Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Doing IS Learning!

In a commentary entitled "Doing is the Key to Learning," physicist Frank Wilczek reflects on learning, writing that "[t]he fear of making mistakes is a great barrier to creativity.  But if you're ready to learn from them, mistakes can be your friends.  As I have often advised students, 'If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems--and that's a big mistake.'"  "Wilczek's Universe," Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2017, p. C4.

You see, sometimes we are too afraid to learn...because...we are too afraid to make mistakes.

But, there is NO learning without mistakes.  That's particularly true at this stage of the semester when final exams still seem so far away.   So, rather than trying practice problems or meeting with others to discuss hypotheticals, we avoid practicing exam hypotheticals because we often don't feel like we are ready to practice...because we don't feel like we know enough yet to take a try at problem-solving.

That's the BIGGEST mistake of all because learning is hard.  Practice is hard.  It involves trial and error (and even lots of trials and lots of errors!).  In the process, we find out what we know (and what we don't really know). It involves making lots of mistakes before we start seeing any great successes at all in our problem-solving abilities.  And, let's be frank:  That is just downright humbling.  It's frustrating.  It's embarrassing.  So, we avoid practicing because we want to avoid making mistakes.

So, here's the key:

To REALLY learn, embrace mistakes as golden opportunities for growth.  Grab hold of them.  Relish in them.  Bask in your mistakes because without mistakes you really aren't learning...for it is in the process of making mistakes that you are teaching yourself things that you could have never learned through reading, or taking copious notes, or watching others solve legal problems.  In short, the key to learning in law school "is all in the doing" of law school. So, be bold, take a risk, hang it all out by being a law school problem-solver "doer!"  Oh, and don't forget, your professors became experts at problem-solving...because THEY MADE THE SAME MISTAKES THAT YOU WILL MAKE TOO.  (Scott Johns)

March 16, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break Shenanigans

It is spring break at my law school and it is very quiet. Most of the students have left for the break but a few remain. Some students are anticipating getting ahead in their academic work, working on legal writing assignments, or hoping to improve overall academic performance by starting to prepare for exams early. Other students continue to maintain their individual meetings with my office so I continue to interact with students. Although it is spring break, I find myself with much to do such as: (1) planning for the remainder of the semester, (2) planning for a part of the summer, (3) checking-in with students who recently sat for the bar exam, and also (4) getting some rest.  Additionally, I try to take a day or two off from work to laze around or simply take care of household responsibilities because I know that I will have to wait until July for the next lull.

Spring break is typically a time when I am able to make “small talk” with my colleagues when I take breaks away from my desk. It is also a time when I can leave the building for lunch because attempting to leave the building when school is in session is a challenge due to back to back meetings throughout the day. Even when I am able to leave the building for lunch, I encounter difficulties finding a parking space upon my return because parking is also a challenge. Today, in recognition of International Women’s Day, I had lunch with a female colleague I have been trying to meet-up with for several months. Happy International Women’s Day to all Academic Support Professionals who self-identify as female! (Goldie Pritchard)

March 8, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Why is using another person's outline or a commercial outline ineffective?

Law students are always looking for shortcuts. The problem is that a shortcut by definition is not efficient or effective: it is cutting corners. Yet year after year, students listen to the upper-division student myth that you just need to get another outline and not make your own.

So let's get it out in the open before it is too late in the semester to still create a good outline of your own: learning occurs when you grapple with material and process it yourself.

  • Using a secondhand outline means that someone else learned and processed, you did not.
  • A borrowed outline means that you become a parrot who can recite the information without understanding that information.
  • You need to understand the law at a deeper level that you reach by outlining if you want to apply it adeptly to new legal scenarios on an exam.
  • Each person learns differently; another person's outline or a commercial outline may not match how you need to process material to learn.
  • A professor's change in perspective on a course, legal reforms, or a different casebook can all make a prior outline inaccurate - or even obsolete.
  • A commercial outline is for a national audience and rarely matches your professor's structure, emphasis, or state jurisdictional focus.
  • The quality of the borrowed outline may be suspect if you do not know the grade that was received for the course.

Looking at another outline for format ideas and to check for missing concepts or nuances if legitimate. But depending on it instead of doing your own hard work is asking for deficient learning. (Amy Jarmon)

February 20, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | 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)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail," and IRAC?

Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."

In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."  Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust.  If unjust, then disobedience was justified.  

That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph:  "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

Wow!  Impactful!  Poignant!  Straight to the heart of the issue!  Take a close look at the paragraph above.  Did Dr. King start with the issue?  After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders?  Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws?  Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion.  That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).

When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems.  In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC.  And, it felt SO unnatural to me...so mechanical...so impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.  

Looking back, I see my folly.  IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time.  In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school.  Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it.  So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis.  As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  So, don't shy away from IRAC.  Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do.  In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others.  (Scott Johns).

January 19, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Prepare for Your Profession

Law students often become so caught up in surviving each class week that they forget the bigger picture. They are preparing for being lawyers! Their clients will depend on them to be great lawyers, not just mediocre lawyers.

Every skill learned and honed in law school assists the graduate to be a great lawyer.

  • By learning and honing skills in reading and briefing cases, students prepare for being experts for reading thousands of cases during their legal careers.
  • By learning and honing skills in understanding judges’ reasoning and the evolution of the law, students prepare for expert legal reasoning and possible policy arguments for necessary modifications in the law.
  • By learning and honing listening and note-taking skills in class, students capture the nuances of the law and recognize the important information.
  • By learning and honing skills at arguing both sides of a scenario, students prepare for being experts at arguing their clients’ positions and anticipating the arguments of opposing counsel.
  • By learning and honing skills at legal research and writing, students prepare for being experts at locating the relevant law and clearly and concisely stating the law in a variety of legal formats.
  • By learning and honing their skills through clinics, client interviewing, trial advocacy, law office management, and other skills courses, students prepare themselves for the daily rigors of legal practice.

There are more skills learned and honed during law school. These are just a few that law students need to become great lawyers. Academic support professionals and professors are there to assist in the process. Law students need to reach out for assistance when they are struggling with the skills needed as lawyers. (Amy Jarmon)

January 17, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Possible Empirical Value of the Computer-Disconnected Classroom Experience

Hat tip to Dr. Nancy Johnson!

In a recently published article entitled "How Laptop Internet Use Relates to Classroom Learning," researchers Susan Ravizza, Mitchell Uitvlugt, and Kimberly Fenn report two interesting findings with respect to the empirical relationship between classroom internet use and final exam scores.  

First (and perhaps not surprisingly), according to the article classroom non-academic use (such as surfing the web, watching videos, or using social media) has a negative impact on final exam scores.

Second (and perhaps surprisingly), according to the article classroom academic use of a computer (such as to look up a term that is being discussed in class on Wikipedia) has no measurable impact on final exam scores.

Taken together, the research suggests some caution with respect to student use of computers in classroom settings because, based on their findings, even academic use of computers by students during the classroom is not producing beneficial learning outcomes as measured by final exam scores.

In light of the lively debate concerning student use of computers in classrooms and potential benefits or detriments, here's the article in full:  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616677314

(Scott Johns)

January 12, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | 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 14, 2016

Hallway Chatter

Exams are in full swing so students are focused and appear to be productive. The hustle and bustle of activity throughout the building has calmed down only to usher in the quiet sounds of exam study. I see and hear students prior to and after exams; meanwhile, I am able to complete administrative tasks uninterrupted. Topics of student conversation typically relate to stress, study strategies, complex concepts, time management, and study aids. Students have an array of “light bulb moments” which is quite interesting to hear. Conversations I have with students are slightly different and concern pre-exam confidence building and post-exam debriefing.

 

The most exciting thing I have observed is how students support one another as classmates, friends, and colleagues. Students are more likely to listen to other students, even more than they listen to academic support experts, so it is nice to hear students repeat to their peers’ advice I have given them. A few things I have heard students repeat in the hallways include:

“You can do this! We’ve got this!”

“You studied so hard and it is going to pay off.”

“You taught me the information so you know it.”

“We completed all of the professor’s past exam so we have some idea of what the professor is looking for. If worse comes to worse, we have a reference point and can write something down.”

“We were in office hours more than anyone else and figured out what we did not know.”

“You are smart!”

“Leave the past in the past; you have control over what is ahead.”

 

Encouraging hallway chatter makes all the difference! (Goldie Pritchard)

December 14, 2016 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | 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)

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)