Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, February 10, 2011

ASP (and legal writing!) reaching out to pre-law advisors/faculty

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)

February 10, 2011 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five stages of grading

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)

October 29, 2010 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Starting a new semester

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.

(RCF)

October 4, 2010 in Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Plug for faculty to use ASP for support during exam drafting

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)    

April 30, 2010 in Exams - Theory, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do teachers grade more harshly when they use red pens?

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.)

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/what-were-reading-wall-street-doesnt-understand-wall-street/

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

http://ase.tufts.edu/psychology/ambady/pubs/Rutchick-Slepian-Ferris_EJSP%5B1%5D.pdf

(RCF)

April 21, 2010 in Advice, Current Affairs, Exams - Studying, News, Reading, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teaching Time Management

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. 

(RCF) 

March 10, 2010 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Grading Grind

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).

(RCF)

December 15, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Finishing The Week in Grand Style

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)

October 2, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Personal reflections on a new year, new classes

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)

August 25, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Teaching Inspiration

I have been absent from the blog for a bit as I moved to UConn. It's been a very busy time;  I am planning for a brand-new 2L ASP course at the law school for the fall, as well as planning an undergraduate course for entering freshman in the Honors Program introducing the fundamentals of law. I have not taught to undergrads in many years, and it took some brainstorming to come up with a "hook" that would get them excited about the course and about law.  I decided on "Controversial Issues at the Intersection of Sports and Law." I am not a sports fanatic, by any means, but I am at a sports-crazy school, and I know that is a way that students from across disciplines to see the applicability of the law in their lives.  As I was searching for ways teach the course, I settled on a case study approach.  Further brainstorming, and significant research, led me to topics that spanned most first-year law courses; home run baseballs and Property, Constitutional Law, double jeopardy, dual sovereignty and Michael Vick, beyond a reasonable doubt as a criminal standard, preponderance of the evidence as a civil standard and OJ Simpson. 

What does this have to do with ASP? UConn has given me considerable latitude when planning my ASP course for 2L's, so I have also been brainstorming about different methods to teach that course.  Using doctrinal material to teach ASP is the way to go, but it is sometimes hard to find an area that covers enough areas of law to be useful to students. Remedies (thank you, Mike Schwartz), like Sports Law, is a great way to cover multiple areas of law. Case studies are a great way to reach students who may be turned off by their experience in law school. It can remind them that law is about real people and real problems. It can remind some of them why they are in law school.

I also want to say thank you to the ASPer who wrote me last year about the case study method. I would like to give her a personal thank you for the idea, but I have lost the email (it was on the VLS account).  It really is a wonderful method of teaching law in a creative way; thank you for the suggestion! (RCF)

May 5, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Motivating Students When the Weather Turns Sunny

For those of us from climates that have suffered through a long winter, spring is finally making an appearance.  With the arrival of spring, also comes the arrival of spring fever and the urge to take advantage of the warmth and the sun. This comes at an unfortunate time in the law school calendar; now is the time when students really need to buckle down and complete their outlines, take practice exams every week, and ramp up time with study groups.  So how do you motivate students ot stay focused on law school when the outdoors are beckoning? Here are a few tips from someone who suffers from spring fever the same time grades are due:

1) You can study outdoors.  Slather on the SPF, grab a blanket, and read while the sun is shining.
2) Use active time as a way to review.  Go for a walk with a Sum and Substance CD/MP3 or walk with your study partners and make up hypos as go. Exercise and studying do not need to be mutually exclusive; in fact, the science indicates they go well together.
3) Remember, in most places that suffer brutal winters, it will only get more beautiful as exams approach. If you waste time now, it means you will be holed up and anxiety-ridden during exams, when you need to rest and rejuvenation of nature to perform at your best.  You got to law school because you know the benefits of delayed gratification. Exercise some now, benefit later. 

(RCF)

March 20, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Revamping your law school strategy

I  just finished a workshop for 1L's on revamping their law school strategy.  I always give a start-of-the-spring semester workshop, but I wanted to make this year's different.  It's always a challenge to present to students in new and exciting ways; it's easy to get stuck in a rut and use the same strategies.  This semester, I am vowing to use more active learning exercises in my workshops. I thought active learning was a particular challenge while preparing the workshop because some of them have been standing room only--more than 100 students.  I use what I call "quasi-active" learning in many of my big classes; I ask questions and solicit student suggestions, but the students play a minimal role in the actual lesson.  With my background in teaching at the elementary school level, I am most comfortable teaching to a class with less than 30 students.  In my discomfort, I revert to the lecture-with-visuals strategy I know is not particularly effective when the workshops grow to 80 or more participants. 

But as I prepared, I started to reevaluate why I was so uncomfortable with changing strategies. Maybe it wasn't that I didn't think active learning strategies could be used with large groups of students; Kris Franklin, Alison Nissen, and Mike Schwartz's presentations at AALS used active learning strategies in a room with 100+ people.  The ASP and Teaching Methods joint meeting was one of the most fun AALS meetings I have ever attended, because I was allowed to play with the material, and I wanted ot try some of their techniques myself. But my initial discomfort is one that I have heard other professor's lament; active learning requires letting go of (the illusion of) control in the classroom.  I feel comfortable sharing the class with my students when I have fewer than 30 students; in fact, I don't feel comfortable playing "sage-on-the-stage" in smaller classes.   During the two years I was working on my MA in Education and my thesis, I was taught active learning was the only way to go, and it was modeled by the professors who taught my graduate courses.  As a result of the teaching in my graduate program, I know everyone shares "control" in a classroom, and it is an illusion that a teacher can "control" learning or behavior. I never applied active learning to a large class because we did not have, nor did we teach, to large classes in my graduate program. So I reverted to a modified version of the teaching methods used by my (law) professors in large classes because I didn't know how to transfer the lessons from one type of class to another.

It required some self-reflection both during the planning and after the execution of the workshop for me to reach some conclusions about the source of my discomfort.  I know the fundamental teaching principles do not change when the number of students in the room goes from 20 to 100 or more.  In a room of 30 people or less, I have the ability to engage each student personally, by asking questions and soliciting the opinions of everyone in the room. I can manage chatter by calling on students who seem lost or distracted.  I can address confusion without losing the rest of the class.  It's very difficult to do that is a large class; you just can't reach everyone personally.  Most importantly, I learned in graduate school how to build a sense of camaraderie and trust in small classes, and I don't know how to build those into large workshops.  When I trust my students and they trust me, we, as a class, feel comfortable taking risks with our learning. But if I don't trust the class, I replace that need for trust into a need for control.  It's an emotional response that undermines critical learning goals. 

But I took the leap.  I knew I had to try harder to employ active learning to all groups, large and small.  I figured that if the lesson flopped, at least I had tried.  I felt awkward standing at the front of the class, not talking, during the think and pair portions of think-pair-share.   I would have sworn that the students were bored when I asked them to think on their own.  But I caught myself learning from my students. I learned two new strategies for approaching case briefing and outlining that I will be sharing with future classes.   

Then I looked at the evaluations.  Except for one, they were overwhelmingly positive. It struck me that many of the students took the time to fill in the "comment" section on the evaluation (something they rarely do), and note how great it was that they could talk to their classmates about different strategies for reading, case briefing, and outlining. And that one negative evaluation...based on the comments, I don't know if I could have reached the student using any other teaching method. 

I learned you can build trust in a large classroom.  Using Mike Schwartz's think-pair-share, I could reach each group in the classroom.  I could still reach students confused about the material, but I had the additional support of their classmates as I brainstormed how to approach their issue.  Students who are uncomfortable speaking in a large class felt comfortable speaking to classmates in their group, and their group members could share their insights with the rest of the class.  (RCF)


January 21, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 16, 2009

An Oft-Forgotten Concern--Guest Column by Russell C. Smith

As we talk to students after first semester grades come out, I find that often I neglect to address one concern that I believe they all have, yet one that is not often expressed in our conversations with students.  We have no trouble focusing on grades, exam writing, study habits, briefing skills, etc.  Yet I find at the bottom of many of my students concerns, maybe subconsciously for some, lurk a couple of nagging questions.  If I am struggling academically, will I be a good lawyer?  Will I be able to make a living practicing law?  Embedded in these questions are perhaps the concern about repaying loans and living up to the expectations of others. 
    Students usually find some comfort when they realize that the correlation between academic performance and the potential for a successful practice career is not as strong as they might imagine.  I try to get students to think of the whole process of becoming a lawyer as hurdles to be jumped only once.  Once you’ve cleared the hurdles (LSAT, school, bar) then you’re at the finish line ready to practice and nobody really cares, particularly your clients, how difficult you found the hurdles.
    I usually tell students some true stories to help them with this concern.  We all know of students who struggled academically and then went on to fame and fortune or at least successful practices.  I share the stories of some people I know like this.  Also, we all know of superior academicians who, because of a lack of other skills, could never make a living as a practicing attorney.  In fact, some of these people would have trouble giving away legal service, let alone getting someone to pay them for it.  (If you are now thinking of some of the people you know in academia, shame on you!)   I practiced for ten years and never once did a client ask me what I made in evidence when deciding whether to hire me for a trial.  As an aside, I did hear a story of an assistant district attorney once who cited his performance in evidence class as authority for his argument regarding a piece of evidence.  The court was not persuaded.
    Students that struggle find some comfort in knowing many stellar legal careers have sprung from less than stellar law school performances.  Even if this is not verbalized by the student, I think most of the time they have concerns about their ability to practice and make a living.  It is a worry that we can help to alleviate.  And after all, every thing that we can help students become comfortable with is likely to take them to a better place, both emotionally and academically.

Russell C. Smith
Assistant Dean for Student Services

Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law
Campbell Law School
Buies Creek, NC

January 16, 2009 in Advice, Guest Column, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pop Culture, Teachable Moments, and Using "There Will Be Blood" to Illuminate Title Statutes

I am a fan of judicious use of pop culture to give context and depth to law.  However, this comes with a  caveat; one must be careful not to obfuscate the purpose of the teachable moment by overuse of film clips, TV snippits, and news articles.  Too many times pop culture becomes a substitute for deep thinking about hard areas of the law, which doesn't help students to learn what they need to know. 

The key to using pop culture references is to use them judiciously.  Here are two guideposts: use a pop-culture reference as a part of the fabric of your class, or use a pop culture reference to illuminate a concept as students are struggling with it.  These guideposts present a paradox; teachable moments tend to be of-the-moment, and often happen spontaneously. However, if the references are not in the context of what the students are learning, the reference becomes opaque and without purpose or focus.  Students don't learn from teachable moments if they don't completely understand why it is a teachable moment, as well as why the reference is relevant to what is going on in class.  Specifically with pop culture references, it is sometimes best to hold back and weave the reference into the fabric of the course the following semester.  This also gives students who may not be "tuned in" to pop culture the opportunity to know what you are talking about. It can alienate students who may not focus on what is on gossip sites and in the movies if the reference is too "of-the-moment."

All this leads up to a suggestion to help illuminate a tough area of Property law.  In the movie "There Will Be Blood", Daniel Plainview, the main character, goes to a family ranch with his young son to scout for oil.  Daniel lies to the landowners about why he is on the land when he tells them he is hunting for quail. Daniel finds oil on the land, but does not tell the family, and tries to buy the ranch without disclosing his discovery.  The next scene follows Daniel to what is presumably the town clerk's office.  He goes to the town clerk to look at a plat of the land he would like to buy throughout the area.  These scenes screamed to me because so many students struggle with title and recording statutes, and these scenes provide fantastic context for why recording statutes are important in land sales or transfers.  Additionally, the set-up gives great material for hypotheticals on trespass and disclosure laws.  But without an understanding of the fundamentals of recording and deeds, students could get lost in the emotions and moral ramifications of an oil baron failing to disclose his unique knowledge to poor farmers at the turn of the century, and would miss the importance of his stop at the town clerk's office.   While the moral challenges may make for a great, dramatic film, it is not going to help students learn Property law. 

This is going to be my only post for the week, as I am off to North Carolina to visit family for the holidays (family without an internet connection.)  I wish everyone a very merry Thanksgiving and a restful break.

See you in December,
Rebecca

November 25, 2008 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"The Law" and Academic Skills

One of the conundrums many ASP professionals run into is the use of “the law” to teach skills. Why is this a conundrum? If more than one professor teaches the same subjects (like two Torts classes taught by two different Torts professors) there are bound to be differences in coverage and interpretation of the law. This is an issue fraught with challenges, most importantly, what law do we use?  After dealing with this challenge each year, I have developed some basic strategies.

1) Use neutral law. What is neutral law? Contract formation requires offer, acceptance, and consideration. A prima facie claim of negligence requires duty, breach of duty, causation, and harm. These are very broad, general principles of law where very few professors will differ, although, as my own disclaimer, I have had a professor disagree with the harm element in negligence. I try to use examples that do not include nuances of law that are ripe for differing interpretations.

2) Always preface any discussion of law with a disclaimer about using the professor’s rules and interpretations on the exam. I frequently remind students that their teacher is writing and grading the exam, not me, and they need to use the law they are taught in class on their exams. This leads to discussion about ambiguity and interpretation in the law, which is another area where many first-year law students need reassurance that ambiguity is their friend, not their foe.

3) Use non-legal examples to illustrate legal principles. Mike Schwartz has some excellent examples that my students have raved about. Charles Calleros provides some fantastic examples in his Legal Method and Writing text. Non-legal examples provide a fabulous vehicle for discussing analogical reasoning and it’s relationship to the case method.

When speaking with reluctant professor’s, I strongly suggest explaining how ASP is using the law. Differentiate using the law as a vehicle for teaching skills from teaching the law itself. I leave plain vanilla law teaching to the doctrinal professors; that is their job, not mine. However, teaching skills to understand, apply, and demonstrate comprehension of the law is my job. It’s hard to teach the skills without a vehicle, akin to teaching car mechanics without parts of a car. I have found that even reluctant law professors are more amenable to ASP when you give them their due and reassure them you are not impugning their teaching methods or teaching skills. Once a reluctant professor is reassured you are not poaching on their turf, it’s helpful to define what you do in a way they understand. Let them know Academic Success in law school is an area of academic study just like Torts, Contracts, or Business Organizations. We have our own methods and goals. While some broad-based rules of law are necessary as vehicles for teaching skills, ASP professionals don’t need to teach the law to teach skills. (RCF)

October 30, 2008 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Teachable Moments: The Passing of Mildred Loving

I am always looking for teachable moments; those times when "real life" intersects with law school teaching.  This morning, a student sent a link regarding the passing of Mildred Loving, whose challenge to Virginia's anti-miscegenation law led to the decision in Loving v. Virginia. The short article provides a great segue into a discussion of the impact of these laws on the lives of real people.

(RCF)

May 5, 2008 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Making Law Real--"A Raisin in the Sun"

A crossover possibility for both Property and Constitutional Law:
ABC will be airing a remake of the classic "A Raisin in the Sun" this Sunday night. This is a great example of how restrictive covenants impacted real families, and power of the law to change people lives.
(Rebecca Flanagan)

February 21, 2008 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Making Law Fun

About this time of year, I try to bring in examples of *fun* in the law for my 1L's in my ASP class.  They tend to be so discouraged, so beat-up, and it's helpful to remind them that the law is alive, vibrant, and yes, fun. I want students see remember law is a part of their lives in ways they may not see in their 1L classes. 

Credit where credit is due: This is not my idea; I borrowed this from one of my favorite professors at UNC Law, Dean Lolly Gasaway, who uses this in her Copyright class.

Law and Pop Culture:
Did George Harrison violate copyright laws by plagiarizing the melody from "He's So Fine" by the Chiffon's for his hit single "My Sweet Lord"?

http://www.benedict.com/Audio/Harrison/Harrison.aspx

This website allows you to play both songs simultaneously, so students can hear the similarities, and judge for themselves whether one of the best-selling artists of all time (as part of the Beatles) lifted the melody from a '60's classic.
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The New York Times ran an article on fox-hunting with dogs in England on Monday, Feb. 18, 2008.
"Tally Ho! A Determined Crew Hunts for Fox Hunters" by Sarah Lyall

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/world/europe/18hunt.html?ex=1361077200&en=6d8c5ac907c6b327&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

This article can be a great tool to make Pierson v. Post come alive for students who don't see the relevance of a case on fox-hunting, with cross-over possibilities for discussing Keeble v. Hickeringill and Ghen v. Rich.  It also deals with ambiguity in the law; another great discussion-starter for a 1L class.  There are a lot of silly details in the article that make it fun to read and discuss, but opens up the importance of old cases to young law students.  And yes, fox hunting is still an important sport. (Rebecca Flanagan)

February 19, 2008 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Positive Feedback! Efficient & Effective

I have found this to be a wonderfully useful tool. It saves your time while providing an extraordinarily high level of feedback and/or instruction for your students. The tool?  Microsoft’s “Sound Recorder.”  It’s probably sitting on your hard drive right now. It’s easy to use … with a headset mike or just talking into your computer’s microphone.  Did you know your laptop has a microphone built in? (Maybe yes, maybe no … ask your tech support helper if you can’t determine. If it doesn’t have one, ask for a mike to plug in.)

Suggested uses . . .

· Tip of the day, tip of the week – in an email sent to a specific person, specific group or all students, let them know that if they open the sound message they’ll receive a helpful tip by listening (for example) only 20 seconds.  Send them something amazing so they’ll open the next one!

· If you are lucky enough to receive written student work from time to time, this is an excellent way to comment on it. In the body of your email, encourage the student to have a copy of her/his work on the desk, and make notations while listening to your vocal feedback. You’ll find you can say much more than you can write in margins … and you don’t need to make an appointment with the student to deliver the feedback. Result: more personalized help for more students in less time.

· You’ll find it’s a great way to encourage students to attend your presentations, others’ presentations, or off-campus conferences. Mention the conference in an email, and include “I’ve included a 20-second message about how this can help boost your GPA … just click here!”

· If you have the tech-capability at your school, you can store bunches of tips and information on a site that all students can access whenever they want.

Microsoft's is not the only recorder, of course.  I use others as well ... but if it's on your computer already, this might be the best way to begin to get used to recording messages for your students.

Caveat 1: Keep the vocal messages short.  Students don't want to listen to a rambling "tip." (I think it's different in the case of feedback on a piece of writing, however.  Line-by-line positive feedback ... "This is a great way to introduce the rule of law! You should do this more often!" ... will keep them listening ... then you can slip in something like, "What would really help is if you included all four ways of proving malice ... here's how I would suggest you could do that...." A recording like this can go on for several minutes and keep the student's attention.)

Caveat 2: It’s critical not to overuse this method. Remember, emails are easy to delete without opening. (djt)

September 27, 2007 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Keep Them Thinking and Doing

The start of a new semester is a good time to take stock of our teaching methods and make conscious improvements.  One place many of us need to begin is with techniques for increasing active learning among our students.

Because students remember about ten percent of what they hear and about ninety percent of what they do, those things that encourage active participation in classroom discussions can be exceptionally effective in helping our students retain concepts and develop sound reasoning skills.  Several fairly simple techniques can greatly increase active learning even for those not directly called upon to respond during a particular class period.

For example, while your teaching method may be to focus primarily on one student while discussing a case, you can draw the rest of the class into that discussion by frequently asking other class members to comment on what they are hearing:  "Ms. Jones, what is your reaction to Mr. Smith's characterization of the court's reasoning?"  You need not spend much time with Ms. Jones before returning to Mr. Smith, but all students are immediately on alert that they cannot afford to drift during the discussion.

You can also pull everyone in by "beaming" questions to the entire class:  "When I call on you, be prepared to explain the IRAC syllogism."  Give the class thirty to forty seconds to think about the answer, and then call on a particular student.  By the time that student is called on, most of the class will have formulated a response that is correct and will be better able, as a result, to retain the concept and evaluate their colleague's response.

Sometimes, having students take sixty seconds brainstorm on  paper a list possible answers to a question (for example, possible causes of action springing from a complex hypothetical) can put them in a much better position to answer the question more thoughtfully.

Similarly, posing a question and having students discuss potential answers briefly with those sitting next to them can deepen their thinking and enrich the conversation when individual students are subsequently called on to respond before the whole class.

A number of other effective strategies exist, of course; but these few are easy to implement, take little class time, and need be used only infrequently to have a significant effect on students' learning.  (Dan Weddle)

August 20, 2007 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)