Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Podcasts Offer an Alternative to Case Reading

Some (or perhaps, most) law students get tired of reading judicial opinions every single day. I have found that giving students the option to listen to audio files or watch movies in lieu of reading a case helps to create some variety and spices up the learning process. For example, last week my Criminal Procedure students had the option to watch the 1980 movie “Gideon’s Trumpet” or read Gideon v. Wainwright and the corresponding notes in the textbook. I included both the audio and textbook options expressly on the syllabus. About half the class opted to watch the movie while the other half read the case; importantly, the whole class was able to engage in the discussion. Similarly, next week students will have the option to read the portion of the textbook discussing jury selection or to listen to More Perfect’s “Object Anyway” podcast.

Even if you don’t teach a substantive law course, the audio files can be helpful to aid any student who is struggling to connect with the written material. Earlier this semester a high-performing first-year student stopped by my office concerned that she had lost her fall semester spark. In the fall semester, she was excited about law school and thus enthused to work hard. Her hard work paid off, earning her very high grades in December. But, when she returned in January, she just couldn’t connect with the cases and material like she had done before. The spring semester courses of Constitutional Law and Property weren’t peaking her curiosity the way the fall semester courses of Criminal Law and Torts had. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I could tell that she needed a new way to engage with the material. I suggested some legal podcasts, especially ones that would give her the story behind the litigation. She needed to be able to relate to the parties on a more personal level, and I thought a well told story about the litigants could help. After just a few podcasts, she has already reported that Con Law has become more interesting to her now that she’s “getting to know” the justices’ personalities and she enjoys learning what happened to the litigants before and after the lawsuit.

If you’re interested in introducing an audio option to one of your courses or academic support arsenal, consider:

Oyez “is a multimedia archive devoted to making the Supreme Court of the United States accessible to everyone. It is a complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Oyez offers transcript-synchronized and searchable audio, plain-English case summaries, illustrated decision information, and full text Supreme Court opinions. Oyez also provides detailed information on every justice throughout the Court’s history and offers a panoramic tour of the Supreme Court building, including the chambers of several justices.” 

According to More Perfect’s creators “Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to – but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab's first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court's hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for "we the people" who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court’s biggest rulings.”

Legal Talk Network is a podcast network for legal professionals with hosts from well-known organizations and brands in the legal community.  Over 20 different active podcasts cover important legal news and developments, including access to justice, law school, industry events, legal technology, and the future of law. The most relevant podcast within the network is the ABA Law Student Podcast, which covers issues that affect law students and recent grads.

In addition, Learn Out Loud offers numerous legal podcasts and audio files for free download. (Kirsha Trychta)

February 20, 2018 in Film, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Overcomers Needed to Combat Negative Messaging

While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.”  Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go.  I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt.  My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive.  Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle.  A key message was to overcome obstacles.

Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective.  Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results.  My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework.  The pain of multiple choice is high right now.  Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.

Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing.  Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education.  I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.

Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability.  If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles.  Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions.  Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys.  As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math.  This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields.  Many of our students experience the same phenomenon.  Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend.  Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.

Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges.  Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success.  The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.

My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault.  Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school.  They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset.  I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years.  I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset.  The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.

Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law.  Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat.  I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset.  I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores.  I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now.  I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal.  I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions.  Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.

(Steven Foster)

February 5, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Picturing Standing in Constitutional Law

Each spring semester, I lead a structured study group primarily focusing on Constitutional Law. For the last few years, I’ve started the semester off with the same “standing” exercise with students, and it’s been a big hit.  I begin by drawing a pictograph on the whiteboard consisting of three big empty rectangles, side-by-side.  I then challenge the students to fill-in the chart with concepts from their standing chapter in a way that makes sense, graphically.  

I encourage them to start by identifying the three main concepts from the standing material. After a few minutes, the students come up with their list: standing (generally), ripeness, and mootness.  If they get stuck, I encourage them to look at their book’s Table of Contents for hints.  I then ask them to place each concept in chronological order.  If I have enough dry erase markers, I’ll write the ripeness material in red, since no case that is deemed unripe will get before the court.  I put the standing material in green indicating that those who have standing are cleared to argue their case before the court, and reserve yellow for the more nuanced category of mootness.

Next, I ask them to identify the test from the casebook that is associated with each principle. This could obviously differ depending on the casebook, but, in my experience, most constitutional law books stick to the same main cases.  I sometimes will write the case name under the principle, but no more.  I don’t write the specific test on the board, but instead give the students time to review and edit the test in their notes or to add the test if it is missing from their notes. 

Finally, I draw an arrow going from “mootness” to “standing,” and ask them what the arrow represents. After a few guesses, I give them a hint if they need it; I tell them to think about the abortion cases that they read.  Eventually someone figures it out, and we have a conversation about the concept that some legal issues are “capable of repetition, yet evading review” which means that although the issue is technically moot, the party may be deemed to have standing anyway. 

I end the exercise by reminding the students that the picture is an overly-simplified version of some very complex constitutional concepts, and that in order to be successful on the exam, they are going to need to continue to build upon what we started in the review session. 

The entire exercise usually takes about 20-30 minutes, leaving enough time in a single review session to also complete a few pre-selected practice multiple-choice questions that focus on the standing principles to help solidify their newly-organized standing rules. (Kirsha Trychta)

Standing pdf jpeg

January 30, 2018 in Games, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Setting the Stage: A Learner-Centered Syllabus vs. A Teacher-Centered Syllabus?

As they say, first impressions matter.

That got me thinking about the sorts of first impressions I am making with my students when the first contact that I have with most of my students is, unfortunately, often through my course syllabus.  So, with finals nearly over for the fall term, I am taking a fresh look at my course syllabus to try to look at my syllabus from the viewpoint of my students.  

What tone does my syllabus set?

What does it say about our upcoming term together?  

Does my syllabus present the course as a "painstakingly dull walk through a dimly lit path" or does it "shine with adventures in learning?" 

Well, truth be told, my syllabus is rather drab, littered with dates and topics and reading assignments but really without much of a heart of excitement.  And yet, I really am excited about working with my students next semester with the goal of embarking on a richly-awarding journey together in learning. So, why not make that excitement shine in my syllabus?  But how?

Well, here are a just a few free resources that I came across to help me evaluate, reflect, and re-write my syllabus so that I can better set the stage for an exciting adventure of learning with my students next term.

First, I love Cornell University's "Course Decision Guide" because it walks through step-by-step reflective questions to help me "size up" my course before I re-draft my syllabus in terms of learning objectives, learning activities, formative assessment activities, resource issues, student motivation, summative assessment, etc.  https://www.cte.cornell.edu/CourseDecisionGuide

Second, I appreciate the insights shared by Mary Bart in her article entitled "A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning," reminding me in a "big picture sort-of-way" of concrete tips to set a positive learning environment right from the get-go just by how I frame my course description, for instance, in my syllabus.  https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/a-learner-centered-syllabus-helps-set-the-tone-for-learning/

With these resources as a initial start, I'm off to re-envision my syllabus so that the first impression that I make with my students next semester is hopefully a positive one that gets us started off strong on a cooperative learning experience together.  Let the adventure begin...with me rethinking and remaking me (or at least my syllabus)! (Scott Johns).

December 14, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Faulkner University Law Professor Speech to His Millennial 1Ls

Hat tip to my colleague, Vickie Sutton, at Texas Tech Law for bringing an article to my attention. Professor MacLeod at Faulkner wrote an article for the New Boston Post publishing a speech that he gave to his 1L students. The Daily Wire reports on that speech here with a link to the original article. Although colleagues may agree that there are problems with millennial students' prior education, MacLeod's approach has garnered criticism for his degrading treatment of students in the classroom.   (Amy Jarmon)

December 9, 2017 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Serve Up a Holiday-Themed Scavenger Hunt

It’s often difficult to keep law students engaged around the holidays when they’re anxious to spend time with friends and family. Below are a few fun ways to promote student engagement by integrating the holidays into your classes.

If you find yourself over-stuffed this week, I do not recommend trying to sue “Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Mayflower Movers, Pilgrim Pride, Turkey Hill, Black Friday, Corn on the Cob, [or the] Cleveland Indians.” Riches v. Thanksgiving, 2007 WL 4591385 (N.D. Cal 2007). A prisoner who was “offended” by the Thanksgiving holiday tried to do just that, but the court dismissed his claim finding that “[t]o the extent any of these defendants are actual entities that may be sued, they are private organizations that do not act under color of state law, an essential element of a § 1983 action.” And if you want a second helping of prisoner litigation, dish out Professor Abigail Perdue’s suggestion: Karmasu v. Hughes, 654 N.E.2d 179 (Ohio App. 1995) (concerning a prisoner who sued the prison dietician for serving turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving).

In December, consider a Christmas tree or menorah themed case. There are over two thousand cases involving Christmas trees with issues ranging from freedom of religion to the Fair Labor Standards Act in agricultural production. See Mather v. Village of Mundelein, 864 F.2d 1291 (7th Cir. 1989) and U.S. Dept. of Labor v. N.C. Growers Assn., Inc., 377 F.3d 345 (4th Cir. 2004), respectively. For a more technical exploration of the holiday, turn to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which explored whether “14-foot long lengths of wire set with 10 light bulbs … in the form of such objects as fruits, vegetables, hearts, rearing horses, guitars and American flags” should be classified as “lighting sets of a kind used for Christmas trees” or “other electric lamps” within a tariff statute. Primal Lite, Inc. v. U.S., 15 F. Supp. 2d 915 (Ct. Intl. Trade 1998).

Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger (or any of the cases it cites) is an ideal choice around Valentine’s Day for both romantics and cynics alike because the case addresses “the recovery of gifts which [a man] presented to [a woman] in anticipation of a marriage which never saw the bridal veil.” 136 A.2d 127, 128 (Pa. 1957).

Meanwhile, in the spring, opt for an Easter Bunny themed case. If the case need not be published, then I recommend Rogers v. Walgreens, 2017 WL 3263783, where a woman was so startled by a Walgreens’ employee dressed as the Easter Bunny that she fell and injured herself. But if you require a published source, consider People v. Gaither, 173 Cal. App. 2d 662 (1959), which found the defendant guilty of poisoning his ex-wife’s family with chocolate Easter Bunny candies laced with enough arsenic to kill 75 people.

After you select your case, make sure it is sufficiently de-identified for the research exercise.  Here’s a quick “how to”:

  1. Download the opinion from Westlaw or Lexis as a Microsoft Word document.
  2. Delete as much of the identifying information as possible, including the case caption, syllabus, headnotes, and the judge’s name.
  3. Omit any concurring or dissenting opinions, for brevity, if desired.
  4. Substitute any extraordinarily unusual words in the opinion with more commonplace synonyms. Savvy students will simply search for the strange term instead of identifying the actual legal issue.
  5. Use the “find and replace” feature on Word to quickly substitute the parties’ last names with their first names or other designations such as buyer and seller or plaintiff and defendant.
  6. Try to locate the case yourself using traditional Westlaw and Lexis searches. Make sure that the case is findable but does not necessarily immediately reveal itself.
  7. Confirm that the case does not come up in the first few pages of Google search results.

Once the opinion is sufficiently scrubbed, announce the rules of the game and get researching!

For more information on fun holiday-themed research exercises, see the Winter 2016 edition of “The Learning Curve,” a publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support, which is available online at the Law School Academic Success Project.

This post originally appeared on the "Teach Law Better" blog on November 20, 2017.  (Kirsha Trychta)

November 21, 2017 in Games, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning Tune-Up Time!

With many law students facing final exams in just over a month, this is a great time for students to reflect on their learning with the goal of making beneficial improvements before it is too late, i.e., before final exams are over.  

There are many such evaluation techniques but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.  

And, if you are a law student, there's no need to wait on your teachers to ask these questions.  Rather, make them part and parcel of your learning today.  

So, whether you are currently serving as a teacher or taking courses as a student, you'll find these questions to be rich empowering opportunities to make a real difference in your learning! (Scott Johns).

Photo of Evaluation

November 2, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #5: Be Passsionate

Last Thursday (October 26) was National Pumpkin Day and today is Halloween; it seems like a fitting day to conclude my “Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson” series.

For the first four installments (read #1, #2, #3 and #4 here), I not only detailed my experience growing a giant pumpkin, but also tried to empathize with first-year law students.  For this final post, I’d like to focus on “passion,” which I believe is an essential element to successfully transition from novice to expert. 

You have to be truly passionate about the work in order to perform at a competitive level over a sustained period of time.

During the early morning hours on October 14, I officially entered my pumpkin in the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Grower’s annual weigh off.  At 516 pounds, my pumpkin took 35th place out of 38 eligible entries. 

  Presley 516a

Many of the more experienced growers were impressed with her* shape and color, but commented that she was simply “too small” to be a real contender—even in the rookie category. These other growers would then immediately follow-up their statement with a question about my plans for next year.  Although each of their questions varied slightly (e.g. “What seed will you grow next year?” “Will you be performing a new soil test?”  “Do you think you can outgrow your husband?”), implicit in every question was the notion that I would undoubtedly be growing a pumpkin again next year.  I responded to each of their questions with a straightforward answer: “I’m not going to grow another pumpkin.  This was a one-time-thing for me.”  Then, almost universally, a sense of disbelief would appear on the questioner’s face for a brief moment before a Cheshire Cat grin would settle in across their lips.  The grinning grower would respond with something like “Oh, give it a few months.  You’ll be itching to plant a seed in the spring.”

After the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that the other growers simply did not (or perhaps more accurately, could not) believe me. Because these vegetable enthusiasts love growing pumpkins so much, they are unapologetically eager to get back in the patch and try something new.  The fact that I was not as equally eager seemed too confusing for them to accept.  But for me, most days in the patch were a chore that I could manage, not a task I wanted to master

I suspect that both the “can do” folks and “want to do” crowd exists in the law student population as well. The question then becomes what do we, as academic support professors, do to assist the “can do” students; that is, those students who are able to achieve the minimum benchmarks of success, but are likely disinclined to challenge themselves during their three years of school. Can we motivate someone to evolve from “can do” to “want to do”?  And, is the evolution really necessary? 

With regard to the latter question first: I submit that the evolution is imperative to long term success in the legal field. Extrapolating from my own experience trying something new and challenging, I feel comfortable asserting that in order to be content and fulfilled while working long hours, you have to be truly passionate about the project.  Therefore, if a law student possesses a can-do attitude, but doesn’t actually enjoy the work, he will eventually lose interest and the quality of the work will suffer.  In law school that translates to mediocre grades, but in legal practice poor quality work may result in the loss of a client or even malpractice.  In addition to producing lesser quality work, the student will be fundamentally discontent and unfulfilled.  Perhaps this helps explain the extraordinarily high rates of depression among law students.  The difference between me—the novice pumpkin grower—and the law student is that I have the luxury of walking away after one season.  Giant pumpkin growing is just a hobby, not a career path.  On the other hand, most law students—because of financial commitments, family pressure, or a lack of personal insight—are not in a position to just walk away from law school after one year.  Even if the student finds the entire first year a laborious chore, his can-do attitude will likely convince him to return for another year.

So, if we conclude that the can-do student is likely to persist through all three years of law school, even if he finds the entire process somewhat miserable, then what can we do to help transition his mindset from can-do into one of want-to-do?  How can we make him passionate about his project?  I suspect that identifying the student’s long-term career plan and then tying law school tasks directly to his individual goal(s) may prove useful in reframing his motivation.  A more defined end goal may motivate the student to engage beyond the basics and eventually spark a real passion.  Numerous ASP articles outline the benefits of curiosity, self-directed learning, and internal motivation in achieving academic success.  My own experience echoes these scholars' findings. 

Looking forward: next time I encounter a can-do student, I plan to spend a few extra minutes trying to identify his real passion, and (hopefully) tie that passion directly to his legal studies.  In short, I hope to spark a passion for the law which should better equip and inspire the novice to transition into an expert who is excited about facing new challenges and his own potential for exponential growth.

*Like most sailing vessels, giant pumpkins are referred to using female pronouns.

Happy Halloween! (Kirsha Trychta)

Pumpkins in truck

Novice grower at 516 pounds on the left; expert grower at 1,337 pounds on the right. 

October 31, 2017 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dare to Disclose?

The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.

Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.

Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.

Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)

October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Generations X, Y, and Z Affect Academia in a Myriad of Ways

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at ways the academy will change with Generations X, Y, and Z as students, faculty, and administrators. We tend to consider these generations as learners and lawyers, but we may not fully appreciate how our law school environments will change when they become faculty and administrators later. The link is Generations Article .

October 7, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 6, 2017

More on the Electronic Devices in the Classroom Debate

The debate on electronic devices in the classroom and no bans/partial bans/total bans continues as Generation Z enters the classrooms of higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently looked again at the issue: Gen Z Changes the Debate. (Amy Jarmon)

October 6, 2017 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #3: Daily Maintenance is Essential

As I explained in part one and part two of this multi-part series, earlier this year I decided to undertake a new and difficult task (specifically, to grow a giant pumpkin) in hopes of gaining more insight and perhaps empathy for what it is like to be a first year law student. Here’s my third takeaway:

Daily maintenance is essential for success in giant pumpkin growing and law school studying.  The key is getting the novice learner to appreciate that If she steps away in either situation for too long, she will find herself unable to catch up.

Once the temperamental seedling is planted outside, you must care for it – daily. The plant will grow from a few inches to a few hundred square feet in less than two months. Here’s my plant on July 22, 2017, just seven weeks after I planted it outside.    

July 22 3

A pumpkin’s rapid growth invites a plethora of problems unique to giant vegetable growers. Unsurprisingly, a small problem early in the process can quickly blossom into a huge issue. Consequently, my expert-coach was insistent that I check on my plant every day. This novice was convinced that he was being overly attentive, hyperbolic, or just plain crazy. So, I ignored his advice and traveled to the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s summer conference in mid-July, leaving my plant to fend for itself for a few days. When I returned, I found that the stem had begun to rot due to a moisture issue.  Ugh, turns out he might have been right!

Stem rot 2
(That brown guck on the top of the stem is rot.)

I took my foot off the gas for one week and the plant began to get the better of me. Thankfully, I noticed the soft spot early enough to salvage the stem. But, my neglect left my plant struggling for several anxiety-ridden weeks.  Seeing the rot, I quickly came to realize that my coach was correct.  Unfortunately, it took me seven weeks and almost losing my pumpkin to finally accept that daily maintenance is essential.

Just like daily patch inspections are imperative for pumpkin success, regular and frequent outlining is essential for law school success because we cover a lot of ground, very quickly.  In light of my own laissez faire attitude in July, I began to suspect that my law students likely viewed my repeated reminders to regularly convert class notes to studyable outlining material the same way I viewed my coach’s recommendation to check on my pumpkin daily.  Over the last few years, I've discussed the importance of outlining as early as orientation and as late midterms exams.  Regardless of the timing, students remained suspicious of the virtues of a daily outlining regiment.  Much like the saying "you can lead a horse to water..." I struggled to make the students "drink in" my advice.  Then it hit me: I needed to manufacture a "stem rot awakening" for my students. 

This semester I scheduled a full-fledged practice exam, closed book and given under exam like conditions, during week five of a sixteen week criminal law course.  Even though the exam was only graded pass/fail based on a good faith effort, students took the exercise seriously.  I mentioned the practice exam on the first day of class, but only spent about 15 minutes suggesting how to assemble their class notes to study.  Instead of lecturing on outlining, I simply recommended that the students implement whatever studying approach they thought would be beneficial.  In other words, I left the students to their own devices.  As soon as the students completed the practice exam, they received a sample answer and then were asked to reflect on their study habits.  Many of the students saw "rot" in their Bluebooks, and were immediately interested in whatever study strategies I could recommend.  

Post-exam I gave a more lengthy lecture about how best to study for law school exams, and invited students to make individual appointments with myself or a Dean's Fellow for additional feedback on their current note taking and outlining strategies.  It's been less than two weeks since the mock exam, and more than half of the class has voluntarily come to see me or a Dean's Fellow.  Lastly, hoping to capitalize on their newfound willingness to engage, I also launched a study group matchmaking service a few days after the mock exam.  (More about that soon!)  Although the students were a bit shocked by the mock exam experience, they are also happy to have the opportunity to remedy any soft spots before the midterm exam.

Caveat: I teach one section of our first-semester criminal law course.  If you don't teach a substantive course, you could partner with another professor for this exercise.  (Kirsha Trychta)

September 19, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 18, 2017

1L Enrichment Groups

I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).

Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.

Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.

The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.

We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.

As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)

September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Diverse Learners and Group Work

A summer article posted on Inside Higher Ed looked at whether groups work for everyone and how to improve the experiences. The post by Margaret Finnegan, Department of Criminal Justice at California State University, Los Angeles, is here. (Amy Jarmon)

September 8, 2017 in Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Better Teaching: Could it Actually Mean "Less" Teaching?

Last term I went for the lunch and came away hungry...hungry to learn more about learning!  

That's right, our campus "Office for Teaching & Learning" brought in a special speaker to share with us her tips on best practices for teaching our students to learn.  Her name - Dr. Maryellen Weimer.  

Wow; she was an amazing speaker because, for the most part, she spoke very little but got us thinking and working collaboratively with others on how it is that we learn, how our students are doing in their learning, and what sorts of things we are seeing within our classrooms that might best encourage learning.  

In short, we were working harder than Dr. Weimer in thinking about learning.  It was no "free lunch," at all.  But, it was one of the few lunch presentations that I can still recall, and better yet, find invaluable to my teaching.

That brings me to the issue of what might be the so-called "best practices" for engaging ourselves in learning-centered teaching with our students.   Fortunately, Dr. Weimer has written a brief article entitled "The Five Characteristics of Lerning-Centered Teaching," which summarizes her  work in helping faculty become better teachers.

 https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/five-characteristics-of-learner-centered-teaching

As academic support professionals, this is an excellent link to share with your faculty.  

In the interim, let me briefly summarize the list of five characteristics by asking a series of short questions that you might ask of your faculty:

First, are you working harder at learning than your students?  If so, then you might be working too hard at teaching your students, so much so, that you are doing the learning for them.  That is to say, they might not be learning because they aren't really challenged to learn and don't really have to learn since you are doing most of the learning for them.

Second, are you teaching your students the content by embedding skills within your instruction?  If not, then, you are - again - doing the learning for your students because learning requires active engagement in critical thinking, evaluation of the evidence, analysis of the arguments, and the generation of hypotheses, hypotheticals, and examples.

Third, are you asking your students what they are learning and how they are learning?  If not, take time both in casual conversations with your students and in more formalized classroom exercises for reflection on how it is that we (ourselves and our students) learn.

Fourth, are you sharing the learning responsibilities with your students by giving them some measure of control over how they learn?  If not, try working collaboratively with your students, for example, to create assessment criteria for assignments or even establish due dates for some assignments within a window of available dates.

Fifth, are you promoting collaborative learning in engagement with other students within rich learning communities?   If not, look back at that word "rich."  Too often, our students are not learning deeply and well because they treat learning as a "solo" experience - an experience not to be shared with others.  But, as any teacher will tell you, the best way to know something is to teach it to others.  That means that we should devote part of our classroom learning exercises to teaching our students how to learn collaboratively with others, i.e., how to learn from and with others.   

Perhaps by the best way to summarize the article might be in quoting Confucius:  

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

I take the first - reflection - to be the at the heart and soul of great experiences in learning.  I take the second - imitation - to be going to classes, taking notes, and receptively re-reading them in the hope that some of what the professor said might rub off on me.  I take the third - experience - as the "trial by fire" method of learning in which students spend most of the term reading cases, creating case briefs, observing lectures, and developing massive course outlines without ever tackling actual final exam problems until it is too late (i.e., on the actual final exam).

With this list in mind, feel free to join me as I try to step back from the podium and the front of the classroom to better engage with students in the actual process of learning-centered teaching.  (Scott Johns).

September 7, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Smarter Law Study Habits

In our current world of formative assessment, readers may be interested in a July article by Jennifer Cooper and Regan Gurung on SSRN regarding their empirical analysis of law student study habits. The article can be found on SSRN at Smarter Law Study Habits.

Jennifer sent me the following short description of the article:

"The article features findings from the first learning strategies survey designed specifically for law students, the Law Student Study Habits Survey, developed in collaboration with a Ph.D./ learning strategy expert. In a nutshell, early and frequent use of practice “testing” (multiple choice, short answer, hypos, professor’s past exams, etc..) and elaboration were positively correlated with law GPA, while more passive learning strategies typically relied on by law students – reading and briefing cases, outlining, and cramming, without practice applying the law – were negatively correlated with law GPA."

(Amy Jarmon)

 

September 4, 2017 in Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Using Mentimeter to Teach Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning

Hat tip to Gonzaga's Sandra Simpson, Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing and Co-Director of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, for sharing her blog post on the ILTL website. The link is http://lawteaching.org/2017/08/28/the-easiest-technology-for-doing-the-hard-work/ and gives a quick summary of her technique using questions on Mentimeter to help her students understand Bloom's Taxonomy. (Amy Jarmon)

September 3, 2017 in Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #2: Set Reasonable Expectations

You may recall from part one of this multi-part series that this year I decided to undertake a new and difficult task (specifically, to grow a giant pumpkin) in hopes of gaining more insight and perhaps empathy for what it's like to be a first year law student. Here’s my second lesson:

The novice and the expert should work together at the start of the endeavor to articulate reasonable expectations for a first project, second project, third project, and so on, which will enable the novice to continually assess herself in light of both current expectations and future expectations.

After you’ve identified the seed that you’ll be planting, you have to establish a planting schedule. Most expert growers begin their season in April with the help of greenhouses, heated soil cables, and indoor grow lights. By planting a seed in April (as opposed to waiting for the last frost in late May), the expert squeezes in several more weeks of growth before the October harvest. Ideally those extra weeks of growing will translate into additional pounds on weigh-off day. This novice, however, was not enamored with the idea of caring for a seedling indoors, while still teaching spring semester courses. So, I had a choice to make. My expert-coach and I then discussed a reasonable goal for a Level One grower.  We settled on getting a pumpkin to grow and survive until October, regardless of its size, shape, or color.  Next time (I’m making a big assumption here), I could focus on all the Level One details plus shape or size. Then, in a future year, I could hone shape and size.

With the Level One goal firmly established and no longer focused on the potential bonus pounds, I agreed to start the seed indoors in early-May. (I was pretty confident I could simultaneously watch a pot of dirt and grade final exams.) I kept the tiny plant inside until Mother Nature gave the all clear that it was safe to move outdoors. My “late” start in May put me behind the expert growers from the very beginning, but right on target for my Level One goal. Throughout the summer, I was able to measure my progress against other rookies while also taking note of what I would need to do next time if I wanted to compete with the experts. 

Below you can see my pumpkin plant making its debut outside on June 3. 2017.

Plant june 3

This multi-level plan, where each level becomes increasingly more complex than the last, aligns nicely with ABA Standard 314 regarding formative assessment. For example, in the legal writing context, a multi-level plan might look like this:

Reasonable Expectations chart 2

Too frequently, students learn the basics of legal writing in their first-year and then inaccurately conclude that the same quality of work will be acceptable on a future project. Arguably, the novice will be in a better position to appreciate the long-term game plan if presented with the entire strategy at the outset. Sharing each level with the learner at the outset should aid a student in understanding that what might earn them an “A” on a Level One project will not earn them an “A” on a Level Two project, such as a law review note or seminar paper. Rather, the benchmark for minimal competence will continue to evolve as the student become more familiar with the foundational skills.

Having firmly established and identifiable benchmarks for each level also enables the student and professor to have a meaningful conversation about expectations. For example, a moot court coach is better positioned to explain that although a particular appellate brief would be “passing” in any Appellate Advocacy course, the work product is insufficient for success at a Moot Court Competition. In addition, establishing the big picture at the outset allows the professor to focus on level-appropriate feedback. As I discussed in the first post, less is more with regard to feedback. Therefore, if a professor and student both know that the student is working on a Level Two project, then the professor can focus her feedback on the skills unique to Level Two success. Meanwhile, the professor can refrain from offering detailed feedback about the skills that will be learned in Level Three.

In short, I suspect that a majority of legal writing programs have firmly established benchmarks for each writing course or year of matriculation. This novice’s advice is to share the big picture with the students at the very beginning, so that both the professor and student can readily and accurately articulate where the students falls on the scale from novice to expert. (Kirsha Trychta)

August 29, 2017 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Beloit List and a Faculty Member's Response

We always know it is the beginning of another academic year when Beloit College publishes its annual list of things we need to know about college freshmen. For those of us at law schools, it gives us a reprieve for a few years before these changing mindsets arrive at our doorsteps. But it keeps us current on the ever-changing status quo of American culture.

Here is the list for this year's college freshmen: Mindset List for Class of 2021 Freshmen. And here is the list reflective of the mindsets of many of our first-year law students during their freshman year: Mindset List for Class of 2017 Freshmen - Our 1L Class.

Robert Scherrer, a faculty member at Vanderbilt, has published a professor mindset list in response to help students understand their 50-something faculty members. His list was posted on the Inside Higher Education update and is included here: A 50-Something Faculty Mindset List. (Amy Jarmon)

August 25, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)