Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Dennis Tonsing is a Senior Instructor for Concord School of Law and since 2007 has lived in South America (first Uruguay and now Ecuador). In addition to his ASP and bar prep work, Dennis edits legal documents translated from Spanish. Prior to his international move, Dennis worked as Dean of Students and first Director of the Academic Support Program at Roger Williams School of Law and previously as the first Director of the Academic Support Program at Vermont Law School.
You will want to check out his book and EZINE articles below:
1000 Days to the Bar But the Practice of Law Begins Now! William S. Hein & Co. (Second Edition 2010)
Law School Essay Exams - What to Memorize (December 9, 2011):
Law School Essay Exams - Focus on Key Facts (November 9, 2011):
Law School Essay Exam Answers: Write for Your Audience (August 29, 2011):
Avoid Conclusory Statements in Law School Essay Exam Answers (August 25, 2011):
Law School Avoiding Expository Writing in Law School Essay Exams:
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, I held a workshop about the bar exam for all 2L students. UMass has a significant part-time program, and the number-one concern of part-time students was "How do I study if I can't take time off from my job?" I stressed to all students that studying for the bar exam is a full-time job, and it takes a minimum of 800 hours of study time to succeed on the bar exam (more if a student is taking the California bar exam). Unlike law school, where part-time students have a reduced course load so they can balance work, family, and school, there is no "reduced study load" available for the bar exam. Reduced study time results in failure, and the bar exam is just too expensive to fail. I spoke to the students about spreading their study hours over a longer period of time, and taking the February, not the July, bar exam. I spoke to students about starting bar prep much earlier, so they can get all the study time in, if they must take the July bar.
I think this is a question we should revisit at an upcoming ASP conference. I know there is innovative, interesting programs that prepare part-time students for the bar exam, and I would love to see more information on how we can better prepare part-time students who cannot take time off the job for the bar exam.
Monday, November 4, 2013
2014 AASE Annual Conference Call for Proposals
The 2014 Conference of the Association of Academic Support Educators will bring together colleagues interested in legal education and academic support. In this collegial and collaborative environment, colleagues will have a chance to meet, reconnect, and share ideas about pedagogy, scholarship, and professional growth.
The program committee welcomes proposals on any subject relating to legal education
and academic support. Please read and conform to the Proposal Requirements (below).
Please craft your proposal carefully. The program committee will look for proposals that describe the presentation and its goals in detail. Our assumption is that a clear and detailed proposal today will lead to a stronger presentation. An example of a proposal is available below.
The committee seeks a mix of presentations, including but not limited to, presentations that address teaching ideas for new and veteran teachers, scholarship, research, professional growth, assessment, and hot topics in legal education. These may include sessions related to: creativity in law teaching and learning; teaching methods; analytical and academic competencies necessary for success in law school, on the bar, and in practice; counseling; educational psychology; assisting students with learning disabilities; the role and status of Academic Support Professionals in the legal academy; and intersections between academic support, legal writing and doctrinal teaching.
Presentations may be in any form the presenter finds effective. Although the committee does seek to accommodate all presenters with their selection for presentation format and timing,
the committee may occasionally ask presenters to change the format or timing of a presentation to fit the needs of a comprehensive and diverse program. The committee is thinking of having “tracks” this year, grouping a series of presentations together around a single theme of interest to a particular audience, as well as larger plenaries designed to appeal to the group as a whole. Please
indicate your target audience in your proposal. For example: newbies, bar prep, large schools, etc. The following is a description of the different types of presentations:
An interactive workshop is a presentation with audience participation throughout. A proposal
for an interactive workshop should discuss what you plan to do to make the presentation interactive.
Examples include, but are not limited to: pair and share, break-out group discussions, use of demonstrative aids that involve the audience, or other audience participation. Note that providing handouts, although very beneficial for attendees, does not on its own make the presentation interactive.
If you submit a proposal with more than one presenter for your session, your proposal should include the name, e-mail address, and school for each presenter. In determining how many presenters to include in your proposal, please make sure that each person will have sufficient time to fully discuss his or her topic. Because most presentations will last only 45 minutes, we recommend no more than 2 to 3 presenters.
Lesson in a Box
A lesson in a box presentation is a session devoted to the presentation of a lesson on a single topic.
Such sessions should include all of the information and materials necessary for attendees to leave the session prepared to deliver the lesson on their own.
Moderated Group Discussion
Moderated Group Discussions are more informal presentations that feature group conversation and interaction. The committee encourages presentations that will foster dialogue among conference attendees. These sessions are particularly well suited for hot topics.
Posters will be displayed throughout the conference. In addition, a designated time will be set aside for presenters and attendees to discuss the work presented in the poster.
Please provide a short summary of your presentation for the conference brochure. The summary should not exceed 250 words and should accurately reflect the subject of the presentation.
As part of your proposal we ask that you explain whether your presentation requires projection, internet access, audio, or other technology and the degree to which each is necessary to your presentation. We ask that proposals identify any technology needs at this early point so that we can be prepared well in advance of the conference to provide accessibility.
The committee expects that nearly all presentations will be assigned a 45-minute time slot. However, we recognize that a few presentations are better served with more time. For that reason, we have set aside a few 75-minute slots. If you are interested in a 75-minute time slot, your proposal should clearly explain why 75 minutes is necessary.
Proposals must be submitted to JKleppetsch@jmls.edu no later than December 6, 2013.
All individuals submitting a proposal will be notified about the status of their proposal on or before January 17, 2014.
Multiple proposals and the “one-presentation rule”
You may submit a maximum of two proposals, and you need not rank your proposals in order of preference. If you are selected for more than one presentation or panel, you will be given the opportunity to select the one presentation or panel in which you would like to participate, as each person is limited to one presentation or panel.
Although the committee welcomes proposals on any topic of interest to academic support faculty, a
proposal will not be accepted if it appears to be a means to market a textbook or other for-pay product.
If you have any questions, please contact the Program Committee at: JKleppetsch@jmls.edu
Proposal for AASE 2014 Annual Summer Conference
Title: Building Positive Classroom Environments
Presenter Contact Information: Cai Leonard, Law School, 2 Main Street, Springfield,
ST 98765. T: 112- 356-7890 firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Session: Interactive Workshop
Audience: Newbies & moderate experience level; all school sizes
Goals of the session. By the end of this workshop participants will:
Be able to explain the value of positive interpersonal environments in helping
- Be able to identify methods for building
positive interpersonal classroom environments; and
- Be able to engage
their own students in exercises that help build positive classroom environments.
to successful learning (e.g. Bransford et. al, How People Learn 25; Goleman, Social Intelligence 268-76; Hess & Friedland, Techniques for Teaching Law 326-27). Emotional intelligence and neuroscience studies show that we learn better when we are challenged, supported, respected, and engaged. Too much stress impedes learning; lack of challenge does the same. This workshop focuses on how to create a positive learning environment for law students.
- Discussing ideas in pairs
- Looking at visuals
- Listening & reflecting
- Discussing ideaswith the whole group
- Practicing with a small group
learning, and exchange their ideas with a partner. This will be followed by a short, whole group discussion about the value of creating positive affect — and the value of engaging others in talking about it. Participants will then be given scenarios about classroom behaviors and asked to consider the following kinds of questions:
- What could the professor have done at the beginning of the course to increase the positive interpersonal engagement?
- What are the likely consequences of negative classroom interactions?
- What small steps can professors take to improve the classroom environment?
Throughout the workshop, I will share my own experiences and give examples of what I have
found effective in my classes, others’ classes, and I will answer participants’ questions.
Materials. Outline of the workshop, scenarios regarding different kinds of classroom
environments, questions for participants to respond to, specific techniques professors can use to create positive environments, and short list of resources.
Technology Required: Access to PowerPoint would be very helpful, although the session could be modified to be done without it.
Brochure Summary: We have all witnessed our students struggle in their classes due to too much stress. This workshop focuses on how to create a positive learning environment for law
students. Through group discussion and partner work, participants will learn how to build positive interpersonal classroom environments.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Here are a few more study tips from students and others:
- Consider putting your outlines on your Kindle for ease in carrying them with you - especially if you are leaving for the Thanksgiving Break.
- For first-year courses, you might want to consider purchasing the maps at picjur.com: Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law are all available in visual versions.
- If you rather listen to text rather than read it, you might want to consider two options: Dictation and Speech for Macs reads text that can be converted with iTunes for your iPhone; Outlines Outloud is an app that syncs your computer outlines with your iPhone for listening.
- Check out the website for the Board of Law Examiners in your state to see if they post old exam questions for your state-specific courses; practice questions are sometimes hard to find for state-specific topics, and old bar questions can be a plus.
- Remember to check your own law school's exam database for past exams in a course; even if they are for a different professor, the exams may provide good practice questions.
- Use a table to help you easily see the variations of the same rule (common law, restatement, uniform code, majority jurisdiction, minority jurisdiction, etc.) that you have to learn for an exam.
Exploring solutions that others have already found successful saves you time at a critical point in the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Have you had professors tell you that you are not showing the steps in your reasoning? Two questions are the key to overcoming that weakness. The first is "why is that true?" and the second is "why does that matter?"
Every expert legal reader has both questions lurking in her mind at all times. Lawyers are trained to be skeptics when it comes to legal assertions, so they always demand to know why an assertion is true and why the assertion is relevant to the problem to be solved. Legal writers expect that skepticism and tailor all of their assertions to it.
If you want to become an expert legal writer, teach yourself to ask those questions constantly. In practical terms, it means to ask those questions after every sentence. At first, you may have to ask them during the revision process. Eventually, they will become second nature, even as you are composing the first draft.
Consider the following application of the definition of imputed intent to commit a battery. The definition states that an actor intends to commit a battery if he acts with the knowledge that a harmful or offensive bodily contact is substantially certain to result from his act.
"When Bill rolled the scaffolding away from the roof, he satisfied the element of intent and thereby committed a battery."
The assertion may be true, but most of its logic is left to the reader to supply. The reader cannot be trusted to supply that logic. Compare that answer to the one below.
"When Bill rolled the scaffolding away from the roof, he committed a battery. Because he saw Joe begin to step backward onto the scaffolding and then look away, Bill had to know that Joe would continue his movement toward the scaffold absent a warning that it was being moved. Bill, therefore, knew that if he moved the scaffolding Joe would step into mid-air and fall two stories to the driveway below. Despite his claim that he simply intended to move the scaffolding to a more convenient spot for his own work, Bill moved it with the knowledge that Joe was substantially certain to sustain a harmful physical contact with the driveway. Bill, therefore, had the requisite intent to commit a battery against Joe."
Notice that each sentence answers one of the two questions about the previous sentence until each question is fully answered.
"When Bill rolled the scaffolding away from the roof, he committed a battery. [Why is that true?]. Because he saw Joe begin to step backward onto the scaffolding and then look away, Bill had to know that Joe would continue his movement toward the scaffold absent a warning that it was being moved. [Why is that true? The answer is so obvious it need not be stated]. [Then, why does that matter?]. Bill, therefore, knew that if he moved the scaffolding Joe would step into mid-air and fall two stories to the driveway below.[Why is that true? Again, too obvious to state]. [Then why does that matter?]. Despite his claim that he simply intended to move the scaffolding to a more convenient spot for his own work, Bill moved it with the knowledge that Joe was substantially certain to sustain a harmful physical contact with the driveway.[Why does that matter?]. Bill, therefore, had the requisite intent to commit a battery against Joe."
Learn to ask those two questions after every sentence, and you will find that you will necessarily fill in the steps in your logic, rather than forcing the reader to fill them in for you.
Friday, November 1, 2013
So you just got hammered by mid-terms. Or legal writing grades. Now you wonder if working hard is worth it and whether you have what it takes to succeed in law school. Let me offer a couple of thoughts.
First, you are trying something for which you had little or no real training when you began, so setbacks are a given. Most students enrolled in a doctoral program entered with substantial training in the field and could settle easily into the thought processes that govern that field. Generally, they have done extensive undergraduate and graduate work in the field itself. You entered law with little or none of that training and are aspiring to a doctorate in the ways lawyers and judges think. A hiccup or two should not surprise you if you step back and look at what you are asking of yourself.
Second, whenever you truly stretch yourself, you will stumble at times. The study of law is a stretch for all of us. It takes guts because you are reaching beyond your capabilities in order to grow. You know you are reaching when you sometimes find things temporarily beyond your reach. You know you are growing when you stretch until you reach them.
Third, "failure" is an inaccurate term during growth. Failure comes only when you throw in the towel. When you get back up and step back into the fight, failure has not occurred.
Fourth, getting into the fight means you are going to take some punches. Ask any prize fighter. Is it realistic to get into the ring and think the other guy will never land a punch? Taking punches is part of the enterprise. Sometimes getting knocked to the canvas is part of the job. The fighter has not lost until he cannot get back up. Very few champions have never hit the canvas.
So, what should you do? Go back to your corner and ask your trainer what you need to do in the next round.
You are surrounded by trainers. Your professors have a pretty good idea what you can do to get back into the fight. Some may be lousy in the corner, but every law school has some who are great trainers. Find them. They may be academic support professionals, deans of students, insightful professors. They are in your law school. Find them.
Begin with the academic support professional if your school as one. She thinks about training all the time and can diagnose a bad round pretty well and tell you what to change in how you are approaching the fight. My own experience as a trainer is that most students who get knocked down have the intellectual horse power and the motivation to win the fight; they just need to adjust a little to win the next round.
Go over your mid-terms with your professors. They may surprise you with their insights into how you are writing your exams. Much of the time I find that first-year students do not really understand what they are being asked to do on exams, so they spend the answer focusing on the wrong thing -- usually, they spend too much time telling what they know about the law and too little time applying it to the facts in the question. The mistake is understandable. All their lives they have been asked to regurgitate what they have learned. We are asking them to demonstrate what they know by applying it. It is a different task.
GET BACK UP. Do not lie on the canvas. You can go the distance if you get back up and figure out how to fight the next round. In this business, going the distance is a win.
If you are interested in membership in AASE (Association of Academic Support Educators) please note that your inquiries should be directed to email@example.com. You should receive an email with an application within a week of your inquiry. AASE is moving the membership process from UNLV to a more permanent model, with one email address.
And just a reminder that AASE is planning a FABULOUS conference in Indianapolis, to be held May 30-June 1, 2014.
For more information about AASE, please see http://www.academicsupporteducators.org
Thursday, October 31, 2013
With Halloween upon us, I started thinking about all things frightening. While at this time of the year ghosts and ghouls are the first to come to mind, the bar exam is a close second. The bar exam is the single most grueling test of an individual’s resilience and stamina. While it is a test of legal knowledge, it goes far beyond just knowing the black letter law.
The bar exam is a test of personal strength, courage, and endurance. Applicants are tested in a variety of ways on subjects both familiar and unfamiliar in a severely time limited environment. It is a scary endeavor.
Oftentimes, Law School Deans, Administrators, and even Professors want to mask the bar exam for 1Ls to conceal the utter horror. They want 1Ls to acclimate to their legal education without the haze of the bar exam impeding their focus. Bar review companies are even forbidden on campus so as not to disrupt a student’s transition to law school.
These practices make me wonder. Should we scare our students into studying for the bar? If yes, should we instill this fear as early as 1L year? While I agree that 1Ls have more pressing fears to overcome than the bar exam, I also think it is a disservice to ignore the intensity and sheer hell that awaits them. If I walk into a theater expecting to see a romantic comedy and end up seeing Jason in a hockey mask with a bloody hatchet, my expectations are quashed and I may not know how to react. (I had to...it is Halloween.)
Training students on how to prepare in advance is part of our duty as legal educators. Law students need help learning how to prepare for class, how to prepare their study aids, and how to prepare for their exams. Preparing 1Ls for the bar is also necessary. However, it does not look like full fledge bar prep or even like training given to a 3L.
Instead, 1Ls need notice. They need to know what awaits them and what (if anything) they should be doing before they reach their final year of law school. Here are a few considerations that should be conveyed to 1Ls.
- Think about where you want to practice law. There may be jurisdictional requirements specific to that state.
- Ask questions! Your first year courses are bar tested. If you slip by without having a good understanding of the concepts, you will also be lost during your bar preparation. Seek out the answers to your questions as early as possible so that you can get the academic assistance that you need.
- Begin thinking about your 2L and 3 L years and your course selection. Consider the subjects that are bar tested and the subjects that interest you most. Try to balance your course load between these interests.
- Start planning for the financial impact of the bar exam. Applying for the bar exam is costly and bar exam review courses are as well. Additionally, many students fail to consider the cost of taking time off and paying for incidentals like travel and accommodations while taking the bar exam. Begin saving early!
- Research commercial bar preparation offerings. Many of the bar review companies offer resources for 1L and upper division students for free or a minimal charge. Take advantage of these resources as a 1L!
In other words, let's not "Freddy Krueger" scare them...maybe just add a little Hitchcock anxiety and suspense.
Along with decorative gourds and tiny sociopaths demanding candy, the end of October brings an uptick in study group formation as we get closer to finals (I saw what looked like three new ones in the lobby on my way into work).
Several years ago, this annual rite resulted in some major kerfluffles, ados, and foofaraws -- so-and-so is cheating on one group with another, so-and-so doesn't do any work, s0-and-so always brings an enormous bag of potato chips, so-and-so's non-lawyer biker boyfriend enjoys attending -- and everyone ended up in my office for advice on how to work things out.
In response, I found an earlier posting from Amy Jarmon about the things study groups need to keep in mind, and I turned it into an actual contract, which I printed out and passed around to the First Year class.
A few days later, I saw several completed and signed contracts sticking out of bookbags, books, and binders, and all the complaining stopped. Since that time, I have mentioned the contract (repeatedly) and the concerns and complaints disappeared.
Many, many thanks to Amy, and below is the contract (Alex Ruskell) --
non in legendo sed in intelligendo legis consistent
STUDY GROUP CONTRACT
1. New members will be added only if _____ members agree.
2. New members will not be added after _________ (a certain point in the semester).
3. A member may/may not belong to more than one study group as long as all members are informed of the decision to do so.
4. A member will not be “fired” unless:
A. The group has talked with the person about problem behaviors (eg. argumentativeness, slacking on commitments, lateness, dominating the group discussions, etc.).
B. The person has had ____ chances to improve on the problem behavior after discussion.
C. The group unanimously agrees that the member will be told to leave and as group discusses the decision with the member.
5. A member who decides to leave the study group must tell the other members that he or she intends to do so and not just “disappear.”
6. The study group will have a rotating facilitator who is responsible for setting the agenda and keeping the group on track each week. The order will be: _________________, ___________________________, ______________________.
7. The study group will meet ________ times per week at _______________________.
8. Study group members may/may not bring food -- certain types of food are banned: ________________________.
9. Each member is to show respect for other members and their opinions.
10. All materials developed by the study group together are not to be shared outside the group unless __________________of the members agree.
11. All matters discussed in the study group are to be confidential and are not to be used for “gossip.” (The exception would be if the group is concerned about the physical or mental well-being of a member so that the appropriate action would be to talk to a dean, counselor, etc.)
12. Study aids purchased jointly should be equally available for use as a matter of courtesy. If the group agrees to share study aids purchased by individuals, then rules may be needed.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Most of our law schools have only 5 or 6 weeks of class left in the semester. Students are starting to get overwhelmed at how much they have left to study before they will be ready for finals. They are also horrified at how many steps need to be completed before their paper deadlines.
I find that some students are so overwhelmed that they make very poor decisions about managing their studies. Because much of what I advise students is based on common sense and tried and true techniques, they are often surprised at fairly simple solutions and ask "Why didn't I think of that?"
They did not think of the solutions because they are in the midst of the situation and cannot view things objectively! If you are panicky over the quicksand all around you that is sucking you under, you may indeed overlook the jungle vine immediately above your head.
You cannot control how much more material your professor will cover. You cannot control the questions on the exam. You cannot control usually when your exams are scheduled.
But there is a great deal that you can control. You can control how you distribute your study time among courses. You can control the study strategies that you use. You can control your daily use of time.
Have a plan for the remaining weeks.
- Make a list for each course of all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for the final exam. This list gives you the skeleton outline for the review needed for the exam.
- The lists will be long because they focus on subtopics. It takes far less time, however, to learn a subtopic than an entire topic. Progress can be made more quickly by focusing on subtopics in the list than trying to complete an entire topic at one time.
- Draw a line below the subtopic most recently completed in the class. Above this line is the material that has already been covered; below this line is the material that will be presented in the coming days.
- Estimate the amount of time that each subtopic will take to learn intensely so that you will be ready to walk into the exam (the learning time only and not the practice question time that one might also do on the subtopic later - you have to learn it first).
- Total the subtopic estimates for each separate course. This total gives you an approximate idea of the time needed to learn the material thus far for the course.
- Compare totals among the courses to understand how you should proportion study time. Perhaps Course A and Course C need equal time while Course B needs twice as much time and Course D needs three times as much time.
- Decide when in the class week you can find time for exam study each week for the remainder of the semester. Label the found times by course in proportion to the totals.
- Number the subtopics on each list. Distribute the subtopics over the next three or four weeks to finish your review of the material that has already been covered.
- Save the remaining two or three weeks before the end of classes to distribute the new material as you estimate the time for intense study that is needed for each subtopic.
- If possible, leave only two weeks of new material to learn during the reading/exam period.
Make sensible decisions so you stay in control of your time and focus:
- Prioritize what you need to get done each day. Start with the most important tasks and move down the list to end with the least important tasks.
- Within these prioritized categories, consider doing disliked or harder tasks earlier in the day when you are fresh and alert. Then complete the liked or easier tasks in a category.
- Break every large task or project into small pieces. You will not get as overwhelmed when you focus on a small task (reading one case, writing one paragraph, studying one subtopic) instead of the enormous task (a 30-page paper, an entire course).
- Take small breaks throughout the day - 10 minutes every 90 minutes of studying. Get up and walk around or stretch to get some movement into your routine. Then refocus for the next task.
- Use self-discipline. Do not turn a 10-minute break into an hour break. Do not waste time on Facebook, Twitter, television sitcoms, and other distractions.
- Decline invitations to spend time on things that will mean you do not finish your daily task list. Be diplomatic, but say no. Avoid excessive meal breaks, shopping excursions, socializing instead of scheduled studying, and more distractions.
- After you have learned a particular topic well, move on to the next topic. Do not just keep reviewing what you already know to avoid getting to the hard stuff.
- Get questions that you have about course subtopics answered as you do your review. Do not store up hundreds of questions for the last week of the professor's office hours.
Law school is to a great extent about organization and time management. So is legal practice. Take control of what you can. Move forward - any progress is still progress. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Everyone has heard of "right brain/left brain thinking." However, this article debunks the right brain-left brain split as old science, and proposes a new way to look at the way people understand, perceive, and plan. The article has interesting implications for how we understand our students. We are all frustrated when we see a student struggle, but fail to act in ways that will help them improve academically. Students who are "adaptors" may not learn from feedback in an optimal way, while "movers" will act on feedback immediately, and learn from academic setbacks. (RCF)
Sunday, October 27, 2013
It is a common misconception among law students that studying cannot be accomplished in small time blocks. Yet students feel that lots of other things can be accomplished in smaller amounts of time: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, cell phone calls, surfing the Web, watching TV sitcoms, exercising.
Here are some study tasks that can fit into less than sixty minutes and less than thirty minutes:
- Read and brief one mid-sized case.
- Read and brief two short cases.
- Draft the statement of facts for a legal memo.
- Draft the short answer for a legal memo.
- Complete ten multiple-choice questions without reviewing the explanations for the answer options.
- Complete five multiple-choice questions with reviewing the explanations for the answer options.
- Complete a one-issue fact-pattern essay and review the model answer.
- Review part of a paper draft for punctuation and grammar.
- Review part of a paper draft for citation.
- Review several pages of an outline for intense learning.
- Create a graphic organizer to summarize a course topic.
- Compare an outline or class notes with a classmate.
- Outline the material from several class periods.
- Read a study aid to clarify a topic.
- Complete memory drills with flashcards.
- Make some flashcards for later memory drills.
- Read and brief one short case.
- Stop by a professor's office to ask some questions about the material.
- Discuss the cases with a classmate before the next class.
- Review your brief, margin notes, and prior class notes to re-visit your class preparation for the next class.
- Review your class notes from a class earlier in the day to fill in gaps, reorganize the notes, and gain deeper understanding.
- Read a study aid to clarify a subtopic.
- Outline a couple of short subtopics.
On the downward slope of the semester, it is important to use time well. Major blocks of time are not needed to make progress. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 25, 2013
As a part of my required OneL course, all students are required to turn in outlines from two of their courses. This has been standard in all of my classes for the past several years. I don't grade the outlines based on mastery of the law; I grade them with a check/check plus/minus, based on how much effort they are putting into sythesizing the material. Every year, without exception, at least one student tells me they don't "do" outlining. Here are some of my responses to their reasoning:
1) "I don't outline because Prof. X told me he never outlined when he was in law school in 1964."
It's wonderful that Prof. X succeeded in 1964, when there were a fraction of the cases that you need to understand and apply on an exam in 2013. 1964 is not 2013. You are not Prof. X. The bar exam looks nothing like it did when he graduated from law school. You need to outline in order to synthesize the vast amount of material that is covered in class, to create a "big picture" for yourself, and to prepare for exams. You need to learn the process of outlining because it is also critical to success on the bar exam.
2)"I was an A/3.9 student at my undergrad, and I never needed to synthesize my learning. I just do the required work, and it's enough for me."
Law school is not undergrad. Law school grades on a curve/normed/around a median. At most undergrads, everyone could receive an A if they memorized the material and regurgitated it on the exams. In law school, memorization is not enough; understanding and application are essential to success. A law school class gives you 10,000 trees, and you are expected to describe the state of the forest on the exam. Undergrad classes never asked you to do that. Don't the required work will help you describe 10,000 trees, but it will never help you see if it is a deciduous forest on the verge of collapse due to fungus, or a coniferous forest transforming itself after a wildfire.
3) "I don't outline because I use flashcards and create PowerPoints."
You are outlining. Outlining means synthesizing case briefs, reading, and class notes, to help you see the "big picture" and apply what you know on the exam. An outline can be in a variety of formats; it does not need to look like the outline format you learned in 6th grade with Roman numerals.
4) "I don't outline because I don't have the time; I have kids, a job, and I commute 3 hours a day to law school."
You need to think long and hard about whether you want to continue to invest the money in a law school education if you do not have the time to do the work to succeed. There are no shortcuts to law school success. You must have the time to do the work, and part of the work required for success is outlining. Don't throw good money after bad; don't pay for the opportunity for an education if you are not learning.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
We are in the ninth week of class here at our law school. It is dawning on mamy students that exams are getting much closer and that they are not where they want to be in their studying. I am beginning to see more negative ways of handling stress emerge. In the midst of their stress, students often seem unable to see more positive fixes for their problems.
Some of the negative responses to stress that I see (or hear students talking about) are:
- Staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get everything done.
- Skipping classes to have more study or paper time.
- Skipping meals and exercise to have more study or paper time.
- Procrastinating on tasks because you do not feel like doing them.
- Losing your temper with others who are in the fallout zone (classmates, spouses, children, friends, pets).
- Blaming others for your study predicament (the professor assigns too much reading, the casebook is awful, the Tutor/teaching assistant is not any help, my study group is clueless).
- Assuming that everyone else is getting the material and you must be stupid.
- Wasting time on bemoaning what you should have done earlier in the semester.
- Giving up and allowing yourself to accept failure.
- Avoiding going to professors, academic support professionals, and deans for assistance.
- Using drugs or alcohol to mask the stress and gain a temporary high.
Here are some positive responses to stress that work for students:
- Start immediately to get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night and go to bed and get up at the same time. Brain cells need energy to absorb, understand, and retain information. Sleep allows you to get more done with greater focus in less time. It often takes a week for your body to recharge, but after that period you will start to get much more done.
- Attend classes regularly unless you are sick. By skipping class you become even more confused about the material. It is the point in the semester when professors begin to talk about the exam and pull information together across the course. You do not want to depend on a classmate's notes for these important aspects.
- Meals and exercise like sleep are essential to how your brain works. Eat nutritious meals rather than depend on junk food, caffeine, and sugar. Exercise at least 150 minutes per week - walking is fine. Exercise is a great stress buster and will also help you to sleep better.
- How you feel is not important quite honestly. Sure, it is more fun doing other things than reading and briefing or outlining or reviewing for exams; but no one told you to come to law school to have fun. Break down tasks into smaller pieces to help you get motivated: a 40-page reading into 8 chunks of 5 pages; a paper assignment into small sections; practice questions into fewer questions at a time. If you are really unmotivated, tell yourself you will just read 1 page, write 1 sentence, or do 1 problem. Getting started is the trick.
- Being irritated and grumpy with others will not make you feel better. You will just have guilt for being a jerk. If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all - grandmother was right when she told you that. Tell people that you need some alone time. Or do random acts of kindness for others to help you feel better about yourself. Go for a run or walk to burn off the stress.
- Blaming others means you are giving up control over what you can do. Break down the reading assignment into smaller chunks so it seems more manageable. Read a study aid to clarify the casebook material. See the professor or teaching assistant on office hours to ask questions one-on-one if a larger group setting is unhelpful. Restructure your study group to make it more effective (an agenda for meetings so everyone comes prepared) or take responsibility to explain material to the others (you can learn by teaching).
- You are not dumb - you would not have been admitted if the law school did not think you could succeed. Stop comparing yourself to others and instead start doing the best you can do each day. Persistence means a lot in law school. There is a lot of bluff among law students - you cannot know whether others are really spending more hours studying or wasting time while in the library, whether those speaking in class can talk a good game but not get it on paper, whether someone else really understands the material or just says she does.
- Forget about what you should have done. Focus on what you can do today and tomorrow and the next day. Decide on your priorities and then get started. Use a to do list each day and each week to stay on track. Get help from the academic success professional at your school if you have trouble deciding what to do and how to get it done.
- If you give up and allow yourself to fail, it does not get you any place you want to be. Make a plan as to how to get the most results from the time you have remaining in the semester. Get help if you need it.
- Every law school has people who can help you. Use their assistance. Swallow your pride if that is what is getting in the way of asking for help. Decide what help you need and go to the source that is appropriate. Find out who at your law school can help with a particular problem. Do not overlook sources at the wider university: counseling center, health services, etc.
- Do not get caught up in a cycle of drugs or alcohol to deal with your stress. You may feel as though you get temporary relief, but you are not dealing with the problems that cause the stress. If you can step back from this cycle on your own, use exercise and other techniques to deal with the stress. If you need help in getting back to healthy ways of stress reduction, see the counseling center or health services for assistance.
Stress in law school is something that everyone has to learn to cope with effectively. If stress is getting out of hand, seek assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
"Comedy isn't pretty." -- Steve Martin
I worry quite a bit about the impact of humor on our weakest students. Everybody likes funny. Students say it makes class more interesting, academic studies sing its praises, and, frankly, "funny" makes teaching a lot more fun.
For years, one of the most common comments on student evaluations regarding my teaching is how "funny" I am. I don't want to give the impression I am up in front of the class doing Who's on First routines all day long. A lot of it is simply personality and teaching style, but sometimes I actively try to be funny. One of the biggest challenges I've found in Academic Success is that I have never been able to put on a program that was given for credit or required--everything I have ever done across four different law schools has been absolutely voluntary, and I imagine most of us are in the same boat. Consequently, I take a lot of cues from advertising to attract and engage students in any way I can. And, like the Dodge Durango or Dos Equis, one of the things I try to use is "funny."
For example, for a sign advertising a Workshop on Outlining, after saying the Workshop was provided by "Your Friends at Academic Support," I followed it with the following disclaimer:
*Such mention of “friendship” is not meant to create a legally binding contract or other agreement between you and the Academic Support Office. While we in the Office, of course, consider you friends, such a promise of friendship does not necessarily mean that we’d have you in our wedding or name a pet after you, or at least not a large pet, maybe a fish, definitely a plant, at least if the plant was something other than a cactus, as the naming of a cactus is a deeply personal undertaking and we would like to make sure that the cactus’s name does reflect its southwestern origins. “Friend” means one favorably disposed. Ned v. Robinson, 181 Okl. 507, 74 P.2d 1156. This varies in degree from greatest intimacy to acquaintance more or less casual. U.S. Trust Co. of Newark v. Montclair Trust Co., 133 N.J.Eq. 579, 33 A.2d 901. In Old English Law, a “friendless man” was an outlaw, so called because he was denied all the help of his friends – of course, we are not imputing this to you, and by reading this, you of course acknowledge, uphold, and agree that any such notices given by the Academic Support Office are in no way meant to impute anything upon anyone. Imputing is not our bag! We neither impute, implode, impact, impair, impeach, impress, imbide, imprint, immolate, immunize, imminent, immigrate, imitate, or ingratiate. In fact, whatever we say, by reading this, goes, and the party of the first part who reads the party of the second part should probably mind their own business and stick with the party of the first part because God forbid that the party of the third part finds out, because we heard he’s a really big guy, and we really don’t want to deal with such nonsense. For the remainder of this disclaimer, please contact the General Law Office of the Academic Support Office where some nice person may or may not help you because who knows really – they could be busy. They could be out to lunch. Or saving a dog. Or a cactus. We’d save a dog over a cactus, but not a cat over a cactus, as we’re not so sure about cats.......
Now, that might not actually be funny, but that would be an entirely different issue.
There is a general belief in academia that humor in the classroom is a good thing, and lots of scholarly articles support that belief. A simple Google search for ''humor in the classroom" turns up dozens of articles touting the benefits of using humor to engage and connect with students. I imagine many of us have comments in our evaluations praising our use of humor in one way or another.
But, every year, when I tell students about my own or their professors' experiences in law school, my weakest students make comments along the lines of "well, you were an expert student, so all of this was easy for you" or "my professor is so smart she can just spit this stuff out," and I've been wondering if humor might sometimes support the feeling that law teachers are in some different league from their students -- a league that a student, no matter how much work and intelligence he or she puts into law school, can only hope to join. Humor requires a recognition of signs and symbols to make the joke funny, and our weakest students, or students with very different academic or social backgrounds, might not get them. It also tends to imply an "other" -- for example, the above sign implies a ridiculous "other" who would actually think such a disclaimer was necessary or a good idea. For the weakest students, they probably feel like an "other" as it is, and I worry about humor building a fence instead of a bridge between these students and their learning.
So, this year, I haven't used "funny" as an intentional advertising strategy, and I've tried to tone it down when I teach. I'm still getting tons of students, and while "funny" might have attracted me as a 22-year-old law student, I have decided to retire "funny" so as not to inadvertantly alienate those who most need my help. (Alex Ruskell)
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Task lists for what one needs to accomplish (commonly called to do lists) are effective ways to track items and not forget anything. However, there are a number of strategies to improve on this old standby in time management and work organization.
- Consider having multiple levels of the lists: a daily list, a weekly list, a monthly list, a master list. The master list is for items that need to be done some time during this semester but which have no definite timeline or deadline attached to them. The monthly list captures all the items that truly need to be distributed through the current month. The weekly list brings into focus the items that must be completed in this limited 7-day period. The daily list delimits what can realistically occur today to bring one closer to finishing the week's tasks.
- Include a realistic number of items on a task list. It is very easy to include two or three times as many tasks on the daily list or weekly list as can be completed by even superhuman efforts within that time period. Depending on the complexity of the tasks, limit a daily list to 7 - 10 items maximum.
- Prioritize within the task list. Most people will designate items into three categories: most important, important, and least important. I know some people who designate Categories A, B, and C or 1, 2, and 3. Prioritizing focuses attention on the most essential tasks so one does not fritter the day on barely essential tasks.
- When considering the priority category for a task, focus on an honest appraisal rather than whether you like or dislike the task. Ask the following questions to help you determine priority: Is this task really necessary? Does this task have a major payoff for the time involved? What will happen if I do not complete this task? What is the deadline (if any) for this task? Can this task be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps?
- Decide whether personal and school/work items go on the same list. Some people prefer to have separate lists for each category.
- Save your lists for an entire week and analyze how you did. If each day shows a multitude of unfinished tasks, then you may need to be more realistic about how many items you can accomplish. You may also need to consider what interruptions or obstacles occur for completing the list if the number of items was realistic: phone calls, walk-ins, too much time on e-mails/texts/Internet. Make adjustments to how you formulate your lists and how you manage your interruptions or obstacles.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night afraid you will forget something the next day, keep a pen and pad on your bedside table. Capture the task for inclusion the next day on a task list. Then go back to sleep without the worry of forgetting.
Task lists are just one way to keep on track with work. The lists can be handwritten or completed with electronic software. Use whatever method helps you be more productive. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 21, 2013
I would like to introduce you to the third ASP writer in our series. Louis Schulze is Professor of Law and Director of the Academic Excellence Program at New England School of Law. Louis is the 2013 Chair of the AALS Section on Academic Support. I have listed below some of his publications. (Amy Jarmon)Alternative Justifications for Academic Support III: An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Academic Support on Perceived Autonomy Support and Humanizing Law Schools 38 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 999 (2012) (with Dr. Adam A. Ding).
Partnering for the Benefit of All Students: Simple Ways to Incorporate ASP Techniques Across the Curriculum, 19(1) The Law Teacher 8 (Fall 2012) (with Rebecca Flanagan).
Integrating Doctrinal Material and Faculty into Academic Support, 2009 The Learning Curve 13 (2009) (with Elizabeth Bloom.)
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Law students often put off completing practice questions until the very end of the semester. They give me a number of reasons for delaying this important step in exam preparation:
- "I don't know enough yet to do practice questions."
- "I can't do practice questions until we have had the entire course."
- "I know the material really well so it is not necessary to do questions."
- "I get discouraged when I get questions wrong and don't want to do any more."
- "I can't find practice questions for the course."
- "I don't know what type of questions the professor will ask because he has never taught before/has never taught this course before/is a visitor."
- "I'll do practice questions with my study group later."
Successful law students complete as many practice questions as they can find time for throughout the semester. In addition to thinking about the questions, they outline answers to many of the essays, write out completely the answers for multiple essay questions, and complete some questions under exam conditions (timed, closed book, etc.). For multiple-choice questions, they track their mistakes so they can correct error patterns. They also carefully read the answer explanations to learn nuances that they may have missed.
Why do successful law students spend time on practice questions? They know that the following benefits flow from the task:
- Practice questions help them see if they really understand the law and can apply it to new scenarios.
- Multiple practice questions before the exam allow the student to manipulate the material through a number of different fact scenarios so that the actual exam scenarios seem less terrifying.
- Practice questions can increase confidence when one gets them right and can allow one to focus future time on less well-known material.
- Practice questions can pinpoint areas of confusion that need more work to master that topic long before the exam would uncover the same weakness.
- Practice questions and their model answers (essays) or answer explanations (multiple choice) help students gain deeper understanding of the law and its proper application.
- Practice questions allow students to practice issue spotting, careful reading of facts, charting or outlining answers before writing, stating the law precisely, analyzing for both parties, making appropriate policy arguments, and determining the best multiple-choice answer.
- Practice questions under timed conditions help students with properly pacing their work during the actual exams.
What about the objections that I mentioned at the beginning of this posting? Here are my responses to each one:
- Once you intensely review a subtopic or topic, you should be prepared to complete practice questions that are available. Intense review means learning that slice of the course as though the exam were Monday.
- Most courses have discrete topics or a series of topics that interrelate. Most practice question books indicate in the table of contents or index which topics are covered in the individual questions.
- You don't know how well you understand the material until you complete practice questions. Memorizing material and being able to apply the material to new fact scenarios are separate skills.
- Students should not attempt practice questions until they have studied the material in a serioius manner. Then they should do questions in increasing levels of difficulty: start with one-issue questions, move to intermediate-level questions, and then move to full-blown exam questions only after success at the prior levels of difficulty.
- For some courses there are fewer practice question sources. Ask the professor if s/he can supply the class with old questions. Go to the state bar examiners' website if old exam questions in that legal specialty are available. Get together with several classmates in the course and write and swap your own practice questions. Check out other law school websites for professor practice questions or old exams.
- If you don't know the professor's exam style, then practice questions of a variety of types. Once the professor decides the exam format, then switch to that particular style of question. All practice questions will help you test your knowledge and understanding until you have more information on the specific exam.
- Working on practice questions with a study group has merit - especially if each person works on the questions individually ahead of time. However, you also need to do plenty of questions on your own - your study group won't be allowed to help you think it through in the actual exam.
Practice questions are a critical component of exam study. If you have not started on them yet, now would be the perfect time to do so! (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Assessment Across The Curriculum
Assessment Across the Curriculum is a one-day conference for new and experienced law teachers who are interested in designing and implementing effective techniques for assessing student learning. The conference will take place Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Ark.
Conference content: Sessions will address topics such as:
- Formative Assessment in Large Classes
- Classroom Assessment Techniques
- Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment
- Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork
- Assessment Techniques for a Legislation or Statutory Interpretation Course
By the end of the conference, participants will have concrete ideas and assessment practices to
take back to their students, colleagues, and institutions.
Who should attend: This conference is for all law faculty (full-time and adjunct) who want to learn about best practices for course-level assessment of student learning.
Conference structure: The conference opens with an optional informal gathering on Friday evening, April 4. The conference will officially start with an opening session on Saturday, April 5, followed by a series of workshops. Breaks are scheduled with adequate time to provide participants with opportunities to discuss ideas from the conference. The conference ends at 4:30 p.m. on
Saturday. Details about the conference will be available on the websites of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Conference faculty: Conference workshops will be taught by experienced faculty, including Michael Hunter Schwartz (UALR Bowen), Rory Bahudar (Washburn), Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga),
Sophie Sparrow (University of New Hampshire), and Lyn Entrikin (UALR Bowen).
For more information about the conference and to access the registration form, please go to Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Website - http://lawteaching.org/conferences/2014assessment/
UALR Bowen website - is http://ualr.edu/law/iltl-conference/