Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Think Twice Before Banning Laptops: A Note on Accommodations and Diverse Thinking and Learning

Pause keyboard

I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.

The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).

I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students.  And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes.  But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.

So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability.  This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students.  But, it could still be an issue. 

If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.

Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?

One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.

Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?

Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue?  I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions. 

And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?

We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”

Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)

August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Law School Is Not For You

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)!

August 16, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Helping Colleagues Craft Bar Exam Conscious Syllabi

    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.

Multiple Choice

    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.]

Essays

    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

Business Associations

    n/a

    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

    n/a

     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.

Civil Procedure

    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.

Constitutional Law

    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

Evidence multiple-choice questions are typically divided up as follows:

Presentation of the evidence: 25%

Relevance: 33%

Hearsay: 33%

Privileges & Writings: 9%

The three most commonly tested subtopics on the Evidence essays are: relevance, character evidence, and use of prior inconsistent statements.

Family Law

     n/a

     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.

Real Property

    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.

Secured Transactions

     n/a

     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.

Torts

    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

    n/a

     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.

(Kirsha Trychta)

August 8, 2017 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #1: Less is More

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. 

  982 Trychta seed

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.

August 1, 2017 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ILTL Cultural Competency Takeaways, 2 of 2

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.

Henderson 3

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.”

Madison 3

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.

Church 3

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)

July 18, 2017 in Meetings, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

ILTL Cultural Competency Takeaways, 1 of 2

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. 

  Elon Profs

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.) 

  American Profs

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.

Cooley Profs

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.

  CUNY Profs

I attended several other sessions. I’ll give you the details of those sessions in part two of this two-part series.  Coming soon!

(Kirsha Trychta)

July 11, 2017 in Meetings, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cross-Cultural Competency in Legal Education Teaching

Thank you to various colleagues on the Legal Research and Writing Professor listserv for suggesting an article by Susan Bryant on five habits for building cross-cultural competency in lawyers: Cross-Cultural Competency.

June 6, 2017 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Socratic Method and Potential Misunderstandings

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.

May 30, 2017 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)