Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Foreign Students and Class Participation

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Legal Ed Videos on Teaching

Hat tip to Dr. Victoria Sutton, Texas Tech Law's Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, for alerting me to the collection of videos from the Igniting Law Teaching conference in 2015  found on the Legal Ed web pages. You can also find the 2014 conference through the Legal Ed web page by following the conference link. (Amy Jarmon)

September 24, 2016 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Counterpoint to Laptop Bans

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

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

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

 

 

September 18, 2016 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Giving struggling students a workbook of practice questions

When a student is placed on Academic Probation, I meet with them once a week during the next term.  Importantly, I assign them Q&As, E&Es, or other sample question books to work on throughout the semester.  Every week, I assign about 10 pages of questions in each of the subjects they are taking.  I don't pick up any of their work once it is completed, unless they have a specific question.  I just use it to keep them on task and to get them used to the idea of continually doing practice questions as they read and outline their courses.  Toward the end of the semester, I give them long essay questions that I have created, have them turn them in, and go over the answers.  I've used this model the past few years, and it has significantly improved student work, leading students to get off probation and to ultimately pass the bar on the first try.

I think the key to this is to actually give weekly assignments and to actually give them copies of the materials.  It's much harder to ignore the extra weight in their backpack than it is to ignore something I've emailed, pointed out on CALI, or posted on TWEN.

(Alex Ruskell)

 

September 16, 2016 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Icebreakers in the Classroom

Do you ever wonder whether your icebreakers at the beginning of the course or a training session are helpful or a waste of time? Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga) recently posted a blog entry on the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning web pages with hints on successful use of icebreakers: Icebreakers in Law School: Juvenile or Helpful?

September 11, 2016 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

More on Trigger Warnings

The discussion of trigger warnings has continued in recent issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education because of recent events at the University of Chicago. This past week The Chronicle published a guide to trigger warnings that summarizes what has been going on at colleges and universities on this issue. The link is here: A Brief Guide to the Battle Over Trigger Warnings.

August 30, 2016 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

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

Simply amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions

The Section on Student Services had microagressions as the topic for its second panel at the January 2016 AALS Annual Meeting. In addition, one of the Hot Topic programs was on trigger warnings. (If you missed these sessions, AALS members can go to the AALS website and log in to view podcasts. On the members page, click events and conferences; go down to 2016 Annual Meeting which should take you to the program; click on podcasts at the top to get that viewing list.)

Both of these issues are much discussed currently in law schools. Here is an article discussing the issues from a broader higher education perspective in today's The Chronicle of Higher Education: Speaker-Beware.  (Amy Jarmon)

March 1, 2016 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Resources on Classroom Technology and Digital Natives

Hat tip to James B. Levy of the Legal Skills Prof Blog for his September 25th post referencing his own SSRN article on teaching with classroom technology in law school and a forthcoming Australian book with a chapter on the myth of digital natives. His post can be found here: Legal Skills Prof Blog Post by James B. Levy. (Amy Jarmon)

September 28, 2015 in Books, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Article on Teaching the Digital Caveman

Hat tip to Scott Fruehwald on the LRWProf list for pointing out a new article.  You may want to check out James B. Levy's new article entitled Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School on SSRN: Levy Article.  (Amy Jarmon)

May 16, 2015 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nix the Acronyms

The Legal Skills Prof Blog recently posted this reference to a short piece on acronyms. I agree that acronyms and other abbreviations can cause confusion, ruin the flow of an essay, and cause the reader frustration. The article suggests a few useful guidelines on when to use them and when to avoid them. I have even had one bar examiner tell me to instruct students that their bar exam essays should not read like a text message. In an acronym, twitter/text, abbreviation heavy culture, this is a good reminder. Thus, I advise my students that when they are in doubt, they should write it out.

(LBY)

February 23, 2015 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Miscellany, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

If you are creating a new ASP course...

Every year someone on the listserv asks for advice because they have been charged with creating a new ASP course. I remember the anxiety I felt when I had to design my first course. Kris Franklin's new book, Strategies and Techniques for Teaching Academic Success Courses, should fill this need. The book will be given away free during AALS. 

I have read the book, and highly recommend it. Although I have been teaching in ASP for many years, it was an excellent refresher on what I should do doing and thinking about when I design (or redesign) a course. 

(RCF)

December 13, 2014 in Advice, Books, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Being an Introvert in Law School

Law school attracts extroverts and in many ways is designed for them.  An astute law student must highlight their successes, be vocal participants in a Socratic classroom, and zealously advocate in order to thrive in the competitive law school environment.  However, being an introvert does not mean that an individual cannot excel in law school or contribute meaningfully to the practice of law. 

There is a great TED talk by Susan Cain, a lawyer turned writer, who explores introversion and the value of quiet.   In this TED talk, she implores everyone to “stop the constant group work”, “unplug and get inside your own head”, and share your gifts with others.  Part of her manifesto includes a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  How beautiful would it be for law school classrooms to honor the quiet introvert as much as the outspoken extrovert?  Is it possible to encourage “gentle shaking” in a law school doctrinal classroom?  Here are a few suggestions that will help introverts feel more comfortable speaking up and contributing in a sometimes intimidating law school classroom.

  • Rethink participation during class and provide alternative means to have students engage with the material or with each other.
  • See each student as an individual who expresses their ideas and knowledge in multiple and various ways.
  • Have students sign up to be the expert for a particular class period or for a particular set of cases.
  • Use think- pair-share prior to full classroom discussions about a topic, case, or set of problems.
  • Distribute or post discussion questions with the reading assignment prior to class.
  • Allow students to pass in class (within reason).
  • Teach students how to brief cases and prepare for class discussions.  This type of transparency will create more engaged students and lead to a more a dynamic discussion.
  • Do not call on students too quickly.  Let the question stew with the class and allow introverts more time to reflect and process. 
  • Consider a flipped classroom so that students feel more prepared to discuss and/or participate during class time. 
  • Use technology in the classroom.  Technology is ubiquitous, and can be integrated it into the classroom to provide added layers of participation and engagement- especially for diverse learners.
  • Create learning groups, which will help make a large law school classroom more accessible to introverts.
  • Reflect on your own learning style and personality.  How do they affect your teaching style and how is your delivery received by extroverts and introverts?  How can alter your style to be more inclusive?

 

(Lisa Bove Young)

 

November 8, 2014 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Body Movin'

This is an interesting article from Wired on the effectiveness of lecture vs. active learning.  Basically, the upshot is that students in a lecture course are 1.5 times more likely to fail.  While the study only looked at STEM courses, the data is still interesting for law folks to consider when planning out their courses.

Active Learning 

 

(Alex Ruskell)

June 6, 2014 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pictures of Matchstick Men

 

 

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I'm a huge fan of Peter T. Wendel's illustration of the different "planes" of a case (from his book, Deconstructing Legal Analysis).  The idea that there are three discrete levels of thought and analysis involved in cases seems to be helpful and rather mind-blowing for many students.  I've also found it particularly helpful when I am trying to help students categorize and breakdown different rules and ideas (like breaking up the levels of scrutiny in a Con Law question, or splitting apart subject matter and personal jurisdiction on an essay).  So, I drew a picture.

I'm not sure if it exactly inspires confidence, but it gives students something to look at during a lecture besides me.

(Alex Ruskell) 

March 28, 2014 in Advice, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 7, 2014

The State I Am In

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.

(Alex Ruskell)

February 7, 2014 in Advice, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Can't Hardly Wait

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)

January 9, 2014 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

So many books, so little time...What to choose?

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.

(RCF)

July 31, 2013 in Advice, Books, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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

February 24, 2013 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Guest Column, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)