Thursday, January 12, 2012
There is a great piece from NPR about physicists reworking their large lecture courses after learning that lectures don't facilitate learning. I have included the link below.
Inspired by the article, here is an example of how you can lose the lecture. We know active learning is a better teaching method than lectures, but many of us (including me!) get nervous about changing our teaching methods. This is one example of how to lose the lecture and embrace active learning; there are thousands of ways to revamp your teaching to include more active learning. I am providing the example below to help ASPer's who feel stuck.
1) Start by asking students a question that will frame their learning. What is the fundamental concept I want students to know before the end of the class?
Friday, November 11, 2011
Hat tip to the Law Librarian Blog for information on Brian Cowan's article on November 6, 2011 in The Chronicle of Higher Education on digital natives and their learning. Although the article is about university students in general, it is relevant to law school students. The article can be found here (subscription required): 'Digital Natives' Aren't Necessarily Digital Learners. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
What do you want your tests to accomplish? Are they meant to measure learning that has already occured? Are your tests meant to provide an end of term grade? Are your tests meant to assess how much material students covered in the semester? If you use tests in any of these ways, I challenge you to see tests in a new light: as a teaching tool. Before I begin, I want to hat tip several people who already use this technique in their teaching: Ingrid Michelson Hillinger of BC, Rory Baduhur, Jeremiah Ho, and Michael Hunter Schwartz of Washburn, and Paula Manning of Western State. I am certain there are more people who use this technique; these are the people I know off the top of my head on a Monday morning.
"Retrieval practice" uses tests as a method of assessment and reinforcement, seeing the test itself as a learning experience that helps consolidate knowledge. For students, retrieval practice means something they need more of but dread: tests. But testing should be frequent and involve self-quizzing, as well as tests that build upon previous skills so students are reviewing as well as consolidating new information. Each of the law professors above have presented at conferences on different methods of frequently assessing student learning in ways that build skills; there is no one correct way to use retrieval practice. Prof. Hillinger uses group work that challenges students and builds skills throughout the semester. Prof. Badahur and Ho use frequent mini-tests, which students can peer-correct or self-correct, to test skills as they are being learned. Prof.'s Manning and Schwartz use so many different testing methods throughout the semester to keep students active and engaged.
Based on what I have learned over the past year, I have dramatically changed the structure of the Remedies course I teach each fall. Instead of giving fours tests throughout the semester, I give four exams (each with increasing value towards their final grade) and a mini-assessment at the end of every class. I start each class with a lesson on a skill, such as outlining for learning. This is the most typical "ASP" part of the course. I move into a doctrinal lesson in Remedies. Unlike traditional doctrinal teaching, I use visuals, give note-taking guides, and explain my pedagogy as I am teaching. Students know why I am using any particular teaching method, how it is used in their other courses, and how this teaching method relates to a practice skill. I make my thinking explicit. In other words, I don't hide the ball. I give them the ball, and then explain why I use the ball, the other ways of using the ball, explain it's character and design, and how the ball can be used outside the classroom. The last part of my class is a mini-assessment that tests their understanding of the lesson and asks them to apply the skills they have been learning in class. This past week, when we reviewed the science and skills of reading and briefing cases, I asked them to brief next week's case in class, with me, trying the techniques they just learned. I gave them a 1/2 hour; far more time than they would take if they were rushing through the brief at home. I assured them their was no "wrong" answer, that this was a chance to experiment with technique and format and get feedback on their efforts. The benefit to me from this lesson is that I get to see if they understand before I move on to a new skill. Because skills build on each other, I can assess early in the semester if we need to spend more time on a skill, before we all become frustrated with a lack of understanding later in the semester.
While it is at best a brief introduction to retrieval practice, there is an article in the NYT's on it in practice. The article mentions Mind, Brain, and Education. There is a Mind, Brian, and Education journal from Harvard's Graduate School of Education; it is excellent and well worth the very modest subscription pric (I have been subscribing since 2007). I have also been to a Harvard conference on mind-brain connections in students with learning differences, and I regularly use what I learned at the conference. (RCF)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing. Example: attend every class. There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then. But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial? (Answer: zero.)
Now here's a real-life example. In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation. As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators. That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.
When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind. Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.
Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker. "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas." His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student." Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes. (Read the Court Order here.)
According to Above the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels."
Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years. Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets. Excerpts:
Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
(Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
And a very cool cell where you can meet
And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.
(Read the whole "poem" here.) Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties. After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks! (djt)
Saturday, August 20, 2011
There is a very interesting discussion at the Freakonomics blog (same authors as the book) about how to incentivize class attendance. I think this dovetails nicely with a question posted yesterday on the ASP listserv about laptops in class. Both attendance policies and laptops bans get at the same fundamental issue: how do professors keep students in class and engaged? I don't think there is one answer to this question, but a theme seems to run through both issues. The theme is lecture-only or lecture-from-the-book courses bore students, encourage students to miss class, and increase the use of distractions in class. I have heard over and over from doctrinal professors that the Socratic Method is not lecture-only, but as the Socratic Method is employed in many classes, students can't see the difference. This is especially true when the Socratic Method is used to question only a tiny number of students in a large class; I have heard students complain they would rather lecture-only, because questioning only a few students, who may or may not have done the reading, just increases confusion.
The comments below the post in Freaknomics make sense and pose the same questions law schools are struggling to answer.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Academic Success supports many different types of students, but one group we don't hear much about are transfer students. However, transfer students have many of the same struggles as incoming students: where to live, how to make friends, how to navigate a new environment. It's easy to ignore or lose track of transfer students, but their needs are important as well. They don't cross our radar because their 1L grades are superior (or they would not have been admitted) and they are upperclassmen, and many ASP's focus on the first and last year of law school.
Although we always have a full plate in ASP, it is wise to reach out to incoming transfer students. Helping them feel like they have a home and a place to go if they need academic assistance can prevent bar exam issues their 3L year. (RCF)
Friday, July 15, 2011
I had the privilege of teaching at CLEO's Attitude is Essential 3-day workshop in Atlanta this past weekend. I co-taught my small group of 25 students with Joanne Harvest Koren of Miami Law. One of the issues that arose in our session was how much time to devote to student questions when we were trying to cover substantive lessons in a compressed time period. Joanne and I decided to spend a significant amount of time answering questions, at the expense of some substantive coverage. I think we made a smart choice, but I think this is something many ASP professionals struggle with when they teach a class or workshop.
The students in our section were an unusually motivated group, which they demonstrated by spending almost twelve hours a day for two and a half days in hotel conference rooms learning about how to succeed in law school. They came with more smart, important questions than we had time to answer. However, there are some questions asked by new students that need to be answered before they can move on to other work. When trying to decide how much time to allot to questions, it's important to judge the importance of the questions to the student. What might seem like something that can be answered at another time might be pressing to the student. If the question stops the student from thinking about anything else, than cutting some coverage helps students focus on what needs to be covered in class. These types of questions are the type that are shared by many incoming students; only one or two students have the courage to raise their hand and ask the question.
Joanne and I found it best to start each session with a general Q and A. We explicitly limited the time and scope of the answers to what we thought was most pressing for the students. At the end of each session, we tried our best to have a more limited Q and A about the material we just covered, so students could leave the session and move on to new material, instead of remaining confused.
What sort of questions were most pressing for incoming law students?
1) How much time should be devoted to law school each week?
2) Do I need to do law school work and nothing else for the next three years?
3) What are the benefits of typing/handwriting notes?
4) How do I explain to my significant other/parents/children that I can't be there for them the way I used to be when I am in law school?
These are all questions that are great to tackle in pre-orientation or orientation. When students are preoccupied with major questions about law school, it uses parts of their working memory that can be devoted to other, more productive things. By spending some time to answer questions, you have more focused students.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
We write a lot about discovering student's learning and processing styles. But few of us spend a lot of time thinking about our teaching styles. We teach the way we were taught, the way that feels most comfortable to us, or the way we are told to teach by our employer. A handful of people change their teaching style based on what they learn at conferences. As ASPer's, we busy, and few of us have a lot of downtime to think about why we teach the way we teach and reflect on our teaching style.
I am using teaching style in the broadest possible way; all the things you do to prepare to teach and how you teach students. This is unique to every individual. Learning is a complex interplay between teachers, students, and students and peers. We all have preferences. We all need to understand our preferences to do our best to help students learn.
The one-on-one teacher: Whenever I go to a conference, I hear attendees talking that one-on-one is the best method for teaching students. It is assumed, not discussed. I have heard countless times "I could teach them anything, if I just had enough time to teach them one-on-one." No one seems to question the validity of the statement. One-on-one teaching is a teaching style, and one that does not work best for everyone. It is not true that everyone could teach anyone anything if they could just work with them one-on-one. It is a great method if it is your strength, but it is not everyone's strength. I a lot of former practitioners prefer one-on-one's because it is how they worked with clients. My message to new teachers is that they should think before they assume this is the best way to reach all students. It's not the best way, it is a preference. Just as we would not assume there is a best learning or processing style for students, don't assume one-on-one's are the best teaching method because that is what you hear from colleagues.
The student-group leader-teacher: This is a common way of delivering ASP at many law schools. ASP professionals are expected to teach students to lead groups of students. There are some brilliant ASper's who use this method to great success; Joanne Koren at Miami and Mike Schwartz at Washburn immediately come to mind. However, there is no one master method for teaching student leaders to run student study groups. If you are an intuitive teacher, teaching students to teach students is difficult. Intuitive teachers are ones whose teaching reflects the needs and the makeup of the class. It is a more spontaneous, reactive way to teach, although it requires as much, if not more, preparation. Intuitive teachers master the subject material so that they can change the direction of the class on the fly to reflect how the class is moving that day. If this is your teaching style, it is difficult to translate this method to student leaders. You cannot tell student leaders to master the subject material. Most intuitive teachers have significant classroom experience, and it is rare for a student leader to have the teaching experience to be intuitive with the students they are leading. Intuitive teachers can learn how other teachers teach student leaders, but it is not their preference. And there is nothing wrong with finding that is not the best way to reach students.
The classroom teacher: Not everyone is cut out to be a traditional classroom teacher. There are some magnificent, awe-inspiring classroom teachers in ASP and doctrinal teaching, such as Rory Badahur at Washburn or Paula Manning at Western State. If you don't prefer classroom teaching, it doesn't mean you aren't a good teacher. It means your preference may be one-on-one or leading student leaders. I find that there is a spectrum, at one end are pure classroom teachers, and at the other, pure one-on-one teachers. Most people are somewhere along that spectrum. The difference is in how the teachers use peer learning. Classroom teachers need to cede control of learning to the students to be successful. This is not something everyone is comfortable doing. You need to build trust between teacher (you) and the students, and trust between peers. This is a skill. It's much easier for student's to feel safe in a one-on-one than it is for a class to feel safe. Safety is critical to learning because students need to push boundaries in order to learn, to move outside of their comfort zone, and to risk being wrong.
Every teacher needs to do some of every type of teaching. However, everyone has preferences in how they work with students. My message to new teachers--there is not a right or wrong preference, no master method that is most successful with students. When a colleague, even a very respected colleague, tells you that they have found a method that works best with students, realize they have found their method that works best based on their teaching preferences. That method may not work best for you. You need to reflect on your skill set and your preferences. The method that is most likely to reach your students is the method that reflects your preferences and strengths.
I have a non-ASP colleague at the undergrad who is one of the most brilliant one-on-one teachers I have ever observed. However, this teacher dislikes classroom teaching, and finds it ineffectual at reaching students. This educator was reflective during the job search, and found a position that consists primarily of one-on-one instruction, with limited classroom time. I am fascinated by one-on-one methods because I greatly prefer classroom teaching, and find a full day of one-on-ones to be draining, and for many students, counter-productive. I find students understand much more from peer learning in a class than in a one-on-one. I find that students are better at translating their misunderstanding of material to each other than to me. My colleague and I both receive great evaluations reflective of our respective teaching preferences. Our student body overlaps, so we know that the evals are not reflecting student preferences (i.e., students who like one-on-ones going to the colleague, students who like classroom teaching to me), but our strengths.
My message to new teachers: reflect on your preferences and your strengths. Your students will learn best when you play to your strengths as a teacher. There is no one master method of reaching students. Just as we respect student learning and processing differences, respect teaching preferences. (RCF)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I sat in on an Business Law class yesterday. I sat in the back of the classroom, so I had a nice view of all the open laptops in front of me. I was impressed with how few students were using their laptops inappropriately during class time; I could see only two in a class of over fifty students. Most law professors can only dream of a class with so few students playing games. I was intrigued with how the students were taking notes on their laptops, and I think this method can be of great use in law school classrooms.
The PowerPoints are digitally distributed ahead of time, so students can load the slides on their computer before the start of class. The slides were also projected at the front of the room. The students with computers almost universally had the PowerPoints open, in the "notes page" format. (For those of you unfamiliar with the notes page: in newest version of MS PP, go to the "view" tab at the top of the screen, and on the far left of the format bar, there is a tab for "Normal", "Slide Sorter" and "Notes page". Click on "notes page".) From the notes page format, students could see thePowerPoint on the screen, and take notes underneath. I had never seen students do this before, but it made sense that this was an excellent technique for organizing notes. The notes correspond with the lecture. If a student misses a word during the lecture, they can figure out the context by looking at where they were in the presentation.
The instructor had an interesting method of using PowerPoint as an instructional tool. The slides were used as place keepers for the lecture. Each slide had text outlining a major point, along with some fun visuals, such as a picture of the schoolhouse from Brown v. Board of Education. The PowerPoints did not outline the lecture, just the main point of the topic. Students could not use the PowerPoints as a substitute for class attendance. Therefore, it did not matter if he distributed them before class. I know law school professors fear distributing their PowerPoints because they fear it will create an incentive for students to miss class or play during class. However, what I observed in the class was that the students were MORE tuned in to class lecture. If they lost their place in the lecture, the students did not feel as if they were lost for the rest of the class. They could figure out the context by looking at the slide.
I know that using scaffolds such as PowerPoint help students learn material. I know all the theoretical reasons why PowerPoint is a great tool. This was the first time I saw how student behavior matched the theoretical reasons for using PowerPoint. Most of the research I have read on using scaffolds, such as PowerPoint, to learn in class were based on student's assessment of their own learning, which does not always correspond with appropriate behavior in class. This was my first experience witnessing the positive change in student classroom behavior when scaffolds are used appropriately. This is definitely a technique I will adopt in my classes in the future. (RCF)
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Two teaching techniques are known as the educational bookends: previews and summaries. The idea is that you present a preview of the material ("Let me preview adverse possession for you. We will be studying the topic for the next 2 weeks."), teach the material, and the summarize the material ("Let's pull together what we have learned about adverse possession over the last 2 weeks.").
Global learners (who need a road map of the topic before they can understand the sub-topics within the topic) will appreciate the preview step. It helps them to understand how to fit the parts into the whole as the material is covered. They will feel that they know what the "road trip" will be about and can enjoy the journey.
Sequential learners (who need to first understand each sub-topic before they can think about the overview) will appreciate the summary step. It helps them to know where they have been and how the parts fit into the whole now that they understand the material in its segments.
In short, each type of learner gets to the same destination in a different way. By providing both a preview and a summary, the teacher starts or ends the journey appropriately for each type of learner.
The trick as a professor is to remember to do both steps and not just the one that matches your own style of learning! (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 21, 2011
I have written posts in the past about students as consumers. I have very strong feelings on the topic, because I believethat viewing students as consumers dis-incentivizes students to achieve their personal best. However, it can be difficult to explain to students who see themselves as consumers what they should expect from ASP. I think this metaphor may be helpful.*
Home Depot and Lowe's hardware sell do-it-yourself kits for various small projects, such as bird feeders, picture frames, and shelves. They are designed to be parent-child projects, and the degree of complexity involved in the finished product depends on the skill and effort of the builders.
Education is much like one of these do-it-yourself projects. The boxes advertise a very basic project. The kit includes all the pieces necessary to build the project in it's most basic form. If built as designed, the product should function exactly as it is advertised. Similarly, law schools give students all the basic pieces to complete a law degree. Some students will use the pieces as a starting point, and build something magnificent, far exceeding what is advertised on the box. These students are using their own ingenuity, creativity, and talent to demonstrate their own potential. They write notes for law review, join mock trial and appellate advocacy teams, they take on big projects in clinics, and they work to know their professors and peers. Other students will not take the time to read the directions, fail to follow directions, or rush the project because they don't like it. Their project will not be as advertised on the box, because the box does not promise them a well-built project without their own hard work. They can't bring the product back to the store because they don't like the finished product; it is not the store or the manufacturer's fault they did not do what they needed to do. These are the students who fail to show up for orientation or spend orientation playing on a cell phone, the students who are smarter than ASP, and feel that outlining isn't "their style" of preparing for exams. But the trickiest consumers are those that genuinely give 100% of their effort to building the project, and just can not figure out how to get from disassembled pieces to a finished product. This is why most manufacturers have consumer help lines. Academic Success is the consumer help line of law schools. The help-line specialists are masters at building the product, but it requires the continued effort of the consumer to learn how to build the project. If the consumer gets frustrated and hangs up the phone, the help-line specialist can not be blamed for problems with the finished product. Nor can a consumer expect that a help-line specialist is in charge of magic fairies who can come out and finish the project for them because they are struggling. No where on the box does it say that the manufacturer is responsible for the finishing the project for the consumer.
Education, like a do-it-yourself project, is great because you can build something that fits your individual needs, and you decide the complexity of the finished product. Its flexibility is what makes it great, but it also makes it difficult. Students who believe that they are consumers and ASP is there to fix their problems for them are confused about their role.
This metaphor is incomplete in many ways, because ASP encompasses many more things than just helping struggling students. I still disagree with characterizing students as consumers, but I know that some students will see themselves as consumers, and it is helpful to have a metaphor to help them see what we can and cannot do for them. (RCF)
*I apologize if this is a metaphor that has been used by someone else. I have read hundreds of law review articles in the last few months, and I may have accidently picked it up from an article. However, the idea came to me when I watched my brother-in-law and 3 year old nephew put together a do-it-yourself picture frame. My nephew thought the pieces for the frame should be used to build a construction crane. It was not what the manufacturer promised on the box, but it made my nephew very happy. I saw the help-line number on the box, and thought, wow, I bet no one has called them and asked about how to use a picture frame kit to build a construction crane. Which got me thinking about the role of help lines, and ASP.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
I will probably write a much longer law review/journal piece on this topic, but I think it's something that ASPer's can start thinking about now.
I live in two worlds. I teach an ASP course at UConn Law School, and I am the undergrad pre-law specialist. My experience in the pre-law world has been informed by my time as a full-time ASPer. The first time I attended a large conference of pre-law advisers and faculty, I was surprised by how few had JD's. Many advisers don't just advise pre-law students, but advise all pre-professional programs, or are a part of career services. While far more pre-law faculty have JD's, many of them are PhD's in Political Science or History. This is not a criticism of pre-law advisers or faculty; I have learned tremendous amounts from them, and many of them are excellent at what they do.
As ASPer's, we spend our days working with and thinking about what makes a successful law student. We see the characteristics of students who do not succeed, and we can usually recognize issues before the student knows it will be a problem. However, few of us reach out to undergraduate pre-law advisers to share what we know about what makes a successful law student. There are some ASPer's who are actively involved in undergraduate pre-law studies; my co-editor, Amy Jarmon, works with Tech's program, Corie Rosen works with ASU's undergraduate population, and I know a few ASPer's spoke to a pre-law gathering a year ago.
For many, it seems to be an issue of knowing who to reach out to, and at what school. Pre-law advisers as a rule don't know who to reach out to at the law school level, but it's easier for an ASPer to locate a pre-law adviser or faculty. Any school is a good school to reach out to, although many law schools are connected to or on the campus of a larger undergraduate university.
The message many pre-law advisers hear is that a broad-based liberal arts or business education is the best preparation for law school, and that any major can go to law school. That is correct, but incomplete, information. Students need to know how to write analytically and read critically to succeed in law school. Just because a student majors in English doesn't mean they know how to do read critically, and being an Engineering major doesn't mean that they don't have excellent critical reading skills. It's not the major, it's the skills. Pre-law advisers could provide much more guidance to their students if they understood the skills necessary for success. Students can acquire these skills in any major, in any college, but they have to carefully choose their classes. Many pre-law students avoid the classes that will give them these skills because they are hard classes, and they would prefer to maximize their GPA. I explain to my students that maximizing their GPA won't be as helpful as having the skills to succeed in law school, when the stakes are much higher, and the job you get will depend on how well you do in school.
I deal with this everyday at UConn. Law students need problem-solving skills, with a heavy emphasis on analytical reasoning. One of the best classes for this is in the Math department, in a class called "Problem Solving". My students avoid this class like the plague. They choose the pre-law track because they hate math. However, the problem solving class involves a lot of critical reading, and doesn't involve a lot of numbers or symbols. It is the best class to prepare students for the LSAT, along with the Logic classes in the Philosophy department. All students at UConn need to take a minimum of three math classes (called Q classes), and at least one Philosophy class, regardless of major. Pre-law students try to take what they perceive to be easier Q and philosophy classes, ones that have more of a focus on introductory math skills and philosophy in history. But these classes do not prepare students as well as classes that focus on analytical skills.
It is the same in almost all majors. I strongly advise students to take grammar, poetry, and rhetoric classes in the English department. They are three of the tougher courses in the English department, because they grade writing skill as well as content. They avoid all classes using the case method in the History or Political Science departments, because cases are difficult to understand. They run from econ classes because they fear econ will be too much like math.
I am not criticizing my students. They receive an overwhelming message that grades and LSAT are all that matter, thanks to for-profit websites and commercial LSAT prep programs. They worry about getting into law school, not succeeding once they are in law school. When I sit down and explain why skills are important, how to get them, and the importance of doing well in law school, they listen. For some, it takes more coaxing then others, but the majority will take some if not all of the tougher skills classes I recommend. Like many non-JD pre-law advisers, many students don't have the information to make an informed decision. Armed with the right information, they make smart choices. Which leads to better law students.
As ASP professionals, we know so much, and we have so much to give back. Far fewer students would be struggling academically if they had a pre-law adviser or faculty member who could steer them to the right classes that focus on the type of skills they need to succeed in law school. (RCF)
Friday, October 29, 2010
Sarah Klaper at DePaul University School of Law shared the following link to the "not that kind of doctor blog" with the Legal Research and Writing Professor listserv. As those of us who teach ASP courses, pre-law courses, or law school doctrinal courses move into grading season, I thought this link might be of interest. I found myself saying "Been there, done that." The blog posting can be found at: The five stages of grading. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 4, 2010
As we move past the beginning and approach the middle of the semester, we are trying new things and experimenting with new formats. We are learning what wroks, and what needs some tweaks. Some of us are teaching new classes, others are teaching the same classes in a new way. This is my second year of teaching Remedies as an ASP course, and here are some of the new things I am trying. Some are going well, others need more tweaks in teh coming weeks:
1) My student's don't use a traditional casebook (until Mike Schwartz's comes out) so I send them their reading in chunks. I don't know how this will work. But my rationale for the change is that I can better tailor the reading to the movement of the class if I periodically review where we are and where we want to go throughout the semester rather than give them everything at once. I add questions and comments to the reading, and this way, I can tailor my questions and comments in the text to what the students are struggling with in the material.
2) I am definitely using handouts to go with my PowerPoints. I know, I should have been doing this from the start. I would love to say my rationale was that I researched the science and saw that handouts scaffold the material learned in class, and therefore, make for better learning by students. That is 75% of my rationale. The other 25% has to do with attention in class. I really don't like giving away my PowerPoints because I believe it reduces the motivation to be alert and attentive in class. I teach at night, and I could be Robin Williams and students would still want to zone out. If I create a handout the acts as a roadmap to where we are going, they can fill in the pertinent information. I am hoping this method also helps students start to see what they should be taking notes on in their other classes. If I give them a template, they will (hopefully) extrapolate what are the important headings to their other classes.
3) I am trying a slower movement through the material. I am trying to go one step deeper with the material, making deeper connections between the material and what students should be thinking. This is an ongoing metacognitive process for me. I am not only re-reading the material, but stopping myself to ask why? when I write notes on the case.
Friday, April 30, 2010
I would like to thank Ruthann Robson, Co-Editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, for alerting us to her April 22, 2010 post on that blog. Ruthann is Professor of Law and University Distinguished Professor at CUNY: Ruthann Robson Profile.
Her post lists numerous hints for professors as they draft their exams. Number 12 in the list mentions that faculty may wish to ask ASP staff for support when working on end-of-the-semester exams. The post also gives a nice compliment to David Nadvorney and his ASP colleagues at CUNY. The full post can be read here: Constitutional Law Exam Drafting. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Some interesting science to report...at least one presenter at every ASP conference mentions that students feel that red pen makes it look as if the paper is "bleeding" negative comments. A new spin: teachers actually grade more harshly when using red pen. Another reason why green, pink, purple might be better bets when giving student feedback.
(I realize this link doesn't look like it fits with my post...it does.)
And a link to the full study is here:
The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards
by Rutchick, Slepian, and Ferris
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
There are a couple of skills that feel more akin to life management or corporate training that academic support. One of them is time management. It is essential to doing well in law school, and it is a skill most students come to law school believing they already have in their repetoire. After teaching this skill many times, I have a few helpful suggestions that make the lesson more effective.
1) Tell them it is a new skill set. They may have academic time management down to a science, but academic time management doesn't require you to measure your work in 6-minute increments. By reinforcing the idea that time management is a professional skill, not remedial training, students are more likely to buy-in to the lesson. Using old billable hour time sheets can help students visualize the change.
2) One of the best books I have found for lessons that support time management as a professional skill is Dennis Tonsings 1000 Days to the Bar (HEIN). There is an excellent chapter on scheduling, with wonderful charts, that help students map how they use their time.
3) There are fewer external checkpoints in law school to help students benchmark their studying. With academic time management, students have formative assessments (quizzes, midterms) that serve as a check throughout the semester. After each checkpoint, students could reassess their study system and make adjustments. Many times, a test or a midterm covers the material up to that point in the semester, and the final only covers material from the midterm to the final. Not the case at most law schools; the entire grade rests on one test. Therefore, students need to create checkpoints early in the semester to benchmark their work. The only way to hold oneself accountable is to plan early; scheduling is critical. Law school won't provide external checkpoints, so students need to learn how to schedule them into studying.
4) Students should try using multiple calendars. A semester calendar can help students map their overall study schedule. A monthly or weekly calendar can help students see smaller, essential engagements. A daily calendar or a to-do list can help students stay on track throughout the day. For many people, checking things off of a to-do list or crossing them off a calendar provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Law school doesn't provide many things students can feel good about, but this is one small way students can reward themselves.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Okay, so this begins the part of the semester that is a least-favorite among many of us...the grading grind. In ASP, we tend to grade year-round, so it's not quite the flurry that it is for doctrinal law professors. But nonetheless, I am swamped with papers that need to be corrected, and grades due Dec 22 for my undergrads (much later for my law students). Here are some pieces of simple advice if you are new to grading or giving feedback on papers:
1) Give yourself a break at between 3-5 papers. If you try to do more than that, you start to get irritated, and it will show in the grades. And that is not fair to the students.
2) At least scan them all once after you have assigned grades. Since it is not wise to grade everything at once due to fatigue, you need to be sure you are using a consistent standard.
3) Rubrics help. They are smart pedagogically, but they also can help keep you consistent.
4) Plan ahead. Grading takes much, much longer than you think it will when you start in ASP. I can easily spend an hour or more on each paper, even when I am not giving detailed feedback (which I almost always do).
5) If you are giving feedback (and you should), be sure students can understand what you are writing. After 3-5 papers, handwriting tends to become sloppy. And feedback can't help a student if they can't read it!
6) Be gentle. It's easy to become snarky and frustrated when you see the same error for the nth time. But think of it this way...if you think you are frustrated with the mistake, chances are the student is much, much more frustrated with themselves that they can't get a concept, no matter how hard they try.
7) Don't try to eat and correct papers. It's gross when a paper is returned to a student covered in food gunk and icky-ness. Don't be that person. (That being said, I think we have all been that person at least once).
Friday, October 2, 2009
I have been inspired by one of my colleagues here at UConn, who finishes up with week in grand style. As a part of her job, she writes a weekly update for students in her program. The intro to her weekly updates have become one of the highlights of my Friday. Instead of simple run-down of events her program sponsors, she riffs on what students are going through at that moment--exhaustion, break-ups, annoying rommates--all the things that drive students crazy. It helps that she is hysterical, bringing levity to a very long Friday. The most important thing about her riffs is that she lets students know that they are not alone when they feel like they are losing their mind, and exhausted past the brink of tears. New students, be it 1L's or freshman, feel like they are carrying these burdens alone. Many are afraid to admit it's not going well for them, or think they are the only one struggling. By providing a (very funny) weekly reminder that we are all in this together, and it's a struggle for all of us, she is providing some needed support to students who won't reach out on their own. You never know which message will reach a student in crisis.
I have no doubt that the necessary part of her weekly update gets more attention because she starts with light-hearted banter. The purpose of the updates is to remind students of major events; some of them they must attend. For Academic Support programs that are new, are comprehensive (1L through bar), or have an unfortunate location, a weekly update can be a powerful tool for getting the attention of students. Even for students who need not need ASP programming, a weekly newsletter or update reassures them someone is looking out for them, and providing them with a needed break from the heavy-duty studying. The key is make them useful, make them brief, and keep it funny. (RCF)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
My last couple of posts have been about starting the school year from a more objective perspective. I always add my anecdotes as examples, but I haven't said much about how I feel about the start of the school year.
Excited, and terrified. I will admit it; the start of a new semester scares me. I know it's a "good" scared. I am trying something new. In the past four years, there has been only one semester where I did not do something new, different, and out-of-my-comfort zone. I always come home from the summer conferences with a million ideas, and a precious few make it into a new syllabus, a new course, or a new approach to reaching students.
At the start of every semester, I am sure, in my heart, that whatever I am doing differently is not going to work. I reassure everyone around me, and then get into a blind panic during the two weeks before the semester begins. I am not sure my blind panic is much different than the panic new ASPer's feel right now. Although I prepare all summer, I am certain I did not prepare enough. It doesn't matter that the brilliant Kris Franklin has reassured me that over-preparation is not the best plan for great classroom learning. It doesn't matter that the brilliant Paula Manning has told me that the sharp learning curve when teaching a new class means I will be one class ahead of the students. I am scared, and I get snappish at the people around me.
I would love to say the first class always allays my fears and goes beautifully. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes my fear gets in the way, and the first class is a clunker. But my worst first-day experience (worse than a clunker; it just bombed) teaching a new class also happened to be the best class I ever taught. It was brand-new material, at a new school, teaching a class that was new to the school. Five of the fifteen students assigned to the class showed up on the first day. Someone was checking his cell-phone throughout class. But then it started to jell. By the end of the semester, I had twenty-seven students; twelve had added the class after the second week based on the word-of-mouth of students who came the second week. It was a great mix of personalities. I trusted my class and shared my anxieties about teaching, and I let the class become student-directed. They told me what they needed, and I responded with lessons that met their needs. They trusted that my #1 priority was a class where they learned, where their needs were met, and where they could feel safe to make mistakes. In other words, it just had magic.
So yes, right now I am in a blind panic of preparation and writing, re-writing, and re-working material I have been looking at all summer. It's not the same panic my students feel right now. I do trust that we will be in this together. My classes will be a safe place to make mistakes and to take intellectual risks. I will be taking risks right along with my students, but doing my very best for them, for the next thirteen weeks. I don't have success without them. (RCF)