October 01, 2011
Giving when it hurts
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)
September 04, 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)
September 01, 2011
Newcomers to ASP work - let us introduce you
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!
August 20, 2011
Interesting Ideas on Class Attendance Policies at Freakanomics
There is a very interesting discussion at the Freakonomics blog (same authors as the book) about how to incentivize class attendance. I think this dovetails nicely with a question posted yesterday on the ASP listserv about laptops in class. Both attendance policies and laptops bans get at the same fundamental issue: how do professors keep students in class and engaged? I don't think there is one answer to this question, but a theme seems to run through both issues. The theme is lecture-only or lecture-from-the-book courses bore students, encourage students to miss class, and increase the use of distractions in class. I have heard over and over from doctrinal professors that the Socratic Method is not lecture-only, but as the Socratic Method is employed in many classes, students can't see the difference. This is especially true when the Socratic Method is used to question only a tiny number of students in a large class; I have heard students complain they would rather lecture-only, because questioning only a few students, who may or may not have done the reading, just increases confusion.
The comments below the post in Freaknomics make sense and pose the same questions law schools are struggling to answer.
August 06, 2011
The Road to Success
Warning: this post is too long. Can we blame it on Amy? Thanks. Writing about stress a few days ago, Amy Jarmon suggested that our law students need to learn how to manage stress early in their careers. Hoorah, Amy! Yes, “…early in their careers…” is now.
If there is one universal and outstanding surprise to the new academic support professional it is this: it’s not all about showing students how to brief cases, read like lawyers, or handle study groups. There’s SO much more to academic support than that. I have had colleagues who (sort of) complained that they didn’t have enough time to get to the core skills (reading, briefing, note-taking, etc.) because they were inundated with requests – overt or subtle – to help cope with the meta-skills of handling time and stress.
Even more surprising (and here, I certainly include me as a surprisee in the first few years of academic supporting) is the fact that so many students honestly believe the road to success in law school is paved with formats for briefing, IRAC structures for exam writing, speed-reading techniques, quick and efficient course outline production methods, and fail-safe study strategies. Yup, those are important topics to cover. But they’re worthless if one does not (borrowing from Amy’s list) . . .
- Manage time carefully. Every student in this incoming first-year class has exactly one thing in common: 168 hours to use to his or her best advantage each week. If a student spends 8 hours each night sleeping – almost essential for most, and the first time rule to be broken by nearly every first-year student – that leaves 112 for studying law and handling the “other parts” of life. If one were to work a 65-hour week at law (not unlike many lawyers), that would leave 47 hours for exercise, church, shopping, cooking, eating, entertainment, _____, _____, and friends & family time. (Two blanks is enough, don’t you think?) Not bad. When you break the individual tasks associated with being a great law student down into their chunks, you can usually show students how 65 (okay, 70?) hours ought to be more than enough time to get the job done very well. More than forty hours completely away from the law is essential each week to maintain recognizable sanity. If students can learn to work within a framework similar to that, many of the time management issues will resolve.
- Recognize and minimize procrastination. I advise students to put off thinking about procrastination.
- Follow optimal sleep, exercise, and nutrition routines. Can you imagine hiring a lawyer who never slept a full night’s sleep, seldom left the office chair, and (remember: you are what you eat) lived on a diet of beer and junk food? Good luck I hope your lawyer isn’t representing you for anything important.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. Duh. Those who have loved you and supported you much or all of your life … uh, let’s see … could contact with them possibly help keep your head screwed on straight? But there’s more to it than that. The non-law-oriented spouse or significant other of a law student is in for some tough times. And the last one to notice the “change” in the law student’s behavior is (guess who) the law student. So all law students who have many hours of contact per week with someone who loves them but does not necessarily love the law need to receive some pretty strong advice about how to relate … and the non-student half of that equation needs a support group of some type as well (“No,” I have told some unfortunate adults in that position, “it’s not just you, and it’s not just her … it’s … it’s … well, it’s bigger than both of you – but you can handle it. You just need to know what to expect and how to get the job done. Love works.” (Sorry, I sometimes get carried away.)
- Talk to someone about the stress. Too many students find that most qualified people to talk to about stress is (either or both) their bartender or their equally stressed law student friends. Too few visit their Dean of Students, Academic Support professionals, law-school savvy psychologists, or other professionals who can support them and/or refer them. They need the way to these offices highlighted … like those little lights that the flight attendant promises will come on in case of an emergency to show you the way to the emergency exists. (Unfortunately, taping those yellow paper footprints to the corridor carpets is frowned upon by the Dean, and seldom works anyway.)
Help students realize that the “practice” of law begins near Orientation day. Help them (perhaps through a guest speaker or two at Orientation or soon after) realize that the pressures and stresses of law school (generally) pale when compared with those of the professional practice. “What you are practicing, students,” they need to know, “is less about how to revise a contract, and more about how to balance/juggle thirty things that need to be done during a day – with no possibility of ‘forgiveness’ if they are not all completed, and completed at your highest level of capability.” Would you hire a lawyer who settled for less?
Does this suggest that a trip to the gym for a 30-minute swim or a one-hour yoga class is more important than an hour in the library briefing a couple of torts cases? Not really … but it sure is meant to suggest that either one without the other will not lead to a student’s performance at his or her highest level of competence.
Teaching time and stress management ought to be a high priority in every academic support program. If the professionals in the department can’t teach it … by talk, by counseling, and most of all, by example … they ought to bring in those who can as guests. But … as you well know … he/she who is most stressed has no time to attend that guest presentation. And if you don’t believe that, stop by the cafeteria or the local pub later in the day and he or she will tell you.
We are not obliged to make every law student the best law student that person can be. But I think we are obliged to try as hard as we can to do just that. Your thoughts? (djt)
July 25, 2011
Fall semester is in sight
I have reached the point in the summer when I feel myself sliding on the downward slope to a new academic year. Every summer I feel a twinge of regret as I realize the weeks are rapidly passing. Every summer I feel a glimmer of anticipation as I think of the new first-year class.
In mid-May the summer seems to stretch endlessly and invitingly in front of me. Project time beckons. Administrative clean-up from the academic year occurs. I steal away for a couple of weeks of research time. The law school settles into a quiet routine with few students and faculty around, but bar studier diligently at work.
Remember as children when the golden days of summer seemed to last forever. At some point, we traded in those days for summer jobs at camps, fast food restaurants, and retail shops. Later, if we were lucky, those jobs morphed into internships or quasi-useful duties related to career goals as we went through college. In law school, summer clerkships and study abroad replaced our prior summer pursuits. As we entered practice or other law-related jobs, we discovered that summer was really not very different from the rest of the year.
At least as an administrator in legal education, I get a few weeks to catch my breath. However, now that I am already in week two of our intensive summer entry program, I feel that those weeks were long ago. After another intensive two weeks of teaching, they will be only a fleeting memory. Add grading that extends into orientation week, and I will find myself squarely back at the start of classes.
The enthusiasm of first-year students and the summer tales of returning upper-division students will sweep me up into the new academic year. Before I know it, I'll forget all about those mid-May and mid-July feelings - until next year.
Enjoy the remainder of your summer! (Amy Jarmon)
July 23, 2011
Learning differences between English and Chinese learners
Hat tip to Rod Fong at Golden Gate University School of Law for the following link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Chinese students. (Amy Jarmon)
His e-mail to me made the following observation:
"I saw this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about students from China. Although it focuses on undergrads, I thought the discussion describing the differences in language and thought processes between English and Chinese learners could be helpful. I recall some past discussions on our ASP listserv on working with foreign students."
The link to the article is: Thinking Right: Coaching a Wave of Chinese Students ...
July 21, 2011
Do you support transfer students?
Academic Success supports many different types of students, but one group we don't hear much about are transfer students. However, transfer students have many of the same struggles as incoming students: where to live, how to make friends, how to navigate a new environment. It's easy to ignore or lose track of transfer students, but their needs are important as well. They don't cross our radar because their 1L grades are superior (or they would not have been admitted) and they are upperclassmen, and many ASP's focus on the first and last year of law school.
Although we always have a full plate in ASP, it is wise to reach out to incoming transfer students. Helping them feel like they have a home and a place to go if they need academic assistance can prevent bar exam issues their 3L year. (RCF)
July 15, 2011
Covering Material or Answering Questions?
I had the privilege of teaching at CLEO's Attitude is Essential 3-day workshop in Atlanta this past weekend. I co-taught my small group of 25 students with Joanne Harvest Koren of Miami Law. One of the issues that arose in our session was how much time to devote to student questions when we were trying to cover substantive lessons in a compressed time period. Joanne and I decided to spend a significant amount of time answering questions, at the expense of some substantive coverage. I think we made a smart choice, but I think this is something many ASP professionals struggle with when they teach a class or workshop.
The students in our section were an unusually motivated group, which they demonstrated by spending almost twelve hours a day for two and a half days in hotel conference rooms learning about how to succeed in law school. They came with more smart, important questions than we had time to answer. However, there are some questions asked by new students that need to be answered before they can move on to other work. When trying to decide how much time to allot to questions, it's important to judge the importance of the questions to the student. What might seem like something that can be answered at another time might be pressing to the student. If the question stops the student from thinking about anything else, than cutting some coverage helps students focus on what needs to be covered in class. These types of questions are the type that are shared by many incoming students; only one or two students have the courage to raise their hand and ask the question.
Joanne and I found it best to start each session with a general Q and A. We explicitly limited the time and scope of the answers to what we thought was most pressing for the students. At the end of each session, we tried our best to have a more limited Q and A about the material we just covered, so students could leave the session and move on to new material, instead of remaining confused.
What sort of questions were most pressing for incoming law students?
1) How much time should be devoted to law school each week?
2) Do I need to do law school work and nothing else for the next three years?
3) What are the benefits of typing/handwriting notes?
4) How do I explain to my significant other/parents/children that I can't be there for them the way I used to be when I am in law school?
These are all questions that are great to tackle in pre-orientation or orientation. When students are preoccupied with major questions about law school, it uses parts of their working memory that can be devoted to other, more productive things. By spending some time to answer questions, you have more focused students.
Yes, Virginia, there is grade inflation
Hat tip to John Edwards at Drake University Law School for the information below.
A’s Represent 43 Percent of College Grades, Analysis Finds
July 13, 2011, 5:33 pm
Although grade inflation affects all types of colleges, its influence varies by the type of institution, the academic field, and even by region, according to a recent article on college grading. The piece comes from Stuart Rojstaczer, a frequent critic and scholar of grade inflation, and his colleague Christopher Healy, and it includes the most recent data on the pervasiveness of grade inflation—such as the fact that A’s represent 43 percent of letter grades, on average, at a wide range of colleges. According to their analysis, “Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts.”
June 28, 2011
What makes law school so different for many new law students?
We have all heard it announced during law school orientation programs that law school is not like any other educational experience. We have all heard someone (or multiple people) tell the new students that it will be harder than anything they have done in prior education, that they will need to work harder than ever before, and much more.
There seem to be several reactions to these types of statements. Some students over-react by becoming very anxious, doubting their ability to succeed, and working themselves to the point of exhaustion. Some students under-react by assuming that the warnings only apply to everyone else in the room. Some students take the warnings to heart, react appropriately by learning the differences, and seek ways to study effectively for law school.
I think warning statements during orientation programs are ineffective with many students because the warnings do not include information on why law school is so different and why they will need to work harder. Without more information students are considering the statements in a vacuum.
Most new first-year students do not realize some of the items in the following list. They might be more likely to heed warnings about their upcoming experience with this information available.
Active learning is required instead of passive learning. Many incoming law students have come from educational environments that did not encourage them to be engaged learners. They attended lectures delineating everything that would be on the exam, and they were merely expected to regurgitate it for an A grade. Textbooks included all of the material for the course with little need for critical thinking or synthesis. Few writing assignments were long enough to require students to go beyond the obvious.
One grade is the norm rather than multiple grades in a course. Most college courses provided for multiple test or assignment grades. Grades addressed smaller chunks of material within the course rather than being comprehensive. With grades addressing manageable chunks, it was possible to cram for a few days before an exam or start an assignment right before the due date and still get a high grade. However, when one final exam grade covers 15 weeks of material, cramming no longer works. A paper that is expected to meet a legal standard of excellence cannot be written right before it is due. In addition, the anxiety level of the student increases because so much rides on the exam or paper.
"It depends" is the response rather than finding the right answer to a question. Many undergraduates study disciplines that have a correct answer as the goal. The easy cases in law never get to court. Law students are often surprised by the "it depends" nature of the law. They become frustrated with arguing both sides, looking for nuances in the law, and being uncertain of a final right outcome. In the very different world of legal analysis, they become disoriented and discouraged without the security of the "right answer" to comfort them.
Professors expect them to learn the basics before class and continue to analyze material after class. Many professors give guidance the first couple of weeks so that students learn how to read and brief cases for their particular courses. After that initial period, however, students are expected to analyze the cases and understand the basics before class. Professsors then begin to focus class time on more advanced discussion of the cases, the nuances in the law, and increasingly difficult hypotheticals. It is not uncommon for them to walk out of class without the answers to the hypotheticals discussed. Students may not be accustomed to having responsibility for learning material on their own. Many of them have only had to learn what was directly taught to them during all-encompassing lectures.
Learning the law is only the beginning and not the end of the process. Many first-year students misunderstand the place of black letter law in legal analysis. They think that memorizing the law will by itself give them an A grade. They do not understand that they must know the law, but then will need to be able to apply it to new facts on the exam. They must be able to issue spot, state the law, apply it to the facts through arguing for both parties, appropriately use policy, and draw conclusions. The application or analysis will give them the bulk of the points that they need.
Law school requires many more hours of studying outside of class. Many new law students only studied 10 - 20 hours per week outside of class during their undergraduate studies. They do not understand that law school will take far more hours if they want to get their best grades. 50 to 55 hours per week outside of class is typically required for A and B grades at most law schools. Many new students think reading and briefing are all they have to do regularly in addition to any legal writing assignments. They do not understand the necessity for regular outlining and review for exams. They think a few practice questions near the end will suffice.
If new law students can absorb these differences and truly understand them early in their studies, they will have greater incentive to take the warnings to heart. By learning how to study efficiently and effectively from the start, they can excel in law school with less stress. Unfortunately, many students will not take advantage of the services through their academic support offices and instead depend on past study habits or bad advice from upper-division students. The differences between law school and undergraduate education can be overcome most easily if new 1L students seek advice from the academic support professionals either individually or through workshops, podcasts, and other methods of dissemination of information at their law schools. (Amy Jarmon)
June 15, 2011
Mixed emotions upon the end of 1L year
Do you vividly remember how you felt after your last exam for 1L year? After your grades for 1L year came out and you knew you had passed? After you put "2L" on some form or application for the first time?
Even though it has been a number of years since those events occurred in my life, I still remember exactly how I felt. Current rising 2L's will often talk with me about their mixed emotions at the end of their 1L journey.
There is the exhilaration of knowing that 1L year is finally over. For most students, the fall semester dragged out while spring semester flew by.
There is euphoria knowing that a well-deserved summer break is in front of you. Sleep, movies, long workouts, family, friends - a potpourri of forgotten pleasures awaits you.
There are pride and awe realizing that one not only survived, but developed analytical and writing skills that were unknown or untapped just ten months earlier. And, one can now speak a foreign language known only to attorneys and law students.
There is sadness that you will not be in every class over the next two years with the close friends you made in your section. Your terrific study group is now dismantled - probably forever.
There is relief that certain students in your section will no longer be in every class with you over the next two years.
There is the uncertainty of juggling academics, part-time work, student organization responsibilities, and personal responsibilities during the upcoming 2L year. Do they really "work you to death" now that they are done "scaring you to death" during first year?
There is the excitement of going into upper-division classes in summer school, working at one's first legal summer job, or beginning an internship or externship in the legal field.
There is the realization that, good or bad, there will never be another 1L year when it was all new, exciting, a bit frightening, and an adventure.
There is the amazing opportunity to put into place new strategies and techniques to become more efficient and effective at studying.
Congratulations to all of you who are rising 2L students! Enjoy your summers. Come back in August refreshed and ready for new challenges and advanced skill use in your learning. (Amy Jarmon)
June 03, 2011
Now that grades are out
Most law students have received their spring semester grades at this point. The cheers and groans are probably echoing somewhere near you. Grades can be a euphoric high, a dismal depression, or somewhere in between. Here are some ideas how to view your grades wherever you fall in the class:
For those who are at the top of the class (however you want to define that measure):
- Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off, and you can celebrate.
- Evaluate your study habits. Even though you are happy with your grades, you still want to take some time to consider your semester's studying to improve your study skills. What were your strengths and weaknesses? Do you need to become more effective in your reading, note-taking, outlining, writing/researching, or exam-taking skills? Do you do better in certain types of course or exam requirements?
- Consider your options. Do your grades give you confidence to sign-up for more challenging courses for next year? Do your grades suggest that you want to re-think your career goals? Do your grades mean that you can now become involved in student organizations or community service where you were hesitant to do so before? Do you now have the confidence to try out for a competition team, apply to be a research assistant, or participate in the write-on competition after all?
- Evaluate your summer plans. Does your evaluation of your study skills suggest that you need to spend time this summer on specific skills? Are there areas of the law that have picqued your interest that you want to read about during the next weeks? Do you have the confidence now to apply for summer law jobs that you doubted you could get before?
- Enjoy your academic postion, but do not let it go to your head. Some law students make the mistake of letting an inflated ego become an obstacle. They may slack off because they think they are invincible and will actually see their grades drop at the end of the next semester as a result. Or they may become a bit arrogant and think they are better than fellow students, staff, faculty, and deans. Arrogance does not win friends or influence people.
For those of you in the great middle of the class:
- Work through any frustration or anger about your grades. Occasionally I will talk with law students whose dissatisfaction with their grades leads them to vent emotionally rather than taking positive actions to improve. If you find yourself saying any of the following things, you probably need to step back and regain some objectivity: "I was in the hard section and would have done fine in another section." "If I had Professor A instead of my professor, I could have had a better grade." "Course C is a dumb course any way, so it wasn't my fault." "It is not fair that there is a curve." "The prof should have given me the B because I was only 3 points away."
- Do not make the mistake of considering yourself to be mediocre or just average. You are holding your own. Remember that you entered your law school class with the best and the brightest of college and university graduates. You are still who you were when you entered; the competition changed. You are not necessarily destined to remain in the great middle. You can break out of the great middle with appropriate changes.
- You can improve your grades by becoming a smarter studier. Take some time to think through what worked well and what did not. Be honest with yourself. Did you put in your best efforts or slack off at some point? Did you take shortcuts rather than become more efficient and effective? Did you use all of the resources available to you at your law school - professors' office hours, supplemental study groups, academic support professionals, writing specialists, advisors?
- Make a plan for improving your study skills. Instead of just changing up things at random or latching on to every piece of advice you hear from upper-division students, make an appointment with the academic support professional at your law school. That person is able to help you objectively evaluate you strengths and weaknesses and look at sound strategies for improvement.
- Review exams with your professors for any courses in which you received a C+ or lower grade. You should try to do this as soon as possible on your return for the next semester. You want to determine what you are doing well and need to continue. You want to get specific feedback on what you need to improve on for higher grades. Take copious notes during your discussions with the professors and share them with the academic support professional at your school to get advice on strategies and techniques for improvement.
For those of you in the bottom portion of the class (however you want to define that measure):
- Deal with your disappointment with your grades and move forward. Do not let discouragement prevent you from improving your grades in the future. All law students can learn more effective ways to study. You definitely want to work with the academic support professional at your law school to evaluate what went wrong and what you are doing right. Avoid being your own expert. You obviously need someone else's expertise in study strategies to sort out what can be done.
- Review each of your exams with your professors. If this will not be possible until the fall semester, make yourself notes about each exam that you took. Did you run out of time? Did you have trouble with one section but not others? Were you confused by a particular topic that was tested? Did you panic or freeze up during the exam? As soon as possible in the new semester, make an appointment to go over the exam to discover your strengths and weaknesses. The more specific the feedback, the more information you will have to guide your improvement.
- Look hard at your time management and tendency to procrastinate. It is not unusual for law students to have problems with these two areas. Many law students received good grades in undergraduate courses with little work and last-minute cramming. There was less material to learn. The material was rarely as dense as law cases. Multiple tests or other assessments made it easier to fall into cram mode. Again, your academic support professional can help you develop better skills in these problem areas.
- Evaluate your goals, motivation, and commitments. How do you want to use your law degree upon graduation? Do you want to be in law school right now? Do you like the study of law? Are there other variables (family, financial, medical) that suggest you need a leave of absence to get things sorted out? Is law school a priority in your life right now?
- If you are being placed on probation, find out exactly what that means. What is the standard that you must meet? What time period do you have to meet that standard? Are you required to take a certain number of credit hours during your probation semester (some schools have a higher requirement for probation students)? What happens if you have to repeat a required course while on probation? What resources are available to you (academic support professional, advisor, tutoring, counselor)?
For those of you who are facing academic dismissal:
- Be honest with yourself. After you get over the initial shock, you need to evaluate how you ended up in this place academically. Is law school where you really want to be? Is being a lawyer a priority for you? Did you put in the effort that was needed on your academics? Were there circumstances outside school that caused you problems?
- Find out your law school's procedures and policies. Every law school is different. You need to determine your law school's way of doing things. You should be able to find this type of information in your law school's student handbook (look on-line if you were not handed a hard copy during your 1L orientation). If you cannot find the information, contact the Associate Dean for Academics, Registrar, or other appropriate person at your law school for help.
- Find out what options you have (if any). Some law schools allow dismissed students to petition for readmission (continue on with your class) or re-entry (repeat your 1L year) on the basis of extraordinary or exceptional circumstances. Some law schools make you sit out at least two years before you can reapply. Some law schools have entirely different options.
- Get some advice from an authority on the school's policies and procedures if you need to consider options. You preferably want to talk with administrators who work most closely with students on these issues. If possible, schedule an appointment. Consider a telephone discussion if you cannot make it back to campus. Write down your questions ahead of time so that you do not forget to ask everything.
- Have a Plan B. There are always other options than law school if a petition is not successful or you cannot petition under your law school's policies. You can apply to a graduate program in another field. (Yes, people who leave law school for academic reasons do get accepted in other graduate programs.) You can get a law-related job until you can re-apply. (Think paralegal or legal assistant, for example.) You can get a non-law-related job until you decide what to do more long-term. You can get a roommate to help with expenses on your apartment.
- Remember that leaving law school does not mean that you are a failure. The study of law is not a good match for everyone. There is a niche out there that will use your talents and abilities. You will be successful in life - law is not the only career path. You are the same bright, talented, exceptional person you were before law school. All that has changed is that law school did not work out. That is actually okay even though it may not feel that way right now. You will be fine.
Whichever category matches your grades, don't get stuck in the place where you are. Evaluate. Strategize. Move forward. And, believe in yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
May 18, 2011
Thoughts on the dreaded curve
I am going to get meta here and refer to two other blogs writing about something we have blogged about (I think?) and we have talked about in the ASP community. The Faculty Lounge links to Prawfsblog and work by Ethan Leib on mandatory grading curves. Dan Filler comments on something many of us have encountered in ASP; if a student is in the bottom of the class with a 3.0, they can't see they need help. If that same student has a 2.4 (or 2.0) it is a different story; students intrinsically know this a problematic GPA.
Years ago, I encountered this phenomenon with a student with roughly a 2.9/3.0. The student was furious that s/he had to meet with me. S/he was certain she was not struggling, although s/he was in the bottom 10 in the class. S/he was on a journal (one that accepted everyone who applied and had a passing grade in their Legal Writing course). S/he went on to tell me s/he had graduated from high school at 16, graduated at the top of s/her college, and the law school was making a mistake. I spoke with a few faculty members after the meeting, who had a similar experience with the students--the student was deeply in denial, and angry at anyone who tried to confront the problem. I recently saw a link to the student (now alumni) profile on a business networking site, and it appears s/he to be struggling to find work. It also appears that s/he did not take or pass a bar exam, or chose not to list bar passage in their profile.
Would it have helped if the student was at a school with a more harsh curve? I don't know the answer to that. It may have been easier for me to show the student they were in trouble. I think the curve has some pernicious effects on student motivation, collegiality, and morale. But an "easy" curve, such as one that doesn't require grades lower than a B-, may be worse than no curve at all. It lulls students into a false sense of their own competence. A C is a shock to the system in a way that a B- doesn't appear to be.
I don't want this post to sound like I am suddenly a fan of mandatory curves. I actually think they should be abolished. What is happening at many schools, in response to the jobs crisis, is artificial inflation of grades that defeats the purpose of a curve AND hurts students who need extra support. I recieve an email from a former student at least once a week asking for help finding a job; I understand the problem. But I don't think the answer, at least from an ASP standpoint, is to ease the curve and bring students false hope about their prospects and needs. (RCF)
May 14, 2011
A 3L's perspective on relationships with professors
I would like to give a hat tip to Sue Liemer at Southern Illinois University for bringing the following blog post to our attention on the Legal Writing Prof Blog. Although the student's posting on Beyond Hearsay is specifically related to legal writing professors, I think it has merit for relationships with all doctrinal professors and ASP'ers.
J. Richard Lindsay, a 3L at Southern Illinois, writes about learning humility as a law student writer so that he could learn from his legal writing professor instead of seeing his professor as an enemy. He writes about professors becoming allies when law students are able to get past the hurt and frustration of criticism of their work. The link is here: Uncovering Secret Allies: How Humility Can Lead to Great Relationships. (Amy Jarmon)
April 20, 2011
Unusual fonts may aid in learning
Helpful tips for students:
1) We learn better from re-working the material.
This piece of gold is hidden on the second page of the article. It's saying what we have said in ASP for ages; reading a canned outline, or memorizing the outline of a 2L who booked the course, will not increase learning. Re-working your own notes into an outline will help you learn the material.
2) Try one of the unusual font types for your outline.
"Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully"
3) We overestimate our own ability.
One of the great lessons from law school exams: if you feel like you nailed it, you probably didn't. The material you are being asked to learn and apply on a law school exam is difficult and complicated. The majority of exams you will encounter as a law student have more complications and nuanced issues than you have time to answer. You should feel as if you didn't hit everything. If you feel like you knew everything on the exam, you probably oversimplified the issues.
4) We all take shortcuts. We all forget we take shortcuts.
Students should always take practice exams before finals. Actually taking the exam is important. Many students will read the fact pattern, "answer it in their head" or take a couple of notes, and then read the model answer. This is more harmful than helpful. Students will unconsciously overestimate what they understood if they have not taken the test and written a complete answer. This gives them a false sense of confidence. Students need to take a cold, hard look at what they understood and what they missed. the best strategy is to take the practice test under timed conditions with a study group, and correct answers as a group. This gives students a chance to discuss what they did not understand. It's easy to lie to ourselves, it's harder to lie to a group.
Summary of the article:
"Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another." These are the keys to learning more efficiently and effectively. (RCF)
April 13, 2011
COMPLETE THE SURVEY!
If you have not completed the ASP survey sent by John Mollenkamp, please take the time to do so now. Or, as they say, the beatings (or harassing emails) will continue until morale improves (or until all ASPer's have responded to the survey).
I have made a plea over the listserv, as have a number of my illustrious colleagues, to finish the survey for yourself. I stand by that plea. But if you are more civic-minded, please complete the survey for all of us. We hear lots and lots about the growth of empirical legal studies, but ASP has no empirical data on the state of our own existence at other schools. Right now, we have no hard data on what we are, who we are, or what we do for students. If we want to prove how important we are to student success, we need to know what is going on at other schools as well as our own.
So please, respond to the survey. If you should have received a link to the survey, but did not receive one, please contact Ruth McKinney at email@example.com.
For those of you in the Northeast...finish the survey now because the weather is FINALLY! looking good. The sooner you get the (very quick) survey out of the way you can go and play outside. (RCF)
April 09, 2011
Are you getting exhausted as an ASP'er?
This point in the semester is always difficult for me as an ASP'er.
I have so many student appointments that my calendar looks like a major airport with circling planes waiting to land. Not only do my regulars come in, but now is also the time for triage appointments. It is when I do crash consultations in the hallways, at the coffee pot, and in the parking lot. I regularly expand my slots by coming in early, eating lunch at my desk between appointments, and staying late.
Group workshops are still on the schedule. Hmmm, those handouts for next week need to be revised.
There are three application and interview processes that I am involved with in some way for student positions for ASP. It is great working with students who want to be Tutors, TAs, or Dean's Community Teaching Fellows - but the paperwork end is a drag.
Several major project deadlines are on the horizon. It seems that after 5 p.m. and on weekends are the most ideal times for those to get done. Ahhh, more administrative support would help - is anyone out there listening?
Of course, there is committee work. It is crunch time for those duties as every committee tries to wind down for the academic year.
And, I am teaching EU law: juggling student presentation appointments with finishing Power Points, writing my exam, grading assignments, and planning review sessions. I really enjoy my seminar students, but often shake my head at the extra hours needed in my day.
It is the time of the semester when I have so many coughing, sneezing, flu-carrying students sitting in my office that I inevitably fall deathly ill at least once. Ah, that puts me behind on an already crammed schedule!
There, I have that off my chest (literally and figuratively). So, I manage this time of the semester by doing what I tell students to do:
- Use windfall time during the day when a student shows up late for an appointment or the appointment ends earlier than I expected.
- Match small tasks to small time slots. Even 5 or 10 minutes can be useful for an e-mail or phone call or administrative task.
- Evaluate five or six times a day what my priorities are and how to re-organize my time.
- Work on major projects in small increments to get forward progress.
- Let no one task consume my entire day so that I do not get hopelessly behind on all other tasks.
- Negotiate deadlines to remain as realistic as possible in what can get done when.
- Cut out the non-essentials: what is mere frills, what provides little payback, what can wait until the summer.
To all of you getting tired at this point of the semester, I understand your plight. May your time and stress managment skills conquer! (Amy Jarmon)
April 07, 2011
ASP'ers: Have you completed the ASP national survey for your law school yet?
As you know, we are in the midst of a national survey effort to learn more about Academic Support Programs at the nation's law schools. Our legal writing colleagues have just finished up their survey with something like 187 of 199 schools responding. Our ASP response rate, as of this morning, is lagging at something under 100 schools. I know legal writing professors are helpful people, but are they really more helpful than ASPers? I have my doubts.
We know it is a busy time. We know you have more demands on your time than time to meet the demands. But, we also know that a survey like this is going to gather precisely the sort of data that will persuade deans about the need for additional staffing, the scope of appropriate programming, and the benefits to the entire legal community of having Academic Support (and Success and Strategy and whatever your "S" stands for). Please, if you are the person who received the survey link for your school, take a few minutes to fill out the survey. If you are missing the link, please contact Ruth McKinney (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can get you connected to the right information to help out.
Thank you. John Mollenkamp Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Academic Support Cornell Law School 607-255-0146
Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Academic Support Cornell Law Schooljohnemail@example.com
Making time when there seems to be none
A common theme in my discussion with students this week is that there are not enough hours in the day. Many of them are starting to get stressed over the amount of work to fit into the amount of time left in the semester.
Part of the problem is that they are trying to juggled end-of-the-semester assignments and papers with ongoing daily tasks and review for final exams. It can seem overwhelming if one does not use good time management skills.
Here are some tips:
- Realize that you control your time. With intentional behavior, a student can take control of the remainder of the semester rather than feeling as though it is a roller coaster ride. Make time for what really matters.
- Work for progress in every course. If one focuses on one course to the detriment of the other courses, it creates a cycle of catch-up and stress. A brief might be due in legal writing, but that should not mean dropping everything else for one or two weeks. Space out work on a major assignment over the days available and continue with daily work in all other courses.
- Use small pockets of time for small tasks. Even 15 minutes can be used effectively! Small amounts of time are useful for memory drills with flashcards or through rule recitation out loud. 20 minutes can be used to review class notes and begin to condense the material for an outline. 30 minutes can be used for a few multiple-choice practice questions or to review a sub-topic for a course.
- Capture wasted time and consolidate it. Students often waste up to an hour at a time chatting with friends, playing computer games, watching You Tube, answering unimportant e-mails, and more. Look for time that can be used more productively. If several wasted blocks of time during a day can be re-captured and consolidated into a longer block, a great deal can be accomplished! For example, reading for class can often be shifted in the day to capture several separate, wasted 30-minute slots and consolidate them into another block of perhaps 1 1/2 hours.
- Use windfall time well. It is not unusual in a day to benefit from unexpected blocks of time that could be used. A ride is late. A professor lets the class out early. A study group meets for less time than expected. An appointment with a professor is shorter than scheduled. Rather than consider the time as free time, use it for a study task.
- Realize the power of salvaged blocks of time. If a student captures 1/2 hour of study time a day, that is 3 1/2 extra hours per week. An hour per day adds up to 7 hours per week. Time suddenly is there that seemed to be unavailable.
- Break down exam review into sub-topics. You may not be able to find time to review the entire topic of adverse possession intensely, but you can likely find time to review its first element intensely. By avoiding the "all or nothing mentality" in exam review, progress is made in smaller increments. It still gets the job done!
- Evaluate your priorities and use of time three times a day. Every morning look at your tasks for the day and evaluate the most effective and efficient ways to accomplish everything. Schedule when you will get things done during the day. Do the same thing at lunch time and make any necessary changes. Repeat the exercise at dinner time.
- Cut out the non-essentials in life. Save shopping for shoes for that August wedding (unless perhaps you are the bride) until after exams. Stock up on non-perishable food staples now rather than shop for them every week. Run errands in a group now and get it over with to allow concentrating on studies for the rest of the semester.
- Exercise in appropriate amounts. If you are an exercise fanatic spending more than 7 hours a week on workouts, it is time to re-prioritize. You may have the best abs among law students at your school, but you need to workout your brain cells at this point in the semester.
- Boost your brain power in the time you have. Sleep at least 7 hours a night. Eat nutritional meals. Your brain cells will be able to do the academic heavy lifting in less time if you do these simple things.
So, take a deep breath. Take control of your time. And good luck with the remainder of the semester. (Amy Jarmon)