next academic year - how will fall 2L courses impact spring 2L courses and how will 2L courses influence the 3L courses.
- Consider summer school credits (including study abroad) if the student plans to attend and know the policies that are involved.
- Have alternate course choices in mind in case a class is closed out entirely or only waiting list spots are open at the time the student registers.
- Take a balanced course schedule by considering paper versus exam courses, required versus elective courses, large versus seminar courses, difficult topics for the student versus topics that come more easily, hands-on skills courses versus traditional courses, courses that interest the student versus ones that have less appeal, law versus dual degree courses (if applicable), and other factors.
- Watch out for prerequisites that are needed for later courses or clinics that the student wants to take.
- Talk to professors about elective courses that sound interesting but are only briefly covered in the course descriptions to find out more about the courses.
- Talk to professors in specialty areas in which the student may want to practice to get advice on courses that would be beneficial for background.
- Consider courses that will give background for the bar exam but which may not be required courses for one's law degree.
- Talk to multiple students who have taken a course/professor in the past because variety of input will likely highlight pros and cons rather than one-sided feedback.
- Look at the exam schedule to see what the grouping of exams will be like for particular combinations of courses (available at our school prior to registration).
With careful thought and planning, registration can be a less stressful experience for students. Faculty, administrators, and others can provide guidance as students weigh the pros and cons of different course choices. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
For most law schools, the semester is on the downward slope to exams - the midpoint for classes has passed. Students who have been putting things off are waking up to the fact that time is not on their side any longer.
Many law students whose Spring Breaks are over used the recent time away from class to catch up: outlines were started or completed, paper research was started or completed, and paper drafts were begun. Law students with Spring Break this week are planning the same machinations.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the time left in the semester:
- Add to course outlines weekly so that new material is pulled together while it is still fresh.
- Write down all of your questions for each course and get them answered now: by classmates, by professors, or through study aids.
- List all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for each exam course to get a realistic view of the amount of material.
- Estimate the amount of time needed to learn each topic already covered in class to the level needed to walk into the exam.
- Schedule learning that same older material for no more than two-thirds of the remaining class period; reserve the other weeks for learning the new material that has not yet been covered. For example, if there are six weeks left, try to learn the first eight or nine weeks of material in four weeks and reserve the remaining two weeks to learn brand new material. During the exam period, focus on the last one to two weeks of new material and review everything else.
- Do as many practice questions as possible for each exam course. However, it is ineffective to do practice questions on a topic before you have intensely studied it. Wait a few days after intensely studying a topic before you do practice questions - you want to see if you retained the information well enough to get the answers correct.
- Do not skip classes because professors will begin to give information about the final exams and pull material together.
- Also do not skip classes because the last few weeks are often heavily tested when the course builds over the semester.
- Expect every step for researching and writing a paper to take longer than you think it will. Plan your work accordingly.
- Leave ample time to edit your paper in stages for specific aspects rather than edit for everything at once. Stages might be for logic, grammar, punctuation, style, accurate quotations, citations, tables/exhibits, or other appropriate categories.
The last part of the semester will be more productive if there is a plan for using the time. Do not waste time just thinking about study tasks; start studying in earnest. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Several law students have recently bemoaned the pettiness and spitefulness of other law students. It is not uncommon in the midst of the competition and the quest for superiority that some law students denigrate others' intelligence or abilities or accomplishments. They think the put-downs show their own competence and lessen the other person's worth. They want to sabotage their competition with mean remarks.
In truth, the inferior ones are the law students who feel compelled to make such remarks, to taunt other law students, and to tout their own superiority. They are simply not nice people. And if it were not for the self-contained environment of the law school, everyone could easily avoid them.
Too often law students react to these toxic people in ways that encourage them rather than short-circuit their venom. Onlookers will snicker to feel accepted by these toxic students or to cover up their own insecurities. The fawning snickerers should beware; toxic law students don't have loyalty to anyone except themselves. One slip and the fawner today can be the target next week.
Other law students stand by silently and say nothing even though they know the behavior is unacceptable. They don't want to get involved. They don't want to tell the toxic law student to apologize or to leave the other person alone. They could counter the snide remark with a positive one to the student who has just been put down. Or they could even befriend the student who is the target.
How sad that the people who are some day going to be officers of the court and supposedly uphold justice and protect the vulnerable are so unwilling to act professionally during law school. The toxic ones will probably turn into the arrogant partners who bully new associates and paralegals. The fawners will continue to be spineless ingratiators in practice. The silent onlookers will continue to not take a stand once they are admitted to the bar.
Fortunately, there are some law students who know the difference between right and wrong and will come to the defense of others. Instead of fuming later, they will intervene at the time. They will be polite, even diplomatic, but stand up for what is appropriate behavior among professionals.
Some law students will likely comment that nothing can be done and that it is just the way law school is. However, each law student's individual actions can impact the atmosphere of a law school. If each person who does not like the toxic behavior that develops in law schools were to oppose that behavior, law schools would be less stressful places for everyone. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 18, 2013
Many law students and law professors think the student most likely to be involved in academic dishonesty is the gunnar. The gunnar will do anything to get ahead, including cheating or plagiarizing materials. The gunnar is the student that either impresses or annoys the professor, and either annoys or terrorizes classmates. The gunnar cheats because they want to be number one, and don't care how they become number one.
As an ASP professional, I see a different type of student involved in academic dishonesty, the student who is not deliberately breaking the rules, but is willing to do anything to survive. This is the student who will take any advice about how to succeed, because they know they are barely keeping their head above water. Unfortunately, this is also the type of student who is trying so many different strategies, that they fall behind in their legal writing projects or homework assignments for class. In desperation, they copy from commercial sources, copy from models of legal writing assignments, and break rules about collaboration on graded assignments. Unlike the gunnar, this type of student doesn't always see what they are doing as dishonest. Because they don't understand why they don't understand what is being taught, they assume everyone must be using these methods to survive.They rationalize their choices, which blinds them to the depth of their challenges.
I find that this type of student is sometimes the most difficult for an ASP professional. Oftentimes, we have built a strong relationship with the struggling student, and we know how hard they are trying. We see the student as a someone doing everything they can to succeed, so we blind overselves to the possibility that they may be turning in materials that are not their true work product. It is only when another professor turns the student in for breaking the honor code or academic policy that we see what they student has been doing.
It is important for ASP professionals to recognize that some of our most beloved students, the students we see trying so hard to succeed, are also capable of academic dishonesty. It does not serve the student or the profession to overlook their actions. It is emotionally difficult to confront a student about academic dishonesty, but it is essential to their personal and professional development. (RCF)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
It is hard for law students to realize sometimes that they are privileged. When the reading becomes overwhelming, the outlines are not going well, mid-term grades are lower than desired, and job prospects for summer or after graduation look bleak, it is easy to become discouraged and negative.
At the times of discouragement, students need to remember that they are studying for a profession that has a long history of making a difference in people's lives every day. Law school can be overwhelming and frustrating and challenging. It is not a perfect environment by any means. The job market is not as robust as it used to be, and job hunts take more initiative and diligence. But if one does persevere in law school, bar study, and the job hunt, the legal profession provides the opportunity to impact individuals and society.
When law students lose perspective on why they came to law school and what they hope to accomplish with a law degree, they need to look at the world outside the law school fishbowl. There are thousands of people in every part of this country who would love to have the opportunity to have an education - let alone a graduate education, to focus on learning , and to enter a profession some day. They are too busy with daily survival, however, to have those luxuries. They are worried about the next meal, a roof over their heads, or protecting their children from violence. They are wondering how to get access to justice for themselves and their families.
The study of law is not for everyone. The legal profession is not a good match for everyone. It is okay if a law student would prefer to pursue another degree in business or music or anthropology or some other discipline. It is equally okay if a law student would prefer not to be in school at all and instead work full-time.
If the decision is to stay in law school and pursue the law degree, then it is important to realize the privilege of that choice. When it gets tough, remember the impact a lawyer can have. Persevere through the hard courses; study with purpose; prepare to be the best lawyer possible. There are people out there who need help in their daily survival, and they need each law student to be focused on being the lawyer who will have that impact in their lives.
Have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to pursue a law degree, for the chance to make a difference through our profession, and for the people who will allow each new lawyer to touch their lives. When discouraged, look beyond the moment to the future that awaits. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
With apologies to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, I want to talk about using food to increase student engagement. Although I originally would think of candy, donuts, and cookies, I have expanded my horizons after having students with special dietary needs who needed alternatives.
Some days my students in class or workshops seem to have the ho-hums. Our Tutors have noticed the same thing when trying to encourage discussion. In a more general manner, I want to encourage students to come use the resources of the office.
Here are some of the ways food can help to engage students in learning:
- For an early morning class, I sometimes bring breakfast for my students. As they munch and sip, they are more willing to participate in discussion. They are more alert and brain-nourished than other days.
- For the mid-afternoon doldrums, I keep a large snack box filled with individual packs of cookies, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, and other items. I arrive in class with the box and let students pick an item for a snack. The results are similar to my morning breakfast offerings.
- Several Tutors take bite-size candies to their weekly group sessions and reward students who ask questions or participate in hypothetical discussions with the treats.
- When reviewing material for my final exams, I often have competitions with teams in my classes. The rules are a cross of Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Since I teach international law courses, the prizes are a variety of products from the countries involved in the subject matter. For example, for EU Law, I find as many items as I can from the 27 (soon to be 28) Member States. Students get more involved because they know everyone will get a prize, but there are bigger prizes for highest individual points as well as for highest team points.
- Whenever I hold make-up classes, I provide food. I do so partially because the make-ups often have to be in the early evening and partially because it just makes it nicer for all of us - no growling stomachs and famished brain cells. We get those ABA minutes with nourishment.
- In the past, I had a candy bucket in the study aids library of my suite to lure students in with hard candies, chocolate, and gummy treats. Many a student was willing to discuss a study issue with me informally while sorting through the bucket for a favorite treat - often leading to a later formal appointment. Other students would ask if I would help them determine the study aid that matched their learning styles while they munched. The stress reduction potential was always a plus, especially near mid-terms and exams.
- Several faculty colleagues are known for providing homemade baking, snacks, pizza, or other food items for their classes. Several seminar classes are known for regular dinner meals.
How often I provide treats and what sorts of treats, depends on how flush I am at the time. Most of these types of perks are out of my own pocket because of university accounting rules. Some of my faculty colleagues with chaired professorships have hefty budgets with fewer restrictions. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I spent seventeen years in my first career working with undergraduate and graduate students. Then after graduating law school as a non-traditional student and practicing for some years, I decided to return to higher education and combine my education and law backgrounds. Those earlier years in my student affairs career have certainly held me in good stead in my current ASP work.
For most of the years in my first career, I was involved not only with academic dismissals but also with disciplinary cases and, towards the end, with Honor Council cases. I was the one who investigated cases, presented at administrative hearings, and counseled dismissed students.
Part of my discussions with students focused on their behaviors (actions or lack of actions), consequences, rules, integrity, maturity, self-discipline, etc. I always wanted students to learn from the situations so they could avoid future problems. This aspect of my work was really more about the head - how to think through situations, how to see alternative courses of action, how to understand societal norms, how to implement different study strategies for success, how to behave differently, or whatever matched the circumstances.
No matter how difficult the student had been during the process of an academic dismissal or a discipline/Honor case, I always tried to add a second part to the discussion. I switched to the heart by focusing the end of a discussion on how the student was coping with the results (suspension, possible readmission later, permanent dismissal), how the student was dealing with the legal process if there was one when disciplinary actions applied (we took administrative actions first because too many lawyers had played around with court continuances in order to go beyond a graduation date or a transfer when we previously waited), whether the student had told their parents/spouse/others, and what the student's plan of action was for the future.
Why did I spend the time switching from head to heart matters? Because no matter what a student had done, the student was still a human being. Once we had dealt with the head matters, the student was still often dealing with the heart matters all alone. Most students had not told family or friends that they were in academic or disciplinary or Honor Council trouble. Most students had hoped to the last moment (often unrealistically) that a suspension or dismissal would not happen. Most students were without a game plan to deal with the worst outcome.
One thing I learned early on was that if I could look beyond the failures/behaviors to the person, the student left with a different attitude than if I stayed merely aloof and clinical. The student was more willing to take responsibility for the situation rather than blame the school, the administration, the student witnesses, the faculty member, or others involved. The student was more willing to look at the life lessons and consider change. The student was less likely to bad mouth the school to others later on in life.
By taking the time to treat the student as a person, to help the student decide the next steps, to listen to the fears, or to even role play how the student would tell family and friends, I allowed the healing to begin. I allowed the student to learn that one can recognize bad decisions the student made or disapprove of/censure behaviors but still treat the person with dignity. I let students know that someone cared about them even in unpleasant circumstances when many might say they got themselves into the situations.
At law schools, I think the head part of the process is sometimes focused on totally, and the heart process is ignored. Students from various law schools around the country have told me about getting only an academic dismissal letter and not being given an appointment to discuss it. Students have told me about being told they are "not good enough" or do not have "the right stuff" to be in law school. They have told me about comments suggesting they will be failures in life because they could not meet law school academic standards. The stories have come from students at both public and private law schools, at law schools in every tier, and law schools in different parts of the country.
Our profession has begun to recognize that there are "soft skills" that attorneys need and that the human element does have merit in the legal process. I hope that we can regularly recognize the same need for the human element at our law schools when we deal with the multitude of conduct and academic problems that students are involved in during law school.
As professional schools, we definitely need to maintain standards of conduct, integrity, and academics. But we also need to maintain those standards while treating others as human beings during the processes.
Few of our students are dismissed under circumstances so egregious that they are incapable of being productive and worthy members of society. If we model combining head and heart in unpleasant circumstances, we treat students with dignity and provide a lesson that will resonate throughout their lives about how to treat others. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
In mulling over various problems that students have told me about this semester after the fact, it struck me how often students have stated as part of the story, "I didn't know what to do."
Some situations take place in the dead of night when no one at the law school would be monitoring e-mail or answering phones. Other situations arise during the day.
Here are some examples of problems that students have told me about and remarked that they did not know what to do:
- A student wakes up seriously ill on the day of a mid-term or final exam.
- A student realizes that she inadvertently forgot to turn in a study aid book within the deadlines.
- A student is uncertain about allowed assistance on a paper.
- A student is uncertain of the professor's definition of "open book" for an exam two days from now.
- A student spills coffee on a library book and tries to minimize the damage.
- A student's laptop crashes right before a paper is to be turned in to a professor.
- A student tries to submit a paper electronically as required without success.
- A student's car breaks down, and she does not have the $200 to get it fixed.
- A student's car breaks down, and she needs to get to an exam.
- A student's whose grandmother has been admitted to hospital has to miss classes for a week.
These are all classic situations that we see over and over again in law schol. However, students often seem to think they are alone with the problem.
When you do not know what to do, it is usually a sign that you need to ask someone for help. E-mail, phone, or stop by to get advice and find out the correct protocol. If it is the middle of the night, there is still voicemail and e-mail to notify someone of the problem and indicate the steps one is taking. If the Honor Code requires anonymity so that a professor cannot be contacted, there are still faculty secretaries, administrators, IT/library personnel, and others who can help.
Often the student can get assistance or at least ameliorate the consequences by contacting someone or seeking an alternative. For the examples above, the possibilities will vary by law school. However, here are some examples of problem-solving that may work:
- If ill, go to the student health services or another doctor as soon as possible as well as leaving a voicemail for or sending an e-mail to the Registrar/Associate Dean to inquire about postponing the mid-term or final exam.
- For a late study aid, contact the law library circulation desk to explain the situation and request permission to turn it in late.
- Read the assignment instructions or contact the professor for clarification as to the assistance that is allowed on an assignment.
- Read the syllabus, contact the professor for clarification on the definition of "open book," or ask the Registrar's Office if the exam paperwork might have the professor's instructions as to what students can bring in to an exam.
- For damage to a library book, take the item to the circulation desk and explain what happened; depending on the amount of damage, the student may or may not need to pay for a replacement.
- For a laptop crash, contact the law school or university IT folks for assistance.
- Electronic submission can again be assisted by the IT folks. If all else fails, submission by the deadline may be possible to a faculty secretary or administrator if anonymity is an issue.
- Most law schools have emergency loan programs to help students with unexpected expenses when other financial options are not available.
- If a student has allowed ample time to get to the exam without rushing, a telephone call to a classmate or request for help from a neighbor or calling a taxi may all be options.
- A quick e-mail or voicemail to the Registrar when a student has to leave unexpectedly provides the law school with the information that can then be relayed to professors as appropriate.
Some crises can be averted by simple planning. Considering the parameters of assignments or of exams early can forestall problems (asking ahead about what assistance is allowed or what is "open book"). Completing work ahead of schedule rather than at the last minute can also lessen snafus (extra time to sort electronic submission or printer problems). Any computer-related assignment should have a back-up copy external to the student's computer (flashdrive or external hard drive) to provide an alternate copy. Allowing extra time to get to an exam can give the cushion needed for car problems or traffic jams.
Student Handbooks and professors' syllabi normally include procedures and information that relate to some of these problems. Students often mention that they never thought to look at those resources in the heat of the moment. It is a shame that panicky feelings and stress often exacerbate the situations so that students choose to go it alone or make less beneficial decisions. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Merriam Webster defines observation as:
1. to conform one's action or practice to (as a law, rite, or condition) : comply with
2. to inspect or take note of as an augury, omen, or presage
3. to celebrate or solemnize (as a ceremony or festival) in a customary or accepted way
4. a: to watch carefully especially with attention to details or behavior for the purpose of arriving at a judgment
b: to make a scientific observation on or of
5. to come to realize or know especially through consideration of noted facts
6. to utter as a remark
a: to take notice
People-watching is a fascinating pastime. My favorite people-watching venues are outdoor events like festivals, parades, or concerts. They are chockfull of interesting and diverse crowds. But, observation is not only passive entertainment or a fun diversion. Observation is a critical step in the scientific method and in the learning process.
During a scientific inquiry, one must gather information by first observing. Then, they must prove or disprove their hypothesis with observational evidence. Although closely tied to science, observation is an integral part of any discipline.
When we observe, we not only watch but we engage. We make judgments based on our observations and we realize or discover something new. In essence, we learn. We transfer prior thoughts, experiences, and preconceptions to new contexts. Most of this is done involuntarily. However, intentional observation can be extremely enlightening.
I have had the opportunity to become a deliberate observer this week. I say deliberate because as humans we are constantly observing our surroundings. However, we are not always taking notice of the things we see. Thus, merely seeing is immensely different than observing.
I was able to observe several 2Ls deliver their first appellate oral argument when I volunteered as a judge for the Legal Writing appellate arguments. While focusing on the substance of their case, I also paid close attention to how they presented their arguments. Specifically, I took notice of their demeanor in answering the panel’s questions, their professionalism in dealing with the court and arguments presented by opposing counsel, and their ability to move fluidly from questions from the bench back to their prepared outline.
As most of us know, adhering to courtroom etiquette and having a strong delivery can make the difference between winning or losing a case. We also know that subjective judgment occurs when assessing communication and can contribute to our impression of the objective content. While I did not let my personal preferences skew my ultimate ruling on the case, they did have a significant impact on how I evaluated each student's performance.
Much different from a courtroom, last week I also observed my daughter’s ballet class as it was “parent watch week”. Interestingly, much like my observation of oral arguments, during the ballet class I focused on how the dancers interacted, instead of concentrating on whether they were performing a tour jeté, pirouette, or grand plié. The dancer's form and positioning, their presence as a dancer, and their engagement with their instructor were significant elements in how I assessed their attitude, energy, and technique.
Noticing the world around us is such a gift but we rarely acknowledge it as such. We so easily fall into our daily routines and the monotony of our lives. We should take advantage of being coerced, cajoled, or granted a chance to observe. From these focused observations, I learned that I often overlook seemingly meaningless details. Instead, I now realize that we should embrace these details.
The details can teach us about ourselves, our interactions with others, and our preconceptions. They can teach us how to be empathetic, how to gain a particular skill, how to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant and so much more. Ultimately, being mindfully observant allows us to be better decision makers, better students, and better teachers.
As teachers, we teach our students to pay close attention to the nuances of the law or the key facts in a hypo or a case. We too should walk the walk and take the time to observe. Try to observe students outside of class, prior to the start of class, and when they are working in groups during class. Are they interacting with each other, are they loners, do they appear engaged? We can use these observations to get to know our students and to understand how to best teach them. By paying attention, we are setting a good example and we may learn a thing or two.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
I did not cook for Thanksgiving this year. My best friend and I decided to go out to dinner instead. I realized in the days after Thanksgiving that I basically was content not to have leftovers crowded in my refrigerator. Except maybe the from-scratch cranberry sauce. And the stuffing. But the turkey, green beans, succotash, gravy, potato au gratin, sweet potato casserole, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie - well you get the picture - were not missed.
I realized for many of my students, the last week of classes (at our law school immediately after the holiday break) is a lot like leftovers. More reading, briefing, and new class material up to the last minute are now no longer appealing. One is already sated with those items and ready for something else. The professors who wrap up or review material are like the favorite leftovers that one is happy to have servings of for the next 5 days after the holiday.
Like all of us who ate too much and sat overstuffed on the couch after the holiday meal, our students are lethargic when it comes to more class sessions. They are focused on exams and want the leftover classes to be over. Wrap-up and reviews make sense because they go along with the exam purposefulness that students have. (Amy Jarmon)