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.
Friday, September 16, 2016
When a student is placed on Academic Probation, I meet with them once a week during the next term. Importantly, I assign them Q&As, E&Es, or other sample question books to work on throughout the semester. Every week, I assign about 10 pages of questions in each of the subjects they are taking. I don't pick up any of their work once it is completed, unless they have a specific question. I just use it to keep them on task and to get them used to the idea of continually doing practice questions as they read and outline their courses. Toward the end of the semester, I give them long essay questions that I have created, have them turn them in, and go over the answers. I've used this model the past few years, and it has significantly improved student work, leading students to get off probation and to ultimately pass the bar on the first try.
I think the key to this is to actually give weekly assignments and to actually give them copies of the materials. It's much harder to ignore the extra weight in their backpack than it is to ignore something I've emailed, pointed out on CALI, or posted on TWEN.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Do you ever wonder whether your icebreakers at the beginning of the course or a training session are helpful or a waste of time? Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga) recently posted a blog entry on the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning web pages with hints on successful use of icebreakers: Icebreakers in Law School: Juvenile or Helpful?
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
The discussion of trigger warnings has continued in recent issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education because of recent events at the University of Chicago. This past week The Chronicle published a guide to trigger warnings that summarizes what has been going on at colleges and universities on this issue. The link is here: A Brief Guide to the Battle Over Trigger Warnings.
Monday, August 29, 2016
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent article talked about a study that found cold-calling on undergraduate students increased the students' voluntary participation over the semester. The article referenced that like any other skill, students need practice - practice in the skill of class participation. The link to the article is here: Why Cold-Calling on Students Works. (Of course, the article also made a negative reference to the law school use of cold-calling and included a link to the well-known clip from Paperchase in which Kingsfield terrorizes Hart.)
For a more positive look at law school Socratic Method, see my post here: Turning the Socratic Method into a Positive Experience. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 18, 2016
As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.
In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance," Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/
Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence): The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance.
For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.
Wow…that's the power of one! (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The Section on Student Services had microagressions as the topic for its second panel at the January 2016 AALS Annual Meeting. In addition, one of the Hot Topic programs was on trigger warnings. (If you missed these sessions, AALS members can go to the AALS website and log in to view podcasts. On the members page, click events and conferences; go down to 2016 Annual Meeting which should take you to the program; click on podcasts at the top to get that viewing list.)
Both of these issues are much discussed currently in law schools. Here is an article discussing the issues from a broader higher education perspective in today's The Chronicle of Higher Education: Speaker-Beware. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, September 28, 2015
Hat tip to James B. Levy of the Legal Skills Prof Blog for his September 25th post referencing his own SSRN article on teaching with classroom technology in law school and a forthcoming Australian book with a chapter on the myth of digital natives. His post can be found here: Legal Skills Prof Blog Post by James B. Levy. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Hat tip to Scott Fruehwald on the LRWProf list for pointing out a new article. You may want to check out James B. Levy's new article entitled Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School on SSRN: Levy Article. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Legal Skills Prof Blog recently posted this reference to a short piece on acronyms. I agree that acronyms and other abbreviations can cause confusion, ruin the flow of an essay, and cause the reader frustration. The article suggests a few useful guidelines on when to use them and when to avoid them. I have even had one bar examiner tell me to instruct students that their bar exam essays should not read like a text message. In an acronym, twitter/text, abbreviation heavy culture, this is a good reminder. Thus, I advise my students that when they are in doubt, they should write it out.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Every year someone on the listserv asks for advice because they have been charged with creating a new ASP course. I remember the anxiety I felt when I had to design my first course. Kris Franklin's new book, Strategies and Techniques for Teaching Academic Success Courses, should fill this need. The book will be given away free during AALS.
I have read the book, and highly recommend it. Although I have been teaching in ASP for many years, it was an excellent refresher on what I should do doing and thinking about when I design (or redesign) a course.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Law school attracts extroverts and in many ways is designed for them. An astute law student must highlight their successes, be vocal participants in a Socratic classroom, and zealously advocate in order to thrive in the competitive law school environment. However, being an introvert does not mean that an individual cannot excel in law school or contribute meaningfully to the practice of law.
There is a great TED talk by Susan Cain, a lawyer turned writer, who explores introversion and the value of quiet. In this TED talk, she implores everyone to “stop the constant group work”, “unplug and get inside your own head”, and share your gifts with others. Part of her manifesto includes a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” How beautiful would it be for law school classrooms to honor the quiet introvert as much as the outspoken extrovert? Is it possible to encourage “gentle shaking” in a law school doctrinal classroom? Here are a few suggestions that will help introverts feel more comfortable speaking up and contributing in a sometimes intimidating law school classroom.
- Rethink participation during class and provide alternative means to have students engage with the material or with each other.
- See each student as an individual who expresses their ideas and knowledge in multiple and various ways.
- Have students sign up to be the expert for a particular class period or for a particular set of cases.
- Use think- pair-share prior to full classroom discussions about a topic, case, or set of problems.
- Distribute or post discussion questions with the reading assignment prior to class.
- Allow students to pass in class (within reason).
- Teach students how to brief cases and prepare for class discussions. This type of transparency will create more engaged students and lead to a more a dynamic discussion.
- Do not call on students too quickly. Let the question stew with the class and allow introverts more time to reflect and process.
- Consider a flipped classroom so that students feel more prepared to discuss and/or participate during class time.
- Use technology in the classroom. Technology is ubiquitous, and can be integrated it into the classroom to provide added layers of participation and engagement- especially for diverse learners.
- Create learning groups, which will help make a large law school classroom more accessible to introverts.
- Reflect on your own learning style and personality. How do they affect your teaching style and how is your delivery received by extroverts and introverts? How can alter your style to be more inclusive?
(Lisa Bove Young)