Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Grow a Forest While Avoiding Distractions

One of my law students has told me about an app that she is using to stay focused while she is studying:  Forest App. The app is free for Android phones (of course with ads) and modestly priced for others.

The app reminds me of Pomidoro (the tomato for those of you who visualize rather than have name recognition). You can choose the number of minutes that you want to stay focused: 10 minutes up to two hours.  

If you avoid distractions for 30 minutes, your animated sapling begins growing into a tree right before your eyes. Platitudes such as "What you plant now you will harvest later" and "You are almost there" pop up at intervals. 10 - 25 minutes grows a bush.

Keep planting trees through 30-minute sessions of focusing to get a woodland, and eventually a forest. You can track your daily progress and view your woodland.

If you get distracted away from your tree, the sapling or tree dies - in fact if you tap "give up," the app will remind you that you will kill your cute little tree. Definitely a visualization of the cost of losing focus!

Like many of these apps you can cheat - walk away from task and let the timer run or go to another screen before returning to task, for example. But, as long as you care about being more productive and stay honest, it works as a good focus timer.

The press kit and some reviews of the app talk about how users can earn virtual credits/gold coins that will result in real trees being planted in deforested areas through a tie-in with WeForest. I earned 9 gold coins for a 25-minute session and 3 gold coins for 10 minutes. It apparently takes 2500 gold coins to plant a real tree

For those of us who are environmentally friendly, the real-tree incentive can help us stay on task, so the earth benefits from our study or work efforts. (Amy Jarmon)

November 27, 2016 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Exam Prep Tips...from Surgeons?

Wow; do I ever get distracted...with emails...incoming snapchats....Facebook posts....and just the overall buzz of the omnipresent internet.  There is so much NOISE that takes up so much of my TIME that I seem to get so LITTLE done.  That's particularly true for me in preparing for exams because, to be honest, I am a big-time procrastinator...with a CAPITAL P!

In fact, I was just fretting about how much I had to do today (which, of course, is related to my procrastination issues) when I came across an article by Lucette Lugando describing how surgeons stay focused during organ transplants. Hum...That's what I need.  To Focus. To Stay on Task.  To Just Get Something Meaningful Done Today!   http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-surgeons-stay-focused-for-hours-1479310052  

So, here are a few thoughts that I gleaned from Lugando's article that might be especially handy as law students (and myself) begin to prepare for final exams.

1.  First, put away my cellphone.  Turn it off.  Hide it.  Ditch it.  As detailed in Lugando's article, "Transplant surgeons, whose work includes stitching minuscule blood vessels together, minimize their distractions. No one checks cellphones in the operating room during surgery."  No one checks their phones?  Really?  Are you kidding?  Of course not, at least not during surgery.  And, exam preparation requires us to do surgery, so to speak, on our study tools and on loads of practice exams.  Thus, as I create study tools or as I learn by taking practice exams, I can help myself mightily by placing my focus on my work at hand... rather than the cellphone that is so often in my hand...by removing the "cellphone temptation" out of my grasp.  Who knows?  It might even lower my anxiety to stop looking at it constantly.

2.  Second, sharpen my field of vision to the bare essentials (working on my study tools, practicing lots of exam questions, and looping the lessons learned from my practice problems back into my study tools) by creating an environment that is free of my own personal distractions...so that I focus on learning rather than the noise that is so often around me.  As Lugando points out, "The surgeons often wear loupes mounted on eye glasses to magnify their work, which limits their field of vision to a few inches."  In other words, with respect to final exam preparation, maybe I need to limit my field of vision to the "few" essentials, namely, creating study tools, testing my study tools out through practice exams, and then editing my study tools to incorporate what I learned about problem-solving through the practice exams.  Practically speaking, that means that I need to remove all the other objects of distraction within my field of vision, first, by scheduling my study tasks (and not just my study hours) and, second, by setting up a place where I will not be distracted by the environment around me.  

There's a saying, apparently by Winston Churchill, that says: "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks."  Or, as Bruce Lee put it, "The successful warrior is the average [person] with a laser-like focus."  So, instead of having the cellphone bark at you constantly, you might just try out what surgeons do...and turn your focus into a laser for several hours a day by getting rid of distractions during your study periods as you create your study tools and practice final exam problems.  (Scott Johns).

November 17, 2016 in Exams - Studying, 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)

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, September 29, 2016

Some Thoughts on Teaching Outlining, etc.

As mentioned in a previous blog, most of my law school outlines were - simply put - not outlines…and not useful at all in law school.  Rather, my outlines were just my regurgitated notes with my case briefs and class notes filling out the details.  

And, there was a good reason that I didn't know how to outline or create another organization tool (such as a flowchart, a map, an audio file, a poster, etc.).  That's because I didn't have a framework in mind to organize my notes, briefs, and casebook materials.  And, I suspect that many of our students find themselves in similar straits.

So, here's a thought…just a thought.  Perhaps Academic Support Professionals might lend a hand in providing the organizational template for outlining.  

Here's why.  First, the casebook and the class syllabus already provide our students with a rough guide as to methods to organize a law school subject.  So, we don't mind giving our students some sort of start in the process.  But, the rough guide from a casebook and syllabus are not enough.  

That's because the rough outlines in those materials do not provide students with sufficient details to organize the subject.  The tables of contents, for example, usually just provide legal terms of art.  That's it.  No so-called "black letter" law at all.  

So, here's the rub. We expect our students to craft the rules for themselves. But, in the practice of law, we don't do that at all.  Rather, at least speaking for myself, when I work on a novel legal problem, I don't ever start with a casebook.  Instead, I start with a mini-hornbook to provide me an overview of the black letter law, including the big picture "umbrella" rules, such as:  A refugee is "one who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion…"  Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(42)(A).  

Then, I start digging into the cases to figure out, assuming that the law does not define the various terms, what persecution means or membership in a particular social group, etc.  In short, as an attorney, I have never had to create an umbrella rule from scratch based on reading a bunch of cases.  Instead, I use the cases to determine how to apply (or distinguish) the rule to (or from) the situations that my clients are facing.

If that is how most of us practice law, then maybe that is how we should study law too.  If so (and this is just a hunch of mine), maybe we should be giving our students a template of the black letter law. Then, our students can proactively use that template to flesh out the meanings of the rules, the limits of the rules, and the particular applications of the rules…by inserting within that template their case blurbs, class notes, class hypotheticals, policy rationales, etc.  

One of my best professors in law school (and also one of my most difficult in terms of grading) was not afraid at all to set out the black letter law for us, both as a preview of the coming class and as a review of the previous class.  With the law set out, we were much better able to dig into the heart of the law…what do the words mean, what are the policy implications behind the rules, should the rules be changed, etc.  

In short, we learned to think like a lawyer…even without having to craft our own umbrella rules.  And, amazingly, that's one of the few law school classes that I can still recall many of the things that I learned.  The others - just like most of my law school outlines - are just faded memories.  (Scott Johns).

 

September 29, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Counterpoint to Laptop Bans

Much has been said about the positives of banning laptops in the classroom. Proponents of the ban position have pointed to studies that support handwriting over typing notes.

The Chronicle of Higher Education contained an article this week that does not buy in to the studies and takes a more moderate approach: No, Banning Laptops Is Not the Answer.

In that article is a link to a May blog post on The Tatooed Prof that also supports a different approach to classroom technology: Let's Ban the Classroom Technology Ban.

 

 

September 18, 2016 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech | 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 8, 2016

Creating Study Tools: It's Not Too Early to Organize (or Outline) Your Thoughts!

First Year Law Students: 

It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools.  But, you ask, how?  

Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!

But first, let's lay the groundwork.  

Why should I create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in law school?  

There are at least two reasons.

First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts.  It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so.  And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.

Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too).  In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.

So, let's set out the 6 steps:

1.  Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!  

That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes.  They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool.  Here's a tip:  Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus.  The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool.  And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below.  Voila!

2.  Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!  

That's right.  It might look like a skeleton.  Not pretty at all.  That's okay.  Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning.  So, relax and enjoy the mess.  My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others.  But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use.  Here's a tip:  Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.

3.  Insert the Rules!  

Be bold.  Be daring. Be adventuresome.  If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool.  Bravo!

4.  Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).  

Most rules have multiple-parts.  So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements!  (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration.  Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.

5.  Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!  

Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement.  Here's a tip:  A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision.  Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.

6.  Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!  

Yes, you might crash.  Yes, it might be ugly.  In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly!  But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool.  Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two.  Not sure where to find practice problems.  Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams.  Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter:  http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/barprep/resources/colorado-exam-essays

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  You don't have to make an outline.  Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards.  What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts!  It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your final exams.  In short, people don't do well on exams because of what they did on exam day.  Rather, people do well on exams because of what they did in preparation for exams!  Still unsure of yourself?  I sure was in law school.  So, have at it with my own personal example of a study tool (using a visual mind map) that I created on a family law topic concerning when a court can permit a parent to move to another state with a child.

(Scott Johns)

 

   Family Law Outline


 

 

September 8, 2016 in Advice, Learning Styles, 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)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Be Teachable

Last week marked the arrival of all of our first year law students for a week of orientation. There were fun activities, a series of welcomes, some serious academic activities, and a lot of new information to absorb. Our Academic Success Program is involved in various aspects of orientation but I also like to hear what some of my colleagues have to say to the students. One statement by our Associate Dean of Student Engagement caught my attention.  He said to the 1Ls: “Make sure that you are teachable” and then he went on to make his various remarks.  This is great advice that encourages students to be open to the information that is presented and open to learning. Ego often gets in the way of being teachable and so does competition. We do not always recognize our resistance to learning and sometimes that resistance is detrimental. Merriam-Webster defines “teachable” as “able and willing to learn, capable of being taught.”  We should all be willing to learn and in turn be capable of being taught.

I think that being teachable should be paired with being open to constructive criticism and getting comfortable with being vulnerable. Law students typically receive very limited feedback and one exam at the end of the semester determines their performance in individual courses. A legal writing course is usually the course in which students receive more regular feedback because they have regular assignments with hard deadlines. I encourage students to take the feedback that they receive, determine what changes they need to make, and make those changes.  I encourage them not to take constructive criticism as an affront on their intelligence or ability to be a successful law student.  They should look at criticism as an opportunity to learn, develop a skill, and become a better student and lawyer. I know that it is easier said than done.  Even for individuals who are accustom to managing criticism, receiving criticism in law school can be a challenge at first.  It might be helpful for students to put themselves in situations where they have to manage scrutiny or constructive criticism regularly.  Maybe develop public speaking skills, audition for a play, write and have their writing critiqued, or engage in any activity they feel uncomfortable engaging in but that includes an element of critique.  Participating in any of these activities might put students under enough scrutiny and encourage them to determine how to best manage extensive critique.  The added benefit is that hopefully these experiences empower students to seek out feedback and be more receptive of constructive criticism as a law student. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 31, 2016 in Advice, Study Tips - General | 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)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Student-Recommended Resources

Here are some online resources/apps that students have recommended to me:

  • Headspace - learn meditation so that mindfulness can ease your stress (https://www.headspace.com/)
  • Kahoot! - make your own practice questions (https://getkahoot.com/)
  • LearnLeo - tutorials for those learning how to read and brief cases (www.learnleo.com)
  • One Note - an organizational tool through your Microsoft package for briefs, notes, and outlines
  • Picjur - legal graphics for concepts (www.picjur.com)
  • Pomidoro apps - 12 apps that use the pomidoro method to increase focus (https://zapier.com/blog/best-pomodoro-apps/)
  • Quimbee - legal videos and practice questions (https://www.quimbee.com/courses)
  • SeRiouS (SRS) - spaced repetition for legal concepts (http://www.spacedrepetition.com/)

What are your favorite resources and apps? Send me an email or leave a comment to let me know. (Amy Jarmon)

August 24, 2016 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

One Thing Can Improve Students' Grades in All Their Courses!

Simply amazing!

As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.  

In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance,"  Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA:  http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/ 

Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence):  The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance

For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.

Wow…that's the power of one!  (Scott Johns).

 

August 18, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Law School Stress & Pro-Active Anti-Stress Measures for All of Us (i.e., Be A Brain Cell Creator!

Stress.  Oh my!  

Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach.  But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.

According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too.  That's the bad news. But, here's the great news!  In fact, it is really terrific news!  And, it is news that we can all use…today! 

But first, some background.  

As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition.  But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress:  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stress_may_be_killing_law_students_brain_cells_law_prof_says 

So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us.  But how, you might ask?

Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:

  1. Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
  2. Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key role...in consolidating memories."  So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
  3. Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.

     

For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at:  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155

To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning.  So, be kind to yourself today...by resting and relaxing and exercising.  You'll be mighty happy that you did!  (Scott Johns).

 

August 11, 2016 in Advice, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

1L Students and Summer Pre-Law School Programs

If finances permitted or your law school offered an “early or summer start program,” hopefully you took advantage of these summer pre-law school opportunities. Early start programs range in mission, goal, structure, depth, and breath. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with a preview or general exposure to the law school environment, both the academic culture and social experience. They primarily serve to assist students in engaging with and developing some of the skills necessary to ensure academic success. Some programs cater to certain underrepresented populations, others cater to students with certain credentials, and yet others are available to the law student population at large. Most first year law students have been exposed to very limited, if any, information about the practical aspects of learning in law school. The presumption is that past academic success evidenced by GPA and current LSAT predictors are sufficient for law success. This is true for some but not for all. Attending such a program might be a good way to learn about a few things you can use before classes start and maybe even cultivate relationships with other law students. If you took advantage of such a program, hopefully, it met your expectations.

Once you have completed such a program, I would caution you to guard against being overly confident. Confidence is good but overconfidence can be an obstacle to success. Students look for and tend to think that there is a checklist for how to succeed in law school and that “one size fits all.” You will likely have to make some overall adjustments to the systems and processes you have adopted. You will also have to make adjustments to meet specific professor expectations and to acclimate to the culture at your law school. A willingness to adapt and make changes is imperative. Don’t get frustrated when you do not yield the results you expect immediately. The law school experience will challenge you academically, leave you frustrated at times, and may lead you to question your knowledge and abilities. This is the nature of the law school experience which builds up your resilience.

If attending an “early or summer start program” was unavailable to you for whatever reason, do not fret. You still have opportunities to build a sense of community and ease some of the fears and concerns you have about law school. You will likely have an orientation which will give you an opportunity to meet peers. You will also likely have an academic support program which will provide programming, workshops, and other opportunities tailored to help you develop the skills necessary for academic success.

Be confident but not too confident. All the best to first year law students. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 10, 2016 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Learn Something New

For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.

I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!

This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.  

We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process.  This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be.  I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors. 

For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 3, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bar Exam Stress - A Two-Minute Video Clip to Help You Catch Hold of "Growth Mindset" Optimism!

There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.  

As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)."  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors.   So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week:  http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest  

In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam.  Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities.  It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct.  So, don't worry about what you missed.  Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).

 

You Can Do This!

July 21, 2016 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why Are Law Students Not Always Prepared for the Rigor of Law School?

Academic support professionals at law schools have noticed that new law students are often coming in to the study of law without the same basic study habits and critical reading and thinking skills that we would have seen previously. Although the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on the falling number of applicants and those applicants' credential erosion, I think that would be a mistake. The lack of study habits and skills is not just limited to those with the lowest credentials. It is prevalent across entering classes and cannot be explained just by LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.

A number of factors in undergraduate education (and no doubt earlier education) seem to be linked to students coming into law school without the background study habits and skills that we have long expected entering law students to have. Here are some of the things that students who did very well in college commonly tell me about their undergraduate experiences:

  • Most students studied only 15-20 hours per week at the most. Many will tell me that they made As and Bs with even less studying.
  • The course examinations often required them to memorize information and merely regurgitate it onto the paper to get high grades.
  • Examinations were not comprehensive over the semester's entire course material; exams typically covered no more than 2-4 weeks of material.
  • Because examinations covered limited material, cramming was the successful study method for high grades. Students did not study to retain information for long-term memory and later use, but rather to dump it and forget it.
  • Students often took courses and had majors that they never planned to use the information from in the future. Thus, cramming for high grades had few or no long-term effects for many of them.
  • Students often were allowed to drop the lowest grade among the 4 or 5 tests they took for a course.
  • Students often commented that professors rarely graded papers for punctuation, grammar, word choice, or style. "They just wanted to know my ideas."
  • Many students mention they had never written a paper longer than 5 pages in college. Some had never written anything longer than 2 pages.
  • Students delayed any work on papers until a few days before they were due because they could get high grades on first drafts.

Although students are warned throughout orientation programs about the differences in law school, students who end up in academic difficulty often state that "I thought they were talking to everyone else." It is often difficult for students who have been successful on little studying and cramming to change their habits.

The students who listen to the warnings that law school is different and "up their game" with more study hours often choose study habits that focus only on class survival and required papers. They do not always realize the importance of regular review and long-term memory for comprehensive semester exams, the future bar exam, and practice. They do not realize the importance of practice questions to apply concepts. They may miss the importance of building skills across classes that will be used every day in practice.

Professional practice as a lawyer requires a different approach toward education by law students. Our dilemma is to determine how to provide the study habits and skills not attained in lower education so that law students can be successful in law school and ultimately in practice. (Amy Jarmon) 

 

June 28, 2016 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thoughts for New 1L Students

Congratulations to all of the new 1Ls who will be arriving on our campuses this August! We look forward to your joining us in your journey to being attorneys.

What should you be doing this summer to prepare for law school? Here are some suggestions:

  • Spend time with family and friends. Your time as a law student will be very busy, so you want to have quality relaxation time this summer. Take advantage of this time to have family trips, lots of conversations, and companionship with the people who are special in your life.
  • Get your finances in place as soon as possible. Make a budget that you can stick to during the semester so that you will not run out of money or run up credit card debt. Working during your first year of law school as a full-time student is not doable.
  • Use the summer to get yourself in shape: regular exercise, good nutrition, a regular sleep schedule of 7-8 hours. Your brain will be doing heavy lifting for the next 3 years. You need to be healthy to have optimal learning. Many law students run into trouble because they do not take care of themselves, and their academics suffer. Undertake solid routines this summer to prepare yourself for a rigorous academic year, and then continue good routines during the year.
  • If at all possible, move into your law school apartment at least two weeks before orientation begins. Get all of the boxes unpacked, the cable hooked up, the pictures hung, and the refrigerator stocked with nutritious foods. Explore your new city. Locate the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery store, and other necessities. You will have first-day reading assignments for your classes, and the work will not let up until the end of exams. You want your living situation completely settled before you start orientation and classes.
  • Realize that law school is not the same as undergraduate school. You need to learn new study strategies to succeed in law school. Although you study cases on a daily basis, you need to synthesize material through outlines. Law school exams test differently than other disciplines; you are asked to apply the law to analyze new fact scenarios. Pay careful attention in orientation to study skill sessions and attend fall workshops provided by the academic support professionals at your law school.
  • Realize also that you need to study more hours per week than you have ever had to study. You need to be organized, efficient, and effective in your studies. To achieve the best grades, you need to do more each week than just daily class preparation. You need to synthesize the material into outlines and review regularly to prepare for exams. You also need to complete practice questions throughout the semester to monitor your learning. Cramming does not work in law school. There is too much material to learn in the last few weeks. The rule of thumb to get all tasks done every week (class prep, outlines, review, practice questions, legal research and writing) is 50-55 hours per week.
  • Analyze what your main distractions are and how they cause you to procrastinate. For many law students, the distractions are electronic: cell phone calls, email, texting, gaming. Law students cannot afford to waste hours a day on distractions. Weaning yourself from your electronic handcuffs over the summer will help you use time more effectively during the semester.
  • Read as much as possible. Read a mix of fiction and non-fiction books. You need to get into training for reading 30-60 pages per night for each course. You will not be as shocked by the workload if you spend lots of time reading over the summer and practice reading for comprehension.
  • I do not recommend trying to read torts, contracts, civil procedure, or other legal course materials over the summer. For the most part, you will get little out of it without the classroom experience. Plus, most law courses will not cover all of the topics that you are reading about on your own.
  • There are some very good books on law school written by academic support professionals. I would recommend starting with Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School as summer reading. Ruth McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer would be another good summer choice. During the school year, Alex Ruskell's A Weekly Guide to Being a Model Law Student can keep you on schedule. Carolina Academic Press has a wide variety of good books on law school, legal reasoning, and other law school topics.
  • Non-lawyer family members will not fully understand what your future 3 years will be like - unless you go to law school, it is hard to understand the demands. You may want to share Andrew McClurg's book entitled A Companion Text to Law School with them to help them to understand what your three years will be like.

Have enjoyable and battery-charging summers. You want to hit the ground running when you arrive in the fall. (Amy Jarmon)

June 9, 2016 in Orientation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)