Friday, February 7, 2014
Although there have been several signs of the Apocalypse lately, including a snowball fight in my South Carolina front yard and the appearance of Prince in a sitcom with Zooey Deschanel, I have been operating under the assumption that the world will continue to turn. Consequently, I have spent most of the past few weeks meeting with students who did poorly in their first semester.
There are many, many studies showing the importance of self-evaluation. The first thing I have students in trouble do is fill out a 5-page form asking them to relive the past semester. How many classes did they go to? How much time each week do they spend reading? When did they start outlines? What were there grades in each class? Better or worse than they thought? Did they go to tutoring? Did they come to my workshops? Ever meet with me? Ever meet with their professors?
Once they take a hard look at what they did, we start making a plan of improvement. Most of the time, the biggest self-reported issues are: 1. Started outline too late, 2. Spent too much time preparing for class (and no time preparing for exam), 3. Let Legal Writing get away from them, and 4. Never sought help.
When we've worked this out, I start helping them with outlines, scheduling, and we start with simple practice problems to get IRAC under control. I also make sure they meet with their profs.
While meeting with all of these students may be disheartening (and involve a large investment in Kleenex products), this semester I've had the great pleasure of having many returning, Second, or Third year students swing by my office and tell me how much they've improved (several CALI awards, many at least one entire letter grade jumps). So, I know this approach helps the vast majority of them.
Although, as always, there are the students I am extremely worried about. As I write this, the car keys of one of my in-trouble first years continue to hang on a hook outside my office. It has been three days since he left them here and I emailed him -- I haven't heard anything. How is he getting home? Is he looking for them? Did he forget he owns a car? Is he now living the movie "Badlands"? Did he steal someone else's car with his best girl by his side fleeing from one safe house to another with Boss Hogg on his tail as he tries to swing back to Columbia in time for Civil Procedure at 8 am?
At any rate, the fact his keys are still sitting here does not inspire confidence.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
The woman sat on the other side of the desk from me. She looked angry, and I was starting to get sick as I saw all the things within easy arm-reach that she could club or stab me with -- my 1983 Safety Patrol award (marble), my "Bonecrusher" nameplate (sharp-looking wood and brass), two pairs of scissors (why do I have two pairs?), a tape dispenser, and a stapler.
She was mad, she was failing, and she was pretty sure it was her professor's fault. "He doesn't tell us what the law is -- EVER -- we have to figure it out for ourselves! If he's not going to teach us or tell us anything, what is he doing up there?"
My initial gut reaction was that the student was simply looking to be spoonfed the information, and that she had to learn that law school was not going to work that way. Part of me (probably my right ankle) started to think that this was due to laziness or a lack of intellectual curiousity or training -- all things I was going to fix with weekly meetings to keep her on track. Probably lots of practice questions. Maybe some multiple choice. Maybe some sample outlines.
But then, another part of me (my index finger on my left hand) began to think that maybe her problem, deep down, is that we live in an amazing world where techology has made everything instantly available. And then another part of me (forehead, just above the bald spot), thought -- SHE MAY NEVER REMEMBER A WORLD ANY DIFFERENT AND THAT MAY HAVE WARPED EVERYTHING.
A few years ago I was teaching a class on copyright (mainly music sampling), and I was sitting in front of the class playing them songs and samples. Someone brought up the mashup artist Girl Talk, and someone brought up Danger Mouse's Grey Album, and then we were off, bouncing around the Internet, finding this song and that sample so we all understood exactly what the cases and parties were talking about, and exactly what artists were trying to create.
And every time it took the three seconds or so to bring up whatever thing we were looking for, you would have thought we were sentenced to 10 years in a penal colony. Eyes rolled up to the ceiling, pencils tapped -- even I, the guy running the show who still remembered "4-6 weeks delivery" for a Boba Fett action figure, was getting frustrated with these minimal holdups.
I think this amazing, techno, jet-pack world we live in is actually doing a number on thinking and education. Students are not getting more needy or less intelligent or less prepared. They just can't wait.
The amazingness of our world makes many of the basic tasks of law school incredibly difficult because those tasks take time -- reading long and dry opinions, sitting in one place, listening to someone in front of you explaining something, looking at a tax code -- when one's mind wants to wander and ...
BING BANG BOOM -- I CAN INSTANT MESSAGE! WORDS WITH FRIENDS! A DRONE JUST DELIVERED MY NEW SHOES! I CAN INSTANTLY FIND OUT WHO WAS IN MORRISSEY'S FIRST BAND! I HAVE 400 BIRTHDAY MESSAGES AND 9 FRIEND REQUESTS! MY BEST FRIEND IS LIVE-TWEETING AND INSTAGRAMMING THE BIRTH OF HER FIRST CHILD! THIS CAT CAN JUGGLE FLAMING TORCHES! I CAN SEE AND SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, GET ALL THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IS OUT THERE, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, QUICKER THAN IMMEDIATELY, FROM THIS VERY SEAT--I DON'T HAVE TO WAIT FOR ANYTHING!
We ask our students to swim deeply into the law -- we ask them to consider and calculate and ruminate -- all things that they will need in practice, but things they may have never had to practice in their lives.
"What should I do next semester? What do I need to know for the exam? Do you have an outline and practice questions I can do?" asked the woman, her fingers twitching just above Prosser and Keeton on Torts (oh no -- how'd that get there?)
"I think we need to work on waiting -- let's start with your daily schedule," I said, realizing we would need to start at the beginning, slowly. (Alex Ruskell)
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Many new ASP professors are in the midst of choosing books for their growing ASP library, or a text to help them teach an ASP course. The choices are amazing; there are hundreds of good ASP books out there. In the past, Amy, Dan and I have reviewed ASP books. There are now so many, and so many coming out soon, that it is impossible to keep up with them all. So for people new to ASP, I am going to tell you what I am teaching with this year, and why I chose these three books. This list is personal and somewhat idiosyncratic; there are, easily, ten other books I could have chosen that are as good as the books I chose for this semester.
For orientation: RuthAnn McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer
Writing is thinking. Before a student can write well, they need to understand what they are reading. I chose Reading Like a Lawyer because it starts with the most fundamental skill, essential to success in all classes: reading cases, efficiently and thoroughly. I will be using Reading Like a Lawyer for the first several weeks of our required introductory skills class for incoming students after we start the book during orientation. Another good book if you want to start with a skill-building book during orientation is Plain English for Lawyers.
For our OneL (introductory skills) class: Barry Friedman and John Goldberg's Open Book
Open Book is one of the newer ASP books. I chose this book for the second 2/3rds of our required introductory skills class, OneL. I chose this book because it is relatively short, straightforward, and it gives stellar advice on exam prep and exam-taking skills. I wanted a short(er) book for the second part of the course because students are going to overwhelmed by reading and studying for exams, and OneL is a p/f course. If I chose a longer book, I doubt students would read before class. However, it was a tough call between Open Book, John Dernbach's Writing Essay Exams to Succeed (Not Just Survive), and the late Charles Whitebread's The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law School. However, if I was not starting with Reading Like a Lawyer in OneL, I would have seriously considered Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School, Charles Calleros' Law School Exams, or Susan Darrow Kleinhaus' Mastering the Law School Exam.
As a (required) supplemental to my Property course: Jeremy Paul and Michael Fischl's Getting to Maybe
I am teaching Property to third-semester, part-time evening students. Getting to Maybe is, in my experience, the very best book out there for teaching advanced exam skills. I would NOT recommend Getting to Maybe during the first semester of law school; students must have some experience with law school exams before this book can be helpful. I have a second caveat; ideally, this book should be taught, not just recommended, which is why I make it required reading for my Property class. I am embedding the lessons from the book into my lesson plans on doctrinal material. This book should be taught instead of recommended because it teaches advanced skills and dismisses foundational skills that are essential to success. I always cringe when I read the pages that dismiss IRAC; IRAC is an essential skill, and it is misunderstood by the authors. Students who are struggling with basic exam skills misunderstand the dismissal of IRAC; they take it to mean IRAC is useless. Students cannot discuss “forks in the facts” if they don’t understand they need to start with an issue statement, and a broad statement of the rule at issue. However, when the lessons from this book are discussed, given context, and explained, students gain a more nuanced, thorough understanding of exam writing. Despite my caveats, this is the best book on the market for advanced exam skills.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 2 of 2 (Guest post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)
In the first installment of this post, I suggested that for some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can get in the way of law school success. “Older” students, having lived and worked and experienced a little more than most of their peers can tend to let their own point of view and perceptions about the world interfere with legal reasoning. Rather than seeing the legally significant issues in a fact pattern, they focus on the implausibility of the facts and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seems in the context of their own experience or personal values.
With these students, my strategy is to have them start by adding a phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins). I want them to remember that a fact pattern is a closed universe and that adding facts or injecting personal insights into it will only derail their best efforts.
Then I give my students five steps for looking at a fact pattern and drawing out the legally important issues:
- Call of the Question – Start at the end of the exam and read the call of the question so you understand what you are being asked to do.
- Acts – Rather than trying to spot and analyze whole issues, start instead by reading the fact pattern sentence-by-sentence and highlighting any act or failure to act by a party – anything someone in your fact pattern says, does, or chooses not to do.
- Resist Judgment – You do not have enough information yet to know whether any of these acts give rise to a legally significant issue. Resist making any judgment about whether the act is relevant, worthwhile, good, bad or otherwise because all you know right now, is that somebody said or did something.
- Elements – Assuming you studied and know all the elements of every issue you might be tested on, go to each act and consider if it could be one element of an issue. Remember, don’t skip or overlook an act just because it seems like a little thing. The seriousness or severity of the action doesn’t matter. Whether you think the action would lead to a legal action in real life doesn’t matter. What matters is whether that act in the fact pattern, taken at face value could satisfy one element of something you are being tested on. On the other hand, you don’t want to force an issue that simply isn’t relevant. Some facts ARE there to tempt you into a time-wasting, grade-crushing wild goose chase. In order to stay on target, ask:
a) Is the issue you’re thinking about within the testable universe? (i.e. DO NOT analyze a Criminal Law issue in a Torts exam.)
b) Is this issue relevant to the call of the question? (i.e. DO NOT discuss the rights of B vs. C when the question is asking only about the rights of A vs. B.)
c) Are there other facts that satisfy each of the other necessary elements to make out this issue? DO NOT speculate about other elements based on your common sense or some past experience.
Success vs. Relevance – This is the fifth and final step I ask my students to think about because I want the word “success” to trigger a few different cautionary flags.
The success of the issue: Just because a complaining party has a weak case (weak elements) and is likely to lose doesn’t mean the issue isn’t worth raising. If you can make a good faith, “straight-faced” argument that each of your elements is supported by some fact or facts, it is probably a relevant issue, win or lose. In fact if you can make a good faith argument that MOST of your elements are supported by facts, you should raise the issue. Weak facts or a missing element bear on the success of an issue, but are never a reason to not raise it. Being able to explain to your professor why an issue fails is just as important as being able to show why an issue succeeds.
The successes a student brings into the exam: You are walking into the exam with a point of view based in your life experience. Your successes and accomplishments have equipped you to identify and solve many challenging problems, to relate to people and empathize with their circumstances. HOWEVER – here in this exam, you must leave those successes and accomplishments behind. Relating to the people in your fact pattern and empathizing with their circumstances will distract you from seeing what is relevant and keep you from engaging in effective legal analysis.
Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth
Friday, February 22, 2013
Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 1 of 2 (Guest Post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)
For some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can be immense stumbling blocks to law school success.
I began to think about this last semester working with several students in my 1L class. Relative to the majority of law students, these students were older, which is to say they had lives after undergrad – careers, families, mortgages and other “grown-up” milestones. Each came to law school with a clear point of view, seeing his or her world through a lens of experiences, beliefs and ideals accumulated over years. One student had been a nurse and another was a university librarian. One had struggled with substance abuse and one student, already a working mother of four young children had recently earned her undergraduate degree. When I met these students it was clear that each was rightfully proud of where they had been, or at least what they had overcome to get here. They remained very mindful of and connected to the lessons learned in former lives and seemed hesitant to loosen their grip on those memories for fear of losing themselves in the disorienting new world of law school.
As I worked with these students on ways to approach hypothetical fact patterns, I noticed that many had great difficulty issue-spotting. They focused rather on the implausibility of the fact pattern and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seemed in the context of their own experience or personal values. Most often, talking with a student about why he or she didn’t raise a certain important issue in his or her practice answer, I would find out that the student saw the issue, but chose not to raise it, deciding that in “real life” nobody would seriously go to court over those facts, or that it didn’t make sense to spend time discussing an action that would be obviously unsuccessful. Years of engaging in moral reasoning and practical life decision-making seemed to have handicapped these students’ ability to engage in effective legal analysis.
This challenge posed a difficult conundrum. In order to support my students, I needed to connect with them, earn their trust and demonstrate that I sincerely understood and valued who they were and where they had come from to get here. On the other hand, I had to ask them to look past those valuable former-life lessons and experiences in order to develop the analytical flexibility required to succeed in the law.
So my compromise solution has been to adapt an essay exam strategy that capitalizes on the likelihood my students would focus on the story and the actions of the parties in a fact pattern before recognizing the legally significant issues.
I start with one general instruction: Always, always always add a single phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins). I remind them that fact patterns exist in isolation, as if on an island. No facts can be added and no additional facts are needed. They must also be mindful of the island’s inherent hostility and distrust toward visitors, outside opinions or new perspectives. A student’s point of view and common-sense life lessons, while personally valuable and hard-won, will prove confusing and unwelcome if brought to the island and applied to the facts. With this simple, starting prompt, I hope to remind students, whether they are prone to mix life experience with legal reasoning or not, to keep an objective mind about the fact pattern so that they, in turn, don’t lose the objective of the exam. The additional tools I give students to avoid this pitfall and others will follow in a later post.
Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
With apologies to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, I want to talk about using food to increase student engagement. Although I originally would think of candy, donuts, and cookies, I have expanded my horizons after having students with special dietary needs who needed alternatives.
Some days my students in class or workshops seem to have the ho-hums. Our Tutors have noticed the same thing when trying to encourage discussion. In a more general manner, I want to encourage students to come use the resources of the office.
Here are some of the ways food can help to engage students in learning:
- For an early morning class, I sometimes bring breakfast for my students. As they munch and sip, they are more willing to participate in discussion. They are more alert and brain-nourished than other days.
- For the mid-afternoon doldrums, I keep a large snack box filled with individual packs of cookies, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, and other items. I arrive in class with the box and let students pick an item for a snack. The results are similar to my morning breakfast offerings.
- Several Tutors take bite-size candies to their weekly group sessions and reward students who ask questions or participate in hypothetical discussions with the treats.
- When reviewing material for my final exams, I often have competitions with teams in my classes. The rules are a cross of Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Since I teach international law courses, the prizes are a variety of products from the countries involved in the subject matter. For example, for EU Law, I find as many items as I can from the 27 (soon to be 28) Member States. Students get more involved because they know everyone will get a prize, but there are bigger prizes for highest individual points as well as for highest team points.
- Whenever I hold make-up classes, I provide food. I do so partially because the make-ups often have to be in the early evening and partially because it just makes it nicer for all of us - no growling stomachs and famished brain cells. We get those ABA minutes with nourishment.
- In the past, I had a candy bucket in the study aids library of my suite to lure students in with hard candies, chocolate, and gummy treats. Many a student was willing to discuss a study issue with me informally while sorting through the bucket for a favorite treat - often leading to a later formal appointment. Other students would ask if I would help them determine the study aid that matched their learning styles while they munched. The stress reduction potential was always a plus, especially near mid-terms and exams.
- Several faculty colleagues are known for providing homemade baking, snacks, pizza, or other food items for their classes. Several seminar classes are known for regular dinner meals.
How often I provide treats and what sorts of treats, depends on how flush I am at the time. Most of these types of perks are out of my own pocket because of university accounting rules. Some of my faculty colleagues with chaired professorships have hefty budgets with fewer restrictions. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
If you have the opportunity to team-teach a course at your law school, jump at the opportunity.
With the close of this semester, I've had a chance to think about how team-teaching has worked in one of the new courses a colleague and I teach. Two advantages to the team approach were obvious: the broadening of the students' learning experience, and the broadening of the teaching experience for those of us at the front of the room (yes, I know, asp-ers, you are all over the room!).
This new course, “Practical Lawyering Skills,” was created to fill a gap in our academic support offerings. While we had plenty of academic support offerings in the first year, and a newly introduced third-year “just-before-you-take-the-bar” course for graduating students, the second year (or third year for our part-time students) was empty of academic support opportunities. Intervention in the second year seemed a natural extension of academic support offerings.
It also seemed natural to me to design the course as a team-taught enterprise in order to bring as much diverse experience to the class as possible, both in teaching style as well as in legal experience. My co-teacher in the fall semester is a senior faculty member, highly respected by faculty and students alike. As well as having impressive criminal law experience, she is also an experienced doctrinal professor having won “best teacher” awards several times. The two of us, having team-taught in other courses over many years, are comfortable together in the classroom.
In the spring I teach with a newer professor, but one with plenty of civil practice experience. While our experience teaching together is not as deep as that with my fall colleague, the teaching relationship is quickly maturing after just one semester together. I think students enjoy this ”double treat,” something we carry over into the grading of their assignments so that students get a broad spectrum of evaluation.
The "carry-over" effect of team-teaching reaches outside the classroom as well. My colleagues often ask about the "how" of our team-teaching, about the logistics of how we do it—the choreography. (More about that at another time.)
What I tell my colleagues, however, is that the strength of our team-teaching is more about what happens outside the classroom--in our preparation, debriefing, and shared evaluation of students--more so than in our dual presence in the classroom. While many of us have had someone observe our classes to receive feedback on our approach, the team-teaching model creates a constant stream of observation and evaluation, as well as a constant conversation about how we approach the course and, on any given day, how we approach and deliver specific, daily classroom goals.
That conversation provides endless opportunities for evaluating global teaching approaches as well as the individual components of a class session. So you can have a continual discussion and evaluation from the creator's point of view, and you don't have to wait for the student reviews some time after the final exam to make some navigation corrections. What I have learned from this experience has given me greater confidence in the classroom and a greater willingness to take risks.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.
Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:
1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.
2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.
3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.
4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Thanks to Jennifer Cooper at Thomas Jefferson for the mention on the ASP Listserv of a book review recently written by Tracy Turner, who is at Southwestern, regarding Dweck's book and using the mindset ideas in legal writing: Teaching Ourselves and Our Students to Embrace Challenge. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Hat tip to Jennifer Romig at Emory University for a link on the LRW Prof listserv for an article on using fixed-mindset feedback versus growth-mindset feedback with students who are struggling. The summary on several studies dealing with undergraduate math students can be found here: Be Careful When Comforting Struggling Students.
Also a hat tip to Myra Orlen at Western New England for information on an article about Dweck's work and how the mindsets apply to law student assessment:
"Carrie Sperling, Arizona State College of Law, has co-authored an article entitled "Fixing Students' Fixed Mindsets: Paving the Way for Meaningful Assessment." The article draws upon Carol Dweck's work and places that work directly in the law school context."
I have found Dweck's concepts helpful in working with my students. These extra resources are useful to anyone interested in learning more about the mindsets. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 30, 2012
Many of you are probably already aware of the TED education video/flipped lessons website. If not, you want to check it out. An article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education talks about TED and a link to the website is here: TED-Ed . Although the lessons that are already on the website are not particularly useful for law, the ability to flip You Tube videos and make lessons is potentially useful. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 2, 2012
This semester, I have the privilege of co-teaching an introduction to law course with a professor from the Storrs campus. Co-teaching a class has been a wonderful learning experience for me. While the idea was two teachers could split the workload, I am finding that I spend more time preparing for each class than if I taught it on my own. Here are some of the unexpected benefits from co-teaching a class:
1) You bring your A game to every class.
I have tremendous respect for my co-teacher; he is a master teacher with far more experience than me. While I always give 100% to my teaching, co-teaching with a master teacher forces me to think and rethink every choice I make.
2) You think about how you would explain the lesson to another expert.
Thinking about how you would explain your lesson plan to a colleague forces you to think about your lesson in a different way. We all consider how our students are going to absorb the material when we lesson plan, but thinking about the questions an expert might ask forces me to think more deeply about how my lesson works.
3) Feedback helps you see weaknesses your students might not point out.
I don't mean constructive criticism. Feedback--the back and forth about teaching--forces you to deal with what you don't know. So far this semester, I have learned that I need to learn how to use HuskyCT (a classroom web platform) and that I am behind the curve on learning technologies in general. This is a benefit that comes from teaching with a non-law school professor; other disciplines have embraced technology in a way that law has not.
4) You have to grapple with equally valid, but different, perspectives on a topic.
My co-teacher and I have very different backgrounds, and different perspectives. He was a big-firm lawyer before going back for his PhD; my experience with the law is in public interest and education. We have different perspectives on the challenges in the field. When I plan a lesson, I have to think about how it applies to big firm and corporate law.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
There is a great piece from NPR about physicists reworking their large lecture courses after learning that lectures don't facilitate learning. I have included the link below.
Inspired by the article, here is an example of how you can lose the lecture. We know active learning is a better teaching method than lectures, but many of us (including me!) get nervous about changing our teaching methods. This is one example of how to lose the lecture and embrace active learning; there are thousands of ways to revamp your teaching to include more active learning. I am providing the example below to help ASPer's who feel stuck.
1) Start by asking students a question that will frame their learning. What is the fundamental concept I want students to know before the end of the class?
Friday, November 11, 2011
Hat tip to the Law Librarian Blog for information on Brian Cowan's article on November 6, 2011 in The Chronicle of Higher Education on digital natives and their learning. Although the article is about university students in general, it is relevant to law school students. The article can be found here (subscription required): 'Digital Natives' Aren't Necessarily Digital Learners. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
What do you want your tests to accomplish? Are they meant to measure learning that has already occured? Are your tests meant to provide an end of term grade? Are your tests meant to assess how much material students covered in the semester? If you use tests in any of these ways, I challenge you to see tests in a new light: as a teaching tool. Before I begin, I want to hat tip several people who already use this technique in their teaching: Ingrid Michelson Hillinger of BC, Rory Baduhur, Jeremiah Ho, and Michael Hunter Schwartz of Washburn, and Paula Manning of Western State. I am certain there are more people who use this technique; these are the people I know off the top of my head on a Monday morning.
"Retrieval practice" uses tests as a method of assessment and reinforcement, seeing the test itself as a learning experience that helps consolidate knowledge. For students, retrieval practice means something they need more of but dread: tests. But testing should be frequent and involve self-quizzing, as well as tests that build upon previous skills so students are reviewing as well as consolidating new information. Each of the law professors above have presented at conferences on different methods of frequently assessing student learning in ways that build skills; there is no one correct way to use retrieval practice. Prof. Hillinger uses group work that challenges students and builds skills throughout the semester. Prof. Badahur and Ho use frequent mini-tests, which students can peer-correct or self-correct, to test skills as they are being learned. Prof.'s Manning and Schwartz use so many different testing methods throughout the semester to keep students active and engaged.
Based on what I have learned over the past year, I have dramatically changed the structure of the Remedies course I teach each fall. Instead of giving fours tests throughout the semester, I give four exams (each with increasing value towards their final grade) and a mini-assessment at the end of every class. I start each class with a lesson on a skill, such as outlining for learning. This is the most typical "ASP" part of the course. I move into a doctrinal lesson in Remedies. Unlike traditional doctrinal teaching, I use visuals, give note-taking guides, and explain my pedagogy as I am teaching. Students know why I am using any particular teaching method, how it is used in their other courses, and how this teaching method relates to a practice skill. I make my thinking explicit. In other words, I don't hide the ball. I give them the ball, and then explain why I use the ball, the other ways of using the ball, explain it's character and design, and how the ball can be used outside the classroom. The last part of my class is a mini-assessment that tests their understanding of the lesson and asks them to apply the skills they have been learning in class. This past week, when we reviewed the science and skills of reading and briefing cases, I asked them to brief next week's case in class, with me, trying the techniques they just learned. I gave them a 1/2 hour; far more time than they would take if they were rushing through the brief at home. I assured them their was no "wrong" answer, that this was a chance to experiment with technique and format and get feedback on their efforts. The benefit to me from this lesson is that I get to see if they understand before I move on to a new skill. Because skills build on each other, I can assess early in the semester if we need to spend more time on a skill, before we all become frustrated with a lack of understanding later in the semester.
While it is at best a brief introduction to retrieval practice, there is an article in the NYT's on it in practice. The article mentions Mind, Brain, and Education. There is a Mind, Brian, and Education journal from Harvard's Graduate School of Education; it is excellent and well worth the very modest subscription pric (I have been subscribing since 2007). I have also been to a Harvard conference on mind-brain connections in students with learning differences, and I regularly use what I learned at the conference. (RCF)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing. Example: attend every class. There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then. But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial? (Answer: zero.)
Now here's a real-life example. In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation. As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators. That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.
When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind. Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.
Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker. "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas." His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student." Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes. (Read the Court Order here.)
According to Above the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels."
Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years. Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets. Excerpts:
Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
(Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
And a very cool cell where you can meet
And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.
(Read the whole "poem" here.) Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties. After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks! (djt)
Saturday, August 20, 2011
There is a very interesting discussion at the Freakonomics blog (same authors as the book) about how to incentivize class attendance. I think this dovetails nicely with a question posted yesterday on the ASP listserv about laptops in class. Both attendance policies and laptops bans get at the same fundamental issue: how do professors keep students in class and engaged? I don't think there is one answer to this question, but a theme seems to run through both issues. The theme is lecture-only or lecture-from-the-book courses bore students, encourage students to miss class, and increase the use of distractions in class. I have heard over and over from doctrinal professors that the Socratic Method is not lecture-only, but as the Socratic Method is employed in many classes, students can't see the difference. This is especially true when the Socratic Method is used to question only a tiny number of students in a large class; I have heard students complain they would rather lecture-only, because questioning only a few students, who may or may not have done the reading, just increases confusion.
The comments below the post in Freaknomics make sense and pose the same questions law schools are struggling to answer.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Academic Success supports many different types of students, but one group we don't hear much about are transfer students. However, transfer students have many of the same struggles as incoming students: where to live, how to make friends, how to navigate a new environment. It's easy to ignore or lose track of transfer students, but their needs are important as well. They don't cross our radar because their 1L grades are superior (or they would not have been admitted) and they are upperclassmen, and many ASP's focus on the first and last year of law school.
Although we always have a full plate in ASP, it is wise to reach out to incoming transfer students. Helping them feel like they have a home and a place to go if they need academic assistance can prevent bar exam issues their 3L year. (RCF)
Friday, July 15, 2011
I had the privilege of teaching at CLEO's Attitude is Essential 3-day workshop in Atlanta this past weekend. I co-taught my small group of 25 students with Joanne Harvest Koren of Miami Law. One of the issues that arose in our session was how much time to devote to student questions when we were trying to cover substantive lessons in a compressed time period. Joanne and I decided to spend a significant amount of time answering questions, at the expense of some substantive coverage. I think we made a smart choice, but I think this is something many ASP professionals struggle with when they teach a class or workshop.
The students in our section were an unusually motivated group, which they demonstrated by spending almost twelve hours a day for two and a half days in hotel conference rooms learning about how to succeed in law school. They came with more smart, important questions than we had time to answer. However, there are some questions asked by new students that need to be answered before they can move on to other work. When trying to decide how much time to allot to questions, it's important to judge the importance of the questions to the student. What might seem like something that can be answered at another time might be pressing to the student. If the question stops the student from thinking about anything else, than cutting some coverage helps students focus on what needs to be covered in class. These types of questions are the type that are shared by many incoming students; only one or two students have the courage to raise their hand and ask the question.
Joanne and I found it best to start each session with a general Q and A. We explicitly limited the time and scope of the answers to what we thought was most pressing for the students. At the end of each session, we tried our best to have a more limited Q and A about the material we just covered, so students could leave the session and move on to new material, instead of remaining confused.
What sort of questions were most pressing for incoming law students?
1) How much time should be devoted to law school each week?
2) Do I need to do law school work and nothing else for the next three years?
3) What are the benefits of typing/handwriting notes?
4) How do I explain to my significant other/parents/children that I can't be there for them the way I used to be when I am in law school?
These are all questions that are great to tackle in pre-orientation or orientation. When students are preoccupied with major questions about law school, it uses parts of their working memory that can be devoted to other, more productive things. By spending some time to answer questions, you have more focused students.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
We write a lot about discovering student's learning and processing styles. But few of us spend a lot of time thinking about our teaching styles. We teach the way we were taught, the way that feels most comfortable to us, or the way we are told to teach by our employer. A handful of people change their teaching style based on what they learn at conferences. As ASPer's, we busy, and few of us have a lot of downtime to think about why we teach the way we teach and reflect on our teaching style.
I am using teaching style in the broadest possible way; all the things you do to prepare to teach and how you teach students. This is unique to every individual. Learning is a complex interplay between teachers, students, and students and peers. We all have preferences. We all need to understand our preferences to do our best to help students learn.
The one-on-one teacher: Whenever I go to a conference, I hear attendees talking that one-on-one is the best method for teaching students. It is assumed, not discussed. I have heard countless times "I could teach them anything, if I just had enough time to teach them one-on-one." No one seems to question the validity of the statement. One-on-one teaching is a teaching style, and one that does not work best for everyone. It is not true that everyone could teach anyone anything if they could just work with them one-on-one. It is a great method if it is your strength, but it is not everyone's strength. I a lot of former practitioners prefer one-on-one's because it is how they worked with clients. My message to new teachers is that they should think before they assume this is the best way to reach all students. It's not the best way, it is a preference. Just as we would not assume there is a best learning or processing style for students, don't assume one-on-one's are the best teaching method because that is what you hear from colleagues.
The student-group leader-teacher: This is a common way of delivering ASP at many law schools. ASP professionals are expected to teach students to lead groups of students. There are some brilliant ASper's who use this method to great success; Joanne Koren at Miami and Mike Schwartz at Washburn immediately come to mind. However, there is no one master method for teaching student leaders to run student study groups. If you are an intuitive teacher, teaching students to teach students is difficult. Intuitive teachers are ones whose teaching reflects the needs and the makeup of the class. It is a more spontaneous, reactive way to teach, although it requires as much, if not more, preparation. Intuitive teachers master the subject material so that they can change the direction of the class on the fly to reflect how the class is moving that day. If this is your teaching style, it is difficult to translate this method to student leaders. You cannot tell student leaders to master the subject material. Most intuitive teachers have significant classroom experience, and it is rare for a student leader to have the teaching experience to be intuitive with the students they are leading. Intuitive teachers can learn how other teachers teach student leaders, but it is not their preference. And there is nothing wrong with finding that is not the best way to reach students.
The classroom teacher: Not everyone is cut out to be a traditional classroom teacher. There are some magnificent, awe-inspiring classroom teachers in ASP and doctrinal teaching, such as Rory Badahur at Washburn or Paula Manning at Western State. If you don't prefer classroom teaching, it doesn't mean you aren't a good teacher. It means your preference may be one-on-one or leading student leaders. I find that there is a spectrum, at one end are pure classroom teachers, and at the other, pure one-on-one teachers. Most people are somewhere along that spectrum. The difference is in how the teachers use peer learning. Classroom teachers need to cede control of learning to the students to be successful. This is not something everyone is comfortable doing. You need to build trust between teacher (you) and the students, and trust between peers. This is a skill. It's much easier for student's to feel safe in a one-on-one than it is for a class to feel safe. Safety is critical to learning because students need to push boundaries in order to learn, to move outside of their comfort zone, and to risk being wrong.
Every teacher needs to do some of every type of teaching. However, everyone has preferences in how they work with students. My message to new teachers--there is not a right or wrong preference, no master method that is most successful with students. When a colleague, even a very respected colleague, tells you that they have found a method that works best with students, realize they have found their method that works best based on their teaching preferences. That method may not work best for you. You need to reflect on your skill set and your preferences. The method that is most likely to reach your students is the method that reflects your preferences and strengths.
I have a non-ASP colleague at the undergrad who is one of the most brilliant one-on-one teachers I have ever observed. However, this teacher dislikes classroom teaching, and finds it ineffectual at reaching students. This educator was reflective during the job search, and found a position that consists primarily of one-on-one instruction, with limited classroom time. I am fascinated by one-on-one methods because I greatly prefer classroom teaching, and find a full day of one-on-ones to be draining, and for many students, counter-productive. I find students understand much more from peer learning in a class than in a one-on-one. I find that students are better at translating their misunderstanding of material to each other than to me. My colleague and I both receive great evaluations reflective of our respective teaching preferences. Our student body overlaps, so we know that the evals are not reflecting student preferences (i.e., students who like one-on-ones going to the colleague, students who like classroom teaching to me), but our strengths.
My message to new teachers: reflect on your preferences and your strengths. Your students will learn best when you play to your strengths as a teacher. There is no one master method of reaching students. Just as we respect student learning and processing differences, respect teaching preferences. (RCF)