Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Bar Exam, Butterflies, and the Power of "Leaning Back!"

As you make your final tune-ups in preparation for your bar exam next week, remember, anxiety is normal.  So, please don't fret the "butterflies."

But, as I can attest due to my own exam stress, that is "easier said that done."  So, let me offer a technique or two that I use when dealing with a question that I can't seem to figure out how to even begin to answer.

First, I don't try to get a perfect answer. Rather, I treat each exam question as an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to solve legal problems.  In other words, I remind myself that I don't have to be right or correct to pass the bar exam; rather, I just have to demonstrate legal problem-solving abilities, something that we have all worked for several months to cultivate in our bar preparation work.

Second, no matter how difficult the exam, I focus on maintaining a winning positive attitude...by realizing that all of the test-takers are facing the same challenges (and therefore the same stresses). That's right.  If the problem seems difficult for you (and me), it is difficult for all of us!

Third, I use a simple "3-step plan" to give me a friendly "push-start" to get my mind around how to solve a problem.  So, here are the steps, steps that you might try yourself when you find yourself a bit perplexed on how to begin answering a problem:

1.    Grab hold of the call of the question and re-write it as an issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid.). 

2.     Add material facts to your issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid when the defendant failed to sign the contract.). 

3.    Now, you are ready to organize an answer...because you see (identified the trigger facts) that constitute the big issue (i.e., a statute of frauds problem here).

Let me offer one more "stress-busting" exam tip that you might incorporate in the midst of your bar exam.

LEAN BACK!

That's right.  Don't spend all of your time - for hours on end - hunched over your bar exam questions.  

INSTEAD, GET SOME FRESH AIR!

SOME OXYGEN!  

LEAN BACK IN YOUR CHAIR...AND BREATHE!

It's amazing but just leaning back in your chair, as the commander of your own "bar-ship" as you read and navigate your way through exam questions, can make a whale of a difference because the action of leaning back brings valuable oxygen to your body...to empower your mind...to do the work that is before you.  And, if you really want to take it to the next level, while you are "leaning back," why not just put your hands behind your head to form a "soft pillow" of comfort and confidence.  You can picture the move.  Just visualizing the move might bring a smile to your face.  And, that smile is a bit of relaxation in the midst of taking your bar exam.  So, nicely done!  (Scott Johns).

 

February 16, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Should I Be My Students' Teacher or Their Coach?

I just came out of a great conference.  However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better.  In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher.  But, it was great...in the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.  

So, let me cut to the chase.  Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students.  That's right.  I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.

You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students."  Rather it's my students that are the learners.  And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work.  It's messy.  Its discomforting.  It's even downright excruciating sometimes.  But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning.  Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning.  In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.

So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach.  They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials.  That's because learning is personal.  It therefore requires lots of practice.  It requires deep engagement in the materials.  It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.

But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail.  Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!).  But, I didn't learn the materials through success.  Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).

So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials.  In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners.  That's a game that I am excited about watching.  Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned.  (Scott Johns).

February 9, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Student Motivation and MLK Day Celebration

At various points in a given semester, students find themselves unmotivated for a number of reasons.  Some of those reasons include managing financial pressures, dealing with academic challenges, feeling lonely, suffering from stress, and experiencing racism, sexism or some other “ism.” There are several articles and other sources that address intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to engage students.  However, I am always seeking innovative ways to encourage and support students.

Monday marked the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017, an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.  Most institutions of higher education commemorate this day with a variety of activities.  Institutions have a variety of programs which include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, artistic expressions, marches, community service, and speeches.  Students attend the various programs but for others this is simply a day off and an opportunity to either rest or get ahead academically. 

This year, I am an advisor to a student group and based on my interactions with this group of students, it was imperative for me to find different ways to re-motivate these students.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a great opportunity to encourage them by drawing examples from his life and encouraging students to partake in at least one activity.  For students, there are a number of qualities and values they can draw from his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, an activist, a well-educated and accomplished man of color, his commitment to society, his ability to stay true to his convictions, and the ease with which he communicated, encouraged, and rallied those around him.  Reflecting on all that he was able to accomplish with the challenges of his time, we should all be courageous in the face of adversity and preserve our hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Goldie Pritchard)

 

 

January 18, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Breaking Free from the Stress and Strains of Final Exams: Try Out the "Smile Loop!"

Wow.  At long last, final exams are over...sort of.

For most of us, we have a very difficult time with uncertainty in general, which is particularly exasperating as we wait - sometimes for weeks - for our grades to arrive.

So, despite the festive times of this month, we often find ourselves unable to relax, to enjoy the season, and to simply wind down and rest.  

Nevertheless, there's a simple way - in just a flash of a moment - to help break free from the many stresses and strains of the past few weeks of final exams.  Why not try out, today, the "smile loop?"  It sounds, sort of, fun, doesn't it?  So, here's the scoop (and the science too):

You see, according to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein:

"Smiling produces neural messaging in your brain that makes you happier. Some studies have shown that when we smile our facial muscles contract, which slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones.  This leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. And, when we smile at someone, that person tends to smile back. So, we've created a feel-good loop."  http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-fall-back-in-love

For those of you that are not scientists (that's me!), the short scoop is that smiling brightens not just our days but the days of those around us.  And, it sure seems to me that smiling at another person gets us on the right track to thinking about others rather than worrying about the past few weeks of final exams (with its lingering wait for grades).  

I had the chance to put smiling to the test in very unforgiving circumstances over the course of the past few weeks as a volunteer attorney.  There's a little Greek island just a few short miles off the Turkish coast.  Because of its locale so close to Turkey, thousands of people have been fleeing on small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea to escape persecution, calamity, and in some cases war in their native countries - from Syria to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to South Sudan - with the hope of receiving refugee in the European Union.  I talked with a man, his wife and his adorable small children that risked it all traveling by land from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey only to be finally living for months in a small UNHCR tent in a refugee camp on the island of Chios.

Despite the lack of resources and the uncertainty of still waiting - for months on end - to receive as of yet an asylum hearing, he smiled.  And, then his children smiled. Why, his whole family smiled.  In the cold of the wind swept coast of this little island refugee camp, we all smiled...together.  He and his family may not have had much to give but they gave something immeasurably priceless...they shared smiles with me.  

Let me say, this was not unique.  As I walked through the refugee camp with a number of refugee-seekers, even though we often didn't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in ways that are often richer than words.  Over and over, refugees would just come up to me with big generous smiles and warm handshakes of greetings.  Memorably, a small Syrian boy grabbed my hand one day by the lunch tent as a group of young people were dancing, asking me to join in the footsteps and singing.

You see, smiles are not just a trick to make your life better or happier.  No, no at all!   Rather, smiles are the sweetness of life itself in helping us to make the world a little better for others.  So, as you wait for final exam grades to come in, be of good courage and share smiles with those around you.  Who knows?  That brief smile might get you up and dancing!

(Scott Johns).

December 22, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Take a Real Break

As my students wrap up the semester and head home, they are filled with excitement. Students recognize that they survived the semester although at various points and particularly during the exam period they viewed this feat as impossible. Smiles on their faces and relief felt from completing exams provide glimmers into their true selves which were previously masked by stress and the rigors of law school. Some students are not quite excited because they are filled with concern about the results of their efforts, grades, and the desire to go through a complete postmortem of their preparation and exams. My job is to calm concern, remind students that they have no control over the results that are now in the hands of their professors and stressing about the results changes nothing about how quickly they will receive the results and what the result will be. I say to them with enthusiasm: “All you can do now is enjoy your break!”

Here are my two recommendations to students for the holiday season:

(1) Take a break

Catch up on sleep and enjoy family and friends, if possible. Catching up on sleep is imperative. You probably abused your body and sacrificed sleep as you prepared for exams. Please give yourself a few days to catch up on sleep and to simply be lazy. This is the best time for that. Here is a good resource for an 8 hour deep sleep music or peaceful music for relaxation and meditation: Sleep, Meditation, and Relaxation Music

(2) Plan for next semester

Plan for when you will start the gradual transition to reading and preparing for next semester’s classes so you are not overwhelmed. Set a date and time when you will complete specific tasks. If you are a 3L, this may be the ideal time to plan for your bar application and bar review process. This may also be the time, while at home, to assemble all of the necessary documentation you might need as you prepare to apply for the bar exam, if you have not already. (Goldie Pritchard)

December 21, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Are You Procrastinating?

As exams and paper deadlines approach, it is easy to procrastinate. Here are some clues that you are not using your time wisely and missing out on oomph in your studies:

  • You have alphabetized your casebooks and study aids on your bookshelf, sharpened three dozen pencils, hole-punched two hundred documents for pretty color-coded binders, made 1000 tabs for your code book, and straightened the drawers of your desk - but you have not actually studied yet.
  • Your apartment is spotless after you have done spring cleaning (after all you did not do it in April): scrubbed all baseboards, dusted every nook and cranny, washed all drapes and throws, polished the wood floors, shampooed the carpets, cleaned out closets, and polished the porcelain surfaces to a gleaming finish.
  • You have focused on Christmas shopping (Black Friday and Cyber Monday were just a start) and scoured every store for presents for family, friends, family pets, friends' pets, neighbors, neighbors' pets, distant relatives, the mailman, the cute barista at Starbucks, etc.
  • You have decided to decorate and ready your apartment for the holidays: put up your tree, hung the wreaths, strung the outdoor lights, made popcorn or construction paper chains to festoon your evergreen, baked cookies, hung stockings with care by the chimney, and wrapped endless packages in perfectly coordinated ribbons and paper.
  • You paint the living room, dining room, bedrooms, and kitchen, then redo the kitchen backsplash with an intricate mosaic that takes hours to finish, replace all countertops and the sink (you always wanted one of those farmhouse models), and decide to go shopping for new stainless steel appliances for the perfect look.
  • You write actual letters to every high school and college friend you every had (after all what says happy holidays like a handwritten missive), talk for hours on the telephone with every relative, review the 2000 emails in your inbox to see what might need deleting, and read every piece of junk mail that lands in your real-world mailbox.
  • You set a goal to study right after you watch every episode for all seasons of Downton Abbey or become world champion on your favorite gaming indulgence whether that is Pokémon Go, solitaire, or the latest really cool video game.

Do you think I am kidding? All of these scenarios reflect procrastinating law students I have known with very little exaggeration in the details. (Amy Jarmon) 

November 29, 2016 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Vulnerability: A Required Prerequisite for Learning?

According to research referenced by columnist Elizabeth Bernstein, vulnerability can be a great thing.  Although being vulnerable is often seen as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs, it can actually operate to produce wonderful things in our lives.  As case in point, Ms. Bernstein paraphrases Dr. Hal Shorey, a psychologist, as stating:"Vulnerability can also humanize you, facilitate learning, and enable optimal problem solving."  In short, real learning requires us to be vulnerable.  But, what is vulnerability?  "Psychologists and social scientists define vulnerability as the courage to show up and be seen and heard when you can’t control the outcome."  http://www.wsj.com/articles/you-took-an-emotional-risk-now-what-1478536377 

Ouch!  That's how I felt throughout most of law school…out of control...but not at all courageous.  And, as I'll explain below, that's because I spent most of my time preparing for exams by creating giant study tools rather than practicing exam scenarios.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself here...

Stepping back, how does the courage to be vulnerable relate to law school learning?  

Let me give a suggestion.  The "safe" thing to do to prepare for law school exams is to do what everyone else is doing:  grab your lecture notes, get hold of your case briefs, and create massive gargantuan outlines of all of your subjects…and...if you still have any time left before exams, read through a few old final exams to get a sense of the subject.  But, if you are like me, when I read through exams (or even just outline a few old exams), I sort of convince myself that I understand it, that I could write it, that I actually know what I am doing.  And, here's the rub.  That's not learning but rather just presuming that I know how to answer final exam questions.  So, here's the key.

Rather than spending the bulk of your time over the course of the next several weeks or so creating massive outlines, reorient your time so that most of your final exam preparation efforts are focused on what you are actually going to be tested on in your final exams, namely, solving legal problems.  That means that you should be reading, conversing, debating, outlining, writing, re-thinking, and re-writing old practice exams.  It will be hard.  It will not feel good.  It will not feel safe.  In fact, you'll probably feel like you don't know enough to start practicing exam problems.  But, if you wait until you think that you know enough to start practicing for your final exams, you will run out of time to practice final exams.  And, because you are not tested on creating great study tools but rather solving final exam problems, it will be both too little and too late to do much good if you just create study tools.  So, be brave by being vulnerability.  Grab hold of some old final exams from your professor.  Take a stab at them.  Try writing out answers.  Input what you learn into a study tool. Then go see your professor for feedback.  It will be hard to ask for help, to show your work to your professor.  That's because it requires you to accept that learning requires vulnerability.  But, you'll be might glad that you did.

Finally, in case your professor or your law school doesn't have old final exams readily available, do not give up…at all.  Instead, there are lots of free resources through your Academic Support Professionals, your Dean of Students, and even on the internet.  As a suggestion, here's a website that consolidates old bar exam essays, point sheets, and answer guides for a whole host of subjects to include Criminal Law, Torts, Contracts & Sales, Property Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, all arranged by date of the exam and…here's some great news…by subject matter too!  Old Bar Exam Essays By Subject Matter   So have at it by opening yourself up to focusing your final exam preparations on practicing lots of exam problems intermixed with creating your study tools.  (Scott Johns).  

November 10, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Self-Care and Stress Management

Life is filled with ups and downs but how do you manage your emotions?  Some students are working on their final legal writing assignment, signaling that exams are fast approaching for all students.  Around this time of the year, various student organizations and institutional entities have programming to help students manage stress.  We have a range of activities available to our students. Activities include “Game Night” which allows students to gather together to play various board games to de-stress.  Each semester, there is a “De-stress” day which includes ice cream and opportunities to pet dogs from the Veterinary Medicine School; this is a hit with our students.  We have “Mindfulness” Tuesdays and “T’ai Chi and Qigong” Tuesdays led by two of our professors.  There are several offices such as the Office of Student Engagement, Diversity Services Office, and Academic Success Program where students can seek assistance and direction on how to manage stress.

I find it important to explore a number of mediums of delivering important information to students.  The video below addresses stress relief tips in a quick, quirky, and informative manner.  “WellCast” explores physical, mental, and emotional paths to wellness.  While many of the videos on WellCast are geared to a younger audience, a few of them apply to an adult audience.  We can always use some animation in our life! (Goldie Pritchard)

 

November 9, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Do you know any curmudgeons at your law school?

Sometimes ASP'ers have to convince others regarding programmatic changes, added services, data collection, or other new ways of doing something. Maybe it is an initiative because of the ABA standards or other accrediting group for your law school's main university. Here is a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education on managing curmudgeons; although it discusses faculty curmudgeons, the points are more generally applicable: Tips for Managing Curmudgeons.

October 31, 2016 in Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Herculean ASPer?

A herculean ASPer is an academic support professional who is perceived to have extraordinary powers which allow her/him to overcome every difficult task pertaining to a law student’s academic and bar success. These powers often exceed normal human power and capability; they are superhuman.  This is my fictional description that I believe describes the perception of many academic support professionals and sometimes even how these professionals perceive themselves if they took the time to reflect.

Academic support professionals are problem solvers who are willing to put in the time and effort to help guide students as they navigate their law school learning and bar exam preparation processes. This means that we are simultaneously juggling interactions with several different students, with several different needs, and at a variety of points in their individual progression.  We help students manage emotions and address non-academic needs.  We are creative individuals who are flexible enough to adapt to individual student progression and process. Doing this type of work is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going.

While we might appear or perceive ourselves as superhuman and herculean in nature, I have found that at various points in the semester and the academic year responsibilities require more careful attention to time management. This can be difficult for someone who generally has difficulty saying “no”, values helping, and is solution oriented (speaking only for myself).  Whenever I find myself in such a predicament, I have to remind myself of what I advise students concerning managing their time and balancing responsibilities, particularly at demanding stages of the semester.  Here are the three things I try to keep in mind:

  1. Learn to say “no.” Only take on commitments you know you have time for and you truly care about. Although there are so many tantalizing opportunities, you still need to be effective in what you are doing and deliver a respectable product or service. This is the hardest thing to do. Be real with yourself and choose quality over quantity.
  2. Turn essential tasks into habits. Everything you want to accomplish each day results from repeated actions and developed routines. Start small with a manageable task and work from there. If you are required to produce regular written documents, then you may need to establish a set time and write regularly for that period of time. This means weekly or daily writing with time limits for completion.
  3. Personal fulfillment should be the goal. Enjoy and evaluate whatever you are doing. We can get so busy making sure we get everything done that we do not stop and smell the roses or appreciate what we do. You Only Live Once (YOLO). You do not get back the hours and minutes that have passed so do not experience regrets. Be open to opportunity and embrace your passions.

All the best as we work on ourselves to better help others work on themselves! (Goldie Pritchard)

October 26, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)!

In follow-up to yesterday's excellent post on tackling fear by Prof. Pritchard, I…unfortunately...spent most of my three years in law school in fear.  In fact, I felt like I was the only one that was without roots, without a sense of presence, without wholeness in law school.  But, since then, I now know the truth…many of us as law students feel alone and in fear.

Apparently, there is something called the 10/5 rule that might have helped me.  The 10/5 rule is used throughout the hotel and hospitality industries to help strangers feel welcome.  And, because many law students feel as though they are strangers throughout law school, I wonder whether the 10/5 rule might help law students overcome fear and loneliness to become instead empowered as partners with others in a community of learners.

So, here's the nut and bolts of the 10/5 rule:

It starts when you are ten feet away from another person.  Just make eye contact with a friendly smile. That's it.

Then, when you are five feet away, just add a friendly "hello" with perhaps a quick expression like "Wow; that's a big casebook you're carrying."

You see, according to freelance writer Jennifer Wallace: "Chitchat is an important social lubricant, helping to build empathy and a sense of community."  http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-benefits-of-a-little-small-talk-1475249737  Often, though, we underestimate the importance of small talk.  

According to a 2014 study, Professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. student Juliana Schroeder conducted experiments on commuter trains in Chicago in which participants were grouped into three cohorts: some were told to engage in polite conversations with strangers, some were told to avoid conversations with strangers, and some (as a control group) were asked to engage in conversations as they normally do.  Interestingly, the rule-breakers - those in the group that actually broke the "social rules of the commuter" by engaging in small talk with strangers - reported significantly more positive experiences and no less productive time as they commuted.   http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/nicholas.epley/EpleySchroeder2014.pdf

In another study conducted on a campus setting of 40,000 students, researchers evaluated whether an eye gaze and a friendly smile might make any difference with respect to students' sense of belonging.  In the experiment, the authors had a research experimenter randomly walk past college students in which she either avoided eye contact, engaged in eye contact, or engaged in eye contact accompanied by a friendly smile. Trailing the experimenter was a research associate who then surveyed each passerby.  Without tipping the students about the experiment, the research associate asked each student to evaluate their sense of belonging.  Surprisingly, even when students were not aware of the research experimenter's contact with them, students who were greeted with an eye gaze reported a greater sense of belonging (with the highest reported benefit by those greeted with both an eye gaze and a smile).  As the authors indicate, "simple eye contact is sufficient to convey inclusion. In contrast, withholding eye contact can signal exclusion."  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/2/166

These results seem to validate the 10/5 rule.  So, why not put to practice the 10/5 rule in law school.  Looking back, I wonder whether, if I had practiced the 10/5 rule as a law student, I would have developed connections with others in law school (and put fear and loneliness aside).  Perhaps I just need to start greeting others with an eye gaze and a brief "howdy."  In light of this research, our small interactions with our students might be the bridge to help our students not just survive in law school but thrive.  So, here's to "breaking the rules" and smiling with you!  (Scott Johns).

 

October 20, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Stress Mindset: Friend or Foe?

Have you ever locked yourself out of an office, a car, an apartment or home?  I sure have, and plenty of times.  The worst was a Friday night at a carwash - after having just finished washing a car - with a bunch of cars lined up behind me to get into the carwash.  Very stressful!  But, that's not the point.

Rather, there are two ways to view the situation.  

First, I might feel like I'm just plain out-of-luck, unless I get an expert - like one who has the master key to cars  - to let me in.  

Or...

Second, I'm not going to let this stop me, at least not without a good-hearted try.  

Our responses are different in the two cases based on our approaches or mindsets to the stressful situation.  

In the first case, I just give up and wait for help.  And, while I wait, I start to simmer over negative thoughts, such as: "I can't believe I did this again" or "How could I be so careless?"  Despite my stewing over my situation, my situation doesn't change.  I'm still waiting for others to bring the master key.  I'm not growing and I'm not learning.

In contrast, in the second case (or at least while waiting for help), I decide to take a try at getting into my car.  So, perhaps I grab hold of a paperclip, stretch it out, flex it a bit, poke it around the lock, and hope (or imagine) that I will trip the locking mechanism to open the car door, even without my key.  It might not work…or…it might work!  But, regardless of the outcome, I still try, and, in the process, I feel bits of excitement, some positive vibes, that at least for the moment take my mind away from blaming myself for the situation or telling myself that I'm plum out of luck, and, instead, I re-direct my energies to finding a solution, a pro-active way out of my predicament.

Interestingly, research scientists are starting to discover some very exciting things about stress and mindset.  

First, stress is common to all of us.  It's part and parcel with the human experience. Indeed, according to the scientists, to try to avoid stress is not just impossible but downright harmful to us.  So, we shouldn't run from it…at all.

That brings us to the second point.  Stress is critically important in helping us grow as a person and even as a learner.  In fact, it's not really true that stress kills; rather, it's our mindset to stress that determines whether it harms the body or rather it builds up the body and mind.  Indeed, biologically speaking, the right mindset to stress produces the chemical and biological reactions necessary for learning.

Third, our current mindset about stress is not fixed in stone at all. Rather, our approach to stress can be changed - through even very short video clip interventions - where we learn to reframe our approaches to stress so that we see "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about the impact of our mindset approach in determining whether stress is beneficial or not.

You see, according to the scientists, it is our mindset to stress (and not the stress itself) that determines whether stress produces good outcomes or harmful outcomes.  According to the experts, our bodies are hardwired not to avoid stress but rather to grow through stress.  For example, let's take exam stress.  The student that learns the research about mindset and stress prior to an exam (i.e., that stress can actually be a good experience because stress can be mind-enhancing, mind-activating, and mind-growing, thus leading to positive growth in learning) performs much better than the person who believes that stress harms one's abilities to tackle an exam.  

Let's make this concrete.  If you are like me, when I take exams, my heart starts pounding and my lungs start breathing in gulps.  I could view that as a bad sign.  If I do, I'm in trouble.  Or, I could recognize that my body is reacting to a stressful situation in precisely that way that it was made to react.  In fact, my increased heart and respiration rates are actually working together for good - my good - to bring me to a more alert state, with much more oxygen than normal, to help my brain perform better than ever, and just in the knick-of-time for me to tackle that exam that is before me.

Want to know more?  Try these resources.  For a quick overview, take a look at psychologist Kelly McGonigal's article "How to be Good at Stress." Ted Ideas: Good At Stress   

For a short 3-step approach to turning stress into a positive, see the article by psychologist Alia Crum and performance coach Thomas Crum entitled "Stress Can Be a Good Thing if You Know How to Use it" in the Harvard Business Review.   Stress as a Good Thing   

Finally, for the scientific details, please see psychologists Alia Crum and Peter Salovey's research article "Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response."   Rethinking Stress 

It's something to think about…stress and our mindset.  (Scott Johns)

 

October 13, 2016 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Positive Attitude Pays Off

We are almost exactly halfway through our semester's classes. It is the point in the semester when some students exhibit their stress by complaining about everything and everyone in their paths.

What they do not realize is that their focusing on negativity only adds to their stress rather than relieving it. Venting feels good momentarily. (Let's face it, we all vented at times during law school.) But some students go beyond mere venting and get stuck in a consistently negative attitude which can solidify into low productivity, low skill levels, or a blame game. 

By stepping back and re-thinking the situation to recognize a more positive approach to this academic challenge, students can turn initial frustration into a quest for improved grades, professionalism, and competence. Negative students stay negative, and sometimes angry. Positive students are those who can regain perspective.

Here are some examples that show the negative and positive attitudes (these are all based on real law student comments):

  • Negative 2L student: If I had been in the easy section of the class last spring, I would not have gotten a D grade. The professor did not teach well. Positive 2L student: I got a D in the course. At first I was angry about the grade, but then I realized that 60 other students in the same section did better than I did on the exact same exam. Can you help me learn some new strategies for studying and for taking exams?
  • Negative 2L student: I have worked for my attorney father for the last three summers, and he never complained about my writing. The legal writing professor who gave me a D+ does not know what he is talking about. Positive 2L student: I worked during three summers for law firms, but now I realize the expectations are higher for law students than undergraduate interns. I plan to attend the extra writing workshops this fall to improve my skills since my legal writing grade was disappointing.
  • Negative 2L student: The law school registration system stinks. I really wanted to take the 2 p.m. section of a course, but the 3Ls got all the slots. It is only offered every other year, and I was not about to get out of bed to take it at 8:00 a.m. Positive 2L student: I was sad to have to take the 8:00 a.m. section of the course because the later section was full and I did not make it off the waitlist. But hey, when I am working I'll have to be at the law firm early, and the course is important to me.
  • Negative 2L student: Reading and briefing cases, taking notes, and making outlines is such a waste of time. I just use canned briefs, a class script, and others' outlines. Positive 2L student: Although reading and briefing and making outlines takes time, I learn the necessary skills and understand everything at a deeper level when I process the course material myself. Shortcuts do not give me the same results.
  • Negative 1L student: I worked as a legal assistant in a law firm for three years, and my attorneys never asked me to do this ridiculous jurisdictional stuff that has taken up the first month. My civil procedure professor does not know what real-life lawyering is all about. Positive 1L student: I never did any jurisdictional stuff when I worked as a legal assistant for a law firm. But I realize that was probably because I was just asked to do the every day procedural tasks for litigation and not to think through some of those other issues.
  • Negative 1L student: Law school should not be this much work and demand such a large commitment. My social life is taking a hit. And they expect me to study in the evenings and on the weekends! Positive 1L student: Being a lawyer is hard work and takes tons of commitment. Now is my chance to learn the skills that will make me competent in my future profession. I am up for the challenge of hard work because I want to be an excellent lawyer, not just a mediocre one.
  • Negative 1L student: Professors do not tell us exactly what to memorize for the exam and are always discussing stuff that was not mentioned in the cases. I just want to know the black letter law to parrot back. Positive 1L student: Having to read and analyze cases will be a daily task as an attorney. Learning how to do it well is really important to me. The professors help me to synthesize the law and think about things that I would never have seen on my own.
  • Negative 1L student: Legal research and writing assignments are too hard and expect too much. The professor does not tell me exactly what to write - even when I get a draft back. Positive 1L student: Legal research and writing are really hard because I have to research thoroughly and write so concisely. I realize our having to figure some of its out on our own prepares us for what it will be like on our first part-time jobs.
  • Negative 1L student: The people in my classes are such nerds/losers/gunners/(fill in the blank). I am obviously superior because I do not have to work as hard as they do. Positive 1L student: There are a lot of really bright people in my classes. Some of them are a bit annoying. But most of them inspire me to produce my best work. I may be smart, but I am no longer a big fish in a small pond.
  • Negative 1L student: Professors are posting practice questions that they expect us to complete on top of everything else! No way I want to do that extra work. Positive 1L student: Practice questions will allow me to see how this professor tests and to get feedback on my answers. After all, exams are all about applying the law to new legal scenarios. I'll do all the posted questions and more.
  • Negative 1L student: The upper-division students hired by the professors are all running the weekly 1L sessions on the off days and times for class. No way I am getting up at 8 a.m. or staying on Friday morning after my classes are over. They should schedule more convenient sessions. Positive 1L student: What a luxury to have upper-division students who run extra sessions for the professors to help us with the classes. I can monitor my progress and understanding. I get to do more practice problems. And they have office hours, too!
  • Negative 1L student: Professors should just tell us everything we need to know. Why should I have to go in and ask questions on office hours? Positive 1L student: My professors are good about answering questions and giving me feedback on outlines and practice questions. It means that I have to stay on top of the work and ask for help, but those things are just part of being responsible for my learning.
  • Negative 1L student: The free food at the luncheon speakers is too repetitive and not what I like. Positive 1L student: Oh, wow! Another day without having to pay for lunch or bring it from home. Hmmm, what are dolmades? Guess I'll try it and find out.

Law school is tough, tiring, and sometimes frustrating. If the endeavor to become an excellent attorney can be remembered, many of the experiences can be re-evaluated for their career benefits and learning. No law student can be positive every day. But the ones who retain a positive attitude most days will find the law school experience less frustrating and more productive. (Amy Jarmon)

 

October 10, 2016 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Are Wellness Dogs in Law Schools' Futures?

Our student organization on animal law has brought dogs into the law school during several exam periods to de-stress law students. Other law schools have also done this type of pet therapy. Now USC is touting its new hire: USC "Hires" Full-Time Wellness Dog.

September 26, 2016 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Foreign Students and Class Participation

Many of our law schools have exchange or L.L.M. foreign students enrolled in our courses. Our educational system (both undergraduate and legal) is very different from the educational backgrounds of many of these students. Adapting to the U.S. educational system is compounded by adapting to the U.S. legal system as well. It is not unusual for foreign students to tell me how very difficult the transition is for them.

I can empathize because I had to adjust to the British legal system and language when I cross-qualified as a solicitor for England and Wales - and I already spoke American English and came from a common law country! It was hard to think in two versions of English and make the mental switches to a very different common law legal system. Most of our foreign students are adjusting to an entirely different language and from civil law to common law!

A recent Inside Higher Education post addressed the participation in class aspect of the adjustment for foreign students. The post provides food for thought and practical tips as we try to help these students adjust to the very American emphasis on class participation. Read the post here: Helping Foreign Students Speak Up .     (Amy Jarmon)

September 25, 2016 in Diversity Issues, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Early Semester Stress

This the fourth full week of classes for our students and stress has already crept in. First year law students who were enthusiastic about the beginning of the law school journey are now working hard and trying to balance all of their responsibilities.  More assignments are due in legal writing and doctrinal courses now include some challenging material.  Students are trying to maintain their sanity and humanity while balancing the demands of their checklists and trying to do one or two things they enjoy.  Moreover, students are trying not to be too distracted by the various news reports about tragedies and events in our backyards and around the world.  With students feeling a number of emotions, self-care is essential.

Here are my top five self-care considerations:

  1. Check-in with your emotions. It is helpful to sit by yourself, quietly, and name what you are feeling. Don't judge your emotions but simply name them, claim them, and maybe even feel them so you can let go of the negative ones.
  2. Boogie down. Select your favorite upbeat tunes and dance or sing at the top of your lungs. This helps you reconnect with positive emotions and gets your body moving.
  3. Unplug all devices. For about an hour daily, turn everything off. Turn off your computer, put your cellphone on airplane mode or silent, and shut off all electronics with alarms or alerts.
  4. Be selfish. Weekly, do something just because it makes you happy. Have something to look forward to particularly if you have a very demanding week.
  5. Mute the negative. If you have negative people in your life or individuals who fill your social media feeds with sad or negative information you might want to mute them. You may have close or long term relationships with these individuals so you might not want to delete them. You can temporarily or permanently block their information and go from there.

(Goldie Pritchard)

September 21, 2016 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2016

ASU Spoof Video for Encouraging Students to Meet with Professors

Hat tip to Professor Brian Shannon at Texas Tech Law for sharing this video that Arizona State is using to encourage students to use their professors' office hours. The article with the video link is here.

September 12, 2016 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students" Say Researchers Walton and Cohen

Big hat tip to Professor Rodney Fong at the University of San Francisco School of Law for his alert to this research article!

It's not too late to make a difference…a real difference…a measurable difference…to improve academic performance and health outcomes for minority students, as demonstrated by the published research findings of Dr. Gregory M. Walton and Dr. Geoffrey L. Cohen at Stanford University in their article "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students."

Here's the scoop:

The researchers surmised that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes for African-American students.  As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for success in collegiate studies. In its most basic form, the intervention was threefold.

First, the university shared survey results with research participating students, substanting that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time."  

Second, the participating students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages by writing an essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey."  

Third, the participating students created videos of their written essays for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the collegiate world better for future generations of incoming students).  

According to the researchers, surveys in the week following the intervention suggested that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging.  And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.  

The researches then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences and to test for the impact of race.  As revealed in the research article, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students in terms of both improvements in GPA and improvements in well-being.  In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits.

That brings us back to us ASPers!  

With the start of the school year for ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging.  But, there's more involved than just sharing the news.  Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not see themselves - in the words of the Stanford researchers - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention.  

In short, our entering students must be empowered with tools to share with future generations what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.  

Wow!  What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge…for all of us! (Scott Johns).

P.S. Here's the abstract to provide you with a precise overview of the research findings:  "A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health."  Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451  

September 1, 2016 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Study on Cold-Calling Undergraduates - Revisting the Law School Socratic Method

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent article talked about a study that found cold-calling on undergraduate students increased the students' voluntary participation over the semester. The article referenced that like any other skill, students need practice - practice in the skill of class participation. The link to the article is here: Why Cold-Calling on Students Works. (Of course, the article also made a negative reference to the law school use of cold-calling and included a link to the well-known clip from Paperchase in which Kingsfield terrorizes Hart.) 

For a more positive look at law school Socratic Method, see my post here: Turning the Socratic Method into a Positive Experience. (Amy Jarmon)

August 29, 2016 in Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alone…or Perhaps…Not Quite So Alone as 1L Students?

Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.

But, here's some great news!  

We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!  

You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students,  most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.

In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared.  Downright frightened…and...intimated.  But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!  

Don't believe me?  

Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school.  Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.  

And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students.  You see,most of us feel just like you do.  

So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns.  It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did.  And, good luck new 1L students.  We wish you the best!

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(Scott Johns)

August 25, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)