Thursday, December 7, 2017
'Tis the season, they say.
But, for many law school graduates, the month of December seems like a herculean challenge because a number of graduates are preparing to retake the bar exam next February...after receiving devastating news that they did not pass.
So, let me write directly to you...to those of you who did not pass the bar exam this past summer.
First, you do not have to be a repeater. Repeaters repeat, with the same outcome likely to result. Instead, it's time to take advantage of the information and the experience that you had and turn it into a "fresh start." You see, you have "inside information," so to speak, that first-time takers lack. You know what it's like to sit for the exam, and, in most states, you have concrete information about what you did that was great along with inside scoop about where you can improve.
But, where is this inside info?
It's in the scores that you received along with your answers. The first step on your "fresh start" journey takes incredible courage but is key...grab hold of your exam questions and answers and work through them, one by one, reading the questions, outlining answers, writing solutions, and reflecting on what you learned through re-writing the exam. In the process, you'll be able to see firsthand where you can improve. That's important information that is not available to first-time takers. So, take advantage of it.
Second, don't focus on studying but on learning. You see, success this time around on the bar exam is not a matter of working harder but rather working differently. [That's why I’m always reluctant to call it studying because the focus should be on learning.]. From a big picture viewpoint, as Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emerita of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University describes, learning involves three overlapping activities focused on (1) content; (2) experiences; and, (3) reflection.
Let me be frank about the content phase of learning. We often feel so overwhelmed by the content, particularly because it comes to us from bar review companies in the form of massive detailed lectures and equally massive detailed outlines, that we never move beyond the content. In short, we don't feel like we know enough to practice. Consequently, we tend to be immobilized (i.e., stuck in) in the content stage. Instead of experiencing problem-solving first hand, we tend to re-read outlines, re-watch lectures, and in general create gigantic study tools before we have had sufficient experiences with the content to know what is really important in the big scheme of things.
And, in my experience, most often when people don’t pass the bar exam on the first time around, it is almost always NOT because they didn’t know enough law but rather because they wrote answers that didn’t match up with the questions asked. They were stuck in the content stage, spending too much time learning answers rather than experiencing questions. As mentioned above, that's because we are so naturally focused on trying to learn and memorize the law. But, I can’t EVER recall someone not passing because they didn’t know sufficient law. It’s almost as though we know too much law that the law becomes a barrier...because we write all of the law that we know in our answers...even if it is not relevant.
That’s why the second stage is so important – experiencing the content through active open book practice.
And, the third stage is critical too – reflection – because that is where we dig in to see patterns in the bar exam questions over time.
With that background in mind, let me offer a few suggestions so that you are not a repeater but a "fresh start" taker on your bar exam next February.
1. Avoid the Lectures! I would not redo the bar review commercial lectures. At the most, if you feel like you must, feel free to listen via podcasts while exercising, etc. In other words, just get them over and done with so that you can move quickly into the experiencing stage using the content of actual practice problems to solve problems for yourself. In other words, the least important thing in successfully passing the bar exam on the second go is listening to the lectures or reading outlines. Rather, as you work through practice problems, take the time to dig in and understand whether you really understood what was going one...that's the sort of experience in practicing along with the sort of reflection that makes a huge difference.
2. Daily Exercise! Establish a schedule so that you exercise consistent learning every day. The key is to be on a daily regimented schedule because it’s in your daily actions of experiencing and reflecting through actual bar exam problems that leads to big rises in bar exam scores.
3. Practice Makes Passing Possible! Right from the "get go," take advantage of every practice exam you can. Most of your days, from the very beginning of your studies, should be engaged in practicing actual bar exam problems and reflecting on what you learned. Don't try to learn the material through reading the outlines. Dig in and use the outlines to solve practice problems.
4. Reach Out To Your Law School! Meet once per week, on a schedule, with someone at your law school to talk out your work. Bring one of your written answers or a set of MBE question that you have done or a performance test problem that you just solved. You see, according to the learning scientists, when we explain to someone the steps that we took to solve a problem, it sticks with us. So, take advantage of your local ASP professionals on your law school campus.
5. Make Your Learning Work Count! Skip the commercial bar review online homework and drills. If the problems presented by your commercial course are not formatted like actual bar exam problems (essays, MBE questions, or performance test problems), don't do them. Period. That's because the bar examiners don't test whether you did the drills or the online homework; rather, they test whether you can communicate and solve hypothetical bar exam fact pattern problems. So, focus your work on the prize. Only do bar exam questions.
6. Two-Thousand! Okay...here's a number to remember. According to a recent successful "fresh start" taker, the number is 2000. That's right. A recent taker said that she/he did just about 2000 MBE questions. That's really experiencing the content. You see, it’s important to work through lots and lots of bar exam problems because that helps you to see fact patterns that trigger similar issues over and over. And, if you do that many questions, you don’t really have time for commercial bar review online homework or making gigantic study tools or re-watching the lectures over and over. Instead, you’ll be using your time...wisely...for what is really important, learning by doing. In particular, focus your learning (not studying!) on probing, pondering, and reflecting through every available essay and MBE question that you can. Unfortunately, we often hear of people slowing down in the practice arena during the last two weeks to make big study tools and to work on memorization. But, memorization doesn’t work without content...and content doesn't work with out experiencing lots and lots and lots of practice problems. In other words, by practicing every possible problem that you can get your hands on you are actually memorizing without even knowing it.
7. The Final Two Weeks! In the last two weeks, while you are still spending the bulk of your time practicing problems, for an hour or two a day, start to run through flashcards, or your old study tools, or posters, or your subject matter outlines. But, do so in a flash. It doesn’t matter whether you use commercial flash cards, your own note cards, or your own short subject matter outlines, etc., just pick something and use it to reflect on your learning. Here’s a suggestion: The learning science experts say that it is important to “elaborate,” i.e., to explain and talk through what you are learning and ask why it is important, etc. In other words, as you run through your study tools, put them into your own words, e.g., vocalize them, sing them out if you’d like, or even dance with them or put some “jazz” into them. In short, make your study tools live! However, always remember that the best way to make your study tools come to life is to use them to work through lots of bar exam problems throughout the last two weeks of bar prep.
8. Be Kind-Hearted To Yourself! Realize its okay to have melt-downs. Note, I said meltdowns not just a meltdown. Everyone has them, and they happen more than once. That's being human. So, be kind to yourself. Feel free to take time off for short adventures. The important thing is to take some time to rest and to rejuvenate, in whatever form works for you. My favorite is ice cream followed by a close second with hiking and even watching Andy Griffith shows (you’re too young to know what that is!).
Well, with that learning background as a foundation and these steps in mind, I wish you well as you prepare for success on your upcoming bar exam! (Scott Johns).
Monday, December 4, 2017
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article interviewing Valerie Sheares Ashby, Dean of Arts and Sciences at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, about how she got over impostor syndrome. The article is an interesting story of one person's success and can be found here. Within the article is a link to 10 Steps to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome by Dr. Valerie Young giving practical advice on overcoming the syndrome. Over a approximately a year of intentionally practicing the steps, Ashby states that she was no longer limited by the syndrome.
These 10 steps may be beneficial to our students (and ASP'ers) who suffer from impostor syndrome. The 10 steps are here: 10 Steps. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Some possible ways to handle some of the pre-exam and exam stress:
- Study what you do not know rather than spending lots of time on what you already know. You will see more progress.
- Complete your “hardest” studying early in the day, so that it will not hang over you all day.
- Study as you focus best: one subject per day or several subjects to break up your day.
- Stock up before exams on the necessities: frozen dinners; healthy snacks; beverages; pens; pencils; ink cartridges; etc.
- Plan a special celebration for the last night of exams so that you have something to look forward to as a reward.
- Decide some rewards that you will give yourself as you finish tasks. A small task gets a small reward; a big task gets a big reward.
- Say please and thank you more often than usual. Your kindness will likely elicit a smile from the recipient which will brighten your own day.
- Talk to at least one person who has nothing to do with law school each day. It will remind you that there is still life outside of the law school bubble.
- Avoid sugar or caffeine highs and crashes during studying; be careful with energy drinks because they are heavy on both sugar and caffeine.
- Get extra sleep several nights before each exam in case you have trouble sleeping the night before an exam.
- A light-hearted comedy at the movie theater is a great way to de-stress from an exam.
- At the end of each day, think of three small blessings you had that day. Examples: someone smiled at you; you heard a story that made you laugh; a family member called to wish you luck.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you - in person, by phone, by text.
- Take an exercise break! You will de-stress, feel more alive, and sleep better at night.
- Enjoy simple pleasures: laugh with a child; pet a dog; sing a song; dance the Texas Two-Step around your living room.
Take a few deep breaths! Best wishes for exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 30, 2017
There's a new documentary film out, telling the story of the co-authors of the Curious George adventure stories as they fled Paris for their lives with bicycles the couple hand-built from spare parts just 48 hours prior to the invasion of Hitler's troops. http://curiousgeorgedocumentary.com.
You see, the authors Margaret and Hans Reys were German Jews. Traveling south to neutral Portugal and "sleeping in barns and eating on the kindness of strangers" along the way, the couple eventually made their way to New York City. According to columnist Sarah Hess, who writes an article about the famous authors and the young filmmaker responsible for bringing to documentary life the incredible story of the Reys, the authors were, in part, imbuing Curious George with their own life experiences in learning to overcoming adversity by constantly maintaining a sense of curiosity and optimism despite the tremendous odds against them. Sarah Hass, "This is George," The Boulder Weekly, pp. 26-29 (Nov. 2017).
In Sarah Hass's article about the new documentary file, we read about how the film came to fruition through the efforts of an aspiring young filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazki. Yamazaki grew up in Japan reading the Adventures of Curious George. She loved the stories. Because of the international fame and relevance to children across the world, Yamazaki couldn't believe that no one had yet to tell the "story-behind-the-story" of the Rey's. Id. at 28-29. But, that almost stopped her from telling the story.
You see, Curious George was famously successful; Yamazaki - in her own words - was just a 24-year old filmmaker and director. In particular, as related to us by Sarah Hass, Hass explains that "deep down Yamazaki wondered if she was really the right one to tell the Rey's story. Shouldn't a more experienced director take on such an iconic tale? 'But, you know what I realized?' she ask[ed] rhetorically. 'If I had waited to start until I knew what I was doing, or until I knew I was the right person to do it, I still wouldn't have started." Id. at 29. (emphasis added).
So, Yamazaki went forward despite her lack of confidence in herself, "rely[ing] on borrowed equipment" and lots of IOU's to "pull it off," producing a documentary movie that would not have come to fruition without Yamazki overcoming her own lack of confidence in being a great story teller. Id. at 29.
With final exams just having started (or starting soon), many of us feel so inadequate, so inexperienced, so unfit to even begin to prepare for exams. Yes, we'll try our best to create often-times massive outlines, which turnout to be nothing more than our notes re-typed and re-formatted. But, it's not massive outlines or commercial flashcards that lead to success on our final exams. Rather, it's following in the footsteps of filmmaker Yamazaki and getting straight to the heart of the issue by step-by-step producing the final product - a film that captures what Yamazki learned and experienced in her curious explorations of the life stories of the Rey's in their own true adventures in overcoming adversity to achieve success.
As law students, most often we do not feel that we know enough to start actually tackling practicing exams. But, we are not tested on the quality of our study tools or how much law we memorized from flashcards. Rather, we are evaluated based on our abilities to communicate, probe, and plumb problem-solving scenarios, mostly often in hypothetical fact patterns based on what we have studied and pondered throughout the academic term. That means that - like Yamazaki - we need to overcome our lack of confidence and just start struggling forward with tackling lots of practice final exams.
Be adventures. Be curious. Be bold. Yes, that means that, like Curious George, you will find yourself making lots of mistakes, but it's in the making and learning from our mistakes in practice problems that we learn to solve the problems that we will face on our final exams. So, tell your own story of adventures this fall as you prepare for your final exams. And, best of luck! (Scott Johns).
P.S. The best sources for practice exams are your professors' previous exams. But, if not available, feel free to use some handy, albeit relatively short, past bar exams problems, available at the following link and sorted by subject matter: http://www.law.du.edu/oldcoloradoexams
Thursday, November 23, 2017
As highlighted in a recent article by Jerry Cianciolo, taking on an appreciative disposition reaps great benefits in terms of our health, our emotional state, and our mind too. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-substitute-for-complaint-free-wednesday-1511216941.
Citing to a Harvard article from 2015, Mr. Cianciolo relates that complimenting others leads to "positive changes in [our own] physiology, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and social relationships.” Let’s be real. That’s something we could all use in law school.
And yet (and not surprisingly), the opposite brings downsides. According to Stanford neurologist Robert Sapolosky, complaining and worrying leads to such negative health implications as adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure.
But I have to be honest. I’m a big-time worrier. To be frank, it seems like the stresses of law school life only serve to accentuate my worries. Perhaps you’re like me. If so, I have great news.
Our viewpoint is a matter of our choice. We can decide whether to worry or wonder, to complain or compliment, to lament or thank.
So, in the midst of this thanksgiving season, please join with me in choosing to spread some sunshine towards others, perhaps with a gentle smile of warmth to someone in law school that seems all alone, or a kind word to a friend that is having a difficult time of it preparing for final exams, or a generous spirit to someone who is down and out as we commute to campus. And, in the process of choosing to live out a thankful attitude in our words and deeds, our own hearts will radiate with warmth and gratitude. That’s something to be mighty thankful for throughout this season of law school as we turn the corner from our law school classrooms to preparing for final exams. And, it just might help with our problem-solving too! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Fall semester break (Thanksgiving Break) is approaching and there are many signs that students need a break to refocus, rest, and put a dent in tasks they have either avoided or simply had insufficient time to tackle. First year law students, in particular, have been spread very thin trying to learn new skills, balance multiple tasks, and learn new information. Simply put, they are pushed to the brink of their perceived capabilities. These activities are all potential sources of stress that may negatively impact one’s body and mind even when you are aware that you need to slow down. Students forget about focusing on what is most important to them when everything within them says that they cannot complete this or that assignment. Productivity starts to plummet, sleep schedules are off, healthy eating habits are replaced with unhealthy ones, gradual withdraw from social life takes place, frequent panic attacks occur, and some students no longer enjoy things they once enjoyed. In essence, students no longer feel good about themselves.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:
“the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also: the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state.”
Our students should aspire to have good mental health; always be aware of how they feel and how they manage their feelings. There are several resources at counseling centers and student affairs offices on various campuses on this topic that I am only mildly addressing.
Our students have a week off before they return to wrap-up the semester and take final exams. Of course, I relentlessly encourage students to maximize the time they have over break. Use this time wisely and effectively but also get some rest. I encourage students to develop a realistic and productive study plan in order to set themselves up for success by implementing the plan. I also encourage students to develop an additional plan for rest and recuperation, emphasizing it is very easy for time off to develop into all play and rest and no work, nevertheless, it is important to plan and limit their rest time.
A top priority on the list is to get some true rest and some valuable sleep of at least eight hours each and every day. I also encourage students to have a day when they do absolutely nothing but what they want to do and engage in at least one activity that makes them happy. Their goal is to be re-energized and in the best, mental and emotional state to wrap-up the last few weeks of the semester.
This is not to say that no time is spent on maximizing study time but I would let you refer to my colleague’s entry here which addresses exam preparation in detail. Happy restful yet productive break to all students. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Hat tip to my colleague, Atiba Ellis, who forwarded me a link to the BBC World Service podcast series "The Why Factor," which recently explored the concept of Imposter Syndrome. The podcast smartly outlines the causes of Imposter Syndrome and then highlights the syndrome's prevalence in the workplace and higher education--especially among diverse or minority employees and students.
The 23-minute episode explains: "Have you ever felt like a fraud? You think that one day your mask will be uncovered and everyone will know your secret. According to psychologists, this is a common feeling that many of us suffer from and it has a name; Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined by two American psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, in 1978. Dr Clance and Dr Imes first thought the feeling was only experienced by high achieving women, but quickly found that men experienced it too. According to subject expert, Dr Valerie Young, women are more susceptible to imposter feelings because they internalise failure and mistakes- whereas men are more likely to attribute failure and mistakes to outside factors. However, those who belong to minority groups of whom there are stereotypes about competence also commonly experience imposter feelings. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, don’t worry you’re in good company; Maya Angelou, Robert Pattinson, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and many more successful people have expressed feeling like imposters."
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Our workshop topic last week was stress management. One of the handouts gave some suggestions on resources. Here are the suggestions:
Headspace – free and subscription meditation sessions (recommended by multiple law students)
MIT Medical webpages
– relax and rest
– some relaxing music
– body scan mindfulness meditation
Free white noise download
You can internet search for keywords (meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, white noise) and find many more websites. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 16, 2017
I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.
I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.
Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!
Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)
October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 12, 2017
The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist
As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year."
Most of us don't think that's too awful. I certainly depend on mine...and all the time. It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology. But, here's the rub. Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.
Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds." https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw
First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities. In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups. In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam. In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach). In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall. Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway. But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise. The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture. Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.
Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes. In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material. In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.
Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills. In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation. Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present. The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available. The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy. The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]." In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.
Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities. In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer. The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events. Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information. In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information. And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."
Plainly, that's a lot to think about. And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire." On that question, this article does not opine. But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade. Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes. (Scott Johns).
Monday, October 9, 2017
The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.
Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.
Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.
Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)
October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
For my fourth and penultimate pumpkin post, I recommend that novices regularly remind themselves of their original goal.
In Lesson #2 I explained how I came to establish my personal goal for the growing season, namely to get a single healthy pumpkin to the weigh-off scale. Now that the weigh-off is less than two weeks away, I'm starting to secretly hope I win the Rookie of the Year award. Consciously I know that I have not done as much work as some other new growers, but that fact hasn't stopped me from wanting to win the award. My original goal was to grow a pumpkin, and I've done just that. Yet, I have the distinct feeling that I'm going to be (irrationally) disappointed with my ranking on the leaderboard at the weigh-off event.
All this ranking-focused-thinking got me wondering about my students and their first-year grades. At the beginning of the semester, I asked my criminal law class (which, by design, also includes my AEP students) to tell me what they most wanted out of the fall semester. The top two responses: "to survive" and "to pass." Only a handful of students offered more specific aspirations, like learning about murder, gaining confidence, performing pro bono work, or learning "how to write." It seems that most of my rookie students and I had the same mindset at the outset of our respective endeavors: to survive the new experience. So, does that mean that most of my students will start dreaming of sitting at the top of the leaderboard in December, even though that wasn't their original goal, and even though they may not have put forth the amount of effort needed to achieve a high ranking?
Admittedly, I don't have an answer; rather I'm making an observation about novices. Nonetheless, I do plan to discuss the theory with my students. I suspect that a candid discussion about my own illogical (and last minute) desire to be "the best" may help reframe my students' thoughts and expectations with regard to their own fall grades. In a school with a mandatory grade curve, there can only be handful of "A"s in each class. But, a law school "B" can be equally worthy of celebration--especially if the original goal was just "to survive." (Kirsha Trychta)
Here is "Presley" in mid-September, weighing an estimated 400 pounds.
Monday, October 2, 2017
I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.
Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.
A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.
But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)
I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.
It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams.
So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.
I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.
It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)
October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 25, 2017
We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.
There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.
But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).
The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.
So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!
One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)
September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 18, 2017
I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).
Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.
Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.
The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.
We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.
As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)
September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Many law students (as well as the rest of us) are sleep-deprived. Research shows that our digital age is interfering with our sleep patterns. A BBC News article discusses the problem and how our smartphones and tablets are causing us to delay good sleep habits as well as interfering with our sleep cycles. The link is Are you a sleep procrastinator?. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
My thirty-something sister lives in Naples, Florida, approximately two blocks from Naples Bay and eight blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, the last few days have been stressful for her. Unsurprisingly, my parents and I have also been stressed, mostly because we could not do anything to help her and felt utterly useless. For me, this weekend’s stress felt different than the garden variety work-stress to which I have grown accustomed. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and learned that a hurricane or other natural disaster presents a unique type of stress known as “disaster stress” or “trauma stress.”
Disaster stress differs from acute stress (e.g. car accident or roller coaster) and chronic stress (e.g. hassles of daily life) because disaster stress tends to impact a large number of people simultaneously. In fact, “[m]ild to moderate stress reactions in the emergency and early post-impact phases of disaster are highly prevalent because survivors (and their families, community members and rescue workers) accurately recognize the grave danger in disaster.” Moreover, as Dr. Susanne Babbel explains, disaster stress “victims do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected. For example, someone living in [Morgantown] with relatives in [Naples] at the time of the [hurricane] could have been subjected to countless hours of television coverage, coupled with an inability to get information about their own family. This type of situation can take an emotional impact on someone even from afar.”
Truthfully, as I write this post, I’m watching news channels alternate between footage of the September 11 memorial, Harvey recovery efforts, the Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Irma. It has been a rough week for a lot of the country. The good news is that many governmental agencies and professional mental health organizations offer free resources for those who might be experiencing disaster stress.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD maintains a comprehensive webpage on disaster stress and publishes fact sheets to help both sufferers and medical providers identify and treat disaster-related stress. (As I am sure you can imagine, military personnel are exposed to natural disaster situations more frequently than the regular population.) The Center suggests that all individuals should try to avoid extensive media coverage, but acknowledges that certain people are at a higher risk of experiencing disaster stress dependent upon the person's severity of exposure, gender, age, social support, and resilience.
Similarly, the American Psychological Association offers online suggestions to help people "cope effectively with [their] feelings, thoughts and behaviors” following a natural disaster. The APA explains that "most people are resilient and over time are able to bounce back from tragedy. It is common for people to experience stress in the immediate aftermath, but within a few months most people are able to resume functioning as they did prior to the disaster. It is important to remember that resilience and recovery are the norm, not prolonged distress."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages individuals in distress to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disaster distress hotline by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.
I wish everyone a safe and speedy recovery and encourage you to share these resource links with anyone who might be experiencing disaster stress. (Kirsha Trychta)
(Photo courtesy of one of my sister's friends. You can see how Hurricane Irma sucked the Naples canal water out toward the Gulf during the storm. The water has since returned.)
(Photo courtesy of another friend's Facebook page. This used to be a popular open-air Tiki restaurant.)
Monday, September 11, 2017
It’s been a potentially challenging time for many law students throughout the country. But, I am not necessarily talking about the challenges directly related to the study of law.
Yes. Case readings can be quite lengthy. There may be anxiety related to getting called on in class. And students may sometimes feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete everything that seems to be needed to be completed to succeed in law school. These are all potential challenges that our students may currently be experiencing. But, the last month or so may have seemingly added an entire new set of challenges to our students.
While many students have tried to remain engaged in their studies, events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional burdens on them. Between Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey, DACA, and Hurricane Irma, many of our students have had to face or worry about things that they would not have initially had on their radar going into the start of law school (no hurricane pun intended).
It’s difficult to stay motivated and engaged to read for class or write that LRW memo when you are worried about your safety and security or the safety and security of your families and friends. It’s hard to turn away from the news of devastation and despair when you are either living in that devastation and despair or know someone who is.
Law school is a challenging time for our students. And events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional challenges on our students. It’s during these challenging times that it is especially important to have a friendly, supportive, and understanding ASP professional in the law school building. While we may not immediately have all or any of the answers related to some of these challenging events, we surely can welcome our students into our offices. We can sit down with them and actively listen to their stories. We can empathetically try to help them find some answers or refer them to those who may more appropriately serve them during these challenging and unfortunate times. (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Yes, today is National Grandparents Day. I would not have known that fact except I am staring at my larger-than-life planner at work that proclaims the celebration below the date.
I grew up with only one living grandparent, my grandmother on my mother's side. That precious lady taught me much about integrity, hard work, forgiveness, and kindness. We were blessed to have her with us until she was 102 years young. I still miss her. Photographs of her on my bookshelf always bring a smile to my lips and warm memories.
Each year, we have a number of our law students lose a precious grandparent during the academic year. Some students are too far from home to be by the grandparent's side to say goodbye. Many are fortunate to travel home to be at a bedside. For some, their grandparents were in ill health for a long time. Others have had no warning prior to their deaths.
For some law students, that grandparent was the parent because of family circumstances. Many of our law students grew up with strong extended families living nearby. Small-town Texas often means that grandparents are next door or down the street. The ties are strong and lasting. The heart is deeply involved in that relationship.
Of course, the law school works administratively with each student in the individual circumstances when a student tells us of a grandparent's death: notifications to professors of absences, moved assignment deadlines, moved exams. In addition, if appropriate to the individual student circumstances, referrals for counseling are also made: university wellness center, grief counselors, pastoral counseling.
Because of our individual contacts with students, we as ASP'ers are often aware of the student's grief and its impact on their academics. A certain number of students reveal that a death in the family is one reason they have lost focus at critical points in the semester.
I am not a clinical psychologist. I know my limits and expertise. But I can be there for the student by listening and expressing that I care. I can understand the lack of focus, inability to organize well, and possible need to travel home for more frequent family support. I can help students find study strategies that realistically work to improve their academics while recognizing that their hearts may override their heads at times. I consider it a privilege to assist students through their studies while they process their grief.
On this National Grandparents Day, may we all take a few minutes to give our grandparents who are still with us a phone call or hug. May we all take a few minutes to remember the special memories about our grandparents who have left us. (Amy Jarmon)