Sunday, November 29, 2020
Raising some up does not diminish the work of others. Instead, it improves the whole of legal education. – Darby Dickerson
I am encouraged by the words of AALS President, Darby Dickerson, who calls out the caste system in law schools and advocates for its abolition. The caste system is an unnatural stratification that unnecessarily subdivides the legal academy in a manner that is contrary to the goals and best practices of quality legal education. Yet it prevails.
Dickerson acknowledges that there is much work to do in the quest for parity. She points out that some schools pay those with non-tenure track appointments (“NTT”) one-half or less of the average pay for tenure-line faculty, even with the same (or greater) number of credit hours taught. She also addresses the disrespect and other “affronts” that many NTT must bear, like exclusion from faculty meetings and votes.
ASPers know too well the stinging bite of having tenure-line administrators and faculty dictate which courses we teach and what the content of those courses will and will not include. Sung like the song of our collective souls, Dickerson recounts the common practice of having faculty or faculty committees change or attempt to change program design (e.g., number of credits, grading schemes, course titles, etc.) “without consultation and sometimes over [our] expert objections.” Our ideas and experience-based practices and recommendations for course revisions and program redesign are too often challenged or disregarded. Failing to acknowledge the expertise and accomplishments of non-tenure track faculty and staff is a mistake that should be avoided at all costs.
Of particular interest, is that Academic Support is neither assigned, nor expressly described by, a caste. If titles correlate to perceptions of one’s status, the omission of an entire skills discipline should sound an alarm. ABA Standard 405 makes specific reference to legal writing faculty and clinical faculty, and none specifically to ASP. Legal writing professors deserve every advance they have fought for over the years, and more. Still we cannot presume to be included in the decades-long battle to erode the hierarchy separating doctrine from skills.
Our legal writing and clinical counterparts are rarely categorized as staff. Yet many in ASP have staff classifications, despite teaching required and elective courses. Too many in ASP are denied a voice or vote in the programs they teach or direct, are physically segregated far from the faculty hallways, and are denied budget funding for travel and professional development, and have 12-month appointments that limit writing projects and scholarly pursuits. Have law schools and the ABA created a caste-in-caste system by further subdividing the “skills” faculty? Why is ASP too often omitted from the from discussions about hierarchy and status?
Dickerson asks what our law schools would look like without the labor and skill of NTT. Would our program of education be as robust? Would student class performance and outcomes decline? Would our students succeed on the bar at the same rate? Perhaps we can add to her well-voiced list of questions: 1) how would our profession look without the unnecessary stratification that law schools perpetuate? and 2) what are we willing to do about it?
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
To the Law Students, especially first years:
It's ok to take a break. I promise. I wanted to give you some great advice for exams, and since Victoria has written about so many tips for prepping for and writing the exams, my advice is to relax.
I know, I know, you have so much to do. But your brain really DOES retain information better if you give yourself breaks. I'm not suggesting that you don't do any work between now and Monday, but I am suggesting that you pace yourself, and do a few fun things for yourself as well. Netflix does have some great holiday movies coming out!
If you are a first year, it's also important to put things in perspective. Yes, grades are important, we can't get around that issue. But so is your mental and physical health. It's tempting to put so much pressure on yourself, and you need to realize that as long as you are doing your best, that's all we can ask of you.
Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. From your professors. From your Academic Support people. From a Dean of Students. We all want to see you succeed, and we will do what we can to make that happen. If you don't know how to ask for help, that's ok too. It's a good idea to start with someone like your Academic Support person, or your Dean of Students. Literally go in and say "I'm having a hard time, and I don't know how to ask for help." We will help you! Promise!
And speaking of help, if you are entitled to non standard testing accommodations, and especially if you have used them in other situations, please reach out and ask for them! For some schools, it might be late in the process, but it can't hurt to at least see what's possible.
Finally, practice! Don't go into your exams having never practiced one. The more practice exams you do, the better you will feel, and it WILL be reflected in your grades.
To my Academic Support Colleagues:
We need to take this advice as well! We are so good at advising our students on how to take care of their mental health, how important it is to take time for breaks, and to do things for themselves. But we don't always take our own advice. Hypocrites, the lot of us. The AASE programming board put on a fantastic workshop about how we should be helping ourselves, and each other, so take this as an important reminder. Especially, if you are like me, your list of things that must get done this weekend is a mile long. I'm going to try to take my own advice and do the best I can, while also spending some time with my husband, and maybe watching a Christmas movie or two! I hope all of you do the same.
Finally, I've been doing a month of gratitude. Each day, on facebook, I note one thing I'm grateful for. I started doing this a few years ago, as it is a really good way to boost serotonin and put things in perspective. This year I felt it was especially important, since this year has not been one of the best. So, I want all of you to know that I'm incredibly grateful for this community, and I'm thankful for each of you. Your wisdom and expertise, your friendship and support.
Happy Thanksgiving To All!
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
A quick etymology lesson to take us all into the holiday:
The words "thank" and "think" are both ultimately derived from the same Latin root word, "tongere", which means "to know". It appears that when our ancient forebears wanted to express appreciation for another person's action or contribution, they did not originally convey gratitude overtly. Instead, they conveyed understanding -- "I know what you did." "I am thinking about what you have given me." -- and that expression of awareness was meaningful. A mindful comprehension of a deed or a relationship or even an object implied that you recognized its worth. Over time, "think" and "thank" developed separate spellings, pronunciations, and nuances. "Think" focuses on the mental processes that enable us to better "know" something. "Thank" focuses on the recognition of something's value to you.
The link is the ancestral human insight that when you know something well, you naturally develop an appreciation for it. So when you take time this Thanksgiving to acknowledge your family and your friends, your comforts and luxuries, the good fortune you've enjoyed and the bad fortune you've avoided, spare a few moments to consider your legal education. It might seem odd to suggest you should be grateful for knowing the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or how to write a legal brief or the different classifications of collateral in secured transactions, but if you stop to think about the value of these tools to you -- tools that most people cannot grasp, let alone wield -- don't you feel richer? And grateful, not just to the people who helped you acquire these tools (including, I hope, yourself), but also for the existence and quality and usefulness of them?
Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” He knew that gratitude is not just a soppy sense of obligation for having received a boon. It is a deep and honest perception of meaning and value -- the starting point from which wonder, possibility, humility, generosity, and creativity can spring. This week, once you've recovered a bit from the sometimes exhausting, sometimes tedious, sometimes terrifying grind that this semester has been, give yourself the gift of earnestly contemplating all that you have learned and all the good that will come of it.
Monday, November 23, 2020
Continuing last week’s post, students looking to develop and/or refine their exam-taking plan of attack may want to consider the following:
- Reading and dissecting the fact pattern. Once you have selected a question, begin by reading the prompt closely. If you know what the “ask” is upfront, you can read with more intention. You also avoid the surprise of reading the fact pattern, reaching the prompt, and having to re-read the fact pattern again because the prompt asks something you did not expect. Next, read the fact pattern carefully. As you read, question everything! There are not a lot of “extra” facts in a law school fact pattern so ask yourself what your professor wanted you to take away from each sentence. Are the facts triggering an issue? Are they relevant to your analysis of an issue? Are they relevant to a counterargument? Does the framing of the facts create an ambiguity ripe for analysis? Remember, if an issue is triggered by the facts, you are expected to analyze it in your response. Pay special attention to names, dates, dollar amounts, and quoted/excerpted language. If your professor took the time to give someone a name, that name should probably appear somewhere in your answer. If your professor gives you a specific date or dollar amount, such details might have legal significance (e.g., statutes of limitation, timing for contract formation, statutory period for adverse possession, time to serve a responsive pleading, amount in controversy requirement, applicability of the statute of frauds for goods transactions). Finally, if your professor takes the time to tell you exactly what something or someone said, there is likely a reason why.
- Tracking issues. The facts will trigger multiple issues in each exam question so your attack plan should include a method of keeping track of the issues that you spot (e.g., by numbering, creating an issue list in the margins). As a rule of thumb, you should plan to spend roughly 15 minutes per hour that is suggested on your pre-write phase: reading, issue spotting, and “outlining” your answer (i.e. ordering the issues and creating an exam structure). Do not skimp on this time. Professors can tell when students do not outline their answers because such responses are often poorly organized. The exam-taking experience is also much more frenetic for the student.
- Tracking facts. Consider how you might create visual cues to identify the specific facts that are relevant to each issue you spot. You could use a color-coding method, numbering method, symbol method, etc. to identify the facts from the fact pattern that are relevant to your analysis of each issue. Do not overcomplicate this process—choose a method that is efficient and functional. Incorporating a method for tracking facts can be an especially helpful practice when you encounter a long fact pattern because it can reduce the amount of time you spend re-reading the fact pattern in search of facts relevant to your analysis.
- Ordering issues. The order in which issues appear in a fact pattern probably will not be the same order that makes the most sense, structurally, for your analyses to appear in your answer. Consequently, your plan of attack should include a step for ordering the issues you spot. Keep in mind any directives your professor gives you in the prompt about ordering (e.g., beginning with the strongest claim, analyze all claims Tanya can bring against Sasha). If you have a broad prompt that contains no directives about how to order issues (e.g., analyze all potential claims), then the relationships among or chronology of concepts can help with ordering.
- Creating an answer skeleton. Once you have ordered the issues you spotted, create headings in your exam answer. Consider whether each issue you spotted will need its own heading and whether particular issues should be grouped together under one heading. Keep your headings short and sweet—they need not be in complete sentences.
- Fleshing out your answer skeleton. Before you begin adding the meat to the bones of your answer skeleton, consider the order in which you fill in your answer skeleton. Though it may make sense, structurally, for issues to be arranged in a particular order, you should analyze issues from biggest/most obvious to smallest/least obvious. The more obvious an issue is, the higher the likelihood that your professor expects most—if not all—students to spot and analyze the issue in their answers. The more time and space in the fact pattern your professor devotes to articulating facts relevant to the analysis of a specific issue, the more there is to unpack and analyze (and thus, the bigger the issue).
While there is no magic blueprint for creating an effective plan of attack, these points will help students develop an effective exam strategy. The more a student practices and works to refine their attack plan, the more poised and prepared that student will be when exam day arrives. Students may not have control over what facts they will encounter on the exam or how their professors will test them on a given issue, but they do have control over their overall preparedness for the exam and development of a system for taking the exam. So, to students I say: focus on that which is within your control.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Congratulations for making it to the end of the semester. Many law schools adjusted the schedule to finish prior to Thanksgiving, so they finish this week. Others planned a normal semester and will finish over the next couple weeks. As you finish, I encourage you to take pride in your accomplishment and rest. Everyone at the law school needs it.
To the students, you all are amazing. Second and third-year students completed another semester in unusual circumstances. The fear of catching coronavirus combined with the social strife would make anything difficult, and you all did it during law school. I am biased, but I believe law school is one of the most difficult mental journeys possible. Great perseverance.
First-year students embraced a challenge even they couldn't have predicted. Combine the uncertainty, demands, and normal first year challenges with the climate, and many wouldn't make it. You did it. Great job.
For the faculty. You all made the best of a difficult situation. Whether teaching over zoom, in smaller classes, twice the sections to keep sections small, or regular classes with the fear of section wide spreading, you made it work. Veteran professors turned years of routine into a new experience in a matter of months. It was a huge undertaking and accomplishment.
Deans and Associate Deans, I can't even imagine. Constant policy changes by Universities combined with daily changes in community spread within cities made planning anything impossible. I would have pulled the last remaining hair out in September. Great job.
Last, but closest to my heart, ASPers. You rock. You also made massive changes to classes, while also figuring out how to conduct all your normal individual meetings without risking your health.. You planned voluntary workshops and bar prep to reach everyone even though some of you were locked out of buildings or couldn't use classrooms. Amazing work.
All of you made it through a difficult semester. Many of you did it from your living room while homeschooling your kids, or at least making sure they didn't burn down the house, write on too many walls, etc. Do not discount the effort this semester required. Everyone, yes everyone, needs a pat on the back and then, rest. When the semester is over for you, take days (plural) off. Enjoy something safe you haven't been able to indulge in during the semester. Rejoice because you made it. The break will get you ready for next semester. You deserve it.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Many of us try to help students with imposter syndrome. A colleague from CALI (Hat tip to Deb Quentel) passed along an article about imposter syndrome in the classroom. Check it out here.
Friday, November 20, 2020
The Learning Curve is seeking submissions for our winter edition. They welcome submissions from ASP veterans and newbies alike! Submissions are typically 2-4 pages long and can include anything related to (often broad and varied) ASP work. This might include lesson ideas, strategies, policy discussions, etc.
Please send your submissions to [email protected] by December 7, 2020.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
The best way to prepare for final exams is to work through lots of practice exams. That's because we learn best through the experience of testing ourselves. So here's a link, organized by subject matter, with past bar exam essays (and answer materials). You can freely share these exam materials free-of-charge with your students as they prepare for their final exams, courtesy of the Colorado Supreme Court: https://www.law.du.edu/academics/academic-achievement-program#colorado-exam-essays
Questions Arranged by Subject
- Administrative Law
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Criminal Procedure
- Family Law
- UCC Article 2 – Sales
- UCC Article 3 – Commercial Paper
- UCC Article 9 – Secured Transactions
- Wills and Trusts
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
As we near the end of this first full semester under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, my colleagues and I are developing a clearer and broader picture of the sometimes unanticipated consequences of a shift towards distance learning. The biggest surprise for me has been the magnitude of the cumulative loss of the daily presence of my fellow teachers and administrators.
Halfway through spring semester last year, the State of New York ordered all SUNY schools, including the University at Buffalo School of Law, to move entirely to remote teaching. This was a shock and a strain for students and teachers alike, but we quickly figured out how to make it work reasonably well and get through the end of the school year. If it was a little rough and wearying, it seemed that everyone understood that we were all doing the best we could under exigent circumstances. For me and my graduating students, the stress did not let up over the summer, as the twice-delayed and newly remote NY bar exam was a source of unpredictability and anxiety all the way through to October. But at least, it seemed, my colleagues and I would be able to take what we had learned from all of this and apply it to plan and execute a robust, well-constructed hybrid program for the fall -- one that would allow a limited number of smaller in-person classes while taking advantage of the best practices we had developed for teaching other classes online. We provided rich pre-orientation and orientation programs for our incoming 1L students. Our school's experiential program directors worked tirelessly to adapt to the new conditions so that upper class students could continue to receive the benefits of clinical practice. And those of us in student support made extra effort to reach out and make ourselves available to students scattered throughout the virtual ether. It seemed to me -- and, I think, rightly -- that we, like many law schools, had recognized, prioritized, and attended to our students' novel needs.
What I did not realize until recently that I had overlooked was the value of simply being in the building every day with other professors and administrators. It seemed at first just a slightly lonely little inconvenience, having to work from home most days, and seeing maybe one or two people in the hallways on the days I did go in. After all, we still had regular online meetings of various staff groups and committees, and emails and phone calls were still happening, so it was not as though we did not see each other or even basically know what each of us was up to. And being busier than usual with student queries and online meetings, one might have thought it was a blessing not to have to commute in every day and to spend precious time walking from one end of the building to the other, bumping into people and engaging in chit-chat along the way.
But in these last couple of weeks, I have come to realize what has been reduced because of the lack of interaction with my colleagues: sharing, synergy, and sensibility. I think we (or, who knows, maybe it's just me) greatly underestimated how much gets communicated when you see people two or three times a week, spontaneously ask for opinions or bat ideas around, notice which students they are meeting with, or ask a quick question that would probably take twenty minutes to write adequately in an email. And suddenly we're only a few weeks from finals, and I discover that a student who has been working with me on one specific issue is actually contending with a related issue in a different class. In a Zoom meeting, one doctrinal professor brings up a pervasive issue among her 1L students, and several others realize they've been dealing with the same problem. I'm accidentally left off a group email discussion thread and don't find out for three days -- something that could never have happened if we were all in the building, as I would have wandered into the offices of at least one of the group members every day.
We took so much care to make sure we stayed connected to our students (although they, too, undoubtedly suffer from the dearth of day-to-day contact, with us and with their classmates, in the hallways and before and after class), but, perhaps a bit too stoicly, assumed we'd do fine with more tenuous connections to our colleagues. But now I see. We've missed opportunities to share ideas about the law school and information about our students. It's been harder to improvise together, to pool our strengths to come up with good solutions. And without the little bits of intelligence we pick up from out colleagues -- the pointillist accretion of points of light that add up to the big picture -- it has become harder to be sensitive to concerns that might affect one student or might affect an entire class.
Here I had been thinking that reaching out too much to my absent colleagues would be only a selfish pestering, a feel-good reprieve from isolation. But no! It would really be for the good of my students, and for the whole school. Starting this week, I have begun setting up regular one-on-one chats with folks, agendaless, just to catch up. Everyone I have proposed this to has welcomed the idea. And when I make my weekly visit to campus, I'm going to get out of my office and walk every floor of the law school, just to see the few people whose schedules overlap with mine. Who knows what good, if any, will come out of any particular encounter? All I know now is that nothing good comes from losing them altogether.
Monday, November 16, 2020
When preparing for law school exams, law students frequently develop a framework for analyzing particular issues they may encounter on an exam. They also often plan how to use their outline, casebook, and rulebook during open-book exams. Indeed, many of us have seen (perhaps even created): elaborate flowcharts for a choice of law or battle of the forms analysis; lists of steps/questions to guide a personal jurisdiction, equal protection, or parol evidence rule analysis; and mind maps for navigating negligence claims. We have seen casebooks and rulebooks bursting with colorful tabbies, and outlines complete with tabs, indices, and tables of contents.
An oft-overlooked aspect of exam preparation, however, is a broader strategy for how to take the exam. Where is the checklist of steps students will take to navigate the exam? What will they do when the exam clock begins ticking? Students who develop, practice, and refine a plan of attack build exam-taking muscle memory that pays dividends on exam day. Quieted is the sense of panic and amplified is the sense of know-how.
As with so many things, there is no singular “right” way to develop a successful plan of attack and a student’s plan may not look the same for each class. However, students looking to develop and/or refine their exam-taking plan of attack may want to consider the following:
- Types of Assessments. Consider whether your exam will consist of multiple-choice questions, essay questions, short answer questions, etc. If you have a mix of multiple-choice questions and essays, consider working through the multiple-choice section first. There is typically more unpacking to do in a law school essay than you can possibly complete in the time allotted. If you begin with the essays (rather than the multiple-choice), you run the risk of exceeding your allotted time for essays and, as a result, not having adequate time to carefully work through the multiple-choice questions. If you do not know what types of assessments will be included on each of your exams, ASK. ASK NOW. If your final exam has a multiple-choice component, also ask about the number of questions and suggested time allocation in order to get a sense of the pacing. Work toward achieving that pace via practice and be sure that your plan of attack accounts for the multiple-choice component of your exam.
- Choosing where to begin. It is likely that you will encounter more than one fact pattern on your final exam, so your plan of attack should include a strategy for choosing where to begin. You should not plan to automatically proceed in the order the questions are presented. In other words, you do not have to do Question 1 first simply because it’s labeled “Question 1.” Instead, get a sense of the exam by skimming each fact pattern, noting the time suggested for each question. In choosing where to begin, adopt a methodology that best suits you. For students who prefer to ease into the exam and build confidence as they go, an uphill approach might be a good fit. Those students would begin by answering the question they perceive to be “easier” and work their way up to the harder questions. For students who prefer to get the “hard” stuff out of the way first, when they are most alert and there is a low likelihood of exam fatigue, then a downhill approach might be a better fit. Those students would begin by answering the question they perceive to be “harder” (or, perhaps, more rigorous because it has the longest suggested time) and work their way down to the easier questions.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Ben Barros will be moderating two panels featuring representatives of the NCBE at the upcoming AALS Annual Meeting. He is seeking your questions for the first panel. Please send questions to him at [email protected]. Here are the panel descriptions:
Saturday, January 9, 2021, 1:15 – 2:30 pm Eastern
National Conference on Bar Examiners - A Conversation With the Bar Examiners
This session will be a moderated discussion with representatives of the NCBE. Topics will include the basics of test design, validity, reliability, question development, cut scores, scaling, subject matter outlines, transparency, and the impact of the bar exam on the legal profession. The panelists also will discuss the October remote bar exam and the upcoming February exam. The organizers will solicit questions in advance from law faculty, especially those who focus on academic support and bar exam success.
Saturday, January 9, 2021, 2:45 – 4 pm Eastern
National Conference on Bar Examiners - Testing Task Force Update
This session will describe the work of the NCBE’s Testing Task Force, which is engaged in a robust data-informed study of the bar exam. The session will discuss the Task Force’s methodology and results, and will outline potential changes that may come to the bar exam as a result of the Task Force’s work.
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Assistant Professor of Practice (Law)
Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Law is an outstanding, small public law school that provides its students with an optimal mix of theoretical and experiential educational opportunities in a student-centered environment to prepare them for a changing legal profession in a global environment. SIU Law seeks to hire an Assistant Professor of Practice to support the Academic Success Program’s (ASP) work to train law students for law school rigor, the bar exam, and the practice of law. The initial appointment is a 12-month, term, non-tenure track (NTT) position beginning January 1, 2021. The appointment is renewable contingent on performance, curricular need, and budget.
Deadline to Apply:
Application Deadline Type:
or until filled
Months of Appointment:
Duties and Responsibilities:
The assistant professor of practice will teach Academic Success and Bar Prep courses, provide individual coaching, monitor student performance data, provide in-depth feedback and guidance on writing skills, legal analysis, time management, and other skills that assist a student in achieving a high level of academic performance and the likelihood of bar passage, and serve as a liaison to alumni, bar service providers, and boards of bar examiners, or others involved in bar administration.
Applicants must possess:
- Either the Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-accredited law school or its equivalent;
- License to practice law in at least one U.S. state or the District of Columbia;
- Prior academic or bar support teaching experience, or an equivalent combination of three years of practice experience and adjunct teaching.
- Superior written, oral, and interpersonal communication skills.
- Project management skills.
- Experience implementing new programs with specific, measurable goals.
- Experience working effectively with a diverse population of students, faculty, and staff.
- Experience collecting, interpreting, and analyzing data.
- Ability to handle confidential information, collaborate with colleagues, and exhibit good judgment when interfacing with students, staff, and faculty.
- Ability to establish and maintain positive and professional working relationships with all law school constituents, bar examination officials, and the legal community.
- Familiarity with learning theories.
Cover Letter, Curriculum Vitae
Please use the following link to apply:
The University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law invites applications from candidates to serve as the law school’s next Assistant Dean of Students. We seek applications from exceptional candidates with a passion for serving students, and who are excited about being part of a collegial, student-oriented, committed community. Pacific McGeorge is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or protected veteran status. The McGeorge faculty unanimously committed itself to undertake the work to transform itself into an anti-racist law school. Thus, applicants who share that vision and particularly those who would enhance the racial and ethnic diversity of the community are strongly urged to apply. Interested persons may apply though the University of the Pacific portal: https://pacific.peopleadmin.com/postings/17626 by December 11, 2020.
Friday, November 13, 2020
The Nominating Committee of the AALS Section on Academic Support is now seeking nominations for three positions: an incoming 2020 Treasurer and two Board Members.
Under our section bylaws, our Treasurer should be able to commit to four year-long terms in succeeding positions. At each annual meeting, the Chair-Elect succeeds to the office of Chair, the Secretary to Chair-Elect, and Treasurer to Secretary. Individuals nominated for Treasurer should consider whether they are willing to serve the Section through this rotation. Executive Board members serve two-year terms. All Officers and members of the Executive Committee are expected to participate actively in Section work.
You may nominate yourself or another person. Each nomination should include a short statement (no more than 250 words) explaining the nominee’s interest and relevant background. Those who have served on the Board or as officers in prior years may be nominated for a current open position, but current officers and members of the Nominating Committee are not eligible. These include:
- Board (term expires Jan 2022) – Afton Cavanaugh
- Board (term expires Jan. 2022) - Maryann Herman
- Board (term expires Jan 2021) – Herbert Ramy
- Board (term expires Jan. 2021) – Haley Meade
- Chair – Jamie Kleppetsch
- Chair Elect – Melissa Hale
- Officer (Treasurer) - Joe Buffington
- Officer (Secretary) - Kirsha Trychta
Nomination statements are due by November 16, 2020. Please send nominations directly to the committee chair (Herbert Ramy) at [email protected].
Thursday, November 12, 2020
According to a recent article, the way we breathe can impact the way we think and act, especially in handling stress. For the details, please see the following: Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress by Emma Seppälä, Christina Bradley, and Michael R. Goldstein, Harvard Business Review (Sep. 29. 2000). (Scott Johns).
In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures. In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance. But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better. And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.
As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019). Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure. https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/
The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams. Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes. Id.
According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)." Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).
In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:
"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id.
As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies. In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.
In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys. That's a wonderful win-win opportunity. And, there's more great news. The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
AASE is hosting a Wellness for Academic Support and Bar Support Professionals webinar, this Friday, November 13th. It's time we took care of ourselves, as well as our students! See information below, time zone is Eastern. There is no requirement to register, you can just click the link on Friday at 1 pm eastern!
Hope to see you there!
Friday, November 6, 2020
The NCBE Released the Phase 3 report from the testing task force today. Phase 3 focused on test design, including method and substance. I quickly skimmed the report, and the results are interesting. One of the quotes from a panelist that jumped out at me was the exam should not test "exceptions to the exceptions". I definitely agree with that statement.
I encourage everyone to read the report and stay engaged in this process. You can find the report here.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
In our world of Academic Support and Bar Prep, we often say that someone is “Asp-ish” when we want to compliment one of our own. Someone is ASP-ish if they are collaborative, supportive, and embrace things like growth mindset. Someone who is ASP-ish shares ideas, hesitates to take sole credit, is rarely ego driven, and thinks of themselves as a part of a team, not a solo player.
There is a relatively new show put out by AppleTv, “Ted Lasso”, about an American Football Coach from Kansas (Jason Sudeikis) who is hired to coach an English Premier League Football Team, AFC Richmond. He has never been to England and never played English Football, so that’s where the shenanigans begin.
While watching this with my very British husband, it occurred to me even though Ted is a football coach (and a football coach!) if he made a career change and started teaching Academic Support at a law school, we would definitely embrace him, and say he was very ASP-ish. Not only that, I think we can learn some lessons from him! In fact, I’m not the only one, you can find multiple articles from various fields about things we can learn from Ted about management and leadership.
Also, I tried to keep this spoiler free, but couldn’t do it. So, read at your own risk! Spoilers below! (And if you haven't seen it, go watch now, as it's a great way to relieve stress, and you probably need that)
Ted leads with collaboration and team work, something that we can all agree is at the heart of ASP. In fact, one of the first things he does is push his desk up against the desk of his assistant coach, the aptly named Coach Beard. This is presumably done so they can talk more and collaborate more effectively. He also listens to those that have more expertise than he does. In the beginning, he even lacks the correct vocabulary, but happily lets Coach Beard correct him and teach him.
Moreover, he doesn’t let hierarchy get in the way of good ideas. He meets Nathan, a “lowly” kit boy, who it seems is in charge of things like laundry and pitch maintenance. Despite Nathan’s lack of any credentials, Ted is quick to not only show him respect, but ask for and value his opinion.
In fact, Ted’s major coaching philosophy seems to be to lift up and support those around him. One of my favorite lines is the team owner asking Ted “do you believe in ghosts, Ted?” and Ted responding “Hmm mm, I do, but more importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves” This sort of sums up Ted’s entire personality. Not only does he ask for Nathan’s name, which is something Nathan seems shocked by when he says “no one has ever asked before”, but Ted is insistent that he is part of the team. When Nathan has an idea for a play, Ted encourages him and uses it. He also has no problem sharing credit, explaining to the local reporter, “Trent Crimm, The Independent” that the play was courtesy of Nathan. The reporter is a bit incredulous that a premier league coach would listen to a “kit boy”, but Ted is unphased. He knows that someone doesn’t need to have credentials to have good ideas, and he also knows that those with higher credentials need to give credit to and support those without. In fact, when facing a team that Richmond hadn’t beaten in 60 years he lets Nathan take over the pregame speech, and by this point, the entire team is embracing Nathan’s ideas. Finally, in the very last episode, Ted makes sure Nathan is promoted to Coach! This is something our entire community does well – lift each other up and share credit!
It’s also clear that Ted is all about Growth Mindset, Resilience and Grit. When we first meet Ted, he is on a plane, on his way to London, and a kid comes up to him, excited to meet him. The kid can’t believe what Ted is about to do, and says “You're mental mate, they’re going to murder you.” in reference to coaching a team for a sport he has never played. Ted’s only response is “Yea, I’ve heard that before, but here I am, still dancing.” I love this mindset, and can only hope to learn how to keep dancing from Ted. There is also a great thruway line in the first episode, when Ted is learning the terminology of English Football “I’m going to get it though, because training makes perfect.” Finally, at one point, after a frustrating day, he says “I’m not sure what y’all’s smallest unit of measurement is, but that’s how much headway I made”. The response of the owner is just “and yet you remain undeterred”, which is often how we must all approach academic support. We often feel like we make no headway, yet must keep no dancing.
The overreaching arc of Ted is that growing as individuals, and as a team, is more important than the score. “For me success is not about the wins or losses, it’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves, on or off the field.”
First, he recognizes that players need to be supported to be their best. He recognizes that one player, who is new to England from Nigeria, isn’t playing his best because he’s a bit homesick and adjusting. His solution is not to tell him to suck it up or be an adult, but rather to throw him a birthday celebration and create a care package that includes food from Nigeria. Also, instead of immediately talking to players about training, or game strategy, he asks them to put suggestions in a box, and assures them it can be things like water pressure or snacks.. And in fact, he immediately fixes the subpar water pressure, which seems to be a problem the team has dealt with for some time. He recognizes that these things might be small, but the players need to feel listened to and heard. He also genuinely wants to know everyone’s story. Similarly, I think we often lead the charge in listening to our students needs, even If they are minor.
When he does have to correct players, he doesn’t yell or mock, he is kind. He leads with warmth and understanding, and positive reinforcement. In fact, in one episode, his captain, an aging super star, had a particularly bad game where mistakes were made. The captain, Roy, says “Can you just tell me I F***ed up and go?” and Ted says he’s not going to do that, and he doesn’t want to hear the self pity. He also encourages him to go easy on himself.
He also uses his team leaders to encourage other players, much the way we might use peer tutors, or recent alumnae to encourage bar takers. He notices that a couple younger players are constantly picking on Nathan. Instead of yelling at the players himself, which is recognizes could make the situation worse, he makes his Captain, Roy, do it. However, he leads Roy to this conclusion, which makes the lesson stick for both Roy, and the players giving Nathan a hard time. I think we often look for ways to encourage our students to come up with answers themselves, for this exact reason.
Finally, Ted Lasso bakes. Anyone who has been around me in person knows that I can’t relate to bribing co-workers and students with baked goods.
However, it’s not all warm and fuzzy. Ted, despite being mostly a ray of positivity, is still human, just like us. He has real problems, and in one scene is depicted going through a very realistic panic attack. Moreover, there is one episode, near the end, where Ted doubles down on how he doesn’t measure success by wins and losses. In a rare show of anger, Coach Beard, screams that of COURSE wins and losses matter. He reminds Ted that these are professional athletes, not children, and wins and losses matter for their career and livelihood.
Similarly, I think we all find this balance between growth and grades a bit difficult. We want to reassure our students that grades don’t matter, because it’s the learning that’s important. But we know better. Grades matter for job prospects, and passing the bar is important for job prospects. Especially when dealing with first generation and underrepresented students who may have few or no connections, and need to rely on their performance, of COURSE it matters. Maybe it shouldn't, but that's the current reality.
But, we can still teach and lead with kindness and compassion, and learn from Ted about how to be more ASP-ish. And if you are looking for a stress free tv binge, Ted Lasso has comedy, heart, romance, and some really well wounded and kick-butt female characters!
Monday, November 2, 2020
Elections have consequences. As we sit on the eve of an election, Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?, provides helpful suggestions about how to engage and support students after November 3. In addition to articulating several guiding principles, the article also links to resources for educators looking to situate themselves, and better prepare to facilitate and navigate difficult conversations after Election Day.