Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Dear ASP colleagues:
The Learning Curve is the official publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support, showcasing
brief articles treating theoretical or practical ideas related to student support and teaching excellence. Recently we shifted to a twice-yearly publication structure, and we look forward to sharing our first summer issue next month. Its articles explore ways to incorporate "Fun and
Games" into your programs.
We are considering articles for the January 2014 issue now, and we want to hear from you! We are
particularly interested in submissions concerning professional development in ASP, and encourage both new and seasoned ASP professionals to submit their work. Can you share some advice regarding scholarship – generating ideas, outlining, navigating the submission process, etc.? Are you doing
something innovative in your classroom? Do you have a fresh take on technology or what it means to be “ASPish”? Can you tell us something about the history of ASP teaching?
Please ensure that your articles are applicable to our wide readership. Principles that apply
broadly, i.e. to all teaching or support program environments, are especially
welcome. While we always want to be supportive of your work, we discourage articles that focus solely on advertising for an individual school’s program.
Please send your submission to email@example.com by no later than August 30, 2013. Please attach it to your message as a Word file. Please do not send hard copy manuscripts, and please do not paste a manuscript into the body of your e-mail. Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words, with light notes, if appropriate. Please note that Publisher does not support footnotes that run with text.
Endnotes or references lists will be used in publication and are strongly preferred in manuscript submissions.
For more information, or to inquire about the appropriateness of a topic, contact Jennifer Carr at Jennifer.Carr@unlv.edu. Please include “Learning Curve” in the subject line of your inquiry.
We look forward to reading your work and learning from you!
The Learning Curve Editors
Jennifer Carr, Heather Harshman, and Courtney Lee
Thursday, June 20, 2013
I forgot how emotionally-draining, financially-challenging, and logistically complicated it is to move from one location to another. After four-and-a-half wonderful years, I am getting ready to leave UConn to join the faculty at UMass on July 1. I am very excited about the new job. However, the last two weeks (and the next two weeks) of my life have been consumed with the details of moving my life from CT to MA. These issues led me to reflect on the issues our students face when they start law school.
Many law students move long distances to start law school. For a student who comes from a family with the financial means to hire movers and take look-see trips for apartments, this is an arduous process. Just coordinating dates and times is challenging; apartment complexes either fill up very early (in college towns) or apartment managers do not know vacancies until the last minute (rural and suburban areas, law school detached from larger universities). Apartments that are beautifully photographed can be in terrible neighborhoods, or have serious issues. Look-see trips are very helpful when sorting out these problems. But for our students who have to look for apartments while living far away, and need to move their life in a U-Haul truck, this process is incredibly stressful and emotionally-draining. These students usually can't leave their jobs until the last moment, so they are moving, and starting law school, within a one-to-two week period. It doesn't leave much time to adjust to a new area, or relax before the whirlwind of 1L year.
This is something to think about as ASP professionals plan orientation and the start of school. We may not being seeing the best of our students in those early weeks. We may be seeing students still stressed out, exhausted, and not-yet focused on academics. (RCF)
Sunday, May 12, 2013
It is the end of the semester, and I suspect a lot of ASP'ers are looking forward to a lull in the hectic pace of ASP work. Some folks will have more of a hiatus than others because of low or no summer enrollments. A few folks are on 9- or 10-month contracts with the summer off. And those ASP'ers deeply involved with bar studiers will have a short lull.
Whether you are a one-person ASP operation or have a team and whether you have 50 invited ASP students or all law students as your target population, I imagine that you are ready for a change of pace. The last part of the semester is always fraught with students overwhelmed by exams, students confronted by personal crises, graduates gearing up for the bar exam, and a myriad of important deadlines. For those of us who teach ASP or other courses, we are/will be inundated with papers/exams to grade.
I love the lull because I get to do two critical things: complete lots of projects and recharge my batteries. In the age of portable electronic devices that get recharged nightly, I sometimes wish that I came with a battery as well. Since I do not come equipped, here is a list of my favorite recharging activities both in and out of the office:
- Attend a summer conference with other ASP'ers to get new ideas, renew old friendships, meet new ASP'ers, and remind myself how much I love my work - we are so lucky to have AASE at the end of the month!
- Find a new book by an ASP'er in the publishers' catalogs and delve into new perspectives on student learning, legal reasoning, or other facets of our work.
- Chat with faculty and other colleagues at my school to find out what they are working on this summer, to brainstorm ideas as to how we might work together next year, and to reconnect after we have all been so busy all year.
- Revamp at least one aspect of my program for a fresh perspective: a training manual, workshop packets, my ASP group exercises, a selection process for upper-division students who work in ASP, a Power Point presentation.
- Read through my collection of thank you notes from students to remind myself of the impact that ASP work has.
- Spend more time with friends and family now that overtime hours and evening events will lessen.
- Sleep in on some Saturday mornings to recharge quite literally.
- Indulge in fluff novels that have nothing to do with the law - no John Grisham for me.
- Catch up on all the movies that I have missed and summer releases.
What are your favorite ways to recharge? I wish all ASP'ers good ends to the semester and blessed summer months. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The mandatory meeting for first-year students (optional for upper-division students) to discuss our registration process for next year's classes was held last week. Registration will start next week. For first-year students, the process can create a great deal of stress because it is another "unknown" to them.
The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs explained the ins and outs of the curriculum requirements beyond the first-year required classes. The Registrar explained the actual procedures for registration.
And then the rumor mill started to make the process even more stressful. The sources were sometimes upper-division students' comments but often just from imagination:
- Horror tales about registration for rising 2L students (computer freezes, no places in popular courses because rising 3Ls will take all the spots, long wait lists, etc.) while ignoring changes in the system and statistical realities.
- Rumors that students will fail if they get Professor X while swearing they will get an A with Professor Y - even though course statistics do not reflect these guarantees.
- Rumors playing up the fear factor of different professors' exams or teaching styles or course topics and ignore that different students learn and test better in different ways and have different backgrounds and interests.
- Moanings about the audacity of the law school's hiring of unknown visitors/new hires/adjuncts who cannot be easily pigeon-holed.
So what is the 1L student to do to survive registration and choosing the best class schedule? Here are some tips that I give students when they consult with me:
- Know the requirements for graduation: credit hours, normal course loads, required doctrinal courses, skills development courses, writing courses, certificate programs, dual degree programs.
- Think ahead beyond the next semester to the full academic year and the next academic year - how will fall 2L courses impact spring 2L courses and how will 2L courses influence the 3L courses.
- Consider summer school credits (including study abroad) if the student plans to attend and know the policies that are involved.
- Have alternate course choices in mind in case a class is closed out entirely or only waiting list spots are open at the time the student registers.
- Take a balanced course schedule by considering paper versus exam courses, required versus elective courses, large versus seminar courses, difficult topics for the student versus topics that come more easily, hands-on skills courses versus traditional courses, courses that interest the student versus ones that have less appeal, law versus dual degree courses (if applicable), and other factors.
- Watch out for prerequisites that are needed for later courses or clinics that the student wants to take.
- Talk to professors about elective courses that sound interesting but are only briefly covered in the course descriptions to find out more about the courses.
- Talk to professors in specialty areas in which the student may want to practice to get advice on courses that would be beneficial for background.
- Consider courses that will give background for the bar exam but which may not be required courses for one's law degree.
- Talk to multiple students who have taken a course/professor in the past because variety of input will likely highlight pros and cons rather than one-sided feedback.
- Look at the exam schedule to see what the grouping of exams will be like for particular combinations of courses (available at our school prior to registration).
With careful thought and planning, registration can be a less stressful experience for students. Faculty, administrators, and others can provide guidance as students weigh the pros and cons of different course choices. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
For most law schools, the semester is on the downward slope to exams - the midpoint for classes has passed. Students who have been putting things off are waking up to the fact that time is not on their side any longer.
Many law students whose Spring Breaks are over used the recent time away from class to catch up: outlines were started or completed, paper research was started or completed, and paper drafts were begun. Law students with Spring Break this week are planning the same machinations.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the time left in the semester:
- Add to course outlines weekly so that new material is pulled together while it is still fresh.
- Write down all of your questions for each course and get them answered now: by classmates, by professors, or through study aids.
- List all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for each exam course to get a realistic view of the amount of material.
- Estimate the amount of time needed to learn each topic already covered in class to the level needed to walk into the exam.
- Schedule learning that same older material for no more than two-thirds of the remaining class period; reserve the other weeks for learning the new material that has not yet been covered. For example, if there are six weeks left, try to learn the first eight or nine weeks of material in four weeks and reserve the remaining two weeks to learn brand new material. During the exam period, focus on the last one to two weeks of new material and review everything else.
- Do as many practice questions as possible for each exam course. However, it is ineffective to do practice questions on a topic before you have intensely studied it. Wait a few days after intensely studying a topic before you do practice questions - you want to see if you retained the information well enough to get the answers correct.
- Do not skip classes because professors will begin to give information about the final exams and pull material together.
- Also do not skip classes because the last few weeks are often heavily tested when the course builds over the semester.
- Expect every step for researching and writing a paper to take longer than you think it will. Plan your work accordingly.
- Leave ample time to edit your paper in stages for specific aspects rather than edit for everything at once. Stages might be for logic, grammar, punctuation, style, accurate quotations, citations, tables/exhibits, or other appropriate categories.
The last part of the semester will be more productive if there is a plan for using the time. Do not waste time just thinking about study tasks; start studying in earnest. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Several law students have recently bemoaned the pettiness and spitefulness of other law students. It is not uncommon in the midst of the competition and the quest for superiority that some law students denigrate others' intelligence or abilities or accomplishments. They think the put-downs show their own competence and lessen the other person's worth. They want to sabotage their competition with mean remarks.
In truth, the inferior ones are the law students who feel compelled to make such remarks, to taunt other law students, and to tout their own superiority. They are simply not nice people. And if it were not for the self-contained environment of the law school, everyone could easily avoid them.
Too often law students react to these toxic people in ways that encourage them rather than short-circuit their venom. Onlookers will snicker to feel accepted by these toxic students or to cover up their own insecurities. The fawning snickerers should beware; toxic law students don't have loyalty to anyone except themselves. One slip and the fawner today can be the target next week.
Other law students stand by silently and say nothing even though they know the behavior is unacceptable. They don't want to get involved. They don't want to tell the toxic law student to apologize or to leave the other person alone. They could counter the snide remark with a positive one to the student who has just been put down. Or they could even befriend the student who is the target.
How sad that the people who are some day going to be officers of the court and supposedly uphold justice and protect the vulnerable are so unwilling to act professionally during law school. The toxic ones will probably turn into the arrogant partners who bully new associates and paralegals. The fawners will continue to be spineless ingratiators in practice. The silent onlookers will continue to not take a stand once they are admitted to the bar.
Fortunately, there are some law students who know the difference between right and wrong and will come to the defense of others. Instead of fuming later, they will intervene at the time. They will be polite, even diplomatic, but stand up for what is appropriate behavior among professionals.
Some law students will likely comment that nothing can be done and that it is just the way law school is. However, each law student's individual actions can impact the atmosphere of a law school. If each person who does not like the toxic behavior that develops in law schools were to oppose that behavior, law schools would be less stressful places for everyone. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 18, 2013
Many law students and law professors think the student most likely to be involved in academic dishonesty is the gunnar. The gunnar will do anything to get ahead, including cheating or plagiarizing materials. The gunnar is the student that either impresses or annoys the professor, and either annoys or terrorizes classmates. The gunnar cheats because they want to be number one, and don't care how they become number one.
As an ASP professional, I see a different type of student involved in academic dishonesty, the student who is not deliberately breaking the rules, but is willing to do anything to survive. This is the student who will take any advice about how to succeed, because they know they are barely keeping their head above water. Unfortunately, this is also the type of student who is trying so many different strategies, that they fall behind in their legal writing projects or homework assignments for class. In desperation, they copy from commercial sources, copy from models of legal writing assignments, and break rules about collaboration on graded assignments. Unlike the gunnar, this type of student doesn't always see what they are doing as dishonest. Because they don't understand why they don't understand what is being taught, they assume everyone must be using these methods to survive.They rationalize their choices, which blinds them to the depth of their challenges.
I find that this type of student is sometimes the most difficult for an ASP professional. Oftentimes, we have built a strong relationship with the struggling student, and we know how hard they are trying. We see the student as a someone doing everything they can to succeed, so we blind overselves to the possibility that they may be turning in materials that are not their true work product. It is only when another professor turns the student in for breaking the honor code or academic policy that we see what they student has been doing.
It is important for ASP professionals to recognize that some of our most beloved students, the students we see trying so hard to succeed, are also capable of academic dishonesty. It does not serve the student or the profession to overlook their actions. It is emotionally difficult to confront a student about academic dishonesty, but it is essential to their personal and professional development. (RCF)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
It is hard for law students to realize sometimes that they are privileged. When the reading becomes overwhelming, the outlines are not going well, mid-term grades are lower than desired, and job prospects for summer or after graduation look bleak, it is easy to become discouraged and negative.
At the times of discouragement, students need to remember that they are studying for a profession that has a long history of making a difference in people's lives every day. Law school can be overwhelming and frustrating and challenging. It is not a perfect environment by any means. The job market is not as robust as it used to be, and job hunts take more initiative and diligence. But if one does persevere in law school, bar study, and the job hunt, the legal profession provides the opportunity to impact individuals and society.
When law students lose perspective on why they came to law school and what they hope to accomplish with a law degree, they need to look at the world outside the law school fishbowl. There are thousands of people in every part of this country who would love to have the opportunity to have an education - let alone a graduate education, to focus on learning , and to enter a profession some day. They are too busy with daily survival, however, to have those luxuries. They are worried about the next meal, a roof over their heads, or protecting their children from violence. They are wondering how to get access to justice for themselves and their families.
The study of law is not for everyone. The legal profession is not a good match for everyone. It is okay if a law student would prefer to pursue another degree in business or music or anthropology or some other discipline. It is equally okay if a law student would prefer not to be in school at all and instead work full-time.
If the decision is to stay in law school and pursue the law degree, then it is important to realize the privilege of that choice. When it gets tough, remember the impact a lawyer can have. Persevere through the hard courses; study with purpose; prepare to be the best lawyer possible. There are people out there who need help in their daily survival, and they need each law student to be focused on being the lawyer who will have that impact in their lives.
Have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to pursue a law degree, for the chance to make a difference through our profession, and for the people who will allow each new lawyer to touch their lives. When discouraged, look beyond the moment to the future that awaits. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
With apologies to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, I want to talk about using food to increase student engagement. Although I originally would think of candy, donuts, and cookies, I have expanded my horizons after having students with special dietary needs who needed alternatives.
Some days my students in class or workshops seem to have the ho-hums. Our Tutors have noticed the same thing when trying to encourage discussion. In a more general manner, I want to encourage students to come use the resources of the office.
Here are some of the ways food can help to engage students in learning:
- For an early morning class, I sometimes bring breakfast for my students. As they munch and sip, they are more willing to participate in discussion. They are more alert and brain-nourished than other days.
- For the mid-afternoon doldrums, I keep a large snack box filled with individual packs of cookies, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, and other items. I arrive in class with the box and let students pick an item for a snack. The results are similar to my morning breakfast offerings.
- Several Tutors take bite-size candies to their weekly group sessions and reward students who ask questions or participate in hypothetical discussions with the treats.
- When reviewing material for my final exams, I often have competitions with teams in my classes. The rules are a cross of Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Since I teach international law courses, the prizes are a variety of products from the countries involved in the subject matter. For example, for EU Law, I find as many items as I can from the 27 (soon to be 28) Member States. Students get more involved because they know everyone will get a prize, but there are bigger prizes for highest individual points as well as for highest team points.
- Whenever I hold make-up classes, I provide food. I do so partially because the make-ups often have to be in the early evening and partially because it just makes it nicer for all of us - no growling stomachs and famished brain cells. We get those ABA minutes with nourishment.
- In the past, I had a candy bucket in the study aids library of my suite to lure students in with hard candies, chocolate, and gummy treats. Many a student was willing to discuss a study issue with me informally while sorting through the bucket for a favorite treat - often leading to a later formal appointment. Other students would ask if I would help them determine the study aid that matched their learning styles while they munched. The stress reduction potential was always a plus, especially near mid-terms and exams.
- Several faculty colleagues are known for providing homemade baking, snacks, pizza, or other food items for their classes. Several seminar classes are known for regular dinner meals.
How often I provide treats and what sorts of treats, depends on how flush I am at the time. Most of these types of perks are out of my own pocket because of university accounting rules. Some of my faculty colleagues with chaired professorships have hefty budgets with fewer restrictions. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I spent seventeen years in my first career working with undergraduate and graduate students. Then after graduating law school as a non-traditional student and practicing for some years, I decided to return to higher education and combine my education and law backgrounds. Those earlier years in my student affairs career have certainly held me in good stead in my current ASP work.
For most of the years in my first career, I was involved not only with academic dismissals but also with disciplinary cases and, towards the end, with Honor Council cases. I was the one who investigated cases, presented at administrative hearings, and counseled dismissed students.
Part of my discussions with students focused on their behaviors (actions or lack of actions), consequences, rules, integrity, maturity, self-discipline, etc. I always wanted students to learn from the situations so they could avoid future problems. This aspect of my work was really more about the head - how to think through situations, how to see alternative courses of action, how to understand societal norms, how to implement different study strategies for success, how to behave differently, or whatever matched the circumstances.
No matter how difficult the student had been during the process of an academic dismissal or a discipline/Honor case, I always tried to add a second part to the discussion. I switched to the heart by focusing the end of a discussion on how the student was coping with the results (suspension, possible readmission later, permanent dismissal), how the student was dealing with the legal process if there was one when disciplinary actions applied (we took administrative actions first because too many lawyers had played around with court continuances in order to go beyond a graduation date or a transfer when we previously waited), whether the student had told their parents/spouse/others, and what the student's plan of action was for the future.
Why did I spend the time switching from head to heart matters? Because no matter what a student had done, the student was still a human being. Once we had dealt with the head matters, the student was still often dealing with the heart matters all alone. Most students had not told family or friends that they were in academic or disciplinary or Honor Council trouble. Most students had hoped to the last moment (often unrealistically) that a suspension or dismissal would not happen. Most students were without a game plan to deal with the worst outcome.
One thing I learned early on was that if I could look beyond the failures/behaviors to the person, the student left with a different attitude than if I stayed merely aloof and clinical. The student was more willing to take responsibility for the situation rather than blame the school, the administration, the student witnesses, the faculty member, or others involved. The student was more willing to look at the life lessons and consider change. The student was less likely to bad mouth the school to others later on in life.
By taking the time to treat the student as a person, to help the student decide the next steps, to listen to the fears, or to even role play how the student would tell family and friends, I allowed the healing to begin. I allowed the student to learn that one can recognize bad decisions the student made or disapprove of/censure behaviors but still treat the person with dignity. I let students know that someone cared about them even in unpleasant circumstances when many might say they got themselves into the situations.
At law schools, I think the head part of the process is sometimes focused on totally, and the heart process is ignored. Students from various law schools around the country have told me about getting only an academic dismissal letter and not being given an appointment to discuss it. Students have told me about being told they are "not good enough" or do not have "the right stuff" to be in law school. They have told me about comments suggesting they will be failures in life because they could not meet law school academic standards. The stories have come from students at both public and private law schools, at law schools in every tier, and law schools in different parts of the country.
Our profession has begun to recognize that there are "soft skills" that attorneys need and that the human element does have merit in the legal process. I hope that we can regularly recognize the same need for the human element at our law schools when we deal with the multitude of conduct and academic problems that students are involved in during law school.
As professional schools, we definitely need to maintain standards of conduct, integrity, and academics. But we also need to maintain those standards while treating others as human beings during the processes.
Few of our students are dismissed under circumstances so egregious that they are incapable of being productive and worthy members of society. If we model combining head and heart in unpleasant circumstances, we treat students with dignity and provide a lesson that will resonate throughout their lives about how to treat others. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
In mulling over various problems that students have told me about this semester after the fact, it struck me how often students have stated as part of the story, "I didn't know what to do."
Some situations take place in the dead of night when no one at the law school would be monitoring e-mail or answering phones. Other situations arise during the day.
Here are some examples of problems that students have told me about and remarked that they did not know what to do:
- A student wakes up seriously ill on the day of a mid-term or final exam.
- A student realizes that she inadvertently forgot to turn in a study aid book within the deadlines.
- A student is uncertain about allowed assistance on a paper.
- A student is uncertain of the professor's definition of "open book" for an exam two days from now.
- A student spills coffee on a library book and tries to minimize the damage.
- A student's laptop crashes right before a paper is to be turned in to a professor.
- A student tries to submit a paper electronically as required without success.
- A student's car breaks down, and she does not have the $200 to get it fixed.
- A student's car breaks down, and she needs to get to an exam.
- A student's whose grandmother has been admitted to hospital has to miss classes for a week.
These are all classic situations that we see over and over again in law schol. However, students often seem to think they are alone with the problem.
When you do not know what to do, it is usually a sign that you need to ask someone for help. E-mail, phone, or stop by to get advice and find out the correct protocol. If it is the middle of the night, there is still voicemail and e-mail to notify someone of the problem and indicate the steps one is taking. If the Honor Code requires anonymity so that a professor cannot be contacted, there are still faculty secretaries, administrators, IT/library personnel, and others who can help.
Often the student can get assistance or at least ameliorate the consequences by contacting someone or seeking an alternative. For the examples above, the possibilities will vary by law school. However, here are some examples of problem-solving that may work:
- If ill, go to the student health services or another doctor as soon as possible as well as leaving a voicemail for or sending an e-mail to the Registrar/Associate Dean to inquire about postponing the mid-term or final exam.
- For a late study aid, contact the law library circulation desk to explain the situation and request permission to turn it in late.
- Read the assignment instructions or contact the professor for clarification as to the assistance that is allowed on an assignment.
- Read the syllabus, contact the professor for clarification on the definition of "open book," or ask the Registrar's Office if the exam paperwork might have the professor's instructions as to what students can bring in to an exam.
- For damage to a library book, take the item to the circulation desk and explain what happened; depending on the amount of damage, the student may or may not need to pay for a replacement.
- For a laptop crash, contact the law school or university IT folks for assistance.
- Electronic submission can again be assisted by the IT folks. If all else fails, submission by the deadline may be possible to a faculty secretary or administrator if anonymity is an issue.
- Most law schools have emergency loan programs to help students with unexpected expenses when other financial options are not available.
- If a student has allowed ample time to get to the exam without rushing, a telephone call to a classmate or request for help from a neighbor or calling a taxi may all be options.
- A quick e-mail or voicemail to the Registrar when a student has to leave unexpectedly provides the law school with the information that can then be relayed to professors as appropriate.
Some crises can be averted by simple planning. Considering the parameters of assignments or of exams early can forestall problems (asking ahead about what assistance is allowed or what is "open book"). Completing work ahead of schedule rather than at the last minute can also lessen snafus (extra time to sort electronic submission or printer problems). Any computer-related assignment should have a back-up copy external to the student's computer (flashdrive or external hard drive) to provide an alternate copy. Allowing extra time to get to an exam can give the cushion needed for car problems or traffic jams.
Student Handbooks and professors' syllabi normally include procedures and information that relate to some of these problems. Students often mention that they never thought to look at those resources in the heat of the moment. It is a shame that panicky feelings and stress often exacerbate the situations so that students choose to go it alone or make less beneficial decisions. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Merriam Webster defines observation as:
1. to conform one's action or practice to (as a law, rite, or condition) : comply with
2. to inspect or take note of as an augury, omen, or presage
3. to celebrate or solemnize (as a ceremony or festival) in a customary or accepted way
4. a: to watch carefully especially with attention to details or behavior for the purpose of arriving at a judgment
b: to make a scientific observation on or of
5. to come to realize or know especially through consideration of noted facts
6. to utter as a remark
a: to take notice
People-watching is a fascinating pastime. My favorite people-watching venues are outdoor events like festivals, parades, or concerts. They are chockfull of interesting and diverse crowds. But, observation is not only passive entertainment or a fun diversion. Observation is a critical step in the scientific method and in the learning process.
During a scientific inquiry, one must gather information by first observing. Then, they must prove or disprove their hypothesis with observational evidence. Although closely tied to science, observation is an integral part of any discipline.
When we observe, we not only watch but we engage. We make judgments based on our observations and we realize or discover something new. In essence, we learn. We transfer prior thoughts, experiences, and preconceptions to new contexts. Most of this is done involuntarily. However, intentional observation can be extremely enlightening.
I have had the opportunity to become a deliberate observer this week. I say deliberate because as humans we are constantly observing our surroundings. However, we are not always taking notice of the things we see. Thus, merely seeing is immensely different than observing.
I was able to observe several 2Ls deliver their first appellate oral argument when I volunteered as a judge for the Legal Writing appellate arguments. While focusing on the substance of their case, I also paid close attention to how they presented their arguments. Specifically, I took notice of their demeanor in answering the panel’s questions, their professionalism in dealing with the court and arguments presented by opposing counsel, and their ability to move fluidly from questions from the bench back to their prepared outline.
As most of us know, adhering to courtroom etiquette and having a strong delivery can make the difference between winning or losing a case. We also know that subjective judgment occurs when assessing communication and can contribute to our impression of the objective content. While I did not let my personal preferences skew my ultimate ruling on the case, they did have a significant impact on how I evaluated each student's performance.
Much different from a courtroom, last week I also observed my daughter’s ballet class as it was “parent watch week”. Interestingly, much like my observation of oral arguments, during the ballet class I focused on how the dancers interacted, instead of concentrating on whether they were performing a tour jeté, pirouette, or grand plié. The dancer's form and positioning, their presence as a dancer, and their engagement with their instructor were significant elements in how I assessed their attitude, energy, and technique.
Noticing the world around us is such a gift but we rarely acknowledge it as such. We so easily fall into our daily routines and the monotony of our lives. We should take advantage of being coerced, cajoled, or granted a chance to observe. From these focused observations, I learned that I often overlook seemingly meaningless details. Instead, I now realize that we should embrace these details.
The details can teach us about ourselves, our interactions with others, and our preconceptions. They can teach us how to be empathetic, how to gain a particular skill, how to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant and so much more. Ultimately, being mindfully observant allows us to be better decision makers, better students, and better teachers.
As teachers, we teach our students to pay close attention to the nuances of the law or the key facts in a hypo or a case. We too should walk the walk and take the time to observe. Try to observe students outside of class, prior to the start of class, and when they are working in groups during class. Are they interacting with each other, are they loners, do they appear engaged? We can use these observations to get to know our students and to understand how to best teach them. By paying attention, we are setting a good example and we may learn a thing or two.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
I did not cook for Thanksgiving this year. My best friend and I decided to go out to dinner instead. I realized in the days after Thanksgiving that I basically was content not to have leftovers crowded in my refrigerator. Except maybe the from-scratch cranberry sauce. And the stuffing. But the turkey, green beans, succotash, gravy, potato au gratin, sweet potato casserole, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie - well you get the picture - were not missed.
I realized for many of my students, the last week of classes (at our law school immediately after the holiday break) is a lot like leftovers. More reading, briefing, and new class material up to the last minute are now no longer appealing. One is already sated with those items and ready for something else. The professors who wrap up or review material are like the favorite leftovers that one is happy to have servings of for the next 5 days after the holiday.
Like all of us who ate too much and sat overstuffed on the couch after the holiday meal, our students are lethargic when it comes to more class sessions. They are focused on exams and want the leftover classes to be over. Wrap-up and reviews make sense because they go along with the exam purposefulness that students have. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Texas Tech School of Law has had a partnership for seven years now with the Law and Justice Magnet Program at one of the local high schools that has predominately minority student enrollment. Recently I had lunch with the LJMP instructor. We are both passionate about the partnership and were discussing plans for next semester.
We started the partnership for several reasons. First, it allows us to support the high school's efforts in increasing student awareness of legal issues and potential careers in law. Second, it provides us with an avenue to encourage students to stay in school, continue on to college, and enter professional education after college. Third, it provides opportunities and role models for students who have dreams to reach beyond their backgrounds and become success stories for their families.
Some of the aspects of the program are:
- Upper-division law students who are selected as Dean's Community Teaching Fellows to assist at the high school in the LJMP courses. These DCTFs mentor individual students, participate in the classroom experiences, and help coach the mock trial team for the Texas high school competition.
- Mini-classes for senior students in which we discuss fact patterns and cases as well as legal research. The Legal Practice professors provided us with 1L legal memorandum packets that we modified for high school use. The law librarians assist with the legal research component.
- VIP attendance at a variety of law school events. For example, the students have attended lectures with Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Stephen Breyer. They have attended hearings in front of the Texas Seventh Court of Appeals. In several cases, the students have had the honor of being photographed with our guests.
- Donated items for the LJMP library of study aids that cover civil and criminal topics in their courses.
Will all of the students end up at Texas Tech School of Law? Will all of them become lawyers some day? No. But that is okay.
We definitely want to see the diversity of the legal profession increase and some of these students will become lawyers. They may not attend Tech Law, but the legal profession will benefit.
However, if all of these high school students become successful citizens and reach their dreams, we will also have succeeded. Whether they become police officers, forensic scientists, lawyers, doctors, small business owners, nurses, teachers, or meet other career goals, they will have followed their dreams.
Most importantly, they will have known that we believed in them and their futures. They will have had our encouragement and support. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Sleep is essential. Most law students short themselves on enough sleep. Rather than allowing them to get more done, less sleep actually decreases their learning.
Here are sleep facts:
- If a person gets less than 7 hours of sleep consistently, the medical diagnosis is chronic sleep deprivation.
- The average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function optimally.
- Some people need more than 8 hours of sleep for medical reasons or other circumstances.
- The body and brain work best with a consistent sleep routine - going to bed (Sunday through Thursday nights) and getting up (Monday through Friday mornings) at the same time.
- On the weekends, you can vary the sleep schedule 2-2 1/2 hours without whacking out your body clock for the rest of the week (go to bed at 1 a.m. instead of 11 p.m. and get up at 9:30 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., for example).
- Having a consistent sleep schedule will cause you to get sleepy as bedtime approaches and to wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
- The average person needs 3 hours to complete a full sleep cycle.
- If you wake up with less than 90 minutes before your alarm will go off, you are probably better to get up than go back to sleep because your sleep cycle was interrupted at an inopportune point and result in grogginess if you go back to sleep.
- Sleep inducers before bed: warm milk, a lavendar bubble bath, at least 1/2 hour of wind down time.
- Sleep inducers once in bed: a dark room, a quiet room, lack of electronic gadgets in the bedroom (television, computer, etc.).
- Sleep inhibitors: alcohol, caffeine, a large meal near bedtime, exercise too close to bedtime, electronic stimulation right before bed (television, computer, etc.).
- Realize that if you wake up during the night that it is not unusual to take 15 minutes to fall back to sleep - do not stare at the digital alarm clock waiting to go back to sleep.
- If you wake up during the night with worries that you will forget something, keep a pad and pen on the nightstand and capture your thoughts - it will be easier to go back to sleep.
- If you toss and turn for a long period and cannot get back to sleep, get up and go to another room and read something boring before you try to go back to bed.
- A consistent sleep routine will eliminate the need for excessive napping.
- Power napping of 5-30 minutes can refresh some people.
- Naps of more than 20-30 minutes actually make you more groggy.
- Sufficient sleep has the following benefits:
- Increased focus when studying.
- Increased retention of material.
- Greater productivity within the time spent studying.
- Decreased irritability and stress.
- Weight loss.
Getting the proper number of ZZZZ's is very important. Do not skimp here if you want to be alert, focused, and learning-ready. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Have you noticed your 3L students struggling a bit? They stop to chat and tell me that they are lacking motivation, have the blahs, cannot focus, or other descriptions of their malaise when it comes to law school.
For some, it is that they are focusing on their job hunt and have taken their focus off courses. For some, it is a focus on December graduation and chomping at the bit to be done. For some it is a focus on taking the bar in February before their final spring semester is over and thinking about bar review now. For many it is just being sick and tired of law school with this semester and another one left to go.
For many of our 3L students, the third year seems like more of the same. The study tasks are just like the first two years. Unless they have elective courses that really grab their attention and introduce them to or re-immerse them in an area of law that they have a passion for, the courses seem uninspiring.
Some exceptions to the 3L boredom problem are our externship and clinic students. They seem to be energized by the change of pace they have during the semester. Other exceptions are those students who are in Trial Advocacy or other practice-oriented classroom experiences. Students who have traditional classes with even some component that breaks the mold (one drafting assignment, one client interaction, etc.) also seem more engaged in those classes.
What can 3L students with the blahs do to increase their motivation and focus if they do not have any of these types of classroom experiences? Here are some thoughts:
- Employ more active study techniques. Ask questions while reading. Read aloud instead of silently. Discuss cases and concepts with others. Switch up the facts and consider how the court would have responded to that new fact situation. Answer all of the questions at the ends of cases even if not required.
- Imagine that the client in the case had walked into one's own office with the legal problem. What questions would be asked of the client? What additional arguments could have been made by each side that were not made? What would be the strengths and weaknesses of those arguments? Are there any policy considerations? What ethical problems could have surfaced in the situation?
- Consider after each class how the information could be used in practice. Create hypothetical scenarios to delve into how the basics learned in the course would relate to a variety of legal situations.
- Discuss those hypotheticals with classmates. If you are uncertain how the concepts would work in the scenario, talk with the professor about the scenario.
- Volunteer for pro bono opportunities to see the law in action instead of feeling on the sidelines.
- Find part-time legal work in the community - even if it is an unpaid internship - to increase one's interaction with lawyers and involvement in the practice of law.
- Remind oneself of one's original goals for coming to law school and how courses will help one in passing the bar and practicing after graduation.
Even when 3L students feel that they just want to be done with their degrees, they still have the ultimate goal of becoming the best possible attorneys. Each bit of knowledge, each fact-scenario analysis, each probing question can lead to that goal - even when one is tempted to consider all of it just same old-same old.
Hang in there and take one day at a time. Learn as much as you can because for most future attorneys this will be the last time that they have the luxury to focus on learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Some of my students struggle with getting their work done in a timely manner. They succumb to electronic distractions: cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail. They take 2 - 3 hour naps. They allow a 2-hour reading assignment to bleed over into 3 hours. They wander around the law school chatting with friends.
Setting up accountability mechanisms works well for many of these students. They lack self-discipline, but can meet expectations when someone else is going to monitor what they do. Some examples of accountability strategies are:
- Students with major papers to write can set up a series of deadlines when they will confer with their professors or turn in certain work (if the professor is willing): topic discussion; outline of initial research; initial bibliography; first drafts of each paper section.
- Probation students meet weekly with me and know that I will ask about their reading and briefing, outlining, writing progress, and reviewing for exams each time I see them. Having to be accountable keeps most of them on track.
- Married students post their study schedules on the refrigerator at home so that their spouses know when they should be studying rather than watching television. They give their spouses permission to monitor their time and hold them accountable if they are not adhering to the schedule.
- A law student will ask a classmate to help them stick to a study schedule. The student gives the classmate permission to call them to account if they are wandering around chatting, taking too many breaks, or avoiding an assignment.
- A law student agrees to meet another law student at the library for several hours of individual study so that the appointment is incentive to show up and study instead of doing other things.
- A law student joins a study group that has a weekly agenda of review topics and practice questions that each member agrees to complete individually before the study group meets.
- A student calls a significant other or parent every evening and gives that person permission to ask what they accomplished that day in studying.
- A student uses one of the on-line time management programs to monitor use of time so that it is readily apparent how much time was used for studying versus breaks and other tasks.
Most students do not want to disappoint others even though they regularly disappoint themselves on study tasks. If accountability provides the initial way for a student to break bad habits regarding starting or completing study tasks, then the law student should take advantage of the willingness of others to help them stay on track. In time, studying will hopefully become a matter of self-discipline. All of them will need self-discipline in practice! (Amy Jarmon)