Thursday, February 13, 2020

An Experiment in Learning to Think Reflectively

Let me ask you a couple of questions posed by a recent article (illustrating how easily our minds can mislead us). M. Statman, Mental Mistakes, WSJ (Feb 9, 2020).

First, do you consider yourself an above average driver?

Second, do you consider yourself an above average juggler?

Most of us answer the first question: "Yes, of course I'm an above average driver."  In contrast, most of us answer the second question: "No, absolutely not. Why, I can't even juggle so I'm definitely below average."  But context matters in determining whether our answers to these questions are accurate.  Id. 

Let me explain.  

Take driving.  Most of us think that we are at least average drivers (and most likely above average) because we drove today and didn't (hopefully) have an accident. But most drivers are just like us. They didn't have accidents either.  Id. Consequently, at least half of us have to be below average and the other half above average.  And, because we haven't yet explored any factual evidence in order to accurately gauge our driving abilities (such as accident records, traffic tickets, etc), we are often mistaken about our driving abilities. 

Now let's take juggling.  Most of us can't juggle at all, and, because that includes virtually all people, we are probably at least average jugglers (and maybe even better than average jugglers!). Id. You see, evidence matters in judging accurately. Id.

Likewise, with respect to learning, most of us think that we are at least above average with respect to easy tasks (like driving) but below average with respect to the hard tasks of learning (like juggling).  However, without concrete facts to evaluate our learning, we are likely wrong.  And that's a problem because if we don't know what we know and what we need to know we can't improve our learning...at all.  Indeed, that's why learning can be so difficult.  We tend to get stuck within our minds, our own framework, seeing what we want to see rather than what is really true about our learning.

So, as you evaluate your own learning, step back.  Ask yourself how do I know what I think I know.  Challenge yourself to see from the perspective of others so that you don't miss out on wonderful opportunities to improve your learning.  Be honest but not harsh.  Focus on identifying ways to improve.  

If you're not sure how to go about self-reflective learning, here's a quick suggestion:

Take for example an essay answer that you've written.  

First, find, identify, and explain one thing that in your writing that is outstanding (and why).  

Second, find, identify, and explain one way to improve your writing (and why that would be beneficial).  

Indeed, towards the end of most meetings with students, rather than telling my students to do "this or that," I ask them to tell me what they've learned about themselves from talking together and what can they do to improve their own learning.  And, I don't stop with just one answer.  I keep on asking until we have at last three concrete action items, all of which sprung out from them rather than me.  That's because the most memorable learning happens in "aha" moments, when we see what we didn't see before.  And, after all, isn't that the essence of learning...seeing anew with free eyes to boot.

(Scott Johns).

February 13, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Leave Enough for a Real Solution

The year: 334 B.C.
The place: The ancient Phrygian city of Gordium
The tale you are about to read is as true as it can be:

Hephaestion: Hey, Seleucus!  You just missed all the fun!  Alex here just fulfilled another ancient prophecy!

Alexander the Great (shrugging): Don’t listen to Heph.  It was no big deal.

Seleucus: “No big deal”?  And a shrug?  That’s what you said after you razed the city of Thebes.  “Eh, no biggie.”  Just another complete victory and total annihilation.  Whatever.  So what was it this time?

Hephaestion: Get this: There was this ox-cart in town tied to a post –

Seleucus: And Alex chopped it into kindling, burned it to ashes, then scattered the ashes to the four winds?

Hephaestion: What?

Alexander the Great: Gee, thanks, Seleucus, you make me sound like some kind of rampaging destroyer.

Seleucus: Well, you are conquering the known world.  There’s bound to be a certain amount of destruction involved.

Alexander the Great: It’s not all destruction.  Sometimes there’s creativity involved.

Seleucus: Yeah, like creating widows.

Hephaestion: As I was saying: there’s this ox-cart tied to a post by this knot.  Been there hundreds of years, and no one’s ever been able to untie the knot.  If you saw the knot, you’d understand why: totally complicated, gnarled and tangled, just a huge total mess.

Seleucus: Like Hephaestion’s tent.

Hephaestion: I’m ignoring you.  This knot was tied by Midas—

Seleucus: Hold up, you mean King Midas?  You mean everything-he-touched-turned-to-gold Midas?  The guy who starved to death because every grape and loaf of bread he picked up turned to gold before he could eat it?

Alexander the Great: Yeah, I always wondered about that.  Why didn’t he just have servants drop the food into his open mouth?

Seleucus: That’s what I like about you, Alex; always thinking outside the box.

Hephaestion: Yes, it was that Midas.  See?  Big names.  No ordinary knot here.  And there’s this prophecy, too: Whoever unties this knot is destined to be the ruler of all Asia.

Seleucus: I see where you’re going with this.  Alex had to have a go at it, didn’t he?

Alexander the Great: Well, if you counted the number of turns visible around the rim of the knot, you could tell that—

Hephaestion: I’ll say he had a go!  He scrunched up his Macedonian eyes, looked at it for a minute like it contained the secrets of the universe, and said, “I know how to take care of this!”

Seleucus: Did you?  I’m impressed.

Hephaestion: He whipped out his sword, and snap!  Cut right through that sucker!

Seleucus: You did?  I’m not impressed.

Hephaestion: Oh, go suck a pomegranate.  Alex dismantled that puppy!  That knot is no more.  And that means that Alex = ruler of all Asia.  And what did you accomplish this morning, Seleucus?  Clean your tent?

Seleucus: Yes, I did.  But I’ll tell you what I didn’t do – I didn’t cheat.  Which is what Alex did do.

Alexander the Great: Wait, Seleucus, you don’t understand—

Seleucus: No, Alex, I don’t understand.  The prophecy said “whoever unties the knot”.  I don’t understand how chopping it to pieces counts as “untying” it.  When I untie my sandals do I pop a blade into them?

Alexander the Great: Look, I needed to use my sword—

Seleucus: Did you?  Did you really?  I’ve been seeing this trend in you for the last few years, Alex: when in doubt, wipe it out!  Rivals to the throne – gone.  Vanquished armies – eliminated.  And now this knot – oh, let me just slice the cord in twain – problem solved!  Well, you know what, Alex?  That’s just cheating.  Eliminating a problem is not the same as solving it.  “Thinking outside the box” does not mean you just move yourself into a different box.

Hephaestion: Hey, step off, Seluke!  You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Seleucus: Don’t I?  Look, this time it’s just a damn knot, and knowing Alex the press will probably eat this up.  They’ll be writing about it for at least 2,354 years – “And then Alexander the Great cut the Gordian Knot, and found a solution where no one else could!”  But Alex is trying to rule the whole world, Heph, and this attitude of destroy/eliminate/repeat is going to be the end of him.  If he doesn’t learn how to actually solve these “unsolvable” problems, then what’s he going to do when he encounters one he can’t get rid of?

Alexander the Great: Seleucus, I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate it.  But Heph is right – you didn’t hear the whole story.  I didn’t simply chop the Gordian Knot into pieces, although I bet you’re right about that being how the press will report it.  Quick and brutal gets people’s attention, but even I know that slow and elegant is often more effective.  With the knot, I simply noticed that it could never be untied so long as the two ends of the rope remained spliced together, so I pulled out my sword and trimmed the splices.  That left me with the two original ends of the rope – just like the two ends of your sandal laces.  Once those were freed, I could actually start to work on the knot, like no one had done over the last, what, three hundred years?  Duh.  It took me a couple of hours, but eventually I was able to work the knot loose.

Seleucus: Oh.

Alexander the Great: I think there’s a difference between changing the conditions to make them workable and completely blowing the problem up.

Seleucus: Yeah.

Hephaestion: Is that all you can say?  “Oh.  Yeah.”  You called out the future ruler of all Asia by mistake and can’t even apologize?

Seleucus: Ah, Alex, I’m sorry.  You know I was just worried about you.

Alexander the Great: I know.  But I think I’m going to have to have you and your entire bloodline executed now, and your ashes — how did he put it?

Seleucus: Alex.

Hephaestion: “Scattered to the four winds,” I think he said.

Alexander the Great: Yeah, that was it.  I like that — little pieces of burnt-up Seleucus, and his kids, drifting south on a zephyr.

Seleucus: Alex!

Alexander the Great: I’m just kiddin’, Seleucus.  I know you care.  Later, dude.  Heph, let’s you and I go clean your tent.

February 11, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Building Community...In An Elevator

Time is so precious. That's why I love elevators. Not because I like to wait. Indeed where I teach the elevators are as slow as molasses, which means, that I have a captive audience (especially because our elevators don't have music to calm the nerves).  

That got me thinking.  Why not make the most of the situation at hand?  After all, we live and work and move in learning communities. So, here's a few suggestions to turn elevator rides into more "elevating experiences" to help celebrate community and learning.

First, smile.  Yep, you might even make eye contact too.  This is not the time to be bashful.

Second, recognize the other.  Resist the tendency to pretend to be too busy for relationships by looking down at your smart phone, or up at the flashing numbers, or at the floor.  After all, we are communities of learning, so extend a hearty hello to each one (and a gracious goodbye as people depart).

Third, introduce yourself if you haven't met.  "Hi!  I'm Scott Johns, one of your faculty members."  

Fourth, ask questions such as: "What's something you're learning today?"  What's your favorite class (and why?)?  "What type of law are you interested in practicing?

You see, elevators can be elevating experiences...if only we take the time to be with each other.  And who knows, you might make someone's day because most of us - if truth be known - go through much of life unrecognizable by others, just hoping to be known.  But elevators are no place to be alone (nor is law school or life either).

So here's seeing (and chatting) with you on the elevator soon! 

(Scott Johns).

January 30, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Getting Past Uncertainty

It is an oddly resonant time of year.

This has been happening for the past week or so:

  • A student comes to my office to talk.  It's a 1L student, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving first-semester grades.  They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means.  Are they really smart enough for law school?  Will they even make it through the first year?  They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it.  I explain that of course they need to take their grades seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible.  However, I note, it is not unusual for students not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
  • Next, a recent graduate comes to my office to talk.  It's someone preparing to take the bar exam in February, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving the results of their first simulated MBE exam.  They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means.  Are they really smart enough for the bar exam?  Will they even pass?  They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it.  I explain that of course they need to take their score seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible.  However, I note, it is not unusual for examinees not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
  • Next, another 1L student comes to my office to talk . . .

It is the nature of our jobs that we sometimes find ourselves trying to convey multiple messages -- sometimes contradictory -- at the same time.  In January, this messaging consists of finding the right balance of intensity and perspective, of patience and urgency, of recognizing the effects of circumstance and shouldering the burden of personal responsibility.  It can be tough in part because the people we counsel can be so different -- words that barely allay the anxiety of one person might be enough to lull another person into a false sense of self-confidence.  Better to calm our advisees down just enough for them to be able to hear and take in our more practical suggestions about focusing on step-by-step goals, specific tasks, and formative assessments, which provide them not only with routes to get to where they want to be, but also help them strengthen their abilities to more accurately judge their performance and progress.

For those preparing for the February bar, it might also be worthwhile reminding them that they may have had similar moments of uncertainty when they first entered law school.  They figured out enough to get obtain their J.D.s.  Why should they doubt that they have the capacity to figure out how to clear that final hurdle?

[Bill MacDonald]

January 28, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Dolly Parton Challenge for ASP

Last week, Steven Foster, Director of Academic Achievement for Oklahoma City University School of Law shared an interesting article about student perceptions of social media usage. The article caption: Social Media is Tearing Us Apart, caused me to reflect upon my evolving thoughts about academic use of social media.

In my early years of teaching, I was largely dismissive of student use of social media outlets. I viewed online social networking as inutile, with no academic or pedagogical purpose. Many of us, born avant the age of social media influence, worried that tools like Instagram and Facebook were counterproductive distractions during intense bar study periods. Yet, there were anecdotal (if not fully accurate) correlations between students who spent too much time surfing and socializing on social mediums and those who ultimately failed the bar exam. The sage advice of the day directed bar studiers to deactivate social media accounts and avoid screen time during bar study.

Fast forwarding to the present day, those in ASP and bar prep may be better served to use the litany of social media tools for programmatic good. Social media, at its best, is an ideal tool to connect with and aid students. To that end, I will use this weekly blog post as a Dolly Parton challenge — ASP style.*  

LinkedIn

Law students are likely groomed by career development administrators to create professional online profiles. LinkedIn is one of the go-to sources for online professional profiles. LinkedIn connections can also be wonderful resources for ABA data reporting. ASPers can and should accept connection requests from current and recent law students. Law grads who are seeking JD-employment, or those who are newly positioned, typically keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Another great use of LinkedIn, for ASP related purposes, is its searchability. Unlike other social mediums, students and young lawyers generally use their legal names and their profiles are easily searchable by name and location.

Facebook

I set up a private group on Facebook for my students during bar study.  I allow only current bar takers to join the group. Within the group, I share daily bar study affirmations, announcements, and bar study tips. I post Questions of the Day (“QOD”) to engage students. I create an environment where students can be comfortable posting answers, even wrong answers. They use the group forum to interact with peers and learn from each other. At the end of each day, I post the answer and explanation to the QOD which generates additional questions. Our students are going to be on social media anyway, why not use the tool to engage them in bar study, I say.

Instagram

Although "the gram" does not provide the group interaction capabilities of  of Facebook, it is a great tool to market program events. Using memes and graphically captioned announcements for, e.g. practice exams, meeting with bar examiners, deadlines, office hours, and free lunch, will easily capture student attention. Having an Instagram presence also aids in outreach to Gen Z and the later-born Millennials who are deliberately not present on  Facebook. 

Twitter

Although excluded by Dolly Parton, #AcademicTwitter is not to be slept on. St. John’s University School of Law legal writing professor, Renee Allen is the reigning queen of law school Twitter. She has over 2,000 followers to her @profallentweets handle. She has written and presented on effective usage of social media in law school academic support. According to Professor Allen, "Twitter is great for networking, learning, and self-promotion . . . and it can humanize law profs, which is super important for students who follow [us]." 

Tinder

Well, I’ll leave to one of the other bloggers to find a fit for Tinder in Academic Support and Bar Prep. 😉

(Marsha Griggs)

*The Dolly Parton challenge refers to a four-photo mosaic of potential profile photos for social media sites LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.     

  •                    
  • Washburn Dolly Parton Challenge

January 27, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Miscellany, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Winnie the Pooh & Learning?

Research suggests a relationship between a positive growth mindset mindset and improved learning. C. Dweck, G. Walton, G. Cohen, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning (2014).  Consequently, I've been trying to "read" the minds of my students (and they often seem to look sullen, downtrodden, and burdened).  

To be frank, that might well be my fault because I don't always accentuate the positives about the difficulties involved in learning.  Yet for most of us, we realize that it's in the midst of the hard spots of our lives that our character was shaped.  In short, we grew into the people we are today because of how we pulled through the difficulties of yesterday.  And that's why learning is...growing our minds.  So, why not see learning in similar light?

Here's a couple of suggestions that might help your students approach learning with a more positive growth mindset:

First, my best classes are when I leave room at the end of the class, well, for learning (or at least reflecting on learning). Here's how: I ask students to mingle about what they learned today. Instantly faces are transformed into beams of sunlight; frowns are replaced by the warmth of smiles; and, most significantly, the class becomes alive with criss-crossing conversations.  Then, I open up the floor...and the floor fills up oh so quickly.  Hand over there, another over here.  Three over there.  More that away.  In short, as students open up, they come to appreciate that they have learned a great deal (and that most of their learning came through courageously probing mistakes made). 

Second, I toss out a statement - in my best vocal rendition of Eeyore as possible - gloomily saying: "Oh my...oh me.  Woe is me.  I missed...another...problem." We then contrast that mindset with Winnie the Pooh: "Oh, look, there's honey over there, up in the tree, and back over there, why, there's even more honey; there's honey everywhere!" Suddenly students recognize that law school life is not really as gloomy as they think it is, that there's plenty of "honey" to be gathered from every problem that we miss; that it's in "climbing up the trees" and putting our hands in the thick of the "bee hives" that leads us to even more honey...because, well, "where's there's bees--there's got to be honey."

In short, it's in the midsts of mistakes that we learn best. So, to sum up what I've gleaned about learning from Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore it's this:  "The best learning is like honey; it's a sticky mess of a problem (but a mighty good treat!)."

(Scott Johns)

P.S. To learn more about Winnie the Pooh and friends, visit: https://winniethepooh.disney.com/winnie-the-pooh

January 23, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

You are More than a Test Score

Across the country this week, bar candidates will take a full-length practice exam. Your first simulated MBE scores may not be exactly what you expected. I took my first bar exam years ago, but I still remember the shock of my first practice test score. I could not believe my eyes. Never before had I seen a percentage so low. My practice test results triggered a fight or flight instinct in me. For others, this week's results may yield any one of a host of emotions: fear, devastation, sadness, indifference, or overconfidence. Bar passers must develop the coping mechanisms to rebuff these counterproductive, yet understandable, emotions. 

The first step in your battle for resilience must be to reflect on your pre-bar journey. Approximately three years ago, you were wondering if you would get into your first-choice law school — or any law school for that matter. Once admitted, those first-year exams made you question your ability to make it through law school. Yet somehow by grace and sporadic unhealthy doses of caffeine, you are here with a law degree and one test that stands between you and the practice of law. What began as a quest both shaky and unsure, is now a dream realized. How you started is NOT how you will finish.

The second step is self-assessment. You may have learned that while you love e.g. Torts or Contracts, they do not reciprocate your sentiments. You may be equally shocked to discover that you excelled in a dreaded subject area, proving that you know the doctrine of equitable conversion and standards of review far better than you previously led yourself to believe. Analyze your practice exam results to identify your areas of strength and weakness.

The third step is to slow your roll. Before looking to new sets of practice questions, revisit questions that you have already answered and missed. Don't reread the answer explanations. Instead reread the question facts. It is highly likely that you may know the tested rule of law, but missed some key detail in the fact pattern or misread the call of the question. It is unwise to do more practice questions until you fully understand how to analyze and answer the ones you've already answered.

The fourth and final step is to execute a plan of attack. Once you come to terms with your weaknesses, develop an effective plan to combat them. The tools and assignments from your commercial bar review provider can only take you so far. If you need drastic improvement, consider reaching out to your law school academic and bar support team or a professional bar tutor. Sometimes the best bar therapy comes in the form of a volunteer bar coach or the supportive words of a recent bar passer.

(Marsha Griggs)

January 20, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Legal Education "Learning Triangle"

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So picture a triangle:  One way to think about learning is to contemplate the three "angles" of learning.  

At the apex of the triangle - from the viewpoint of most students - law school education is all about learning to think, act, and communicate like an attorney.  

But that begs the question. What is learning?  

Well, in my opinion there are two others corners to the triangle, and those - I believe - are the wellsprings or foundations for successful learning.  And, as many have suggested, they often go overlooked in our haste to teach students to "think like attorneys."

Let me explain what I see as the other two corners that make a "well-rounded" triangle so that our students can effectively learn to think, act, and communicate like attorneys.

One of the corners involves applying the science of learning - the lessons learned from educational psychologists as how best to learn.  And, as the scientists suggest, its often counter-intuitive to our own notions of how we best learn: To cut to the chase, less talk and more action, by having our students engage in pre-testing, practice testing, distributed practice, retrieval practice, and interleaving practice throughout the semester, is foundational to long-term meaningful learning.

The other corner, it seems to me, involves the interplay of the heart, the soul, and the mind.  It's the psychological-social dimensions of what best equips us and our students to engage in optimal learning practices.  Some emphasize academic tenacity or grit.  But, in my opinion, this corner of the triangle rises (or falls) on whether we are developing within our students a sense of place, of belonging, as valuable members of our learning communities.  You see, it's very difficult to have grit when we feel out of place, like we don't belong. But focus on equipping our students to belong...and tenacity will soon follow suit.

Lately, thanks to the work of many in the academic support field in teaching me about the interrelationships among (1) the skills of lawyering, (2) the science of learning, and (3) the psychological-social dimensions of learning, I've been regularly integrating, emphasizing, and sharing research about learning straight from the "scientists" mouths.  

Here's two of my favorite articles, filled with colorful and vibrant charts and tables, which I flash onto the classroom screens (and then have my students ponder, decipher, and explain as to how they can best learn to "think like lawyers" based on the latest research):

J. Dunlosky, Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning;

C. Dweck, et. al., Academic Tenancy: Mindsets and Skill That Promote Long-Term Learning.

And, if you want to make the most of this little blog, grab a piece of paper, close your computer, and draw a nifty picture of a triangle (with annotations as you try to recall as much as you can about what you learned).  

Happy Learning to you and your students!

(Scott Johns).

 

 

January 16, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Feeling Overwhelmed By Bar Review?

It's that time of year, where you might start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of bar review tasks in front of you. First all, this is not at all unusual, and you are not alone. 

Second, a brutally honest fact  - statistics show that the more bar prep course a student completes, the higher their chances of passing. For every single percentage point of your commercial bar course that you complete, your chances of passing the bar also increase.

However, whilst it is true on a general level that you need to be working hard to cover as much of that course as possible, it is also worth remembering that you are not a statistic. Students are unique individuals, not numbers. Most importantly, whilst working hard, you need to ensure that you keep your health and sanity for the end of Feb.

So, all that being said, here are a few tips if you find yourself getting overwhelmed:

  1. One thing at a time.The best thing to do when feeling overwhelmed is to take one step at a time, and DO one thing at a time. Yes, it’s good to have a big picture idea of what you need to accomplish between now and the end of Feb, that’s what will keep you on target. But, on a day to day basis, you need to focus on what you can do in the next 5 minutes, the next hour, the afternoon. Make lists for yourself, or use the ones given to you by the commercial prep companies (which are usually online) and tick one thing off at a time, even if it’s a small thing.
  2. Prioritize active learning. Don’t get bogged down in reviewing outlines, making outlines, making flashcards, etc. Your priority should always be practice essays (especially if you will get feedback) and practice MBE questions, not to mention, practice MPT. As for the law, of course you need to know it, and remember it, but you will remember it better by writing about it, with a unique fact pattern, then you will simply by reading the law, or even putting it on a flashcard. Succeeding on the bar exam is a SKILL, so you need practice. You wouldn’t prepare for a hockey game simply by reading about hockey; you’d get on the ice and run skating drills, you’d have practice games. The bar isn’t really any different.
  3. Extra Questions. I often get questions about whether students should be doing MORE, or a good source of extra questions. The right answer to this is going to vary from student to student. I always think more questions are better, in general, and varying the types of questions you are doing can be beneficial. However, you don’t need to pile on extra books and questions for the sake of doing so. Focus on getting through your normal schedule first, if you get through that, and you are not completely exhausted, then consider extra sources of questions.
  4. Don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing.Remember, you are not a statistic, and there is no cookie cutter bar student. Comparing notes with others on what works, or what doesn’t, is fine, but don’t judge yourself by how many hours someone else is in the library, or how many sample questions they are doing, or whether they’ve bought 10 extra books. This is like the first year of law school; everyone is different, and you might be working at a different pace, or in a different way, from someone else. That’s ok!

Remember you still have over 5 weeks left,  this is not a sprint, it’s an endurance race. That means pacing yourself. Working hard, yes, but also remember that working smarter is more important than just working harder.

Good luck, you got this!

(Melissa Hale)

January 15, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Function Over Form

I had a minor enlightening encounter this week that I thought worth sharing.  I was going over the responses to some previous bar exam essay questions that a former student had wanted to review with me.  One of the first questions we went over had a moderately long fact pattern involving a will of uncertain validity, and then asked simply, "Who will inherit the decedent's property?"  The student properly recognized that there were several issues that had to be addressed in order to answer that question, and identified and fairly discussed most (but not all) of them.

Another question had been written in such a way that it clearly indicated that there were three specific issues to discuss: at the end of the page-long fact pattern, three separate questions were asked, in separate sentences, formatted into three separate enumerated paragraphs, as in*:

  1. Do you really want to hurt me?
  2. How can you mend a broken heart?
  3. Should I stay or should I go?

*Questions selected for illustration only.  Not actual bar exam questions.

The student had done a fair job of answering these questions, creating a separate header for each one that incorporated the language of the question and then earnestly examining each question presented.  A rule or two was misstated, some relevant facts were overlooked, but essentially the student had properly identified the relevant issues and had done some creditable analysis for each one.

A few questions later, we were looking at another question that seemed to wrap up in a similar way, with three enumerated statements.  In this case, however, the question explained that one of the parties in the question had filed suit against another, and that the complaint had three allegations**:

  1. You think love is to pray, but I'm sorry I don't pray that way.
  2. You don't have to prove to me that you're beautiful to strangers; I've got lovin' eyes of my own.
  3. Now that I've surrendered so tenderly, you now want to leave, oooo you want to leave me.

**Valid only in jurisdictions that permit bar examination responses to be produced via karaoke.

After listing these allegations, the question asked, "Is the plaintiff likely to succeed on these issues?  Explain."

As with the previous enumerated question, the student took cues from the formatting in the text to format the answer, again creating a separate header incorporating the language of each issue and then examining each issue separately.  In doing so, however, the student implicitly assumed that the assertions made by the plaintiff were as sound and valid as the questions asked by the constructor of the question.  In other words, the student took the precedent statements in the plaintiff's assertions -- "You think love is to pray", "I've got lovin' eyes of my own", and "I've surrendered so tenderly" -- as givens that could be employed to prove the asserted conclusions, rather than as unproven premises that needed to be demonstrated or disproved with reference to specific facts and legal rules.  Thus, the analysis in this question was abbreviated and circular: "Because the plaintiff has lovin' eyes of his own, defendant does not have to prove that she is beautiful to strangers."

I pointed out to the student that, ordinarily, a decision maker would not simply take the plaintiff's assertions at face value, but would likely seek proof by citing facts and legal standards.  The student acknowledged that it had not appeared, in the heat of the exam, that the implications of the two questions were very different -- the first providing three issues for analysis, and the second requiring the examinee to determine the real issues themselves.  The student had not had any trouble recognizing this need to figure out the relevant issues in the first question, so it wasn't an inability to dig deeper that had prevented her from doing so in the last question.  Instead, we agreed, it had been a reflexive reaction to the form of the question -- "1,2,3 means take those words as your givens".  Making this explicit seemed to prepare the student to avoid doing the same thing in the future.

Just a neat little example of how the shortcuts we take, or make for ourselves, can sometimes take us places we don't want to go.

[Bill MacDonald]

January 14, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A 3-Step Method for Piloting Final Exam Reviews

In my experience, very few law students take advantage of exam reviews...and, when they do (or must because of law school requirements), they often leave my office unchanged, defensive, and feeling as though grades are mostly arbitrary.  

That got me thinking...

I'm convinced that there must be a better way - a much better way - for students to meaningfully review exams.  

So, with that in mind, here's my 3-step suggestion for conducting exam reviews.

1. First, ask students to mark up their exam answers as if they are grading their answers, using the exam keys or model answers provided by their professors.  

2. Second, for each point in which a student misses an issue, a rule, or a fact analysis, etc., have the student go back to the exam question and highlight to identify where there were clues in the question that that issue was at play, or that rule was applicable, or those facts were meaningful to analyze.

3. Finally (and this is the hardest part for me), say nothing.  Make no declarative statements at all.  And, definitely make no suggestions at all.

Instead, ask the student open-ended questions, such as: "Looking back at the exam question now, what might have helped you realize at the time that you were taking the exam that that was an issue, etc." Then wait. Again say absolutely nothing.  Let the student investigate, reflect, and ponder what the student saw and didn't see in the exam problem and what was missing from the student's rule statements or fact analysis, etc.

Then, put them in the pilot's seat by asking them questions such as: "Why do you think that you missed that issue or didn't have that rule in your answer or missed analyzing those facts, etc.?"  As they talk, let the students be the experts. In fact, treat them as the expert by carefully jotting down notes as I listen to them.  

At last, once they stop talking, I ask them this simple question:  "Based on what you've now observed about your answer and the question, what are your recommendations as to how to improve your future learning, your exam preparations, and your exam problem-solving for the next time." Once they come up with one suggestion, ask them for another suggestion or tip that they can give to themselves...and then another one  I like to see them come up with at least three concrete suggestions for ways that they can implement to improve their learning (and why they think those action items will be beneficial for their future learning).

In short, if I had to sum the best exam reviews that I've had with my students, its when I speak little and instead listen much.

(Scott Johns)

(Many thanks goes to retired ASP professor and educational psychologist Dr. Marty Peters for sharing these insights with me).

January 9, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

You Say You Want a Resolution

The word "resolute" originally got its meaning from the basic meaning of its root verb, "resolve", which was "loosen" or "dissolve".  (When Hamlet was depressed about his father's death and thought about joining him, Shakespeare had him wish, "Oh, that this too too solid flesh / Would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew".)  So "resolute" initially meant "dissolute" or "infirm".  Over time, "resolve" came to take on another meaning, a nuance of "solve" that implied "clarifying" or "freeing from doubt" in a definitive way.  As a result, "resolute" also developed a new meaning -- that of "determined" or "firm".  So: "resolute" can mean either "infirm" or "firm".  It's a word that can mean the opposite of itself, like "sanction" (which can mean either "approve of" or "disapprove of") or "cleave" (which can mean either "adhere" or "separate").  Such words are called contronymsauto-antonyms, or, in a nod to the two-faced god of transitions and doorways, Janus words.  And Janus, of course, is the source of "January" -- the month in which resolutions are made.  Coincidence?

Probably.

Still, there is something droll about the way "resolution" can mean both "a firm declaration or undertaking" and "a dissolution or relaxation".  It is like a vast image out of our lexical spiritus mundi, reminding us that simply vowing improvement is no guarantee of success.  This is a time of year when a portion of our clientele is highly motivated to change because of the confluence of the New Year, the new semester, and the receipt of disappointing and/or surprising grade reports.  We want to take advantage of that impetus, but we also have to find a way to tactfully remind those students that the road to the lowest quartile is paved with good intentions.  Here are some suggestions that can help:

  1. Shift the focus from results to actions.  A student who focuses on end results ("I am going to get an A in Property this semester!") or even intermediate results ("I am going to finish all of my reading before every class!") may be setting themselves up for failure if they do not articulate what altered actions will lead to the desired results.  Talk them through an assessment of why they did not achieve these results in the prior semester to help them uncover the practical steps they will need to take to achieve them in the new semester.  A commitment to start one's reading assignments one hour earlier in the day, for example, is clearer and easier to initiate than simply vowing, without a plan, to complete all reading assignments.  
  2. Beware defensive resolutions.  Sometimes students will recognize that they need to make a change in behavior, but -- consciously or unconsciously -- they see that the change that would be most effective is not desirable to them.  To avoid that change, they might articulate a different change in behavior -- one that seems to them more achievable or less painful, and usually one that does demonstrate some effort being undertaken, so that it "feels" worthwhile.  A student anxious about their essay-writing skills, for example, might promise to create a more detailed and comprehensive course outline next semester.  Pressing students to undertake the more meaningful tasks, and applying our expertise to help determine and explain to them what those commitments would be, can be one of our most helpful contributions.
  3. Suggest ways to monitor compliance and progress.  While stress and anxiety can be powerful motivators for change, they can also sap people of the self-assurance and determination that helps them to execute those changes.  How common it is for all of us to adopt a new gameplan for life, one with obvious benefits, only to let it fall by the wayside when life kicks into high gear and we fall back into old habits.  One of the best ways to support people who are trying to make a change is to find ways to make it easy for them to see how consistent and successful they are being -- it can provide the kind of positive feedback that leads to a virtuous circle, a behavior that reinforces its own existence.  Checklists and diaries are ways to do this on their own; buddy systems and regular check-ins with Academic Success are ways to enlist outside help.
  4. Minimize the sense of "all-or-nothing".  When the stakes are high, as they often are in law school, people sometimes see the world in absolute terms.  This is often unrealistically constraining.  A commitment to briefing every case read, for example, can quickly come to feel like an impossible task if a student misses briefing just one case per class each week, because after a few weeks they may be a dozen cases behind and feeling like they can never catch up.  Some students -- not all, but some -- might just give up at that point, out of anxiety or a sense of futility.  To help fight this outcome, help the students to see the benefits of the changes they have successfully made, especially in comparison to the situation in which they would have found themselves originally.  This task can be easier if you have previously helped them to focus on actions and given them some ways to monitor their progress, so that, even if they do not do everything they had wanted, it will not be hard for them to recognize that the progress they did make was worthwhile.

This is a great time of year for re-evaluation, goal-setting, and developing new habits -- many students are primed for these by the turn of the calendar!  But, by their nature, resolutions can be firm or infirm.  The best way to nudge them towards the former is to help students make them much more than just resolutions.

[Bill MacDonald]

January 7, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Turning Fear of Failure Into Acts of Success

Basketball player "...Duncan Robinson was open and didn't shoot." So reads an article about the "Most Improbable Player in the NBA."  The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2019, p. A14.  

In response to Duncan's decision, "...[H]is coach immediately called timeout.  'That's selfish.... You're being selfish if you don't shoot.'" Id.

For our February 2020 takers, bar prep begins for many next week.  But, as we approach bar studies, if you're at all like me, I'm much more comfortable being on the sidelines, not taking shots so to speak, watching others talk through hypothetical scenarios and work through practice problems.  

That's because I often don't feel like I'm ready to take shots because I don't feel like I know enough to play the game.  

Instead, I try to learn to "play basketball" by reading about basketball and by watching others play basketball...a sure recipe to fail at basketball.  

Let me put it concretely.  With respect to bar prep, I'm much more comfortable listening and watching professors from the sidelines as I observe them work through bar exam problems and scenarios.  

However, take it from Duncan (who went from high school to a small time college basketball program to a big time basketball program to a minor league professional basketball team to now a multimillion dollar contract with a big time professional basketball team).  Id.  What was the key to Duncan's success?  As Duncan indicates, "I was having a tough time figuring out what was a good shot--and I quickly realized that everything was a good shot...I needed to literally shoot everything. [my emphasis]"  Id.

For those of you beginning to prepare for the winter bar exam, take Duncan's advice.  Take every shot at learning.  Know this:  That every problem that you work through, every time you close your lecture book and then force your mind to recall things that you have learned, every time you take action based on the bar review lectures that you are hearing, you are becoming a better "shooter", getting closer to your goal in passing your bar exam.  

So, be of good courage as you boldly study for your bar exam.  After all, you're not going to be tested about what you saw from the sidelines. Instead, you're tested on your ability to play the game, to score points, to solve bar exam problems.  Consequently, take every shot you can, everyday throughout this winter, as you prepare for success on your bar exam this upcoming February 2020.  Oh, and by the way, Duncan missed lots of shots on the way to success.  But, he kept at it.  You too, keep at it, because as it's in the midst of our missed shots that we learn how to perform better!

(Scott Johns).

December 13, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The End and Not The End

There is something awesome and fitting about the way the first semester ends just before the winter solstice.  Here in Buffalo, where the late December days are a full hour shorter than they were in Southern California, the astronomical landmark is particularly noticeable.  It is not hard to imagine what it must have been like for those early tribes of humans, tens of thousands of years ago, who first figured out the significance of the shortest day of the year.  It meant the start of winter, to be sure, a time when food supplies had to be husbanded and starvation was always a risk.  Simultaneously, though, it was also a time of plenty, when freshly slaughtered livestock and newly fermented beverages meant feasting and jollity.  And there was reason for celebration, as the solstice meant that the days were once again growing longer.

It is an odd balance, one that has been reached in cultures around the world: holding simultaneously the beliefs that something -- the season, the harvest cycle, the year -- is coming to an end, and that this is really a signifier of continuation and refreshment.  We hold out for the holidays like marathoners stretching for the finish line, while at the same time taking comfort in the knowledge that we get another lap around the course.

For those of us working in Academic Support, this knowledge is invaluable.  Every new year -- calendar or academic -- means adding to our repertoires, tweaking our syllabi, reviewing and responding to our results.  We preach active learning and continuous improvement to our students, and every year we can model these habits to our own students.

In fact, for some of our students, this is a key lesson for them to learn.  Whether it was because they were influenced by a school system that always focused on the next test, or because they were raised without role models who could show them the value of a long-term vision, some students approach the end of the semester the way they might approach the end of an acute illness -- with a sense of gratitude for reaching the conclusion of their struggles, and a feeling of relief that they won't have to think about it any more.

There is, of course, a deserved sense of accomplishment at reaching any milestone, like (especially for 1L students) the end of the fall semester.  But one thing we can do for our students is help make sure that they see this accomplishment in context -- that they recognize that they will face similar challenges, again and again, while they remain in law school, but that they will also be able to take something from this past semester that will help them face those challenges more successfully.  We can remind our students that the winter break is not only a great time for diversion, relaxation, and recharging, but also an opportunity for reflection about what worked and what didn't work, what they enjoyed and want to pursue, and what they want to plan ahead to avoid.  We can also welcome them back in January with a reminder that, even though it is a new calendar year, they are still engaged in the same exciting, fruitful pursuit they were following the previous season, and connecting that semester with this one is a good way to get more out of both.

Best wishes for the coming new year!

[Bill MacDonald]

December 10, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Comfort - An Enemy of Learning?

There's a line from the movie "The Greatest Showman" that goes like this:  "Comfort is the enemy of progress."  

That got me thinking.

I wonder if comfort might also be an enemy of learning. 

Here's why:  

It seems to me, if I boil down the research on learning, that much of what we think is valuable for learning is, frankly, of little to no value at all.  

Take for example re-reading notes and texts and highlighting information. Although I doubt any social scientist would put it this way, as I follow the research, those activities are essentially worthless as they really aren't activities of cognition at all.  Rather, they are motions that we take in which we convince ourselves - falsely - that we are learning.  (They are mere preparations to become a learner, not learning in itself.).  That's why they feel so intuitively comfortable.  

But true learning takes sweat.  It requires workouts using our minds. It pushes us to build cognitive connections that previously didn't exist.  In short, it's a struggle in growing, thinking, and practicing well beyond our comfort zones. 

So, as you prepare for final exams, take heart.  Be of good courage, knowing that while true learning doesn't feel comfortable, the science is behind you as you push into uncomfortable work.

From a practical viewpoint, as you work through your notes and outlines, talk them out, synthesize them, and generate lots of ideas and practice exam scenarios based on them.   Test yourself frequently about what you think you are learning to see if you are truly learning it by turning your materials over and recalling what you think you know from memory.  In short, prepare for your final exams by using interleaving practices (mixing up different topics and practice formats) and spaced repetition (revising topics and practices through intervals of spaced timing) in addition to forced retrieval exercises (deliberately forcing our minds to recall what we think we can't remember).

If you aren't sure about how to use interleaving practice, spaced repetition review, or forced recall learning, please dive into some of the charts and tables in this very helpful overview of the cognitive psychology for optimal learning: J. Dunlosky, "Strengthening The Student Tool Kit."   Or better yet, check out some of the blog posts from Associate Dean Louis Schulze, an expert in legal education learning: L. Schulze, "Four Posts on Cognitive Psychology."   They're sure to get you thinking, and, more importantly, learning...if you put them to practice.  

Best of luck on your final exams!

(Scott Johns).

December 5, 2019 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Taking Our Own Advice

Most of us are well trained in how to provide advice to our students. However, we don’t just advise them on the best study habits. Most of us act as counselors, providing support and advice on how to deal with anxiety and stress. We are good at it, if we were not, we wouldn’t be in the academic support profession.

But are we good at taking that advice? This is the time of year when so many of us are stretched to capacity, and in danger of suffering burn out. We also suffer from anxiety and stress, but my instincts tell me that most of us are much better at giving the advice than taking it. While we stress to our students that it is important to take care of themselves, especially around exam time, we neglect ourselves. I think this is because we put ourselves last on our to do list, so to speak.

Last week I was in a colleague’s office, discussing ways to help our students with mental health first aid. I was feeling incredibly stressed and anxious, in a way that I was unwilling to acknowledge. The more we discussed helping our students, the more I realized that I needed help.  Thankfully, she was a colleague that is also a friend, and she listened to how stressed I was. She gave me some great advice on taking my own advice. She asked me what I would tell a student, and encouraged me to really listen and implement the advice I give.

I think that sometimes, despite what we tell our students, we think of self care as “selfish”, or something that we don’t have time to do.

However:

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival."  — Audre Lorde

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” - Maya Angelou

I think these are wise words from wise ladies, so I’m here to remind all of us to take care of ourselves. Practice what we preach to students. Take time each day for yourself, whatever self care looks like to you. And most importantly, use the resources we give to our students to reach out if we need help. That reaching out can even be to one another, as we all know what each other is going through. One last note, practice what you preach when it comes to physical health as well. We are no good to our students if we are not taking care of ourselves!

(Melissa Hale)

December 4, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Mentors, Students, and Student Support

I recently attended a meeting of our law school alumni to talk with them about being mentors.  We have a very energetic alumni community, many of whom participate in our school's formal mentoring programs -- one for our 1L students, to help introduce them to law school and the legal profession, and one for our 3L students, to provide guides for their transition into the working world.  Like most mentors, these alumni are eager to provide guidance and support.  Still, those of us who run the mentoring programs know that there are every year a small number of mentors whose experience in the program turns out to be awkward or even unpleasant.  Sometimes their students fail to demonstrate the zeal or professionalism the mentor had expected, and other times the student and the mentor just do not seem to hit it off.  Because our alumni mentors are such a valuable resource to our students, and therefore I don't want to lose any mentors due to a single unpleasant interaction, I offered the following thoughts:

All of our students possess varied interests, strengths and weaknesses, and past experiences, each across a broad spectrum.  Broadly speaking, though, we can divide the students who participate in our mentoring programs -- our "mentees", as we say -- into four groups, based on the extent to which they possess each of two characteristics key to any sort of networking relationship: enthusiasm and know-how.

The first group are the students who possess both.  They understand what goes into developing a professional relationship, and they are genuinely interested in working with their mentors to develop such relationships.  These are the dream mentees -- they ask lots of thoughtful questions, and they listen to your answers; they participate appropriately, whether invited to a one-on-one lunch or to a busy firm event; they know how to make eye contact, what to wear, and when and how it is appropriate to change or cancel planned meetings.  To mentors who are lucky enough to have one of these mentees, I say: Congratulations!  This is a great opportunity for you to help someone make the most of what you have to offer.  Challenge them a bit, and they will likely rise to the occasion.

The second group of mentees are enthusiastic, but they do not quite know what they are doing in a professional relationship.  In the moment, face to face, they may come across as quite interested, perhaps even charismatic.  But they are also capable of making striking faux pas -- wearing torn jeans to a business-casual luncheon, for example, or failing to show up for a scheduled meeting without calling or email to let the mentor know.  These folks are often achievers in an academic context, but have had little experience in practice.  They may want to reap the benefits of a mentoring relationship, but simply not realize that they are missing opportunities, and perhaps even causing offense, along the way.  But . . . that is one of the main reasons we introduce students to mentors -- to help them learn this kind of professional behavior that they may never have encountered before.  And even if they can be somewhat clueless, at least the members of this group do possess that enthusiastic motivation,  That is something that a mentor can leverage, by inviting participation, in the knowledge that such invitations will usually be accepted, and they by pointing out that the behaviors they are failing to demonstrate are some of the very skills they were hoping to develop.  So this group of mentees may sometimes elicit eyerolls, but by playing off of their enthusiasm, mentors can help them to overcome their deficiencies.

The third group of mentees are those in the opposite position.  They have the know-how -- for whatever reason, perhaps a previous job or perhaps just a supportive upbringing, they have a proper sense of professionalism, and in fact may come across as very worldly.  But they act as if they do not see any value in a mentoring relationship.  They do not display any particular enthusiasm, and may even seem to treat the mentoring relationship as a chore.  They may see a mentoring program as a kind of remedial finishing school for emerging professionals -- one they do not need, because they know which fork to use -- and not recognize the rich possibilities for connection and experience that a mentoring relationship holds.  But, as with the second group, at least this group does possess one asset that can be leveraged -- in this case, their ordered sense of professionalism.  A mentor could take advantage of that by inviting their mentee to participate in gatherings and events, by introducing them to colleagues, by prompting them to talk about their interests and plans.  The mentee's own worldliness will prevent them from totally ignoring all of these opportunities, and each meeting and conversation can be a wedge, opening up their minds to the realization that a mentoring relationship can be much more than a series of ritualistic interactions.

But this brings up to the fourth and final group, the most difficult group for mentors to contend with -- students who are neither enthusiastic nor knowledgeable.  These are the students who don't know how to be a mentee, and don't see why they should.  They might not even participate in a mentor program if it is not required.  These are usually students without any role models in the legal community, or perhaps in any professional community.  They can be tough on mentors, because they are the type who might miss a scheduled meeting, without warning or explanation, and then not see any reason to feel bad about that afterwards.  Sometimes mentors, seeing apparent futility in trying to encourage these mentees to participate, simply give up after a few attempts.  And this is a terrible loss to both the student and the mentor, because these are the students who need this mentorship the most, and theirs are the mentors who would justly feel the greatest satisfaction if they were able to teach these students how to be great mentees.  It can be hard to get these relationships to catch, because there is neither enthusiasm nor know-how there to leverage.  But because these mentoring relationships are, in a sense, the most valuable, these are the ones we, in student services, want to do the most to help nurture and preserve.  So I encourage our mentors to turn to us for support -- to ask us to approach these mentees from our side, so that we can nudge them into at least testing the mentorship waters, and so that, by explaining plainly what is expected of them, and what to expect from their mentors, we can lower the barriers of self-consciousness and dubiousness that might be keeping them from committing to the process.

Mentoring is, after all, only one facet of the larger construct of the legal community, and those who support our students in school can also support those who support our students out of school.

[Bill MacDonald]

December 3, 2019 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Following Wisdom

Follow (v): To act according to an instruction or precept; to pay close attention to; to treat as a teacher or guide.

While in law school, I never connected with any of my professors on social media. Let's pretend that's not because social media tools were not yet sufficiently developed to allow me to do so.  Fast forward into the information age where I've seen healthy discussions about whether law professors should encourage students to "follow them" on Twitter and other social mediums. Ultimately every professor has the right to their own individual preferences and likewise, their students have the freedom to decide whether and how to interact with their professors online.

Many professors are kind enough to freely spew out words of wisdom as regards exam preparation, and the beauty of Twitter makes these gems available to all. University of North Carolina School of Law Professor O.J. Salinas tweeted some words of wisdom that I wish I had access to as a first-year (or even second-year) law student. Professor Salinas shared:

"Law students (particularly 1Ls): Finals are here. Remember to support your conclusions w/ analysis. Apply the law to the facts of the hypo for every issue you spot. Conclusory answers (conclusions w/out analysis) don’t get you a lot of points (if any). The facts of the hypo are your friends. The facts are there to help nudge you (sometimes quite directly) to your analysis. If you are stuck on the exam and don't know where to go, first take a couple of deeps breaths. Then re-read the call of the question. Then revisit the facts. As you revisit each line of the facts, ask yourself: Why is this fact here? Have I applied this fact to any laws that we have covered in class? Does this fact or could this fact relate to something that we have covered in class?

Finally, make it easy for your prof. to read your exam. Aim for clear & concise writing. Short sentences. Paragraph breaks. Headings/subheadings. Walk the reader through your prediction by providing effective/complete legal analysis. And don't presume your reader knows anything. You can do this!"

I have a list of professors that I follow. Many of whom I know only through online interactions. I am grateful to be able to follow their wisdom and shared experiences. I benefit regularly from our exchanges. My daily takeaways include teaching tips, common struggles, and concise study and writing advice for my students. Thanks Professor Salinas for your exam writing wisdom. I remain a follower.

(Marsha Griggs)

December 2, 2019 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

What Are You Thankful For?

I've heard it said that's its important to practice what we preach.  But I wonder if my practices aren't preaching, especially because my actions often speak much louder (and clearer) than my words.  

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I've been reflecting on my practices. What do my actions say?  And, in particular, would students know by my practices that I am thankful for the opportunity to work with them?  Would my colleagues recognize that I am grateful for them?

Well, one law school didn't wait to find out.  Instead, they went public - with a day of gratitude.  You can catch glimpses of that day in action, in which students, faculty, staff, and administrators publicly shared with others thankfulness:   https://our-attitude-gratitude-law-school-gives-thanks

That sure sounds like a great idea for all of our law school communities. But instead of waiting to get started for next year,  I'm convinced that we can practice acts of gratitude each and every day.  As I think about my own law school experience, it's just a few people that believed in me (and continued to believe in me even when I didn't believe in myself).  Those people kept me going.  I sure am thankful for them.

So, as we turn the corner towards final exams in this season that can be particularly stressful and alienating for our students, what a great time to show them that that we care for them, that we are thankful for them, that we live in community with them.  Because, if truth be told, thanksgiving it seems to me is not really just a day...but rather a way of living life throughout our days.  (Scott Johns).

November 28, 2019 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Making Real Connections

We’re more connected through social media than ever before . . . [yet] we’re losing our ability to think and feel. It’s hurting our personal connections and making us more distant and lonely.  – Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

This week I recount the sad story of the late Ronald Wayne White. Who was Ronald Wayne White? His name may not ring a bell. White was not a celebrity or public figure. If Ronald Wayne White is known for anything, it is for being unknown. According to published reports, White was found dead inside his apartment this month. Medical examiner reports confirmed that his death had been undiscovered for three years. There are indeed unanswered questions surrounding this late discovered death, but the sad fact is that a man “apparently went missing for three years and no one noticed he was gone.”1

White’s tragic story is an opportunity for us to examine our connections to others. Those who attend and work inside law schools are subject to a special kind of isolation that is par for the course. Based on the volumes of reading, outlining, researching, writing, editing, and memorizing that is required to succeed in law school, we expect students and faculty to work in isolation for long stretches of time. The top students regale in finding that isolated corner hidden deep in the stacks of the fourth floor of the library where no one comes near to make a sound or disturb the concentration necessary to maintain top student status. I too am guilty of lauding solitude. I have, with giddiness, told my colleagues how much I look forward to holiday breaks alone at home to make some headway on my writing project.

While a certain degree of do-not-disturb-mode is both necessary and beneficial for productivity, I worry that we have become desensitized to isolation. We are all at risk of transcending deep focus into dangerous seclusion. Our law students, especially those who are far from home, or those who have no stable home to claim, are not immune to the risk. Loneliness is not a state of friendlessness, it is a position of lacked connection. People who are married, students in study groups, and faculty who interact well with colleagues can still suffer from debilitating loneliness that can only be cured with meaningful connection.

Connectivity cannot be measured by “likes” and social media followers alone. Please check on your students, your colleagues, and yourselves. If you have students who are far from home or without family, why not invite them to Thanksgiving dinner? Likewise, if there are international students in your program who are removed from our culture, maybe treat them to a meal over break. Perhaps your need to develop a work in progress or meet an article submission deadline can be morphed into an opportunity to interact with your colleagues by planning a “write-in.” Faculty colleagues from all disciplines can find an agreed window of time just to get together to write. Sometimes the camaraderie of shared presence and singleness of purpose can act as a proxy for interaction. Maybe extend your shared driveway morning wave, by baking (or buying) cookies and delivering them to a neighbor or senior citizen on your block that you have not spoken words to in years. Real connections don’t have to be big to be meaningful, they just have to be made.

(Marsha Griggs)

1 A man was found in his apartment three years after his death – and what it can teach us about loneliness (Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 21, 2019).

November 25, 2019 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Food and Drink, Miscellany, News, Stress & Anxiety, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)