Wednesday, August 16, 2017
First, I would like to acknowledge the entry by my colleague OJ Salinas titled “Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville.” He expresses a part of my inability to be optimally productive and focused this Monday. I did not realize that my inability to focus was related to all the news I listened to and watched throughout the weekend. I hope that we can all take time to gather our thoughts and feelings, sit with our emotions, determine how we will manage our emotions and function effectively for our students.
Now, on to address what the title states. As students throughout the country prepare to and attend orientation programs, they are enthusiastic and anticipate the start of something they may have dreamt about their entire life or that grew out of an experience or an acquired passion. As I observe new students make their way through the building, stop by to say hi, and ask upper level students a number of questions, I smile because this marks the start of a new academic year. It also reminds me of the excitement I felt at the beginning of my law school career more than a decade ago. However, my journey to law school was not as smooth and exciting.
As a college student, I recall deciding that I wanted to attend law school and visiting the academic advisor responsible for students with a pre-law interest. This advisor was not very kind to me neither did she appear enthusiastic while engaging in conversation with me. She tried to deter me from pursuing my aspiration while providing several justifications, many of which were unfounded, as to why law school was not for me. I would later learn that this advisor also attempted to discourage several other young women of color from attending law school. How unfortunate! Without a strong support system which included each other, and our motivation to attain our dreams, we (young women of color and me) could have given up on our law school aspirations. But instead, we remained determined, asked questions, shared information, got involved with various pre-law organizations, and forged our own paths to our dreams. We would have never made it to law school otherwise. Words are powerful and can impact one’s journey in life in both positive and negative ways. If I did not know the person I am or had accepted the advisor’s perception of me, then my potential in life would have been significantly limited.
As Academic Support Professionals prepare for or start the new academic year, it is important that each of us considers what we utter to our students or how we communicate with them. We cannot put all students in a box simply because they exhibit similar behavior or characteristics. Every individual student is their own person with their own strengths, weaknesses, and life experiences which might dictate how they react to certain situations. We should encourage students but this does not mean providing them with a false sense of hope or confidence. We should be open to the differences in approach and process of all students as we might learn something along the way. We are partners with our students as they determine their path, build skills, and reach their goals. Even with the most confident student, negative words uttered to them or about them cloud their positive outlook, motivation, and determination. This is not to say that we should be silent about negative things but we should be strategic.
All the best to students embarking on their law school career! I would encourage you to listen to advice but also keep the advice in perspective. You are in law school because your institution believes that you are capable of being successful in law school but don’t let that go to your head because you still have to work hard. All the best to Academic Support Professionals as well (Goldie Pritchard)!
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Before the start of each new semester, I send an email to each colleague who will be teaching a bar exam tested subject that semester. I offer some general information about the bar exam and some targeted information about how their particular subject matter is tested on the bar exam—based on a compilation of details gleaned from NCBE outlines and a comprehensive MEE indexing project (Download MEE Pathfinder) performed by our dedicated library staff. Although the list is far from perfect, my colleagues have reported that they find the information useful as they prepare syllabi and select topics to cover within the course. Below is my email template. Feel free to use it, if you find it helpful.
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the multiple-choice section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the multiple-choice section consists of 200 multiple-choice questions: 175 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions. The 175 scored questions on the MBE are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each of the seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. Students have 6 hours to complete this section of the exam (i.e. about 1.8 minutes per question).
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the multiple-choice topic from the master list below.]
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the essay section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the essay section consists of six 30-minute questions. Areas of law that may be covered on the essay section include the following: Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates, and Sales & Secured Transactions. Some questions may include issues in more than one area of law, and the particular areas covered vary from exam to exam. The [local jurisdiction does / does not] test state-specific rules on the essays.
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the essay topic from the master list below.]
Master Subject List
The five most commonly tested subtopics on Business Association essays are: identifying which business association would suit the client’s needs, the requirements for formation of a partnership, liability to third parties, the fiduciary duties of officers/directors within a corporations, and agency issues.
Conflict of Laws
Conflict of Laws issues are embedded in the other essay topic areas. They do not appear as stand-alone questions. Historically, conflict of laws questions are most frequently paired with family law issues, especially child custody issues.
Approximately two-thirds of the civil procedure multiple-choice questions are based on jurisdiction, venue, pretrial procedures, and motions practice. Other subtopics— such as conflict of laws, jury trials, verdicts, judgements, and the appeals process—account for the remaining one-third of questions.
With regard to Federal Civil Procedure essays, the examiners ask questions about jurisdiction substantially more than they ask questions about the actual rules. The four most common Civil Procedure topics are personal jurisdiction long arm / minimum contacts statutes, federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction (especially the amount in controversy), and joinder of parties.
Approximately half of the constitutional law multiple-choice questions are based on individual rights. The other half are based on judicial review, separation of powers, and federalism.
The most commonly tested subtopic on the Constitutional Law essays is freedom of speech, followed closely by the equal protection clause.
Contracts & Sales
Approximately half of the contracts questions are based on contract formation and performance / breach. The other half of the questions are based on defenses, parol evidence, remedies, and third party rights. Of the 25 total questions, one-quarter are based on Article 2.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Contracts / Sales essays are: offer and acceptance, statute of frauds, accord and satisfaction, and anticipatory repudiation.
Criminal Law & Procedure
Approximately half of the questions will be based on criminal procedure and half will be based on criminal law. Within criminal law, the examiners tend to distribute the questions equally across four categories: homicide, all other crimes, inchoate offenses, and general principles.
The examiners rarely ask criminal law essay questions and only occasionally ask criminal procedure questions. The five most common topics are inchoate offenses, homicide, fourth amendment, Miranda, and the exclusionary rule.
Evidence multiple-choice questions are typically divided up as follows:
Presentation of the evidence: 25%
Privileges & Writings: 9%
The three most commonly tested subtopics on the Evidence essays are: relevance, character evidence, and use of prior inconsistent statements.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Family Law essays are: how to get divorced, property division, “best interests of the child” standard, and child support obligations.
The examiners divide the questions up equally among five categories: ownership interests, rights in real property, real estate contracts, mortgages, and titles.
The four most commonly tested suptopics on the Real Property essays are: recording statutes (race, race-notice), easements, deed warranties, and landlord-tenant leases.
The five most common subtopics on the Secured Transactions essays are: collateral classification, purchase money security interests, debtor/creditor rights of attachment, perfection, and priorities.
Half of the multiple-choice questions will be based on negligence. Intentional torts, strict liability, and “other” torts account for the other half of the questions.
The most common subtopic on the Torts essays is negligence (duty, breach, and causation), followed by the doctrine of respondeat superior / vicarious liability.
Trusts & Estates
The six most commonly tested subtopics on the Trusts & Estates essays are: benefits of creating a trust/will, how to create a trust, modification of a trust, future interests / remainders in trusts, validity of a will, and intestate distribution.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
I have read multiple articles (including Goldie Pritchard’s 2016 blog post) that the best way to remind yourself what it is like to be a first-year law student it to try something totally new. That sounded like a good suggestion, so earlier this year I intentionally set out to be a novice at a difficult task and mindfully soak in the experience. I decided to grow a giant pumpkin. I have never grown anything myself, let alone something “giant.” My husband, however, has been growing everything and anything—including big pumpkins—competitively for several years. He is an expert. Over the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about what it is like to be a novice. Here is lesson number one.
Novices are blissfully unaware of the extensive criteria an expert takes into consideration when making an important decision in their field, and if confronted with all of the available options the novice may become overwhelmed.
Step one in giant pumpkin growing is seed selection. As a newbie, my plan was to simply use something from my husband’s seed collection. He has hundreds in a large bin, after all. I looked at a couple of packages, spotted an attractive looking specimen, and made my decision. The whole process took less than 5 minutes. My husband sat there stunned, horrified. “You’re done already?” he wondered aloud. You see, there are dozens of factors an expert grower takes into consideration in seed selection: parent plants, color versus size, history of known genetic defects, and the prestige associated with the original grower, just to name a few. As my husband began to explain all of my options, I quickly did not care for the seed selection process anymore. It was too much information and too many decisions at a time when I still was not convinced that there was any real difference between a 1912 Carter and a 2106 Schmit. I went from happy and confident in my ability to quickly select a seed to second-guessing everything about my choice. I changed my mind several times and shut down emotionally. I wanted to quit. I eventually took the easy choice: I would grow a seed from my husband’s own pumpkin. There was absolutely no sophistication to my analysis, but that was the best I could do under the weight of the endless choices.
This got me thinking about hierarchy of authority in legal writing. Students must look at the vast array of cases and statutes on Westlaw (or, dare I say, Google) the same way I looked at my husband’s bin of seeds—as a collection of seemingly equal options from which to choose, with little regard for the finer distinctions. Our students are likely overwhelmed by basic case information that to us experts seems straightforward. First semester students likely see little difference between the judicial opinion of a court of last resort in a neighboring jurisdiction and the intermediate appellate court decision of the controlling jurisdiction. In fact, the former might prove to be a more attractive option to the student than the latter.
This novice’s recommendation: Provide less information initially, and then dole out additional information in small strategic chunks over a period of time, even if it means the novice might risk making a poor initial choice. Let the novice make a small, perhaps less sophisticated choice confidently and then learn from their mistakes. The novice would appreciate less information, not more. Rather than being overwhelmed with all the options, let the novice decide a few basic decisions. Once they understand the fundamental decision making process, layer on the additional choices. Repeat the process until all the expert factors are imported into the decision making process.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This blog post is the second in a two-part series detailing my takeaways from the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills” conference which was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 7-8, 2017. For part one of the series, click here.
Professor Andrew Henderson from the University of Canberra in Australia discussed “The Importance of Teaching Self-Evaluation and Reflection in Law School,” especially in an ethics course. One study revealed that when presented with an ethical dilemma, law students tend to resolve the dilemma consistent with their personal beliefs and without regard for the professional rule of conduct. The students answered the same question the same way before taking an ethics course, while taking the course, and after successfully completing the course. In other words, professional responsibility courses do little to teach ethical judgment makings skills. Knowing this, Professor Henderson sought to design a course that would reframe the discussion entirely He required students to identify their internal motivations, such as what makes them get up in the morning, what keeps them awake at night, why do they want to be a lawyer. He then used the students’ responses as a means to jumpstart a conversation and to identify the intersection between the students’ self-identified motivations and the ethical rules. He reported that students have become more engaged in the ethics course and that the student responses have also helped to provide more targeted academic advising and job placement advice. At the end of the discussion, a few attendees discussed how a similar exercise could be added to the start of the 1L year to assist academic support professors in providing more tailored advice to at risk students.
Professor Benjamin Madison of Regent University School of Law and his colleagues developed a course to “Help Millennials Develop Self-Reflection.” The mandatory 1L class focuses on the development of problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, responsibility, and “other” ABA mandated skills. To begin, students get to request a specific faculty coach. The school makes every effort, but does not guarantee, to match students with their top choice. Next, students meet with their designated faculty coach to complete an intake self-assessment or “roadmap.” After the student self-assesses him/herself, the student is assessed on those same skills by two of their peers. Professor Madison has already noted several trends at his school. First, 1L students frequently rate themselves quite high (i.e. mastery level) despite having little to no professional development training, and students rate their peers even higher. Essentially students “don’t know what they don’t know.” This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Kruger-Dunning effect in psychological circles. Second, students gravitate toward those peers who unequivocally support them, rather than peers who challenge them and hold them accountable. Lastly, students are more concerned about obtaining meaningful employment than making a sufficient income, which is especially intriguing when you consider internal motivation as a component of self-refection. (As an aside, their research concluded that the primary professional goal for 1L students is to pass the bar exam – whew!). Professor Madison said that if other schools are interested in adopting a similar program, they should reach out to the St. Thomas School of Law Holloran Center, which “continues to focus on its mission to help the next generation form professional identifies with a moral core of responsibility and strive to others.”
Professor Christine Church of Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School Immerses Students in Lawyering Skills. Her nine credit program is centered on all-day classes that simulate a law practice environment. During the 14-week semester, four distinct four-person law firms handle three cases: (1) a custody battle requiring intense interviewing, counseling, and negotiation skills, (2) a personal injury suit involving pretrial litigation skills, and (3) a DUI criminal trial. The clients are actually other law students who are completing a 1-credit directed study, relying on the principles discussed in the book “Through the Client’s Eyes” for guidance. The “attorneys” within each firm exchange documents throughout the week using Google Docs and then meet on Saturdays to engage in simulation exercises. Professor Church commented that the unique course schedule—which is ABA Standard 310 compliant—has helped students to develop the stamina needed to study for the bar exam and actually practice law on a daily basis. The program now has a waitlist; students love it! She concluded the session by sharing a plethora of fact patterns, grading rubrics, and syllabi to assist participants in establishing their own litigation skills immersion program.
After Professor Church’s session, I enjoyed a tasty Greek salad lunch. In my view, a good indicator of the quality of a conference is the quality of the breaks. ILTL did not disappoint. Not only was the host school welcoming and attentive, but all the attendees were more than willing to offer helpful suggestions at every turn—well beyond the theme of the conference. Many thanks to those who shared teaching tips, performance review and tenure advice, and general support to this junior faculty member. And, let me extend a special shout out to one colleague’s pet squirrel!
Before I wrap-up, let me share the most bizarre tidbit I heard while in Little Rock. One professor explained that one of her students genuinely believes that some version of the following conversation occurs routinely at her law school—Professor A to Professor B: “When Mary comes to your office to discuss her exam, tell her that her poor grade is due to an underdeveloped rule block. And, when you meet with John, tell him that he needs to work on his application. That’s what we’re all going with this semester.” The student came to this epiphany after every single one of her professors targeted the same exact exam skill for improvement. Feel free to insert the emoji of your choice here.
I wish I could tell you about all the concurrent sessions, but unfortunately my J.K. Rowling approved Time-Turner is not TSA approved. I heard chatter in the hallway suggesting that I missed several good sessions, but as author Ashim Shanker has noted, “freedom brings with it the burden of choice and of its consequences.” For those who are interested in learning more about the other sessions or about the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s larger mission, checkout the Institute’s webpage. (Kirsha Trychta)
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
I attended the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills” conference on July 7-8, 2017 at the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas. The conference opened with a quick sticky dot poll of the attendees. The dots revealed that while most professors felt comfortable teaching skills like trial practice, negotiations, and document drafting, only a few were confident in their ability to teach cultural competencies in the classroom. In an attempt to ameliorate this (real or perceived) deficiency, the approximately fifty attendees—a surprisingly even mix of doctrinal, clinical, legal writing, and academic support professors—worked collaboratively for two days to develop a portfolio of concrete exercises to satisfy ABA Standard 302. What follows are some of my major takeaways:
The first suggestion was to “[Bring] Marginalized Populations into the [Legal Writing] Classroom.” Elon Law Professors Thomas Noble, Patricia Perkins, and Catherine Wasson explained how they each drafted a legal writing factual scenario involving a potentially unsympathetic and culturally diverse plaintiff: an Egyptian immigrant, a convicted felon, and a mentally ill survivalist, respectively. These plaintiffs’ legal claims were then further complicated by the intentional inclusion of gender neutral names, ethnic sounding names, ambiguous facts, and words with strong connotations (think: “fetus” versus “the child”). These professors crafted case files that not only required students to learn the mechanics of legal writing, but also forced students to confront their biases in a thoughtful and controlled way. Occasionally students made unwarranted assumptions which allowed the class to discuss the importance of understanding cultural sensitivity and implicit bias. Other students wanted to “help” by taking action contrary to the client’s expressed desires creating a great opportunity to talk about the ethical complexities of being a counselor-at-law. The presenters reported that many students came to realize that there might not always be a “right” answer, especially when dealing with legal issues that intersect with human dignity and diverse cultural norms.
Next we discussed the importance of “Building [a] Student[’s] Capacity for Self-Evaluation” with the use of a robust “soft skills” rubric. Before the presenters shared their rubric, Professors Lauren Onkeles-Klein and Robert Dinerstein used Mentimeter’s in-class polling software to highlight that professors view self-assessment as an opportunity for student “reflection,” but students view self-assessment exercises as “painful busywork”—regardless of whether the assessment process occurs in a doctrinal class, legal writing course, or the clinical setting. The question then became: how do we shift student mindset about self-assessment? Their response was to create a rubric that establishes expectations early and often, introduces a common language around measuring skill, and reframes the connection between self-assessment and grades. Professor Dinerstein discussed the rubric’s evolution from a one-page outline to an unwieldy 15+ page document, before he finally settled on a streamlined 10-page student self-assessment form, which borrows heavily from assessments commonly used in medical residency training. Throughout the academic year, supervising professors repeatedly remind students that the goal is “competence” not “mastery” during law school. The current form also highlights long-term patterns within the individual student’s self-assessment, clarifies conflicts between student partners, and frequently invites a dialogue about the importance of teamwork in a law firm setting. The presenters reported that students do, in fact, get better at self-assessment over time through the interactive and frequent assessment process. Anyone interested in reviewing, or possibly adopting, the presenters’ rubric handouts are invited to reach out to the authors directly for permission. (Sorry about the sideways picture below; I am still learning the blog-posting ropes.)
After a delicious taco lunch break, we went back to work “Grow[ing] Future Lawyers in the Image of ABA Standard 302…”. Three professors from West Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School explained how they successfully embedded the same acquaintance rape fact pattern in all three years of law school. In Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan’s 1L criminal law course students learned the elements of rape before conducting an in class jury trial. In Professor Victoria Vuletich’s 2L evidence course students reexamined their 1L trial with fresh eyes, having now learned the Rape Shield Laws. Then, as a 3L in the public defender’s clinic, Professor Tracey Brame set aside time to talk about the unique cultural sensitivities required to competently represent a defendant or victim in a sexual assault case. Reusing the same factual scenario in each year enabled the same students to see the same story from a variety of different legal angles. In addition to reusing the same hypothetical, the three professors created a long-term structure of evolving course rules to better reflect the students’ growth from year-to-year. During the first year, Professor “K-P” drafted and enforced detailed courses rules, with no input from the students. She was careful, however, to relate the classroom rules to the real practice of law, such as why it is critical to be able to take handwritten notes. Then in the second year, the students were allowed to establish the classroom rules, including the sanctions for rule violation. For example, students opted to impose a “must bring treats” penalty to anyone who was late to class without good cause. Then in the final year, the same cohort had to compare and contrast the rule-following required in 1L year with the rule making privileges of 2L year.
CUNY School of Law Professors Deborah Zalesne and David Nadvorney offered suggestions on how to help “underprepared law students” acquire the “other” skills mentioned in ABA Standard 302(d). Session attendees read a few pages of a Contracts case and quickly identified legal terms that could be troublesome for any first-year student. The presenters then pointed out numerous non-legal terms (e.g. “paradigm” or “doctrine”) which also have the potential to hinder an underprepared student. To combat this problem in their own classrooms, the presenters have made a conscious effort to introduce a new concept in the students’ first language, before layering on the more professional vocabulary. Avoiding the lawyer dominant language at the outset enables students to focus on the larger legal framework (i.e. to think big) without getting bogged down in the line-by-line details of the case. Then they systematically work through the case with the students, helping them to understand each line and each new term. The presenters also stressed the importance of being sensitive to students’ wrong answers. In short, taking the time to mentor these students at the start will allow the students to make larger long-term gains during the semester.
I attended several other sessions. I’ll give you the details of those sessions in part two of this two-part series. Coming soon!
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
The Chronicle of Higher Education had a recent article about using the Socratic Method and the potential for students to misunderstand the devil's advocate position in this hypersensitive age. Although mainly focused on undergraduates, it does mention Justice Neil Gorsuch and the disgruntled former law student who accused him of being sexist. The article is here.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Hat tip to Barbara McFarland, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Student Success Initiatives at Chase College of Law - Northern Kentucky University, for sharing a link to a New York Times article on this topic and supporting research. The link to the article can be found here.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Hat tip to Steve Black, my colleague here at Texas Tech School of Law, for telling me about Ankiweb to make flashcards. You can build flashcards on your computer and share them with your other devices. The link to the website is Ankiweb. (The phone app is also available through the Google Play Store for Android phones.) (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, March 25, 2017
I had the privilege of presenting at the Global Legal Skills XII Conference in Monterrey, Mexico last week. It was a wonderful conference. Presenters and participants came from around the world to discuss issues in international legal education. This conference specifically addressed international L.L.M and exchange student populations as well as teaching, legal research and writing, and technology issues for global legal education. I met legal educators from Australia, Canada, Estonia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Qatar, United Kingdom to just name a few of the countries represented. Law schools throughout the United States were represented at the conference in large numbers as well.
All of us work with international or L.L.M. students in our ASP and bar preparation work. We are familiar with their adjustments to U.S. legal education, their struggles, and their successes. It was a pleasure to spend a week with others who are dedicated to providing support to these students. The participants at the conference are as friendly and ready to share ideas and materials as our fellow ASP'ers here in the U.S.
Here is a very brief sample of a few ASPish presentation topics:
- Beyond IRAC: Introducing LLM Students to Problem Solving - Lurene Cotento, John Marshall Law School, Chicago
- Teaching Common Law Skills to Civil Law Students - Amrita Bahri, ITAM, Mexico
- Teaching and Diversity: How MBTI Might Assist an Inclusive Approach to Individual Consultations, Chantal Morton, Melbourne Law School, Australia
- Put It To Practice: Role-Play Exercises in the International Graduate Classroom - Kathryn Edwards Piper and Sarah Kelly, St. Johns School of Law
- Facilitating Online, Peer Support Student Study Networks Using a Number of Social Media Solutions - Matthew Homewood, Nottingham Law School, UK
- LLM Orientation Design for Cohort-Building and Academic Success: Two Models - Miki Pike Hamstra and Cathy Beck, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
- Using Film to Teach about Foreign Legal Systems - Lauren Fielder, University of Texas at Austin School of Law
The next Global Legal Skills Conference (XIII) will be held in Melbourne, Australia in December 2018. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 6, 2017
Hat tip to Vickie Sutton, the Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Texas Tech School of Law, for forwarding a report released by Barnes & Noble and an article about the report. Gen Z students are currently 13-18 years old. The two items can be found here: Download Gen-Z-Research-Report-Final and Download ECampus News Gen Z is about to take ove... (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, February 24, 2017
The other day I was listening to music in my office when a student came in. We said hello, she sat, and I turned off my iTunes. The first thing she asked was "What was THAT you were listening to?"
When I first started in ASP, I worried a lot about acting like a "good professor." I read articles and watched professors who were considered "great" as I tried to figure out what personality traits or styles or workshops might connect best with students. Since every ASP thing I've ever done was voluntary, I thought it was especially important for me to be attractive to students. I watched people who were really funny, people who were really energetic, people who were really clear, people who bled with confidence, and people who all but screamed "Real Life Experience!" I stirred all this "good professor" stuff into a slightly bitter bouillabaisse and tried to drink it down. But I wasn't really happy with it.
I read this week's post about a photo board of success and thought that maybe I should do something like that (really, it sounds great and probably helps a lot, and I in no way mean to criticize it). But, honestly, that kind of thing is not me. It would feel phony. I'd hate doing it. I think if I tried something like that with my personality it would actually have the opposite effect. Students would be able to see I was presenting myself as someone I am not, and I think that would ultimately make them less likely to seek my help.
If you are new to ASP, you'll find that ASP people are super helpful and cool about offering advice, teaching tips, etc., but don't feel like you have to do them all, or that what you're doing is necessarily wrong.
The things in your personality that ultimately make you a "good professor" will probably be things that you didn't think would help. On opposite walls of my office, I have a cartoon poster of my daughter as the superhero "Unicorn Girl" and a zombie apocalypse poster from the CDC. I hung them up simply because I liked them, but I have ended up getting an enormous amount of conversational mileage from them. Especially with students in grade trouble who were "sent to my office," the two posters have turned out to be terrific ice breakers. I don't think either poster would fit with anyone's classic image of a "good professor."
Ultimately, if you're worried about connecting with students, I think the best advice is to simply be yourself.
By the by, this is what I was listening to:
Thursday, February 9, 2017
I just came out of a great conference. However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better. In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher. But, it was great...in the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.
So, let me cut to the chase. Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students. That's right. I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.
You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students." Rather it's my students that are the learners. And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work. It's messy. Its discomforting. It's even downright excruciating sometimes. But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning. Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning. In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.
So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach. They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials. That's because learning is personal. It therefore requires lots of practice. It requires deep engagement in the materials. It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.
But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail. Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!). But, I didn't learn the materials through success. Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).
So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials. In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners. That's a game that I am excited about watching. Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust. If unjust, then disobedience was justified.
That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph: "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."
Wow! Impactful! Poignant! Straight to the heart of the issue! Take a close look at the paragraph above. Did Dr. King start with the issue? After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders? Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws? Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion. That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).
When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems. In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC. And, it felt SO unnatural to me...so mechanical...so impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.
Looking back, I see my folly. IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time. In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school. Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it. So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis. As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, don't shy away from IRAC. Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do. In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
If you have not seen the four posts on The Faculty Lounge by Louis N. Schulze, Jr., Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support at Florida International University College of Law, regarding using cognitive psychology with our students, here are the links: Part 1: Retrieval Practice, Part 2: Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning, Part 3: Spaced Repetition, and Part 4: Cognitive Schema Theory.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
As mentioned in a previous blog, most of my law school outlines were - simply put - not outlines…and not useful at all in law school. Rather, my outlines were just my regurgitated notes with my case briefs and class notes filling out the details.
And, there was a good reason that I didn't know how to outline or create another organization tool (such as a flowchart, a map, an audio file, a poster, etc.). That's because I didn't have a framework in mind to organize my notes, briefs, and casebook materials. And, I suspect that many of our students find themselves in similar straits.
So, here's a thought…just a thought. Perhaps Academic Support Professionals might lend a hand in providing the organizational template for outlining.
Here's why. First, the casebook and the class syllabus already provide our students with a rough guide as to methods to organize a law school subject. So, we don't mind giving our students some sort of start in the process. But, the rough guide from a casebook and syllabus are not enough.
That's because the rough outlines in those materials do not provide students with sufficient details to organize the subject. The tables of contents, for example, usually just provide legal terms of art. That's it. No so-called "black letter" law at all.
So, here's the rub. We expect our students to craft the rules for themselves. But, in the practice of law, we don't do that at all. Rather, at least speaking for myself, when I work on a novel legal problem, I don't ever start with a casebook. Instead, I start with a mini-hornbook to provide me an overview of the black letter law, including the big picture "umbrella" rules, such as: A refugee is "one who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion…" Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(42)(A).
Then, I start digging into the cases to figure out, assuming that the law does not define the various terms, what persecution means or membership in a particular social group, etc. In short, as an attorney, I have never had to create an umbrella rule from scratch based on reading a bunch of cases. Instead, I use the cases to determine how to apply (or distinguish) the rule to (or from) the situations that my clients are facing.
If that is how most of us practice law, then maybe that is how we should study law too. If so (and this is just a hunch of mine), maybe we should be giving our students a template of the black letter law. Then, our students can proactively use that template to flesh out the meanings of the rules, the limits of the rules, and the particular applications of the rules…by inserting within that template their case blurbs, class notes, class hypotheticals, policy rationales, etc.
One of my best professors in law school (and also one of my most difficult in terms of grading) was not afraid at all to set out the black letter law for us, both as a preview of the coming class and as a review of the previous class. With the law set out, we were much better able to dig into the heart of the law…what do the words mean, what are the policy implications behind the rules, should the rules be changed, etc.
In short, we learned to think like a lawyer…even without having to craft our own umbrella rules. And, amazingly, that's one of the few law school classes that I can still recall many of the things that I learned. The others - just like most of my law school outlines - are just faded memories. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, September 25, 2016
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)
Saturday, September 24, 2016
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)
Sunday, September 18, 2016
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.