Wednesday, November 13, 2019
We were sitting in my office dissecting a practice contracts answer the student had written, working on transforming a rambling paragraph into an answer that showed mastery of the law and an intelligible understanding of how the law applied to the facts of the problem. The initial answer suggested the student had worked hard at understanding the law and had an instinctive response to the obvious issues; the finished product exhibited a coherent, lawyerly approach to most of the issues suggested by the fact pattern. The puzzle pieces were finally coming into place. Near the end of our session, the student looked at me quizzically. "Did we cover this in class?" she asked. "I was flailing away, but now it seems simple." "Yes," I replied out loud. Inwardly, I added, "Many times." But it was worth revisiting, because this time it clicked.
Far too many times, despite my profession, I grow impatient when I must repeat or re-teach something that seems "obvious" to me. Sometimes I feel like the Bellman in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark," declaring "What I tell you three times is true." When I catch myself in such a crotchety mood, I consciously offer up the negativity to the Academic Support deities so it will drift away. Sometimes, students simply tune out: they are human, after all; like me, they have sleepless nights and nagging worries and obsessions over an impending events, both personal and professional. More often, the need for repetition is inherent in the very nature of learning a new practice. While I might hope that a preview followed by an in-depth discussion followed by practice followed by a review will cement a concept or a practice, it's usually not that simple. Even teaching the process of learning, I need to remember that a huge part of what they are learning is to go past "obvious," to go deep, and to go slow. Experiment with learning and writing and speaking. Embrace the difficulty. Try it over and over. And if you forget that you learned it once, that's all right, too.
Contrary to what I believed when I started in academic success work, it is rare for my students to run out of time, whether in day-to-day learning, the consolidation that happens near the end of the semester, or even on final exams. Indeed, it staggers me to see how many leave a final exam 30, 40, or even 60 minutes before time is called. The larger challenge is to spend enough time, to slow down, to lay aside the knee-jerk reactions to plumb the legal problems not only in depth but with the simplicity that comes from and leads to mastery.