Monday, August 28, 2023


Have you ever used a navigator when you are driving? I am probably the user that navigator designers despise the most: I argue and don’t always listen to their advice--mainly because I do not have complete faith in them. I have a strange feud with one particular navigator that I swear is a trust exercise because it will take me to places I have never been to before (like someone’s backyard it seems), but when I make a mistake (or willfully disregard their advice), they just shut down altogether. I swear mine is just leading me to strange places and seeing if I trust them enough to get me out. I don’t and am thus abandoned.

We have noticed (actually, this has been an issue for a long while) that students are not engaging with our 1L study seminars or office hours. Some seem skeptical about them, and some are surprised to learn that these were even happening despite numerous weekly emails, announcements during orientation, and the billboard we erected near Fenway Park (okay, there was no billboard, but it isn’t a crazy idea…). By the time students come to see us, often they are already in some academic distress and likely behind in some aspect of successful “law studenting.” It is frustrating. We spend a lot of time developing and offering resources and yet students seem to want to follow their own path or are afraid to ask for and accept help.

And they need this help because this is a place they haven’t visited before.

So, we decided to do what my (non-trust exercise) navigator does (at least three times during every excursion) and recalculated. This year we created a “Success Syllabus” for our 1L students and posted it on our Academic Support Canvas page. It takes students through the semester-week by week- and tells them what they should be doing during those weeks to be prepared for exams. I included their legal writing assignment due dates, calendar shifts (Monday schedule on a Tuesday for the win!) as well as any already knowable midterm dates. Basically, it tells students when to begin reading and briefing for classes (right now and all semester), outlining (in a few weeks), and practicing exam questions (a week or two after that). It also refers to outside resource lists that we created for each class 1Ls take based on a conducting a survey of 1L faculty members for their recommended study sources.  We added a bold, underlined caveat that anything their professors say to the contrary should take precedence (we are lawyers).

In the end, the route is pretty simple: Prepare for class, Engage in class, Review after class (by outlining), and Practice for exams (PERP), but gaining students’ trust to follow this itinerary is the hard work ahead. If anyone would like an electronic copy of our Success Syllabus, please email me: [email protected], but only if you believe that I know where I am going with it.

Happy fall semester everyone!

(Liz Stillman)

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