Saturday, December 22, 2018

Best Wishes for the Season and Semester Break

Dear Readers,

All of us at the Law School Academic Support Blog wish you and your families best wishes for the holiday season, the semester break, and 2019! We appreciate your reading our posts.

We are taking a break to celebrate the season and give our respective muses some down time. Posts will begin again the week of January 7th.

Best regards,

The Editors





December 22, 2018 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Assistant Director Position at Vermont Law

Vermont Law School has an opening for its Assistant Director, Academic Success Program position.  This is a 12 month faculty position.  A full description of the position and required qualifications are posted on the Vermont Law School website at:    All applications should be submitted through the link on the website.  A copy of the AASE recommended disclosures can be found here: Download VLS AASE Disclosures .

December 21, 2018 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do you have a strategic plan for your professional use of social media?

Inside Higher Ed had an interesting post this week on having a strategic plan for connection and visibility through social media for academic/professional presence. Given the article's categories of online presence, I would be somewhere between Curious and Beginner - I use Linkedin a bit and I post regularly to our Office of Academic Success Programs facebook page - but am not sure I aspire to sophisticated use. However, for those who want to think strategically about using social media for a greater professional presence in our academic world, I thought the article laid out a logical approach to clarifying a plan. The link is Optimizing Your Social Media Presence. (Amy Jarmon)

December 21, 2018 in Miscellany, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Join Us at AALS in January!


I hope many of you are able to attend AALS this year.  I write to highlight what the Section on Academic Support has planned for this year’s annual conference.

AALS Section on Academic Support Workshop.  We have partnered with the Section on Empirical Research to consider, “Circling the Square:  Fresh Partnerships to Understand Student Learning and Bar Performance through Empirical Studies.”  Our workshop will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 on Thursday, January 3.  This three-hour workshop includes two plenary panels that will feature empirical research on bar examination performance and related issues, followed by eleven concurrent break-out sessions through which participants can explore in greater depth topics covered in the plenary sessions and works in progress on academic support and related issues.  I have attached a summary of our workshop, which includes the names of all panelists/presenters. (More info here:  Download AALSworkshop.FIN092718updated.)

2019 AALS Section on Academic Support Award Presentation.  I am proud to announce that David Nadvorney, Director of Academic Support Programs at the City University of New York School of Law, has been selected to receive the 2019 AALS Section on Academic Support Award.  Please join us to honor David and his outstanding contributions to the academic support community immediately following our workshop at 4:30 on Thursday, January 3, in the Jefferson Ballroom, Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel. 

Section Business Meeting.  Our business meeting will be held at 7:00 am on Friday, January 4.  This is not only an opportunity to meet and greet new and old colleagues, it is also a time to learn how to get more involved in our Section.  If you are unable to join us in person, please feel free to call into the meeting at 302-202-1118.  The conference code is 285361. 

National Conference of Bar Examiners Focus Groups.  This is just a reminder about the research underway by the NCBE’s Testing Task Force to consider what changes may be needed in Bar examination and licensure practices going forward. The Task Force’s affiliated researchers have arranged to hold six focus groups on January 3 and January 4, during the AALS Annual meeting this year.  If you have not already done so, I encourage you learn more about the study here and sign up for one of the focus groups here

Should you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me.  I hope to see many of you in New Orleans!

Wishing all of you a peaceful break,

Staci P. Rucker

Chair, AALS Section on Academic Support

December 21, 2018 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Bar Takers: Better Learning via Linear Studying or Recursive Studying?

Congratulations December 2018 graduates!  What a herculean achievement!  Simply put, outstanding!

Nevertheless, I know that for many of you, right now it feels like a bit of a let down because you find yourself right back right back in the classroom as you prepare for your bar exam in February 2019.  

That's exactly how I felt.  Simply put, graduation felt a bit disingenuous as I had so much work left to be done to earn my law license.  However, let me be frank.  As you approach your bar studies, you are no longer a law student but a law school graduate.  It may not feel like much of a difference, but its important to recognize - throughout these two months of your bar review learning - that you are a new person with a new professional identity, trained and well-seasoned to think through, analyze, and communicate solutions to vast arrays of legal scenarios.  

Despite such remarkable progress as demonstrated by your law school graduation, many bar takers stumble in the first few weeks of bar prep, finding themselves increasing at odds with how to best learn and prepare themselves for the bar exam.  I sure did.  I spent much of the first few weeks trying to learn the law by, well, listening to professors talk about the law and watching professors talk about solving legal problems with the law.  Big mistake!  Cost me a lot of valuable time!  That's why I write to you, dear law school graduate and now bar taker.  Instead of focusing on learning the law, focus right from the get-go (i.e, that means right now, today!) on working through lots of practice problems each day.  In short, I was, unfortunately, a "linear learner," as Professor Catherine Christopher says in her wonderful book entitled Tackling Texas Essays (Carolina Academic Press 2018):

I. Linear Learning

Let me explain a bit about the difference between linear learning and recursive learning.  As depicted by Professor Christopher in the diagram below from her book on successfully preparing for the bar exam , linear studying has a defined path.  And, as a bonus, it sure looks nice and orderly, leading to the illusion of a direct straight-line path to success.  Indeed, right now, many of you are focused (solely?) on watching videos, reviewing your notes, reading your commercial outlines, and making gigantic study tools.  But, if you are like me, you aren't yet taking practice exams (or are only doing very few of them at the most).  

 Figure 1  

Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)


However, as explained by Professor Christopher, that's a big problem.  Here's why.  You'll end up spending most of the 8 - 10 week bar prep period doing very few practice problems, trying instead to master the law so perfectly so that you'll have enough confidence in the last few weeks to do well on practice problems.  In short, you are afraid (I sure was!) to tackle practice problems because there's so much to know (and so many ways to make mistakes).  

However, that's a big problem because it's in our mistakes that we learn best.  We don't really learn by watching others. Who ever learned to play piano, play soccer, dance, or even litigate a case without practicing (which means "rehearing" and "acting out") what you hope to accomplish in the future with polish?  No one prepares to become an expert without first being a novice.  

But, as Professor Christopher comments, it feels really terrible, really terrible, to practice problems so early on because we make so many mistakes. But, if we delay practicing problems until the last few weeks possible, we make that practice much more of a high stake experience, in the words of Professor Christopher, such that there's no wiggle room for errors in our practicing experiences (so that there is no room for learning, either).  In my opinion, linear studying leads to disappointment and frustration.

But, there's good news ahead, for those of you who engage in recursive learning.

II. Recursive Learning

Now here's a bit about recursive learning.  As depicted in the diagram below from Professor Christopher's text, successfully preparing for the bar exam involves learning in a circular recursive process rather than a straight-line linear process.  

Figure 2

Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)


As Professor Christopher explains, the first step - "reading and reviewing" - involves watching lectures, taking lectures notes, and reading outlines [about 4 hours or so per day].

But take note of second step in the circular process: "work to understand."  That means that we get involved in the learning, we take center stage, so to speak, in our own learning by "work[ing] to understand the material" so that it becomes real to us.  Just like learning a language, in which we start to start learning to speak and write a language by...speaking and writing a language! For bar takers, that means in this second stage that we make our own personal condensed notes or flashcards or other study tools to "help...get the information into [our] head[s]."  (Here's a snappy suggestion: Just take hold of one (1) blank piece of paper, and, referencing your lecture notes in hand, write down, scribble, flowchart, and doodle the major take-aways from that day's lecture.  Note: Don't let yourself get bogged down by trying to re-write your entire lecture notes; rather, focus only on big picture concepts because people pass the bar based on the big picture principles rather than the nitty picky details.).  [about 1 hour or so per day].

The last step takes real bravery, discipline, and honesty too.  And, it's vital for your learning. Start right away that very day, each day, by digging into actual bar exam questions, working through them one by one, using notes and outlines freely, and then reviewing practice answers afterwards to assess what went well along with concrete ways to improve with future practice problems.  Here's a key tip for your practice sessions:  Be super-curious when you miss a question; poke back around to the fact pattern - like a detective - to figure out whether you missed the question because you missed a rule or, more likely, you missed an important trigger fact in the fact pattern.  So, for example, if you write a picture-perfect IRAC essay but then notice that the problem didn't involve that rule, go back and figure out where in the facts the correct rule was triggered.  In short, don't just test yourself through practice problems but rather use the opportunity to learn through practice problems.  [about 3 to 4 hours or so per day]. (Then, as illustrated by Professor Christopher's diagram, the next day we begin again with another bar review lecture.). 

The great news is that throughout this process, while you might not feel like you are doing much learning, you are really dancing with the materials, making them your own, developing and finessing your critical reading, organizational, and writing skills.  In short, you are productively on the path to successfully preparing for your bar exam.

So, in the midst of this bar review season, take courage. Indeed, be of good cheer, as the holiday saying goes, because true learning takes its shape in you - step by step - through the daily process of recursive learning - (1) reviewing, (2) working to understand, and (3) then testing yourself through practices problems.  To be personal, I wish I had known this at the outset of my bar prep season.  So, feel free to step out of the "line" and learn!  Oh, and congratulations again on your graduation from law school!  What a wonderfully momentous accomplishment!  (Scott Johns).

December 20, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Turn Around

As a young girl I loved tales hundreds or thousands of years old, like German fairy tales, Norse mythology, and Old Testament stories. One especially well-thumbed tome on my bookshelf was a children's story Bible. Amazingly for that era, this wasn't a feel-good expurgated version of happy stories about saintly people; rather, the fat volume contained most of the narratives, light and dark, from the Old Testament in readable English, minus the begats. My judgmental eight-year-old mind summarized the Old Testament this way: "Boy, those Israelites were really stupid. Bad things happened to them every time they ignored or forgot about their god. When they went back to their god everything would be wonderful, but they'd forget again and the bad things would happen again. You'd think that after a time or two they would have figured things out. I'm glad I'm not that dumb."

Needless to say, when I grew up my superiority complex evaporated as I realized that I wasn't as smart as my eight-year-old self thought I was. Whether one takes the Old Testament stories as myth, historical reality, or religious truth, they illustrate the profound human reality that we as human beings have a tendency to make the same mistakes over and over again, particularly mistakes that involve turning away from the very things most important to us. I've come to believe that wisdom lies not in avoiding these mistakes, but in acknowledging them and in shortening the time span in which we decide to turn around.

Winter break is a wonderful time to take stock and turn around. It's popular to mock New Year's resolutions, deriding them as worthless because they "don't work" (do a web search and you'll find scores of examples). But the turn of the year, at a season when many Americans have personal time because of school breaks or vacation days, is an ideal opportunity to contemplate what is important to us and to turn around. Having made the resolution, will we drop the ball? Almost certainly. Does that mean we should give up trying? Certainly not. Each lawyer, academic, student, academic support professional, and human being has a "turn around," some discipline or practice that is a touchstone to which we need to return time and again to be our best selves, to be a full person. (For me, my "turn around" is the practice of meditation, which I tend to drop in those times of stress when the discipline would be most useful.) Whatever our personal touchstone, it's vital to not let pride, or chagrin, or self-reproach keep us from turning around. As the Persian poet Rumi wrote

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,

Come, yet again, come, come.

(Nancy Luebbert)




December 19, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Finals Are Over!! Now What?

First semester finals are over.  Joy, fear, anxiety, or some combination of all of those feelings are setting in.  I send my 1Ls an email providing some guidance for the next few weeks.  My email does tell students to ignore finals, but as Nancy’s post last week suggested, taking 10 minutes to cry over the final is also good advice.  After that 10 minutes, my biggest suggestion is to relax and enjoy time with family.  The relevant portions of the email are below.  Do your best to enjoy your break!

“As you learned this semester, law school is extremely rigorous and stressful most of the time.  Staying disciplined, studying, and taking exams is an accomplishment.  Most people could not endure law school, so you should commend yourself.  The art of overcoming stress and moving on to the next challenge requires positive reinforcement from both others and yourself.  Every time you make it through a difficult task, overcome an obstacle, or reach a goal, celebrate your accomplishment.  Many of you may not believe me for a few years, but law school only begins your difficult career.  Taking the bar exam crams the stress into a short amount of time.  After passing the bar, you get to practice law, which is even more time consuming and rigorous than law school.  Everything you do now to create work/life balance, manage stress, and maintain sanity will be invaluable when you enter the legal profession.  So, CELEBRATE (safely) and CONGRATULATE YOURSELF!!! 

Many students ask what to do during the break to prepare for next semester.  I generally suggest a few things.  First, FORGET YOUR EXAMS.  It doesn’t matter what you wrote now.  You can’t change them.  Don’t talk to other students about them.  No one wrote a perfect answer and many students find “phantom” issues.  Even if you completely missed an issue (which EVERYONE does), you can still get a decent grade.  You turned in your test and can’t change your answers, so move on to my second suggestion.  My second suggestion for the break is RELAX!!!  You had a long, tiring semester.  Spend time with family who haven’t heard from you in months.  Spend time with your kids that haven’t seen you since finals started.  Turn your cell phone back on and watch recorded episodes of your favorite TV Show.  You need energy next semester, and now is the time to recharge.  Lastly, you can read a book to help next semester.  You can either choose a book about learning or a book about writing exams for law school.  I don’t suggest trying to read them all because you will burn out before next semester starts.  Try to just pick one.  You have many options depending on what area you want to improve in.  Books that I like for learning/general improvement are:  Make It Stick, How We Learn, and Grit.  There are numerous law school specific books for each of the different skills needed for success.  I like How to Succeed in Law School, Expert Learning for Law Students, and Reading like a Lawyer.  You have more context for those books now that you have been through a semester.

You accomplished great things over the past 4 ½ months.  Enjoy your accomplishment (safely), and I can’t wait to see all of you again in January.  Enjoy the break!”

(Steven Foster)

December 17, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Congratulations to Our First-Year Students

Most of our 1L students have persevered and completed their fall semesters now! Wow! Congratulations to all of you for your hard work! At times the challenges may have looked insurmountable, but you did it! Celebrate your accomplishments with your family and friends.

Applaud your efforts because you have accomplished so very much since August. Just think of everything you have done in that short amount of time:

  • You have met some of the brightest people you have ever known and in the process made some new friends for life.
  • You have braved a whole new academic environment and broadened your skills and horizons simultaneously.
  • You have participated in pro bono activities, joined student organizations, and learned about legal career paths and specialties you did not know existed.
  • You have learned a new legal vocabulary - very much like becoming conversant in a foreign language (and at times law school probably felt like a foreign country).
  • You have learned a new way of writing "like a lawyer" - who knew you could be so logical, precise, and concise!
  • You have survived the Socratic Method of questioning - you may have been scared, but you really did okay despite your nerves.
  • You have learned how our federal and state court systems work - gosh, think of all the rules and judicial trivia you can spout during family gatherings.
  • You have learned how Congress and our state legislative systems work - or don't work - oh well, better to avoid that discussion during family meals.
  • You have synthesized hundreds of pages of reading, case briefs, class notes, and outlines to distill the essence of the law for exams.
  • You have confronted fearful fact patterns and pared them down to size with your analysis both on practice questions and in exams.
  • You have attacked "best answer" multiple-choice questions and learned how important the legal nuances are in mastering them.
  • You have learned new study strategies, new time management tricks, and new organizational skills that prior education never required.

We are proud of you! You have come a long way in just 4 1/2 short months! You may be feeling a bit dazed from exams, but do not underestimate your accomplishments.

Recharge your batteries over the semester break. Enjoy your time with family and friends. Read fluff novels. Watch movies. Get some exercise that you enjoy. Bake cookies with younger siblings. Let your grandparents or aunts and uncles spoil you. Enjoy home-cooked meals.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a relaxing semester break. We look forward to seeing you at the beginning of spring semester. (Amy Jarmon)

December 16, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

As Silence Descends

Well, it is officially over except for the grades.

Fall 2018 semester at my law school concluded its last day of the second week of exams on Friday.

The building emptied out quickly of all signs of students during the last hours of yesterday afternoon.

The abandoned snacks provided in our forum for students' sustenance were quietly cleared away.

Faculty offices had emptied out the first exam week as most professors decamped for their homes to grade. 

Our floor's coffee pot was consigned to empty as well since too few warm bodies were left to support daily coffee duty.

Administrative staff were rattling around the empty halls all last week.

Next week will be a ghost town except for the administrative staff left to keep the lights on each day.

I will be among them. So many projects on my list for next week!

But then ... the university will shut down for 7 work days for the "festive season" break for staff.

And full silence and peace will settle over the university grounds as we all totter home for rest and recuperation.

Don't you love the end of the semester!

Don't you sometimes wish you were one of those faculty members not due back until mid-January?

Hmmm ... how many vacation days do I have stored up?

(Amy Jarmon)


December 15, 2018 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Call for Proposals for 2019 AASE Annual Conference

The deadline for proposals for sessions is January 14, 2019. The details regarding proposal submission can be found here: Download 2019 AASE Conference Call for Proposals (if you did not receive the ASP listserv email). The AASE conference will be held May 21-23, 2019 in Seattle, Washington at Seattle University School of Law.

December 14, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pineapple Charts - A Community Way to Improve Teaching!

Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, perhaps a chart might be a way to improve classroom teaching...with the help of dozens of other teachers.  

Take a quick peek at the photo below.  What do you see?

image from

First, you might notice that the chart has a silhouette of a pineapple.  

As indicated by teacher extraordinaire Jennifer Gonzalez, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality.  This photo is taken from her wonderful blog posting entitled: "How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development."  (The photo itself, on the blog "The Cult of Pedagogy," comes from Gator Run Elementary School in sunny Florida.)  As used in educational circles, the pineapple serves as a welcoming invitation to host other teachers to visit classroom spaces for informal observations of your teaching.

Second, the pineapple chart invites teachers to share in a community of teaching by learning in connection with each other.  The pineapple chart represents one week's worth of classes.  Teachers who are interested in opening up their classroom spaces for informal observations simply fill out one of the available spots with name, subject, time, and classroom location (and even sometimes a description of the agenda),

Third, find a common location for the pineapple chart.  Even better, make it a heavily trafficked prominent location.  You might consider locating the pineapple chart in your mailroom or student affairs office or even on the walls of one of the main corridors of your law school building.  In short, make it easy for people to sign up.

Fourth, participate.  We are all members of learning communities.  

Now, I realize that it takes great courage to open yourself up to others, especially to others to observe your teaching.  But, I often find that it's in the courageous things of life in which I grow best.  So, let go of being all alone in your teaching and instead invite others to participate with you in improving your classroom teaching.  And, for the rest of you yet to sign-up for observations, make yourself available and present to observe your colleagues as they freely open up their workspaces to you.  That takes courage too.  And, please know that we all have so much to learn from each other.

Let me be frank.  I suspect that this simple pineapple chart might radically change your learning community for the better, or, in the words of blogger Jennifer Gonzalez, might "revolutionize" your professional development.  That's something worthy of sharing with others.  (Scott Johns).

December 13, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

You've Messed Up on Exams -- Now What?

It's inevitable. Coming out of any law school exam, someone will know they messed up -- or feel like they've messed up. The list of things that can go wrong in an exam seems endless, from random quirks of fate to "I knew better than this but did it anyway" scenarios. Sometimes folks already have the sinking feeling coming out of the exam; others are filled with confidence over their performance until they start discussing the exam with others.

If the person who messed up was you, what do you do?

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not going to tell you to ignore that sinking feeling. You want a pity party? -- go ahead and throw it. Whether you know you messed up or whether you merely feel bad about your performance, it's disingenuous for those of us on the outside to tell you not to worry. It's like someone sitting in a warm dry house advising you not to panic when you get lost in the woods. So feel free to wallow in your misery, as long as you follow these ground rules:

  • Only one person is invited to the pity party. You.
  • You have ten minutes to wallow. Period.

Your ten minutes is up. Feel better? I thought so. Your emotions may still be running high, however, going in one of two directions:

  • It's not really my fault. The professor / the proctor / the tech person  /  the ________ (fill in your favorite scapegoat) messed up. I shouldn't have to pay for their mistakes.


  • I am such an idiot. I don't belong here. I deserve to be thrown out. I should just disappear and not come back next semester.

Whichever is the case, now is your time to act like a lawyer. Be calm, be analytical, and spend your energy on solving problems, not on brooding about them.

Let's say the problem was caused or exacerbated by another person's actions. Was it a problem that's likely to recur? If by speaking up you can help prevent it from recurring during this exam period, by all means speak up, recognizing as you do that intelligent persons of good will can make mistakes. So focus not on blame -- "S/he did this which messed up my exam!" -- but on identifying a problem which might affect you or other test-takers in the future and on suggesting ways to prevent the problem.

Can you identify something discrete you personally did wrong? ("I skipped Question 5 but I didn't skip the scantron bubble for that question, so all my multiple choice answers are off by one"). After you have finished the exam, there will rarely be a chance of fixing the problem for that particular exam, but don't hesitate to calmly explain your problem to the exam coordinator in case there is a solution you hadn't considered. Communicate only with the exam coordinator -- writing a direct note to the professor, either in the exam itself or by a message after the exam, is never fruitful and may actually constitute an honor code violation by violating anonymity. Knowing that you made mistakes, accept yourself as a human, learn from the mistake and vow to not repeat it, forgive yourself, and move on.

In addition to things you know you messed up, you may feel you messed up based on your emotional reaction coming out of an exam ("I just flailed around and did awfully") or based on hearing others talk about the exam ("I didn't spot the same issue everyone else saw in the second essay"). Especially for 1Ls, neither one of these is an especially reliable way of analyzing your performance. Group post-mortems often get off track and usually freak people out unnecessarily, and your subjective reaction to an exam is rarely reliable. Step back from your own emotions (your pity party is already over, remember?) and view your reaction from the vantage point of a sympathetic outsider. Acknowledge that your very emotion shows that you care deeply about what you're doing. and practice self-compassion.

If you have a tendency to mull over your mistakes, real or imagined, now's the time to learn the lawyerly skill of harnessing those feelings toward improved performance. If you are still in the middle of exams, think about how you can apply what you learned from your mistake towards doing better on the next exam. If your semester's exams are over, practice empathetic self-reflection where you identify the type of mistakes you tend to make during exams and brainstorm ways of preventing those mistakes. Realize that worrying cannot help your grade: it will only distract you from paying attention to those ideas, experiences, and relationships you should be concentrating on now. Know that your both your successes and your mess-ups have the potential to move you along the path of becoming a better lawyer.  (Nancy Luebbert)

December 12, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For

Dear Santa,

How are you?  How is Mrs. Claus?  I hear the aurora borealis is quite nice right now.  I hope you can snag a few minutes to enjoy it.

I know how busy you are this month, so I will get right to the point: I have been a very good Director of Academic Success this year.  Or at least I have not been bad.  Fine – the truth is, I have had many students thank me effusively for my help and support, but I have also noticed a few people in the back of my class roll their eyes.  I don’t know if the latter have already learned what I am trying to teach, or if they have detached themselves from my class because it’s non-doctrinal, or if maybe some of them have pollen allergies that are causing them eye irritation.  Anyway, look me up – I’m pretty sure I’m on the “nice” list. 

Because I have been good this year – probably – I feel like I deserve an extra special present.  I have given this a great deal of thought.  My first idea for a present was a watch like the one on that old episode of The Twilight Zone – you know, the one with the pocket watch that froze time for everyone but the user when her clicked the button on top?  That would be an awesome present – more time!  Imagine having 150 essays to comment upon, and clicking on that watch to stop time all around me.  I could start commenting at 9:01 am, and finish before 9:02!  No more deadline stress!

But then I realized that I would have to sit through 50 or 60 hours of commenting, and then, once I got the world started again, I’d *still* have to do another entire day of work.  I’d probably age three or four times as fast as all of my colleagues, too.  Eventually my driver’s license would say “60” but my real age would be over 100.  No thank you.  I think I’ll just keep improving my time management skills.  After all, I am always suggesting the same thing to my students.  They may as well learn now that that quest never ends.

So then I came up with a second idea.  One of the toughest parts of my job is learning the names, faces, backgrounds, interests, strengths, and weaknesses of all 450+ students in my law school.  Don’t get me wrong – I have some great students with some amazing stories and aspirations – but it is hard to keep everything about everybody straight.  I don’t have a photographic memory.  But you could give me one!  How about one of those fancy electronic computer watches with a built-in camera, microphone, and speakers?  If I had that, then I could just take a quick photo every time I interact with a student, and then quickly type in or audio-record what they tell me about themselves. 

Still, once I had the photographs, I’d still need to cross-reference them to class lists, and I’d have to study all the facts to remember who is whom.  Every class I taught would become like a massive open-book test – I’d be spending half the class looking people up.  Plus, I get to know and understand facts better if I learn them and then work with them, rather than always just looking them up.  Again, like I say to my students.  So, ixnay on the atchway.

This brought me to my last idea, which, honestly, is probably asking a lot.  It’s not something I could find in a store here in the States, but, I mean, you are Santa Claus, right?  A genuine saint and performer of miracles?  So I thought I might as well ask.  What I want for Christmas is a mind-reading machine.  Nothing too conspicuous – maybe something I can strap to my forehead, or maybe a special kind of hat that connects my brain waves with other people’s brain waves?  See, students come into my office all the time to ask for help, but often, when they do, they can’t necessarily explain to me exactly what it is they need.  Sometimes they just have trouble putting their concerns into words, but more often it’s because they aren’t really clear themselves on what the issue is.  And we might have to meet more than once before we both finally can articulate exactly what help the student needs.

If I had a little mind-reading hat, though, BOOM!  Every time someone comes into my office, I could scan them, size them up in an instant, and send them along with whatever homework I think would help.  That would be supremely efficient!  Although, then I would not get to spend much time with any particular student.  I wouldn’t really get to know anybody.  And, the students wouldn’t really get to know me . . . and, I guess, in a way, they wouldn’t get to know themselves as well.  I mean, I could tell them, “This is what is giving you trouble,” and maybe they’ll take my word for it, but maybe not?  Sometimes people trust a discovery more when they feel like they made it, or at least helped to make it, themselves.  And, when it comes right down to it, while I want to help my students address individual issues, what I really want is to help them learn the process of figuring these things out themselves, following the example of working with me.  And I guess they won’t get that if I’m always just telling them what to do.

Well, where does that leave me?  I can’t see myself not continuing to want more time, memory, and understanding any time soon, but you don’t have to worry about that.  I’ll just keep gleaning what I can the way I have been.  So, for my actual Christmas list, I’ll just wish for peace on earth, goodwill towards all, and a substantial Barnes & Noble gift card.  Oh, and to keep getting to do this work for another year.

Thanks, Santa,

[Bill MacDonald]

December 11, 2018 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Maintaining High Expectations

Norman Vincent Peale said “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  I try to follow that philosophy, which many times leads to unrealistic expectations.  However, my thought is if I get close, then I did a great job.  Many times, I am correct.  Unfortunately, that philosophy crept into my classes in a way that may have decreased expectations instead of helping students thrive.

The top complaint on my teaching evaluations is I assign too much work.  My classes are usually either 1 or 2 credit hours, but students say the classes assign 3 to 4 credit-hours worth of work.  My homework is more difficult because students must actively do something (ie – rewrite answers) as opposed to passive reading.  The complaint isn’t far off though.  I tend to assign a ton of work with the thought that getting close will produce improvement.  However, my setup may not be working as intended.

I experienced a few unintended consequences from my assignments.  The first problem is the effort applied to homework.  Many of us complain about students only wanting to do the minimum to get through.  I experience the same phenomenon, and my classes probably exacerbate the problem.  The work load is high.  Students want to get through it as fast as possible or need to get through it fast because they waited to the last minute.  The quality isn’t maximizing student potential because they are trying to get more done.  Too many times, the re-written essay answers are only slightly better than the original.  The classes may unintentionally communicate quantity over quality work. 

Late work is the next issue.  I believe doing the exercises is what improves skills.  I don’t want to let someone off the hook from doing the work.  They should still complete the assignment for its inherent value.  You all know where this is headed.  Unfortunately, the class culture becomes doing the work on their timetable and not the deadlines, which is a terrible habit for bar prep.  Students are receiving the message everything can be crammed in at the last minute, which is a recipe for disaster.

Lastly, I may be setting students up to continue to not do enough work.  The example I set is not getting everything complete can still lead to success.  I believe that is true when “shoot(ing) for the moon.”  Students may not understand my expectations are set extremely high.  All they see is missing the expectations and being ok.  When they set their own goals or expectations, they may not set them high, but they learned missing the mark is still ok.  Whether this is the exact phenomenon in bar prep is debatable, but I have students every summer complete significantly less than assigned.  If they completed less in my class and passed, I may have taught them completing less in bar prep can still lead to success.  We all know less work in bar prep can be catastrophic.

Change for me starts next semester.  My classes will contain significant work because I believe the bar exam requires hard work.  However, I plan to create explicit scoring expectations so students can’t submit a quiz at the last minute by guessing through the questions.  The online system I use allows me to return the quiz to students if they don’t meet a minimum score.  I will require significant completion of the work with no late acceptance.  I know everyone has an off day, so I won’t require perfect completion for credit.  My syllabus will clearly communicate students can’t drift too far from completing everything.  Lastly, I will communicate all of that information to the students.  Communicating expectations early is critical to coaching them up to a higher standard.

I believe the vast majority of us have students’ best interest at heart.  In my effort to try to get students to reach higher and do more work, I may be sending contradictory messages.  I hope to change that message next semester.  I am sure I will make some mistakes while doing it.  Like I tell my students, the process of improvement is what matters.  Hopefully, I can continue through the process.

(Steven Foster)

December 10, 2018 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Guest Blogger Post 4 - Louis Schulze: "Don't Even THINK About Using Supplements" Part Two

In my last post, I took up the issue of “blanket policies forbidding supplements.”  I argued that such blanket policies squander an opportunity to influence students and that they re-entrench socio-economic hierarchies.  In this post, I will continue to contend that such policies are generally unwise, but I will focus now on arguments arising out of the science of learning.

  1. Killing Metacognition. If Donald Rumsfeld taught us just one thing it is that the “unknown unknowns” are the biggest problems.  That is, the biggest problems are the ones we do not even know that we do not know.  This is true in learning the law as well.  After underperforming on an exam, a student might say “I knew that course backwards and forwards.”  The problem, though, is that she only knew what she knew … she was blissfully unaware of the things she did not even know she did not know.  How does a student fix this problem when she does not even know what she is missing?

The answer is metacognition.  Roughly speaking, metacognition the practice of skeptically monitoring one’s own knowledge, learning, and progress.  That skepticism – always pushing back on that “illusion of mastery” – compels the student to explore her learning assumptions and root out the things she did not even know she did not know.  If, for instance, she takes a practice problem and gets it wrong due to a doctrinal misunderstanding, she just discovered a misunderstanding that otherwise might have hurt her performance on an exam.

Students need extrinsic sources to support metacognition.  If the knowledge they have gained from the traditional sources has left them with (unknown) learning gaps, it is patently illogical to guide them back to those same sources.  By imposing a blanket policy against the tools of metacognition (tools like Joe Glannon’s questions in his fantastic E&E series), the professor has just undercut one of the most powerful tools of learning.

But, what about the problem of conflicting sources?  Each professor likely has certain nuances that differ from the sea of supplements out there.  I would rebut this argument on two grounds.  First, this is why we should lead students towards “hornbooks” and not “supplements.”  Focusing on hornbooks, i.e., sources written by professors who are experts in their fields, reduces the chance that multiple sources will lead to doctrinal discrepancies.  I also lead students away from “supplements,” sources not written by professors, because I have observed doctrinal errors or difference in nuance in these sources.

Second, I think it is key not to let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very, very good.  Although slight distinctions might exist between one professor and another, it is entirely rational to believe that the law in required courses is settled to the degree that any doctrinal distinctions between faculty and quality hornbooks will be limited in number and de minimus in scope.  The benefits of metacognition are so great that we should not undermine metacognitive practice just because of slight differences in nuance.  See generally Preston, et al., Teaching 'Thinking Like a Lawyer': Metacognition and Law Students, 2014 BYU L. Rev. 1053 (2015) (noting the importance of teaching law students the skills of metacognition).

Banning outside sources undermines the crucial skill of metacognition and, in turn, leaves students without these important skills as they become practitioners.  They become dependent on the “sage on the stage,” which after law school takes the form of the law firm partner who has little time to lecture to a neophyte lawyer who lacks the skills to find answers herself.

In my next post, I will continue to line up arguments that push back on the practice of banning outside sources. 


December 9, 2018 in Guest Column, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

New Law Student Mindfulness ABA Podcast

Hat tip to Susan Wawrose at the University of Dayton School of Law for alerting us to the third installment in the ABA's podcast series on law student well-being. The podcast (entitled Episode 3 on the web page) includes three parts (why a law student would benefit, ways to get started with mindfulness, how to overcome roadblocks) and a bonus 3-minute mindfulness exercise. The link to the ABA web page that has all three installments in the series is: ABA Law Student Well-Being Podcasts. (Amy Jarmon)

December 8, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Free AccessLex Regional Workshops for Law School Administrators

In case you did not receive an email from AccessLex regarding their upcoming regional workshops, I have included the text below. I hope to see some of you at the Houston workshop! (Amy Jarmon)

The More You Know: Delivering Student Success
At AccessLex Institute, professional development means not only focusing on the most current issues and challenges of the job, but also – and more importantly – on the people facing those challenges every day. You.
Professional development is personal development, and this new series of free, one-day trainings created especially for law school administrators is dedicated to broadening your knowledge within and outside your current role. With locations around the country, you’ll get a full day of high-impact sessions to help you stay up-to-date on the most important topics related to law student success while reaffirming your stake and passion for helping students achieve it.


2019 Dates and Locations


Los Angeles, CA: January 29
Houston, TX: January 31
Orlando, FL: February 5
Washington, DC: February 14

Raleigh, NC: March 1
Boston, MA: March 19
New York, NY: March 21
Chicago, IL: March 26

These sessions are geared for cross-departmental conversation to promote personal and organizational success, so administrators from all student-focused areas are encouraged to attend. The workshops – and lunch – are complimentary. Space is limited. Pre-registration is required.
The professional development you want and need is coming to you in 2019. Happy New Year from AccessLex!


Review the agenda and register today!



AccessLex Institute is a nonprofit organization committed to helping talented, purpose-driven students find their path from aspiring lawyer to fulfilled professional. In partnership with our nearly 200 member law schools, improving access and positively influencing legal education have been at the heart of our mission since 1983.

December 7, 2018 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call for Proposals for ILTL June Conference


Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Summer Conference

“Teaching Today’s Law Students”

June 3-5, 2019

Washburn University School of Law

Topeka, Kansas 

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning invites proposals for conference workshops addressing the many ways that law professors and administrators are reaching today’s law students.   With the ever-changing and heterogeneous nature of law students, this topic has taken on increased urgency for professors thinking about effective teaching strategies. 

The conference theme is intentionally broad and is designed to encompass a wide variety of topics – neuroscientific approaches to effective teaching; generational research about current law students; effective use of technology in the classroom; teaching first-generation college students; classroom behavior in the current political climate; academic approaches to less prepared students; fostering qualities such as growth mindset, resilience, and emotional intelligence in students; or techniques for providing effective formative feedback to students.

Accordingly, the Institute invites proposals for 60-minute workshops consistent with a broad interpretation of the conference theme. Each workshop should include materials that participants can use during the workshop and when they return to their campuses.  Presenters should model effective teaching methods by actively engaging the workshop participants.  The Institute Co-Directors are glad to work with anyone who would like advice on designing their presentations to be interactive.

To be considered for the conference, proposals should be one page (maximum), single-spaced, and include the following information:

  • The title of the workshop;
  • The name, address, telephone number, and email address of the presenter(s); and
  • A summary of the contents of the workshop, including its goals and methods; and
  • A description of the techniques the presenter will use to engage workshop participants and make the workshop interactive.

The proposal deadline is February 15, 2019.  Submit proposals via email to Professor Emily Grant, Co-Director, Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, at [email protected].


December 7, 2018 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Power of Brain Breaks - The Heart-Mind-Body Connection to Empowered Learning

Want to power up your learning to improve your final exam performance?  Well, counterintuitively, that means that you just might need to take a break - a brief respite for your brain - by working out your heart instead.

You see, research shows that vigorous exercise, even if just for 10 minutes right prior to an exam, improves academic performance.  And, there's more great news.  The research also shows that exercise boosts your mood and optimism, and that, in turn, leads to more resiliency in learning, which, in turn again, improves academic performance.  In short, exercise is in the center of a great big circle of connections between your body, your heart, and your mind.  

So, rather than just focusing all of your energies in preparation for exams on your mental work, let your body and heart take up some of that cognitive load as you sweat it up a bit.  Feel free to hit the trail, or the bike, or just run up and down the stairs at your law school every hour or so.  Indeed, as the research shows, even just a 10 minute exercise brain break right before your next exam can increase your exam performance.  Not convinced?  We'll, here's a handy article by Marcus Conyers, Ph.D., and Donna Wilson, Ph.D., entitled "Smart Moves: Powering up the Brain with Physical Activity."  

So, why not follow the evidence to help boost your learning by taking frequent exercise brain breaks - breaks that tap into the power of your whole self  - your mind, body, and heart - to best optimize your learning.  And, rest assured as you take your brain breaks while exercising, the science is behind you.  (Scott Johns).

December 6, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

On Tenacity

A colleague came by my office yesterday to tell me about a conference he had just held with one of his students. "S/he doesn't have any natural ability for law," this professor remarked of the student, "but s/he makes up for it in attitude and work ethic." We agreed that we both held the student in high regard.

When I think about the current and former law students I most admire, the tenacious ones rise to the top of the list:

  • the student, once on academic warning, who now teaches in law school;
  • the academically dismissed students who successfully tackled law school the second time around;
  • those students, once set back by illness, domestic violence, or other life circumstances that might derail most people, who are now respected members of the bar.

Tenacious law students keep their long-term goals in mind. They swallow their pride and ask "stupid" questions so they can learn, often to the great relief of their classmates who were too timid to ask themselves. They experiment with different learning techniques to find what works for them. They are willing to take the time to do what it takes for them to learn, whether it is writing outlines out in longhand, or enlisting the help of their teenager to quiz them with flashcards, or working over the same practice problem numerous times until they can produce a well-written analysis. They have the humility to listen deeply to peers, professors, and any sources of wisdom. If they feel they bombed an exam, they analyze what went badly to learn from the experience, then they set aside their disappointment to focus on the next task. They seek feedback, even when it is painful, so they can progress.

Tenacity, then, can be summed up as work ethic + self-reflection + long-term goal-orientation. By itself, tenacity will not always result in top grades, but it will result in solid achievement and a first-rate reputation. Tenacious students become the lawyers we refer clients to -- and becoming a great lawyer is the ultimate point of all the work in law school and the bar exam.  (Nancy Luebbert)

December 5, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)