Sunday, July 29, 2012
I am surprised every summer when August 1st comes around. The summer looks so long and full of possibilities right after graduation. However, it always ends too quickly for everything I would like to accomplish in my grandest dreams.
There are some things, however, that I try to complete each summer to prepare for the next semester as well as recharge my batteries.
Here are some of the things that I find help me most to "get my house in order" and approach the upcoming academic year with enthusiasm:
- I critique the handouts and Power Point slides that I use for student workshops to see what changes need to be made. Often during the academic year, I have thought of new examples to use, new ways of explaining information, or gained insights from my students. By revamping my materials regularly, I am able to offer better information and get excited about the new techniques that I can pass on to students in the coming months.
- I revamp my four-week course for our Summer Entry Program. It is easy to get lulled into doing things exactly the same each year because the program works so well with our current format. However, by challenging myself to find better ways of teaching the material and by incorporating suggestions from last summer, I keep myself and the material fresh. The changes may be small tweaks in many places and major rethinks in a few spots, but they all focus on giving 100% to the students.
- I review publishers' catalogs and order library books for our study aids/academic success library to get the newest editions or series within my budget allotment. It is always exciting to see what new volumes my ASP colleagues have published!
- I critique administrative tasks to find ways to be more efficient and effective. For tasks where I interface with other offices, I brainstorm better ways that we can communicate. For my own tasks, I review my calendar for the last year to make notes about when I should schedule certain tasks during the coming year and changes that I need to make.
- I sort through my e-mail archives and delete e-mails that are not needed any longer. If I have time, I also sort through my Word files to delete outdated or unwanted items that have been overlooked.
- I catch up on some professional reading. During the summer, I try to read at least one book related to legal education, academic success, or education theory. I also work my way through a stack of articles that I have collected throughout the year but never had time to read.
- I pull out my folder of thank you notes and e-mails from students and read through them. This task allows me to remember why I do what I do and encourages me to continue to impact student lives for the better. It reminds me to focus on being a blessing to my students in small as well as large ways.
By the time Orientation begins, I am ready for a new crop of 1Ls and our returning students. My housekeeping for ASP is done, and I am ready to start the cycle all over again. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, July 27, 2012
Some of the returning students always ask my advice on what they can do to get ready for their academics and improve their grades for the coming year. Here are my suggestions - some of the items can be done this summer; others can be completed in the first few weeks:
- Sit down and evaluate your study habits from the previous year. Look at each aspect of law school: reading and briefing, note-taking in class, outlining, reviewing for exams, memorizing the law, taking fact-pattern-essay exams, taking multiple-choice exams, completing papers or projects. What were your strengths in studying and why? What were your weaknesses in studying and why?
- Decide which study habits to continue and which study habits to change. Meet with the academic success staff at your school if you need help with this evaluation of your studying or with brainstorming new strategies.
- If you have specific skill weaknesses, read a book about that skill to improve your understanding. Here are a few examples: Reading Like a Lawyer by Ruth Ann McKinney; The Five Types of Legal Argumentby Wilson Huhn; The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law Schoolby Charles H. Whitebread. You can find a number of excellent books through Carolina Academic Press and other publishers.
- Start regimens now that are healthy and sensible. Get on a routine sleep schedule of 7-8 hours per night. Exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Eat healthy meals. Do not let these routines disappear during the semester.
- If at all possible, relax for at least one week prior to the beginning of classes. You want to begin the semester with fully recharged batteries.
- Time yourself in each course for the entire first week to see how long it takes you to prepare for class (read, brief, complete problem sets). Then pick the longest block of time for each course and use that to set up your class preparation schedule.
- Schedule also regular time for other tasks each week: outlines, review of outlines, practice questions, research, writing, study group, and more.
- Read your course syllabi very carefully. Many professors include information that can help you get the best grades in the course: learning objectives, study aid recommendations, websites and other resources, study tips, and more.
- During the first month of school, review all exams from last semester for which you received a C+ or lower grade. By getting feedback from your professors on what you did well and what needs improvement, you can make the appropriate changes as you do practice questions for your next set of exams.
- If you were disappointed in your performance in a paper class last semester, ask the professor for tips on how you could improve your research and writing. Then use the feedback to improve on your papers this year.
Second and third years are somewhat easier because students have learned the basic skills needed for success in law school. However, both years bring new responsibilities with part-time work and student organizations. Time management and organization are going to be two key areas to work on to attain your best grades. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Hat tip to Jennifer Romig at Emory University for a link on the LRW Prof listserv for an article on using fixed-mindset feedback versus growth-mindset feedback with students who are struggling. The summary on several studies dealing with undergraduate math students can be found here: Be Careful When Comforting Struggling Students.
Also a hat tip to Myra Orlen at Western New England for information on an article about Dweck's work and how the mindsets apply to law student assessment:
"Carrie Sperling, Arizona State College of Law, has co-authored an article entitled "Fixing Students' Fixed Mindsets: Paving the Way for Meaningful Assessment." The article draws upon Carol Dweck's work and places that work directly in the law school context."
I have found Dweck's concepts helpful in working with my students. These extra resources are useful to anyone interested in learning more about the mindsets. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 30, 2012
Many of you are probably already aware of the TED education video/flipped lessons website. If not, you want to check it out. An article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education talks about TED and a link to the website is here: TED-Ed . Although the lessons that are already on the website are not particularly useful for law, the ability to flip You Tube videos and make lessons is potentially useful. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, April 29, 2012
As is the case every year at this time, postings for ASP jobs are beginning to proliferate. Some of the openings are brand new positions; some of the openings result from retirements, moves to other law schools, or changes in career focus.
If you are applying for ASP jobs for the first time, I would like to make some observations that may be helpful to you as you approach your job search. Whether you are a recent law graduate, an attorney leaving practice, or an academic changing paths, there are some things that you need to know.
ASP positions vary greatly throughout the law school landscape. They run the gamut of part-time to full-time, tenure-track to administrative, ASP alone to ASP with bar prep and/or writing centers, one-person offices to multi-layered staffing, entry-level positions to experience-required positions. The positions might report to Academic Affairs or to Student Affairs or to a faculty committee.
The salaries for ASP positions will reflect that law school landscape as well. Unfortunately, unlike our colleagues in legal writing, we are rarely privy to the salary range from the job ad that is provided. The wide range of salaries in ASP work makes it especially hard to know whether a position for which you are applying is even realistic for your salary requirements. If you are looking at positions in diverse geographical areas, your search is complicated even more with cost-of-living considerations. Add differences in state and local tax rates, benefits packages, and real-estate markets to your list of considerations.
Your status as an ASP'er will also vary. At some law schools, you will be an equal with faculty because of your tenure-track status. At other law schools, you may be treated like a faculty member in many ways except the formal ones: promotion, retention, tenure, and voting rights. And at other law schools, you will be treated as a staff member of lesser status.
The ASP program components will vary depending on the school as well: individual sessions, workshops, formal classes, and more. The students who will receive services may be at-risk, probation, or all students. There may be services for students in all three years, a focus on 1Ls, or special segments of your program designed for different populations in each year.
At some law schools, you will be encouraged to publish and teach outside the confines of ASP. Other schools will see you as purely an ASP person and confine your classroom involvement to those areas of expertise - no matter your actual additional practice expertise. Some law schools will not allow you to have a classroom presence at all.
You will serve on law school (and maybe even university-wide) committees in one situation. You may have service opportunities for your law school in the wider community even (for example, with a pipeline partnership with the local school district). Another law school may not require your service at all for anything because only faculty and higher-level administrators are on committees.
At some law schools you will have a carved-in-stone-never-to-vary budget line for your program. At other places you will justify your budget line anew each year, but have a budget line that you know ahead of time for the year. At other law schools you will have to go hat in hand for every dollar you need throughout the year. In some situations, you will be a miracle worker creating programs without resources.
Your facilities might include spaces for multiple staff, classrooms, conference rooms, library space, and other dedicated spaces at many schools. At other schools, you will have an office space alone that doubles as your space for other duties if you are a part-timer.
Professional development and travel funds will be budgeted for you at some law schools. Other law schools will have you apply on a case-by-case basis for approval. Yet other schools will place you at the bottom of the queue for such funding.
In other words, "it depends" is the mantra for what an ASP position entails. Each position will have a different experience for you as an ASP'er. You want to read job ads carefully. Investigate the parameters of ASP at the specific law school. Determine where you will fit in professionally. Determine what the resources are available for the position. Determine what avenues there will be for your professional growth. In short, do not make assumptions or take anything for granted because of what you are familiar with at your alma mater or in a friend's ASP program.
ASP work is terrific. It is rewarding and vital. However, it is also hard work. The extras of professional development and service often come out of your overtime hours. You will not get rich. There may be detractors if your status is not equal to faculty. But the incentive is that you will make a huge difference in students' lives. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, February 5, 2012
I have had a number of appointments lately with students who wanted to talk about the pros and cons of staying in law school. Some of them were disappointed with their grades. Some had outside family, medical, or financial issues that were weighing on their minds.
If you are asking yourself whether or not law school is right for you, here are some things to consider:
- Why did you originally want to attend law school? Are those reasons still as important to you? Reminding yourself of why you originally enrolled can help to refocus your thinking about law school.
- Were your reasons tied to internal or external motivations? You may well have a mix of motivations. However, when the going gets tough and doubts arise, internal motivations are often more deeply supportive of your chosen path. (Internal motivation examples: I want to help immigrant families with legal problems. I loved working as a paralegal before law school. External motivation examples: My parents told me I should be a lawyer. I got turned down for medical school.).
- Have you changed your mind about what you want to do with a law degree? Some students have doubts because they decide they don't like the original type of law they thought they wanted to practice. That is okay - law includes a multitude of different legal specialties. Some students decide they don't want to work in BigLaw. That is okay - there are many different practice experiences: different sized firms, government work, non-profit agencies, public service. Some students decide that they do not want to practice at all. That is okay - there are a number of alternative careers for law graduates. Explore practice areas and career options with your career services office. Talk to professors and other lawyers about their careers and areas of expertise. If you decide that another graduate degree or work experience matches your career goals better than a law degree, that is the decision you need to make
- Do you enjoy cases, legal concepts, and legal analysis? If you enjoy the daily study of law, that may be a positive indicator to remain. However, if you hate what you are doing, you may be happier in another field of study. Note that enjoying the law is not the same statement as enjoying law school.
- Do you enjoy being in law school most days? Law school is not an easy environment for many reasons. If you are miserable every day, then that is not healthy for you. However, if most of the time you deal positively with the workload and environment and keep your perspective, then you may decide that the issues you have with law school can be handled. Most law schools have academic support professionals who can help you learn ways to study smarter rather than harder and to manage your time well. They can also refer you to other professionals who can help you evaluate any remaining issues.
- Are there family or medical or other priorities that mean you need to leave law school right now? All law students have responsibilities and circumstances that are outside the law school. If those priorities need your focus right now to the exclusion of law school, then you need to do what is necessary to meet those obligations. Consider the best way to meet any personal responsibilities within the options your law school provides.
- What are the options that you have at your law school? You may be able to take a leave of absence, go to part-time status, or have other options at your school. If you decide to leave at this point, make sure you follow proper procedures. If you have financial aid, make sure you understand the ramifications of your choice. If you can keep your options open (for example, a leave of absence), do so.
- Who are the people who can help you with your decision? Talk to faculty, deans, your academic advisor, parents, mentors. Do not try to make the decision by yourself. Find objective people who can help you see the pros and cons. Get as much information as possible from your law school's administration before making a decision. Consider what you will do next if you decide to leave law school - better to have a game plan if at all possible.
Law school may be the very best match for your goals and circumstances. However, law school may be a good match later, but the timing is off now. Finally, if law school is not a good match for you, there is no shame in choosing a different path and walking away from this choice. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, January 13, 2012
Hat tip to the Legal Writing Prof Blog for the following link to a recent article on research about law students and hope.
Go to The National Law Journal to read the article summarizing research published in the Journal of Research in Personality and previously reported in the Duquesne Law Review. Allison Martin, a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, is one of the researchers. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 29, 2011
The AALS One-Day Workshop will be held on Saturday, January 7, 2012 in Washington, DC during the Annual Meeting. The day’s title is: “Got ASP? Leveraging Academic Support Principles and Programs to Meet Strategic Institutional Goals.” The event will run from 8:45 AM – 5:00 PM and includes many speakers, moderators, and dynamic presentations.
AALS will hold a Luncheon that day, with a fee of $65. At the lunch, Darby Dickerson, Dean of Texas Tech University School of Law, will introduce Stephen Zack, ABA President. He will address the importance of diversity to legal education and the legal profession and why providing practical skills training in law school benefits the profession and greater community. I encourage you to attend the presentations and the lunch – it should be a terrific day.
The Section on Academic Support will hold its Business Meeting from 5:00 PM – 5:15 PM in the same room following the One-day Workshop.
In lieu of the full day program and lunch on Saturday, the Section on AS will not be holding a breakfast or a Section program.
You may register for the One-Day Workshop and the luncheon by using the registration materials in your Annual Meeting program booklet or by going online to the AALS website. (The AALS Workshop appears on pages 80 – 83 of the booklet). Please note that when registering online for both the One-Day Workshop and the Luncheon, you may receive a prompt asking if you should override the conflicting events. The answer is “yes.”
Thanks for your support and anticipated participation.
The Planning Committee for the 2012 Annual Meeting Workshop on Academic Support:
Darby Dickerson, Chair, Texas Tech University School of Law Robin Boyle, St. John’s University School of Law Paula Lustbader, Seattle University School of Law Russell McClain, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Along with AALS Officers:
Susan Westerberg Prager, Executive Director, CEO Jane La Barbera, Managing Director Mary Cullen, Meetings Manager
Friday, December 23, 2011
All of us at the Law School Academic Support Blog wish you and yours wonderful holidays. We hope that you will have a great 2012.
We look forward to seeing many of you at AALS for the Academic Support Section program and business meeting.
Safe travels! We will begin posting again after the holidays and conference (if not before).
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
It is the time of year when various student organizations run additional projects to help other people. In the last few weeks, there have been collections of warm coats for the homeless, non-perishable food for those without enough in their pantries, care package items for our soldiers, gifts for Salvation Army Angel Tree, and more.
I know that our law students are not alone in these types of efforts. Law student organizations throughout our nation have undertaken similar efforts and many more acts of kindness. Even with the upcoming stress of exams, law students remember the needs of those in their communities.
I think it is a tribute to our students that they care - not only at this time of year but throughout the academic year - to make the lives of others better. Whether it is through donations, fund-raisers, in-kind giving, pro bono clinics, or other ways, law students have a positive impact in the community.
It is a shame that these future lawyers do not always get the credit that they deserve for their generosity of spirit. It is also a shame that countless practicing lawyers who also give back to their communities in so many ways do not get recognized. The next time someone tells you a lawyer joke, tell them about a contribution made by a law student or a lawyer to make the world a better place.
Thank you to all of the future lawyers and current lawyers who make a difference each and every day for our communities. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Students and ASP professionals are always looking for ways to turn information into visuals. There are several products that provide free trials of their software. With the one exception noted, you will lose your work after the 30-day period unless you purchase the software. So, print out what you make before your trial period ends if you are not going to purchase the software.
SmartDraw: www.smartdraw.com; free download (doesn't say how long the trial lasts)
NovaMind5: www.novamind.com; 30-day free trial
Inspiration: www.inspiration.com; 30-day free trial
The Brain: www.thebrain.com; 30-day free trial; will be able to access Personal Brain software after 30 days, but cannot edit or make new graphic organizers - the features in the purchased product are amazing, but this one is probably not within most student budgets.
Have fun making your graphic organizers for exam study and workshop presentations. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, November 19, 2011
It is time to call in the reinforcements. For most law schools, exams are approximately 2 or 3 weeks away. That means that law students need to focus on studying and ask for help from family and friends on life's more mundane issues.
You may want to consider the following:
- Relay to friends and family that you are going into hibernation mode and will not be available until semester break to paint the living room, clean out the attic, plan your sister's June wedding, or shop 'til you drop. Tell them you love them, and promise a celebration after exams.
- Warn friends and family that you will be returning phone calls and replying to e-mail less regularly and to be patient if you do not get back to them right away for non-emergencies. (If you are really gutsy, ask them not to send you funny e-mails, chain poems, and You Tube video clips so that you can spend less time sorting e-mails.)
- Alert those who are fashionistas in your life that you are swapping high style for comfort, low-maintenance duds until the end of exams - less laundry, less ironing, less dry cleaning - unless they want to provide you with "wardrobe mistress" assistance.
- If you live with someone who is not a law student, see if you can negotiate that your (roommate, spouse, partner) take on extra chores until exams are over in return for your doing more chores throughout the semester break.
- If you live with a law student, negotiate swapping off days for chores so that each of you can have some uninterrupted study time without dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and more. Alternatively, do a "whirling dervish" cleaning together now and then settle for the bare minimum of picking up clutter and washing dishes.
- If you own a dog, ask your parents if you can bring their "grand-dog" with you at Thanksgiving for an "autumn camp" experience until your exams are over. You love Fluffy or Fido, but now is not the time to be rushing home constantly for walks, feedings, and play-time.
- If Auntie Em loves to cook and lives nearby (or you will see her at Thanksgiving), ask if she would be willing to let you pay her for the ingredients and her time in order to make you several large casseroles for your freezer - law students need nourishment during studying.
- Consider paying the neighbor's teenager to rake leaves, shovel snow, or do other outside work that can be time-consuming.
- Ask friends who are already running errands in that part of town if they would mind picking up a few groceries, a prescription, or other items for you if you give them the money and a list.
- If you have children, ask friends and family to babysit, set up play dates, have sleep overs, and generally provide some face time with your children so you can get some blocks of uninterrupted study time. Offer to reciprocate over the semester break.
If there are other areas of your life that you need help with during your study crunch, speak up. In fact, beg, plead, cajole, and get on your knees if you have to do so. You can and will make it up to them over the semester break. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Students are really tired at this point in the semester. If they have stayed on top of things, they will be able to have more down time during the Thanksgiving holidays. That should help to recharge their batteries. If they are behind, they should still get some rest during the break; but they will need to study as well.
Here are some things to consider to keep yourself motivated during the remainder of the semester and through exams:
- If your law school reading and exam periods begin after only one week of classes post-Thanksgiving, consider doing all of your reading for the last week over the Thanksgiving break. Then review before class for 30 - 45 minutes to refresh your memory. Not having to read the last week of classes will give you lots of exam review time - a motivator in itself.
- Set realistic goals for each week for exam study. What subtopics or topics can you intensely review for each exam course? How many practice questions can you complete? If you set unrealistic goals, you will de-motivate yourself; you will become discouraged when it becomes obvious that you will not meet the goals.
- For each exam course, make a list of topics and subtopics that you must learn before the final exam. By focusing on subtopics, it will make the list very long. However, it is easier to find time to study one or two subtopics than to find time for an entire topic. You will feel less overwhelmed because you can make progress in small increments. Also, you will be able to cross off subtopics more quickly than entire topics. Thus, you will see your progress more easily and stay motivated.
- Read each of your outlines through from cover to cover each week for each exam course. This reading is not to learn everything - that is what you will do in intense review of the topics or subtopics. Instead this additional outline reading is to keep all of the information fresh no matter how long it has been since you intensely reviewed a topic or will be before you will get to intense review for some topics. You will feel better about your exam review as you catch yourself saying "I know this mataerial" or "I remember all of this information" about prior topics that you studied. You will motivate yourself for future topics waiting for intense review by realizing "I'll be able to learn this" or "I remember some of this already even though I haven't studied it carefully."
- Take your breaks strategically. Sprinkle short 5-minute breaks into longer 3- or 4-hour study blocks. Get up and walk arouond or stretch on those breaks rather than sitting still. After a large block of study time, take a longer break to exercise or eat a meal. Use the breaks as rewards for sticking to your task until you have completed what you planned to finish.
- Surround yourself with encouragers. Avoid classmates who are all doom and gloom. Have phone conversations with family and friends who will cheer you on and support you. Find classmates who are willing to work together to keep all of you in the support group motivated and on track.
- Plan several fun things that you want to do over the semester break: taking a day trip with friends, going to the cinema several times, attending a concert, playing basketball with a younger sibling, shopping for new clothes. By having things to look forward to, you can tell yourself "I just need to keep up the hard work for a few more weeks and then I get to do (fill in the blank) as a reward."
Think about individual strategies that work for you to stay motivated but might not apply to a classmate. Examples of motivators for getting your work done might be: time with your spouse, time with your child, time with your pet, spiritual devotion time, time for a longer run on the weekend. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 4, 2011
Many law students are forming study groups for the first time at this point in the semester. Instead of using a group throughout the semester to consolidate material and compare outlines, they are narrowing their focus to problem areas in understanding and practice questions.
Study groups can be very effective. Students may benefit greatly from the practice question discussions when they realize they would have missed certain nuances in the law or confused steps in the analysis. In addition, working through problems together helps one monitor preparedness on a topic in comparison to classmates. Finally, study groups can serve an accountability function - if you promise the group you will do something before the next meeting, you have the motivation to stay on task.
However, students need to make sure that they do not overuse or depend on a study group to the detriment of their individual learning. It has to be a balance. After all, one's study group cannot answer the questions for you in the actual exam.
Consider these points to monitor the balance between study group and individual time:
- Make a list for each course of all topics with subtopics that you must learn before the final exam. Use monthly calendars for November and December. Mark your last day of classes. Fill in your exam schedule.
- Lay out on the calendar for each day through the end of classes which subtopics for which courses you will personally learn during the remaining time. This method helps you front-load learning so that you leave only a realistic amount for the exam period itself.
- Consider how much time you need for the grunt memory work on rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, and other information. Determine how you will do your memory drills: flashcards, writing the rules ten timex, reciting the rules aloud, mind maps for each rule. Distribute that time throughout the calendars.
- Decide when you will do practice questions with your study group to get group input. You will get more from these sessions if all of the members think about the questions ahead of time and come with outlined answers.
- Leave time for practice questions that you will complete on your own. You should outline every one and write out as many as possible. Take some of the questions under exam conditions. (See Dennis Tonsing's November 2nd posting for more information on scheduling your exam study and practice questions.)
- If you find that group time is taking away from your ability to learn the material in time for the exam, moderate your group time. For example, if the group wants to meet for four hours, perhaps you will go for the portion that focuses on the course you find most difficult but not stay for discussion on other courses. Or you might go for the practice question discussion but not the more general discussion of course material. Explain to the group why you are not attending the full meetings so there will not be hard feelings.
- If the study group becomes non-productive because of personalities, too much socializing, or other negative dynamics, diplomatically resign from the group. You may be able to find one study partner who will be more compatible than trying to stay with the group.
Consider the efficiency of being in a group (wise use of time) and the effectiveness from being in a group ("oomph" out of the time). (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 3, 2011
This time in the semester is difficult for a lot of students because they are running low on energy. On the one hand, the semester seems like it has been lasting forever; on the other hand, exams are just around the corner. Now is the time when students often depend on caffeine and sugar to get them through the week. However, those two roads often lead to crashes, jitters, and cravings.
Here are some healthier ways to get an energy boost:
- Walk around the building twice - outside if the weather is nice where you are located; inside if not - and breathe deeply and swing your arms.
- Take a power nap of no more than 30 minutes - longer will make you groggy.
- Spend 15 minutes doing relaxation exercises such as gentle neck stretches, ankle rotations, deep breathing.
- Laugh. Tell a story or joke. Remember a funny incident from your childhood. Read the comics.
- Read some inspirational quotes or scriptures.
- Do several random, small acts of kindness for other people.
- Drink water with lots of ice in it.
- Eat a piece of fruit: apple, banana, grapes, raisins.
- Eat a handful of nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
- Eat a granola bar.
Whenever you hit a slump in your energy level during the day, choose one or two of these quick fixes to get back on top. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 10, 2011
Many students never read the syllabi for their courses. I have discovered both in teaching my three elective law classes and in talking with law students about academic success. Not only do they not read syllabi as a natural tendency, but they often don't even read them after prompted to do so by the professors.
My syllabus always includes course objectives for the course, the learning outcomes for the course, details on attendance and participation, details on the graded assignments, details on the final, tips for success in the course, reading assignments, and the usual university/law school policies: accommodations, attendance, religious holidays, cell phones. In short, I try to include everything that my students need to know about what they will be learning, how to succeed in that learning, and how they will be assessed.
Like many of my colleagues, I give my students a "tour" of the syllabus the first day of class. I point out the highlights and ask them to read the syllabus in detail before the next class. I tell them that I will take questions on the syllabus at the beginning of the class. There are rarely any questions.
Yet over the semester, I will repeatedly get questions from my students on things that were in the syllabus. The questioner will often start with "I was wondering if you could tell me" or "a group of us were wondering about" or "when will you tell us about."
In my academic success work, I regularly ask students questions about their final exam formats or project details or weighting of grades. Sometimes they will not know the information because the professor has not supplied any information. However, most often it is because they never read the syllabus.
When we look at the syllabus (often carefully filed in the front of their class folder or binder), we discover lots of useful information. They often looked surprised (and a bit sheepish) when we find each informational point that we need to strategize how to do well in the course.
Here are some things in many syllabi that can help students plan their studying and exam strategies:
- What is the range of pages for reading assignments during the semester? This information allows the student to build a routine time management schedule for reading and briefing for a course with a more realistic estimate for the amount of time.
- What are the deadlines or other dates important to the course? Any dates for paper outlines or drafts, assignments, midterms, or other items should immediately go into a daily planner or monthly calendar. Now the student is ready to "work backwards" to include the steps or study topics that must be completed to meet that deadline.
- What details are given about the papers, projects, or other assignments? The information in the syllabus will alert students to page-lengths of papers, group or individual participation on projects, possible re-write opportunities, Honor Code warnings, or other information that helps the student accurately gauge the assignment difficulty and logistics.
- What weighting is given to each graded portion of the class? If participation is 20% of a seminar grade, then the student better start participating! If the mid-term is 50% of the grade, then the student should take studying for it equally serious as the 50% final exam. If the advanced writing requirement paper must be of "B or higher" quality, then the student needs to distribute enough time throughout the semester to guarantee reaching that standard.
- Does the professor recommend any study aids or other supplements for the course? Any recommendation is likely to be a study aid that matches the course content and is considered reliable. Although the student may use other study aids as well, the professor's recommendation should be "a first stop."
- What will the exam formats be? Whether essay, multiple-choice, true-false, short answer, or some combination, the format tells the students the type of practice questions to do throughout the semester in preparation for the exam.
- Does the professor give any additional study tips for the course? Professors often know the pitfalls for students and make suggestions to assist them.
A careful read of the syllabus at the beginning of the semester can garner valuable information for the student. Misunderstandings of the expectations and requirements can be easily avoided. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Stephanie West Allen's Idelawg blog had a post this past week with a link to an article in the Los Angeles Lawyer written by Timothy A. Tosta on the subject in the title line of this posting: Job, calling, or career article . It is a thoughtful article on how as lawyers we make a choice to have our practice of law amount to just being a job or career or amount to much more as our calling.
As ASP'ers, we can assist our students in not only learning how to study more effectively but also in thinking about where they want to be in their lives in the future. How will the practice of law define their lives? Their beginning to think about that bigger question now will help them remember to continue to refine the answer later. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, October 1, 2011
ASP'ers are a caring group. They are often the ones students turn to in their darkest moments. It is not unusual for us to be privy to students' struggles and hardships outside the classroom.
Students tell us about illnesses in their families, scary medical diagnoses, deaths of friends, personal embarrassments, relationship problems, disappointments, and more. They need someone who will encourage them, support them, listen, and make referrals where appropriate. At the end of a day with 8 or 9 appointments, at least 2 of those typically are more than just a discussion about academic issues.
But what about when we have had a personal tragedy, illness, family issue, or other unexpected speed bump in our own lives? How do we keep caring when it hurts inside? We need to remember that we need solace as well. We need to put on our "brave face" and do our jobs, but need to take care of ourselves.
So here are some tips to help you focus on your students even when you are feeling depleted, tired, emotionally wrought, and distracted by your life outside the walls of the law school:
- Take some personal time off if possible. Even a long weekend can make a difference in your ability to focus. Give yourself lots of rest, permission to do nothing, and access to emotional or medical support. Talk to trusted family or friends to get support.
- Prioritize your work. What must get done? What can be put off for a few days or weeks? What can be forgotten about for this semester and added to the "do next semester" list?Do not try to soldier on when you do not have the strength temporarily to be "Super-ASP'er."
- Just say "no" or "not right now" to new projects if you do not have the stamina or concentration to do them well. Realize that this is probably not the time to chair a new committee, agree to design a new web site, or implement a new program.
- Balance your day. Give yourself at least one block of project time so that you can focus without interruptions. Decide how many one-on-one appointments you can do without being emotionally drained. Schedule appointments so that purely academic assistance is mixed with students whom you know need emotional support so that you do not become exhausted with the need to be "giving" when you really need to protect yourself emotionally.
- Stay patient with your students. Some law students become overwrought about things that those of us with more life experience know are not crises. They see add/drop period and course decisions as earth-shattering. They feel outraged when a professor leaves them to struggle with processing a sub-topic instead of spoon-feeding them. They are devastated by their first low grade in 16 or more years of education.
- Tell some trusted colleagues what is going on. Your boss may need to know so that you can re-negotiate project deadlines, agree to some days off, or explain some changes you have made in priorities. A few colleagues who can task share or just be supportive will be a plus.
- Follow our own advice to students. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Go to the doctor. Get help from a religious leader, professional counselor, or others if needed.
- Realize some students may notice something is wrong. Some of us are able to look stunningly pulled together even on stressful days and through personal crises. However, most of us look at least somewhat haggard, tired, and stressed - just like we feel. We can still smile, appear superficially cheerful, and pretend to be energetic. However, a few students who work with us a lot are likely to realize that something is wrong. If asked, beg off with "a bad night's sleep," "busy and a little distracted," or "a touch of a bug."
ASP'ers are folks with big hearts for their students. Life hurts sometimes. Be there for your students, but take care of yourself when you need to do so. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing. Example: attend every class. There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then. But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial? (Answer: zero.)
Now here's a real-life example. In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation. As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators. That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.
When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind. Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.
Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker. "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas." His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student." Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes. (Read the Court Order here.)
According to Above the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels."
Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years. Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets. Excerpts:
Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
(Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
And a very cool cell where you can meet
And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.
(Read the whole "poem" here.) Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties. After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks! (djt)
Thursday, September 1, 2011
It is the time of year for us to include spotlight postings on the blog to introduce all of the new folks who have joined ASP in recent months. To do a spotlight, we need a small picture, a brief bio, and a link to your faculty profile if you have one on your law school's web pages. If your faculty profile includes a photograph, we may be able to use that one instead of your sending an additional photo file. We are also happy to post information if you have switched law schools but stayed in ASP work. Send your information to Amy Jarmon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcome to ASP!