Friday, September 28, 2018
Please welcome Nancy Luebbert as one of the new Contributing Editors for the Law School Academic Support Blog. I am sure you have noticed her insightful blog posts for the past few weeks. If you missed her two Top 10 Award posts, you can find the links in this post: here.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Nancy at AASE or other gatherings, here is some information about her background and interests:
Nancy Luebbert joined the University of Idaho College of Law as Director of Academic Success in 2001. She teaches the first year Academic Skills Lab I and since 2015 has co-taught the Applied Legal Reasoning bar preparation course. She helped develop the College’s advising structure and is the primary advisor to all students at Idaho Law’s Moscow location. In 2018, she received the AASE Excellence Award in recognition of her tireless service on behalf of students. She is a member of several professional organizations including the Association of Academic Support Educators, National Academic Advising Association, Idaho Legal History Society, Idaho Women Lawyers, Raymond C. McNichols Inn of Court, Organization of American Historians, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Before turning to academic success work, Luebbert practiced appellate criminal defense under contract to the Idaho State Appellate Public Defender and also helped research and edit materials for a bench book for Idaho judges. She clerked for the Honorable Wayne L. Kidwell of the Idaho Supreme Court. Luebbert graduated magna cum laude from the University of Idaho College of Law in 1998; her proudest law school achievement was being part of an Appellate Clinic team that successfully argued a pretrial detainee’s Section 1983 case before the Ninth Circuit.
Luebbert had two prior careers before turning to law -- public history (museums and local history) and wildland firefighting, including seven years as a Suppression Specialist with the Alaska Fire Service. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1978. She enjoys reading, beading, huckleberry picking, practicing sound forest management, and trying to out-stubborn her Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
We look forward to Nancy's future posts on the Blog! (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 27, 2018
While recently hiking through a wildlife sanctuary, I came across this wooden facade of a building, and it got me stopped right in my tracks.
You see, I was hiking so fast that I wasn't really seeing the beauty of nature all around me.
I sometimes wonder if that's true of law school life too. We tend to spend so much time reading cases and regurgitating notes that we don't often see the big picture purpose behind it all. But, the goal of legal education is not to be an expert in all of the finer details of the cases but rather to build a legal "window" of experiences from which we can solve legal problems on midterm and final exams (and provide our future clients with wise counsel too).
So, with many law students facing upcoming midterms, now's the time for our students to grab hold of past exams and get out of the "books" to experience and try their own hands at working through hypothetical legal problems. In short, as students walk through the materials students also need to stop and take in the view. In my view, that's because learning requires both the so-called "book learning" along with heavy doses of experiential learning, particularly in working through hypotheticals. As a helpful reminder - that the windows we look through influence what we learn - here's the photo of the facade that I found so encouraging in helping me focus on the big picture learning. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
With National Mental Health Day for Law Schools just around the corner on October 10, it's a good time to think of how to help those struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or other mental health issues. Just like every law school should have faculty or staff trained in first aid to help those who are physically injured, every law school should have faculty and staff certified in mental health first aid to provide early intervention and to help persons developing mental health problems or experiencing mental health crises.
Originally developed in Australia in 2000, Mental Health First Aid programs now operate in over twenty nations. The U.S. program, developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health and cooperating agencies, is explicitly patterned on the model for providing physical health first aid. After an eight-hour in-person training, participants receive a certificate good for three years; participants can be re-certified by doing online or additional in-person training. Programs are offered throughout the country, sponsored by universities, medical providers, government agencies, and non-profits. The Mental Health First Aid web page offers access to training schedules and more information.
In mental health first aid training, participants learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for helping persons in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and resources for professional and peer help. Using role plays and other active learning techniques, participants practice an action plan which consists of assessing for risk of suicide or harm, listening nonjudgmentally, giving reassurance and information, encouraging the affected person to seek appropriate professional help, and encouraging self-help and other support strategies.
Mental Health First Aid is a great addition to the ASP toolbox. While we have all practiced risk assessment, active listening, and appropriate referral, this training program formalizes and structures our efforts, as well as giving us measurable credentials. Because courses are offered locally, they also help strengthen our awareness of local resources available to help colleagues, students, and members of the community.
Finally, don't forget the great law-specific resources available, including the Law School Academic Success Project Wellness page, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, National Mental Health Day for Law Schools materials, and Professor Larry Krieger's invaluable booklet (newly revised and expanded), The Hidden Stresses of Law School and Law Practice. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
I used to be so jealous of the Financial Aid Office. Nobody on campus seems to have any trouble understanding what they do for students. If you have financial issues, they are there to aid you. That's some spot-on branding right there.
In contrast, and for various historical, linguistic, and cultural reasons, those of us working in Academic Support often have to make more effort to get students, colleagues, and alumni to understand the full range of what we do. Our roles in the law school community are relatively new, and have been for the most part continually evolving over the past forty years or so; neither circumstance breeds familiarity. The names chosen for our departments vary from institution to institution -- Academic Support, Academic Success, Academic and Bar Support, etc. -- which I think both reflects and compounds the inherent inability of trying to convey all we do in only two to four words. And in some cases people jump to conclusions about what we provide because of defensive or dismissive stereotypes -- like "Oh, you are here just to help the weaker students" or "All you care about is bar passage rates".
This year, I started using a new model to help my law school community understand and talk about what Academic Success has to offer. I introduced this during Orientation, when I asked our incoming 1L students: When do you go to your doctor? It did not take much coaxing to get them to agree that sensible people go to the doctor for lots of different reasons -- some dire, and some propitious:
- When you are in a lot of distress, maybe even an emergency situation, your doctor can help keep you from suffering or dying.
- When you have a cold or, say, a sprained ankle -- something you might live with, sure, but why suffer needlessly? -- your doctor can help you feel and perform better.
- When you feel a little “off” but you're not sure why, your doctor can test for things like anemia or allergies, and diagnose and treat such afflictions before they snowball into major problems.
- When are feeling fine, and you want to keep from getting sick, your doctor can give you a checkup to confirm that all is well, can advise you about what preventative medicines might be wise, like a flu shot, and can make sure that you have access to them.
- When you are thinking about undertaking something new (like a new exercise or diet regimen), your doctor can help make sure you do it right and maybe even give you some advice on how to do it better.
In the same way, there are many situations in which it would make perfectly good sense for a law school student to seek help from Academic Success:
- When you are in crisis, you might be recommended or even required to meet with me, so I can try to help you avoid academic catastrophe.
- When you feel you are struggling with a particular task or subject, Academic Success can help you get a better handle on things and help you perform better.
- When you are worried about your progress or preparedness, but you can't put your finger on why, Academic Success can review your work and then provide some diagnosis, feedback, and assistance.
- When things seem to be going well, but you know that new challenges (like your first set of 1L final exams or the Bar exam) are on the horizon, Academic Success can help confirm that you have developed a firm foundation and can help you map out what steps you should take to prepare.
- When you are thinking about undertaking something new (like moot court or a part-time job), Academic Success can help you make sure you have a plan in place to make sure your studies continue to go well, and may even have some suggestions to help improve your performance.
In other words, one way of thinking about Academic Success is as a kind of Academic HMO. Sure, we are here to help students in distress, and there is no more shame is seeking our help than there would be in going to the emergency room if you were having trouble breathing. But that doesn't mean you have to wait until you're gasping and blue to come see us! Just as with physical health, academic health is often best maintained, and at the least cost, when symptoms are addressed early, before they turn into crises. And with our knowledge and experience, we can even advise students who are in good condition about how to continue to improve while avoiding potential dangers to their academic well-being.
I like this metaphor, not only because it provides an easily-understood conception of Academic Support to incoming students, but also because it conveys an appropriately broad image of the services we provide (and the clientele to whom we provide them) to upper class students, faculty, and alumni who might otherwise have a more narrow view of us. It is too soon to tell if this explanation will lead to a change in the use of Academic Success here, but at least now, with a vivid, coherent way of explaining what I do, I feel a little bit less envious of my Financial Aid colleagues. (Bill MacDonald)
Monday, September 24, 2018
The most recent bar results are reverberating throughout the country. The data collected and distributed by Nancy Reeves the past week is illuminating. From what I can tell, only 2 states currently have first-time pass rates at or above last year. The national MBE average is the lowest since the 80’s. Another round of complaints and accusations aimed at the MBE are starting, especially since scaling essays to the MBE magnifies the impact of the dropping score. My advice to students, ignore the chatter and start preparing now.
I love to complain about the MBE. I think the NCBE’s monopoly on bar licensing tests makes them unresponsive, and the lack of statistical specialists in testing at law schools makes combatting their perceived experts difficult. Supreme Courts’ skepticism of law schools’ motivation amplifies the problem. I believe the NCBE through changes to the MBE (25 non-scored questions, subject matter changes, Civil Procedure addition, style changes, etc.) have made the test harder than it has ever been, and they continually ignore well-established scientific principles (ie – cognitive load theory) that call into question the validity of current MBE scores. My beliefs could be 100% correct, but the reality is alumni still have to take the MBE on February 27th or July 31st.
If MBE complaints are valid, students should respond by starting preparation. In general, changes to legal education and bar exams take forever. The complaints of Deans, Law Schools, and alumni will most likely not change the upcoming exams. The arguments could be correct, which means the upcoming MBE administrations will continue to be difficult with possible lower scores. Students will need more questions correct to pass. I highly encourage starting now to prepare for a much more difficult test.
The MBE requires unique skills to pass the exam, but the foundation for passing the test is still knowledge of the law. Without an understanding of the law, getting to the right answer is more difficult. Both February and July takers can start now refreshing memory of the law. I suggest trying to get a big picture 10,000 foot view of each MBE subject. Knowing the organization or schema for each subject will provide the context to help memorize rules. I then suggest looking through material in highly tested sub-topics for each subject (ie – Negligence, Hearsay, Free Speech, etc.). Many bar review companies will provide early start lectures or outlines or both. Use the material to identify areas to work through.
Additional work throughout the semester is important for February takers. I suggest focusing on 1 subject per week by looking through the material suggested above, completing a few practice MBE questions, and issue spotting 1 practice essay question. The key is to get some of the law and see how it is tested.
July takers shouldn’t spend as much time this semester, but refreshing the law is a good start. My suggestion is to watch the short lectures or look at highly tested material for a short amount of time. The goal is not memorization that lasts for 10 months. The goal is refreshing memory of already learned law and understanding the schema.
The current tasks may be different for February and July takers, but my advice for both is the same. Now is the time to start preparing. If the MBE will be as hard as we all predict, then don’t wait to prepare for the test. However, don’t overwork and burn out now. My suggestion is only for 2-3 hours a week, but 2-3 hours over 7-8 weeks left in the semester can make a huge difference.
The hype and complaints may be true, but students will still be taking the bar in February and July. One ingredient for overcoming the difficulty is early preparation with hard work. To finish using a sports analogy (I couldn’t do a post without it), leave it all out on the field. Anything can happen on the bar exam, but if you can walk out of the room and say you did everything you could reasonably do to prepare, then that is what matters. Start that preparation now, and you can pass the bar!
Sunday, September 23, 2018
As I mentioned earlier, Megan Kreminski and I will be hosting a Midwestern Academic Support and Bar Programs Conference, on Friday, October 12, 2018 at Loyola University of Chicago, 25 E Pearson St, Chicago, IL , 60611. The conference will not have any associated cost ,aside from personal travel expenses, but please RSVP by October 4th.
If you plan on traveling from out of town, I suggest staying at the Whitehall hotel, https://www.thewhitehallhotel.com/. The conference rate is $189, and to secure that rate please reach out to Michael Foster at either 312.573.6214 or email him at email@example.com. In addition, if you are in town Thursday night, please let me know, as I’ll be planning a small social event for those interested.
The agenda for the day is below, but purposely meant to be flexible and informal. While there will be structure, we envision robust discussions. The conference is currently set to end around 3:30, as you can see, but we will be going to dinner/appetizers post conference for anyone that wishes to continue the conversations from the day.
Midwest Conference Agenda
8:45 -9:00 am: Registration
9:00 -10:00 am: A Step-by-Step Method of Teaching Legal Reasoning – Maryann Herman
10:00 -11:00 am: The Middle Child Problem: 2nd years, how do we support them, how do we motivate them? -Megan Kreminski and Melissa Hale
11:15-12:45 pm: The Illinois Bar and the UBE – Nancy Vincent, Director of Administration, IL Board of Admissions to the Bar
12:45-1:15 pm: Lunch
1:15-2:15 pm: Change Ahead! A UBE Survival Guide From An Early Adopter - Antonia Miceli
2:30-3:30 pm: The Quandary of Character and Fitness – Jamie A. Kleppetsch
If you are coming from out of town, and have any questions whatsoever about travel, please let me know.
I look forward to seeing some of you in October, and hope everyone is having a good start to the semester.
Melissa A. Hale
Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs
Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Inside Higher Ed had a post this week reporting on a AALS and Gallup study that looked at what undergraduates consider when they are mulling over the option of law school. Some of the findings are expected after the ongoing discussions during the drop in applications. Other findings are interesting, especially those about first-generation students, information down the educational pipeline, and male/female differences. The post is found here. It includes a link to the AALS web page on the report. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, September 22, 2018
EdWeek Update recently ran a quiz that readers could take to test their knowledge about dyslexia. After taking the quiz you can review your answers with explanations for the correct answers. To get your answers and explanations, you will need to register. It was worth it to find out some interesting things about dyslexia and what is going on with K-12 education in this regard. The link to the quiz is Knowledge on Dyslexia Quiz. (Amy Jarmon)
We apologize for multiple postings, but we wanted to make sure everyone is aware of the Third Annual NALSAP (National Association of Law Student Affairs Professionals) Conference.
We are pleased to announce NALSAP’s 2019 Conference will be June 11-14, 2019 and hosted by American University Washington College of Law in Washington DC. [The conference itself starts on the 12th, but a reception with early registration will be held on the evening of the 11th.]
More information will follow, including a call for proposals and registration information. Please share with anyone you believe would be interested in attending.
Friday, September 21, 2018
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ACADEMIC SUCCESS
DIRECTOR OF BAR PREPARATION
The University of Dayton School of Law is accepting applications for the position of Assistant Professor of Academic Success and Director of Bar Preparation. This is a non-tenure track position for one year with possibility for renewal pursuant to a faculty adopted policy which also provides for a long-term (three or five-year) appointment after at least three years of satisfactory service. The position is to begin as soon as January 1, 2019; it is anticipated that it will be filled no later than August 16, 2019.
Responsibilities of the Assistant Professor of Academic Success/Director of Bar Preparation include:
- teaching academic success courses related to bar examination preparation;
- leading the administration and assessment of a comprehensive program to support students in preparation for the bar examination;
- counseling students one on one about the bar application process, preparation strategies and strategies for handling stress related to bar preparation;
- supervising faculty teaching in bar examination preparation courses;
- analyzing bar exam results and providing regular reports concerning results;
- providing bar-related information to faculty members regarding topics tested and recent bar exam questions in the faculty members’ area of teaching;
- creating reports using statistical data regarding students’ academic performance, entrance data, and bar passage results.
Minimum requirements for the position are:
- a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school; and
- passage of a bar examination and admitted to practice law in a U.S. state.
Preferred requirements for the position are:
- an outstanding academic record;
- prior successful experience in law teaching, especially if the experience relates to bar examination preparation;
- prior successful program administration, especially if the experience relates to bar examination preparation;
- prior experience supervising others’ teaching;
- successful experience in creating and/or analyzing statistical data;
- excellent oral and written communication skills;
- effective interpersonal skills with various constituencies;
- experience mentoring and working with students from diverse backgrounds;
- demonstrated commitment to socially and culturally diverse communities;
- a commitment to breadth of education including educating the whole person consistent with the Marianist tradition, and a commitment of service to the community, university and profession; and an expressed willingness to engage with Catholic and Marianist educational values.
Salary will be commensurate with experience.
The University of Dayton, founded in 1850 by the Society of Mary, is a top ten Catholic research university. The University seeks outstanding, diverse faculty and staff who value its mission and share its commitment to academic excellence in teaching, research and artistic creativity, the development of the whole person, and leadership and service in the local and global community.
To attain its Catholic and Marianist mission, the University is committed to the principles of diversity, inclusion and affirmative action and to equal opportunity policies and practices. As an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employer, we will not discriminate against minorities, females, protected veterans, individuals with disabilities, or on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Applications will be accepted until October 5, 2018. To be considered as a candidate for this position, you must apply on line at http://jobs.udayton.edu/postings/27222 . Cover letter and CV should be submitted electronically on the website at the time of application. For more information about the School of Law, please visit our website at http://www.udayton.edu/law .
Thursday, September 20, 2018
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), citing to Law.com and TaxProfBlog editor Dean Paul Caron, the national average score on the MBE multiple-choice portion of the July bar exam dropped to its lowest level in 34 years. http://www.abajournal.com; https://www.law.com; http://taxprof.typepad.com. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) reports that the July 2018 MBE average score was just 139.5, while for the July 1984 exam, Law.com reports that the MBE average score was likewise low at 139.21. http://www.ncbex.org/news; https://www.law.com.
In an article by Law.com, the President of the NCBE - Judith Gundersen - is quoted as saying that "they [this summer's lower MBE scores] are what would be expected given the number of applicants and LSAT 25th percentile means of the 2015 entering class." https://www.law.com. In other words, according to the NCBE, this summer's low score average is the result of law school admissions decisions based on the NCBE's appraisal of 25 percentile LSAT data for entering 2015 law students.
Nevertheless, despite the NCBE's claim, which was previously theorized by the NCBE back in 2015 (namely, that bar exam declines are related to LSAT declines), previous empirical research found a lack of empirical support for the NCBE's LSAT claim, albeit limited to one jurisdiction, one law school's population, and admittedly not updated to reflect this summer's bar exam results. Testing the Testers.
As an armchair statistician with a mathematics background, I am leery of one-size-fits-all empirical claims. Life is complex and learning is nuanced. Conceivably, there are many factors at play that might account for bar exam results in particular cases, with many factors not ascribable to pure mathematical calculus, such as the leaking roof in the middle of the first day of the Colorado bar exam. http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ceiling_leaks_pause_colorado_bar_exam.
Here's just a few possible considerations:
• The increase to 25 experimental questions embedded within the set of 200 MBE multiple-choice questions (in comparison to previous test versions with only 10 experimental questions embedded).
• The addition of Federal Civil Procedure as a relatively recent MBE subject to the MBE's panoply of subjects tested.
• The apparent rising incidences of anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities found within law school populations and graduates.
• The economic barriers to securing bar exam testing accommodations despite longitudinal evidence of law school testing accommodations.
• The influence of social media, the internet age, and smart phones in impacting the learning environment.
• The difficulty in equating previous versions of bar exams with current versions of bar exams given changes in the exam instrument itself and the scope of subject matter tested.
• The relationship among experiential learning, doctrinal, and legal writing courses and bar exam outcomes.
Consequently, in my opinion, there's a great need (and a great opportunity) for law schools to collaborate with bar examiners to hypothesize, research, and evaluate what's really going on with the bar exam. It might be the LSAT, as the NCBE claims. But, most problems in life are much more complicated. So, as a visual jumpstart to help law schools and bar examiners brainstorm possible solutions, here's a handy chart depicting the overall downward trend with respect to the past ten years of national MBE average scores. (Scott Johns).
September 20, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Starting outlines can be an intimidating process, especially for those who are not "born organized." Using flashcards to construct outlines is a useful technique for those having trouble getting started, for kinesthetic and visual learners, and for anyone who has trouble organizing masses of complex material within the confines of a laptop computer screen. This is also a useful technique when small study groups want to work together to construct an outline.
Although outlining with flashcards can be time intensive and certainly doesn't work for all students, it has advantages for many students. Like using a whiteboard to construct flowcharts and mind maps, using cards is highly visual and kinesthetic, so it involves the whole person in learning. The learner doesn't have to start off being organized or understanding the material -- rather, understanding and organization come from engaging in the process. Unlike a whiteboard, cards allow for more detailed information and more permanence even while they allow for easily moving, manipulating, and deleting information. And the same cards used for constructing the outline can also be used as flashcards for memory work and issue spotting.
Here's my recipe for starting to outline using the flashcard method. Like any recipe, alter it to your own taste.
- 3 X 5 cards, store-bought or homemade (Check your local dollar store for good deals. It may be cheaper to buy cardstock paper and cut to size.)
- Pens, pencils, and highlighters in desired colors
- Glue dots
- Rubber bands
- Source material -- case briefs, class notes, casebook
- Room with a big table or tables (an empty classroom is ideal) or with big blank walls
- "Brain-dump." On each card, handwrite one, and only one, piece of information. That could be a concept, definition, major rule, subrule, element, policy, case holding, case facts, example, or hypothetical. Handwriting is important here, because creating cards on a computer may bog you down in perfection paralysis -- and perfectionism is the enemy of starting outlines in the first place.
- Once you have brain-dumped, review each individual piece of information to make sure it is accurate. Did you use the proper terminology? Does a rule include all the elements in the proper order?
- Spread your cards out so you can see each individual card. You can do this on any flat surface like a table, but many people find it easier to see and grasp the information if the cards are on a wall (glue dots are incredibly useful for this).
- Now start sorting your cards into rough groupings. For example, which rules and cases come under duty and which under breach?
- As you engage in working your way through the material, you will almost certainly think of more concepts, rules, definitions, and examples you didn't think of when you were starting out. Great! Create a new card for each of these and plug into the appropriate place.
- Work your way from rough groupings into more formal relationships shown by outline format. For instance, does this case illustrate a major rule or a subrule?
- Use this process to think your way systematically through the material and deeply engage with it. Remember, relationships are not always obvious and might be logically placed in different places, but you want to find the best place. For example, if you were analyzing some torts or crimes, would you treat lack of consent as an element, or would consent be an affirmative defense?
- Color code, number, or otherwise mark your cards to show the order between them. It's handy to periodically take pictures of your cards as arranged on the wall to record your outline as a visual construct. If you are working at home and have lots of room, you might keep the cards on the wall; if not, take down your cards in order and secure them with a rubber band.
- Revisit your outline often with the new understanding gained by working your way through hypotheticals and taking practice tests. Are the concepts in the best order? Are your rules accurate? Are your examples helpful for understanding the concept?
- The more you use the cards, the better you can understand the material on both a micro and macro level. It's critical to periodically spread the cards out to get a visual sense of the whole organization of your subject. In addition, you can use the cards as flashcards for memory or issue-spotting work.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
There is nothing like undertaking a new exploit to help you establish an affinity with the 1L law students with whom you are working. Enlisting as a contributing editor to the Law School Academic Support Blog, for example, has for me provoked the mix of hopeful excitement and mystified apprehension that used to be just a fuzzy memory from my own first year of law school. Will I impress people favorably? Will I put my foot in my mouth? Suddenly I feel a fresh sense of empathy with the incoming class.
And this makes sense! How else would anybody feel upon realizing that they have voluntarily taken on a future of writing dozens or hundreds of essays in which they are expected to take a stance and justify it with a combination of facts, logic, judgment, history, inference, speculation, and the occasional appeal to emotion, and then presenting these essays to readers who are knowledgeable attorneys with high standards? Whether you are a law student or a law blog author, this can be an intimidating position.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. I am excited to have joined the Law School Academic Success Blog team, notwithstanding any qualms about performing on a new stage. But I have been reminded of my first few weeks in law school, and even a brief flash of empathy with our new law students has some value. It can build rapport. It can also help us find ways to exploit our own experiences for our students’ benefit.
In this case, as I considered writing for this blog, I realized that the greatest source of uncertainty, and thus anxiety, was not knowing the expectations of my readers. What topics do you want to read about? What kind of tone do you prefer? There is not much I can do to answer those questions, other than to write and wait for reaction. But it does not have to be that way for our students.
An issue I see commonly in 1L writing, particularly in the first semester, is a misapprehension of the expectations of the person grading the writing. Some students rely mistakenly on crafting the kind of intricate prose for which they received high grades in the past. Others, in lieu of legal analysis, reflexively regurgitate the rules, case names, and historical details they have memorized. Sometimes students overemphasize something they have learned in law school -- IRAC format, for example -- and apply it indiscriminately, without prioritizing the most relevant issues. These errors are not always the result of not grasping their professors’ expectations, but sometimes they are, and when they are, it can be frustrating for a student not to realize their lapse until after they receive a disappointing grade that might have been avoided.
For this reason, when I am working with 1L students, I try to convey a blend of messages about what they should be striving for. While I aim to be clear with students about the importance of developing skills such as clear analysis and precision, I also insert explicit messages about how law professors, in general, often have expectations of student performance that differ from those of students’ previous teachers. Yes, professors expect their students to know the rules discussed in class, but they also expect students to use those rules as tools, and to exercise judgment in choosing which tools to use, and how to use them. They expect students to make choices about what they discuss, and at how much depth. Moreover, different professors may have different expectations with respect to these choices, and students can learn to glean these individual preferences by paying attention to what each professor emphasizes in class and by talking with the professors and their teaching assistants.
Of course, many law students figure out the importance of their audience’s expectations naturally. But there is a subset of students who seem most comfortable approaching academic performance as an objective, quantitative measure of how much they know. Helping them to see early on that, in most cases, their academic performance in law school will be judged by qualitative standards that are shaped to some degree by their teachers’ subjective expectations can hasten those students’ movement out of their comfort zone and into a realm in which they make prudent decisions about what issues to address, which facts and rules to use, and which outcomes are most likely. Encouraging students to consider their readers’ expectations can help them to see that their job as law students, both in class and beyond, is not merely to memorize and recite, but to learn how to engage in discourse as part of a larger legal community. (Bill MacDonald)
Monday, September 17, 2018
“If you build it, he will come,” is a line from great American folklore, or just an 80’s sports movie. Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams heard one of the classic sports movie lines of all time. Kevin’s character builds a baseball field, and players from the past (ghosts) come play ball. He didn’t invite or encourage any of the players. They just showed up.
Many ASPers, including myself early on, have a Field of Dreams mentality for programs and workshops. We build the most innovative workshop with great pedagogy. We advertise a little so students know about it, and then, we expect everyone to show up. Sometimes that works, but many times, the students who need the workshop the most aren’t in the room. We then reevaluate to determine the best way to get at-risk students in the room.
As an early ASPer, my next idea was to bribe students to show up. I thought if I raffle a nice item off to students who attended most of the bar review workshops, students who needed it would show up. I was right. Over the next few years, I raffled iPads, full bar review scholarships, apple TVs, and other new tech on the market. Students who needed help showed up more. I started reaching more students, but a huge problem arose. Over 75% of the raffle winners failed the bar exam. The winner seemed to be cursed with a new gadget and no bar license. Bribes produced my basic goal, but the bribes did not produce the ultimate goal of helping students succeed.
I stopped incentives a few years after offering them. Law school budgets grew tighter. I changed my program with more for-credit offerings, so I wasn’t incentivizing attendance any more. I always wondered if the incentives really failed or if the low pass rate was a coincidence since my sample size was small. I didn’t think free items could possibly hurt someone’s chance of passing the bar.
Helping Children Succeed by Paul Tough provided a small glimpse into what may have occurred with my incentives. Tough cites Roland Friar’s research where he paid kids to do educationally beneficial activities like reading books. Friar concluded after 4 years that incentives didn’t change long-term student behavior or improve test scores. Jonathan Guryan paid students to read books over one summer. After the program, most students’ reading comprehension levels stayed the same. Students who were high achievers prior to the study saw moderate increases in comprehension, but the most at-risk students didn’t improve. The incentives failed to produce long-term educational improvement for Friar and Guryan.
The findings sound eerily familiar to my experience. Students who needed it showed up, but they didn’t end up improving very much. Most of my award winners failed the bar. Tough would probably argue that while students are exposed to the material, the lack of motivation to do the tasks originally makes long term improvement unlikely. Once the incentives cease, students stop working. In the studies he cites, some students even adopted the mindset that work must be rewarded or the work wasn’t worth completing. The reward system didn’t work.
I watched that happen to my students numerous times. The incentives or drawings stopped, so they stopped attending additional workshops. They didn’t pay as much attention as they should have during the workshops, and many times, those students didn’t complete the work required for the bar. Unfortunately, the incentives I tried did not lead to lasting improvement.
Simon Sinek’s marketing perspective may have an additional answer to the incentive puzzle. He discusses why companies need a “why” to inspire employees and build brand loyalty with customers. He argues that constant discounts and coupons can get some short term sales, but customers don’t become loyal enough to wait numerous hours for a brand new phone that is full of glitches due to discounts. Discounts lead to commodification, and customers don’t become brand loyal to basic commodities. Once the discounts end, customers find a new product.
Providing incentives for our programs can have the same commodification problem. I believe the key to success in ASP is not getting students into workshops. The key to success is getting students to take our workshops home to use on their own time. What students do when we aren’t looking has the biggest impact on his/her chance of success. Students won’t be loyal to our program, vision, or idea if they are showing up for a t-shirt. They won’t follow our lead if the only reason for showing up is winning an iPad. Incentives run the risk of making our program a commodity, and students won’t do the work outside the classroom that is necessary if our program is a commodity.
Incentives may not always be bad. Incentives to fill out surveys or complete simple tasks may not risk the same problems as the studies. Providing food prior to an event can build relationships among the students. If the incentive isn’t attempting a long-term behavior change, then the incentive is probably fine.
The studies were also conducted on school age children, so the applicability to adult learners may be limited. Comparing these results to incentive studies for employees could help. Some incentive studies for employees produced better results.
Raffles and drawings with great prizes seems like a great idea. I thought the same thing and gave away thousands of dollars of items. In my experience, the incentives didn’t work. The recent research seems to indicate long-term improvement requires more internal motivation that cannot be achieved by paying someone to study.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
We are finishing our fourth week of classes for all students and the fifth week of Torts for 1L students (they started Torts during orientation week). Multiple 1L students have been in my office the last 2 weeks stressing over the amount of work and their struggles to comprehend the material. Many of them have been comparing themselves to "everyone else." They are convinced that they are the only ones who are confused, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and chips-and-coffee-fueled.
When I reassure them that they are not "the only ones" and that "everyone else" is not leaps and bounds ahead of them, I see a glimmer of hope. They are not yet convinced, but they are willing to take a deep breath and regroup.
Each student's concerns are somewhat different. We unpack what is going on, and most often make future appointments to address specific topics (time management, learning preferences, reading/briefing, etc.). Here are some of the things we may discover with different students when we start to unpack the overwhelmed responses to the situation:
- The student does not fully account for the newness of law school: a new language, a new way of thinking, a new way of questioning, a new way of writing, and a new professional experience.
- The student has always been one of the brightest immediately in a new course and suddenly is not.
- The student's prior education has not been very challenging and did not require much time and effort to get high grades.
- The student believes that "fast is best." Finishing before everyone else has been the student's measure for success in learning. Suddenly the student is painfully slow.
- The student has lost perspective of what is needed for a course and is overworking (capturing trivia, reading multiple study aids, reading string cites and note cases in full).
- The student believes that everyone else is grasping the classes in less time, with less work, and at greater depth.
- The student believes every classmate who brags s/he understood the 25-page assignment in 30 minutes or never studies evenings and weekends.
- The student forgets that judicial opinions are not written for law students, that not all questions have right answers, and that edited opinions may skip paragraphs linking ideas.
- The student is preparing for either case understanding or synthesis but not both so that some questions are always "from left field."
With each student's appointment, I am once again reminded of what it was like to be a fall semester 1L without an academic support professional to help. The good news is that they already know more than 5 weeks ago (if they just look back), they will know far more in another 5 weeks, and at the end of the 1L year they will be amazed at themselves. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Hello, ASP colleagues:
As we begin planning in earnest for next summer’s conference in Seattle, AASE’s Executive Committee is beginning to think about subsequent conferences, including a diversity conference in the fall of 2019, the AASE Annual Conference in 2020, and beyond. From our first conference, we have been fortunate enough to partner with amazing host schools, and we want to make sure we have every opportunity to continue that streak.
We are trying to identify schools to host future conferences, large or small, and we need your help. Whether you have considered hosting a conference before or not, we would love to hear from you.
To this end, I am writing to ask you to e-mail me if you think your school might be a good site for a future conference. It is okay if you are unsure if your school would be a good fit—we will follow up with you to get further details and/or to answer any questions you might have.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!
Russell A. McClain
AASE: Association of Aademic Support Educators
Friday, September 14, 2018
A post late last month in EdWeek Update on teaching introverted students in K-12 education discussed how grading participation could disadvantage students who were introverted and cause teachers to see extroverted students as more successful: link here. The post discussed Quiet by Susan Cain. Even if you have not read the book, you may be familiar with its subtitle slogan of sorts, "The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." The post caused me to revisit participation grading in law school.
All of us in ASP work are familiar with students who rarely raise their hands in classes, who only speak when randomly called upon, who are often stressed by Socratic Method no matter how well-prepared, and who may prefer to work entirely alone without study partners or study groups. These are also the students about whom the professors comment once grades are posted, "Student X got the highest grade in my class, but never opened his/her mouth the entire semester. I was so surprised!"
Several years ago I started providing multiple ways to get participation points in my international law seminar classes. A small seminar depends on discussion if the professor wants to avoid being a droning voice. I also genuinely think that law students need to become comfortable in active discussion because they will be on teams or on committees once they are in practice.
However, I recognize that not all students find it natural to speak regularly in class. I have participation count for 20-25% of the grade depending on the course. Quality (as opposed to mere quantity) comments can garner "double points" for class participation. I will pause before calling on students to give the reflective students longer to think about a question. Additional participation points can be gained by reporting on international events relevant to the discussion (in writing or in class), completing written answers to study questions, working on a team task in class, or completing other exercises. If students are working on papers, I will ask them to discuss their research for a few minutes at a lataer class when a topic ties in to their paper topic.
Some students will come talk to me about their hesitancy to speak in any of their classes. We brainstorm strategies they can use to become more at ease with in-class participation. I encourage them that a seminar class is a great place to practice participation with fewer people and more discussion opportunities. At times I purposely throw out "softball" questions for encouragement to get these students started. A few students will even ask me to call on them during a certain class to help them get started.
When I was in practice, I observed more extroverted, talkative lawyers sometimes discount their quieter colleagues as less able. It always made me smile when one of the quieter lawyers would later be the very one who would quietly catch an important error made by the lawyer who had felt superior. All learning preferences have value - even when individuals want to assume their own preferences are the more important ones. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
What does it mean to be educated? Tara Westover describes education as a form of self-creation. Educated persons, she suggests, open themselves up to many different points of view, deepen their empathy, embrace doubt, and participate actively in their own learning.
In case you don't follow the best-seller lists, Westover is the author of the 2018 memoir Educated, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/01/books/review/tara-westover-educated.html. Reared on a remote mountain in southeast Idaho as the youngest child of survivalist parents who opposed not only "government schools" but also any type of formal education for their daughter, she worked in the kitchen with her herbalist mother and in the junkyard with an increasingly paranoid father and an abusive older brother. Westover gradually came to yearn for an education and taught herself enough to earn an ACT score good enough to enter Brigham Young University. While her first months in the classroom were filled with failure and missteps, her intellectual curiosity propelled her forward and brought mentors who encouraged her to go beyond her self-imposed bounds. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she earned a Masters of Philosophy and then a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as becoming a visiting fellow at Harvard University.
Last night Westover came to our university and delivered an electrifying address to a standing-room only crowd. The feeling of community in the room was intense: some audience members had grown up in the same county as Westover or had met members of her family through the years. Although few if any came from such extreme circumstances, many could relate to her experience of trying to maintain loving relationships while breaking free of family expectations that denigrated the value of higher education.
Westover spoke movingly of the role of passion in learning. "I'm a believer in following what you care about," she told the crowd. The first time she ever thought about formal schooling, she said, was when she listened to the recording of an opera. Although she was already a gifted singer, she instinctively recognized operatic singing as something beyond what she had experienced, something that would require not only talent but also years of disciplined learning to master. While her passion for music was what initially prompted her to go to college, she said, once her intellectual curiosity was aroused, it took her in other directions, first to politics and history, then to intellectual history. "You don't know where someone's passion will take them," she said, "but no passion will take them nowhere."
In an era when so much emphasis is put on measurable results such as grades, bar passage results, and job placement statistics, it's easy to dismiss Westover's view of education as a romantic vision suitable only for the gifted few. But her vision of the educated person is exactly what we want and expect a good lawyer to be -- an engaged self-learner with drive, empathy, and curiosity, a person who maintains an open mind even when surrounded by others rigid in their certainty.
Unfortunately, most of us have seen too many students during the course of law school shift their focus from intellectual curiosity to grade point average, from passionate interest to resume building. Sadly, in transforming their mindset to what they think is a more realistic outlook, these students lose both what brought them to law in the first place and what will make law a worthwhile endeavor for the rest of their careers.
While there's no magic bullet to prevent this devolution, consistently modeling "ASPish" behaviors may help. It's vital, of course, to consciously show our our own passion for learning, for law, and for our personal calling in legal education. For example, in his Property syllabus, my colleague and mentor D. Benjamin Beard wrote as his first course objective, "I expect you to care as passionately about your learning as I do." (In true ASP fashion, I borrowed this message to put into my own syllabus.) In addition, in our classrooms, individual meetings, and materials, we can consistently encourage our students to consider their core values and the good they hope to accomplish by mastering law. (Paula Franzese's A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student has become a wonderful resource for me in encouraging this mindset.) Finally, I believe it's critical for all of us in legal education to openly honor the wide panoply of positive choices our graduates can make as they enter their careers. Students can begin to doubt their own passions when they receive overt or subliminal messages that certain types of practice are more worthy than others. The student with a passion for helping children cannot help but feel denigrated in an atmosphere that only celebrates landing "BigLaw" jobs; the person with a transactional bent can have their choices derailed in an atmosphere that considers litigation to be the pinnacle of practice. So as we commend our own interests (Criminal defense rocks! Small-town lawyers hold rural communities together!), let's not forget to openly value the many different ways lawyers serve others by pursuing their own passions. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Congratulations to Nancy Luebbert, one of our Contributing Editors, for garnering two Top Ten Blog Posts from Texas Bar Today. If you missed her two posts that received this recognition, you can find them at the following links. Her August 29th post on Overcoming Shyness in the Law School Setting is here. Her September 5th post titled A Tribute to the Tale is here.
Monday, September 10, 2018
Bar results began rolling in last week. Oklahoma results posted on Friday. Bar result day is both exciting and disappointing for me. My emotions yo-yo from talking to thrilled students to discussing disappointment with unsuccessful alumni. The personal stake we take in our students is what makes us successful, but it is also why we feel so much disappointment on an exciting day.
Nike has a famous Michael Jordan ad where he says “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Jordan is famous for being extra critical and focusing on what he missed. He enjoyed his successes briefly, but he dwelled on defeat. Nick Saban, Alabama football coach, is arguably the best college football coach in history. When asked how long he would celebrate his recent National Championship, he said 1 day. After that, he needed to start recruiting and preparing for the following year. Neither person enjoyed their victories.
Anyone can make an easy argument to “be like Mike,” or get ready for the next bar the day after results. February is only 5 ½ months away, and the bar does not wait for anyone. However, dwelling on the disappointment robs both you and your students of the joy of their accomplishment. Many students worked with us from the first day of school. Other students struggled and sought our help 2L or 3L year. Their excitement is worth celebrating. Being a part of their accomplishment is important. They will enjoy their celebration more with our excitement as well. Celebrating the successes will also help fuel us to help more students clear their hurdle. Celebrate with your students more than momentarily.
Celebrating does not take away the disappointment for the unsuccessful students. We can learn from their experience and develop a plan to help them clear the hurdle as well. Their pain is very real and has a significant impact on their future. However, you can make a difference in their life by being ready to lift them up. Lifting up someone else is difficult if we don’t have the emotional strength. Celebrate successes to build strength to help those who need you even more now.
I completely understand the emotional difficulty revolving around bar results. I have to work hard to not take students not passing as a personal failure. It is easy to think about what we could have done different. Suppress those thoughts to celebrate what you did correctly for the majority of students to pass. You can then go back to the drawing board and be both an academic and emotional support for your re-takers. Celebrate success!