Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Big Picture Perspectives for The Final Weekend of Bar Prep: "See It--Do It--Teach It"

Next week, thousands will be headed to convention centers, etc., to show case the handy-work of their bar preparation efforts for the past two months.   In preparation, bar takers have watched weeks of bar review lectures, worked hundreds and even thousands of bar exam problems, and created myriads of study tools, checklists, and flashcards.  

Nevertheless, with one weekend to go, most of us feel like we aren't quite ready, like we don't really know enough, with all of the rules - to be honest - tangled and knotted up in a giant mess in our minds.  

Yet, let me say this up front.  Despite how most of us feel, this weekend is not the time to learn more law.  Rather, it's time to reflect on what you've learned, to let it live in you, to give it presence within you.  But, how do you do that?

Well, as I heard in a recent talk about medical education, I think we've got something important to learn from the medical schools that just might help with bar prep, too.  You see, apparently, despite all of the massive amounts of information available from the learning scientists, the philosophy of training doctors boils down to just three very simple steps: "See it--Do it--Teach it."

Here's what that means for the upcoming bar prep weekend:  For the past several months, you've been focused on "seeing it" and "doing it."  You've been watching lectures, taking copious notes, reading outlines, and working problems.  In short, you've been busily learning by seeing it and doing it.  

But, for most of us, despite all of that work, we aren't quite sure (at all!) whether we are ready for the real bar exam because we haven't yet taken the last step necessary for cementing and solidifying our learning; namely, we haven't yet "taught it."

So, that's where this weekend comes in.  

Throughout this weekend, grab hold of your notes or study tools or checklists or flashcards, pick out a subject, and teach it to someone.  That someone can be real or imaginary; it can be even be your dog Fido.  But, just like most teachers, get up out of your seat, out from behind your desk, and take 30 minutes per subject to teach it to that someone, from beginning to the end.  Then, run through the next subject, and then the next subject, and then the next subject, etc.  Even if you are by yourself, talk it out to teach it; be expressive; vocalize or even dance with it.  Make motions with your hands.  Use your fingers to indicate the number of elements and wave your arms to indicate the next step in the problem-solving process.  Speak with expertise and confidence.  And, don't worry about covering it all; rather, stick with just the big topics (the so-called "money ball" rules).

What does this look like in action?  Well, here's an example:  

"Let's see. Today, I am going to teach you a few handy steps on how to solve any contracts problem in a flash.  The first thing to consider is what universe you're in.  You see, as an initial consideration, there's the UCC that covers sales of goods (movable objects) while the common law covers all other subjects (like land or service contracts).  That's step one.  The next step is contract formation. That means that you'll have to figure out if there was mutual assent (offer and acceptance) and consideration.  Let's walk through how you'll determine whether something is an offer...."

I remember when I first taught.  I was hired at Colorado State University as a graduate teaching assistant to teach two classes of calculus.  But, I had a problem; I had just graduated myself.  So, I didn't really know if I knew the subject because I hadn't yet tried to teach it to someone.  As you can imagine, boy was I ever scared!  To be honest, I was petrified.  Yet, before walking into class, I took time to talk out about my lesson plan for that very first class meeting.  In short, I "pre-taught" my first class before I taught my first class.  So, when I walked into the classroom, even though I still didn't quite feel ready (at all) to teach calculus students, I found myself walking in to class no longer as a student but as a teacher.  In short, I started teaching.  And, in that teaching, I learned the most important lesson about learning, namely, that when we can teach something we know something.  

So, as you prepare for success on your bar exam next weekend, focus your work this weekend on teaching each subject to another person, whether imaginary or real.  And, in the process, you'll start to see how it all comes to together.  Best of luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).

February 21, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Food for Thought

Law school is nutritionally disruptive.  This was common knowledge at my law school, where my classmates and I joked about having gained 15 pounds while we were getting our JDs.  We all felt we understood what had happened.  For three years we had chained ourselves to our desks, abandoned physical exercise in favor of mental anguish calisthenics, and frequently resorted to fast food or prepared meals to minimize time spent in the kitchen.  Some of us still managed to blow off some steam in a bar from time to time, but otherwise, culinary matters took a back seat to our studies.  The resulting excesses -- weight gain, or manic caffeine intake, or bingey sugar highs -- were seen almost as a badge of honor, like pulling an all-nighter to get a memo in on time.

As far as I can tell, things are still the same today.  Law students beset with too many tasks and not enough time have to find ways to make time or to soothe stress, and meals and snacks offer convenient opportunities to do so.  Not every student makes unhealthy choices, and many of those who do face few ill effects beyond the need for a new wardrobe.  But now, watching from the other side of the lectern, I can better see that food issues can have noticeable or even serious impacts on some students' academic performance:

  • While gaining weight often seems to be no more than a nuisance, to some students, such changes can be associated with actual effects on mental state, such as decreased stamina or alertness, or negative moods.  The weight gain may not be the cause of these changes -- it can sometimes be an effect of lifestyle changes in diet and exercise that can be the source of changes to mental state.
  • Sometimes dietary changes specific to certain substances -- such as increased intake of alcohol, caffeine, or sugar -- can have particular effects on behavior or mental state, such poor judgment, fatigue, agitation, or distractibility, that can have negative impacts on critical reading, time management, attention to detail, and other keys to success in law school.
  • Sometimes the problem is not so much too much food or the wrong kind of food, but too little food.  Students facing shaky finances may find their food budget the easiest thing to cut.  Other students may not eat enough food -- or at least not enough healthy food -- because of loss of appetite due to stress.  Food deprivation can lead to distraction, disrupt blood sugar levels, and affect memory and attentiveness.

When we work with students, especially one on one, we have opportunities to observe whether some of them are perhaps inordinately affected by dietary issues.  In some cases, we may need to enlist the help of others.  For example, if financial insecurity is manifesting in a poor diet, a referral to Financial Aid may be appropriate.  Encouraging students to seek help from physicians or mental health professionals may also be wise when food issues are leading to serious primary health concerns.  But sometimes our students just need a little grounding, a little reminder that they have to take care of themselves while they take care of their studies.  A few helpful tips can include:

  1. Eating smaller meals (or healthy snacks) over the course of the day, rather than pigging out on one big meal at the end of the day after classes are over, can help moderate calorie intake and lessen variations in blood sugar levels.
  2. Planning ahead for the day or even the week can help to insure steady, healthy eating while minimizing time spent in preparing or obtaining food.
  3. Buying and carrying around healthier snack alternatives can help forestall binge purchases of high-sugar and high-fat snacks during breaks between classes or study periods.
  4. Scheduling meals with classmates (for study purposes) or friends and family (to stay connected) can be a good way to make efficient use of the time that you have to spend eating anyway, so that good food doesn't seem so much like an expendable indulgence.

When they are stressed out about studies and papers and exams, taking care of themselves may be the last thing on students' minds.  Helping them see how beneficial and easy healthy eating can be may help some students' academic performance.

(Bill MacDonald)

 

 

February 19, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Food and Drink, Science, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Learning from the Charcoal Burners

Never let it be said that the stuck-in-bed-flat-on-your-back flu doesn't have its consolations. For me, there was the comfort of a kitty snuggling next to me and of the faithful dog taking his post by the bedroom door. There was the sure knowledge that being infectious gave me a temporary pass from committees and meetings, and that my sluggish mental condition made it unthinkable for me to tackle reports, spreadsheets, or even e-mails. But perhaps the greatest consolation was the ability to unabashedly indulge in one of my great pleasures, reading children's books.

I was lucky enough to have close at hand Alison Larkin's splendid audio recording of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. For those unfamiliar with this gentle classic, Swallows and Amazons follows the simple adventures of the "Swallows" or four Walker children (and their friends and rivals, the two Blackett "Amazons") as they sail, explore, camp, and meet "the natives" during their summer holiday in the English Lake District. In Chapter 13, the Walker children took an expedition to the west shore of the lake, where they met the local charcoal-burners, "Young Billy" (in his 70s) and "Old Billy" (in his 90s).

For those unfamiliar with this ancient craft, charcoal burning is the practice of carbonizing wood so that it will produce hot, clean-burning charcoal. First, woodcutters would carefully choose the correct fuel, wielding their axes to cut down huge piles of branches, small trees, and undergrowth. Then they would carefully layer these woody materials (taking into account the moisture content, diameter, density, and other characteristics), cover with an airtight layer of earth and moss, and build a controlled, slowly-burning fire which would last for days or weeks. Charcoal burners had to tend their piles night and day -- too little oxygen and the fire would smolder and expire, leaving only charred wood; too much oxygen and the fuel would be entirely consumed, leaving nothing but ashes.

In our novel, when the Walkers arrived at the charcoal-burners' encampment, they spied Young Billy carefully tending his charcoal mound:

A man with a spade was patting the mound and putting a spadeful of earth wherever the smoke showed. Sometimes he climbed on the mound itself to smother a jet of smoke near the top of it. As soon as he closed one hole another jet of smoke would show itself somewhere else. . . .

A big puff of smoke rolled from the burning mound.

"Look there," said Young Billy. "Can't leave him a minute but he's out. . . ." He picked up his spade and went to the mound, where a small tongue of flame was licking a hole from inside. He put a spadeful of earth on the hole and patted it down. . . . "We want ours to burn good and slow," said Young Billy. "If he burns fast he leaves nowt but ash. The slower the fire the better the charcoal."

The charcoal mound is a good metaphor for life. Holes will always pop up, given the vicissitudes of life. We may be on top of our law school studies, but there are dirty clothes in the laundry hamper or we haven't made it to the dentist this year. And as soon as we patch one hole -- for example, we create a good system for doing the laundry as we study criminal law -- another hole pops up: maybe now we haven't changed the oil in the van or we forgot to pick up the dog's medication.  How many times have we berated ourselves for not being in complete control of our lives? Prudence suggests it's wise to accept that holes not only can crop up in our lives, but will pop up. Accepting this, we can forgive ourselves for that most human of conditions -- not being perfect.

Moreover, the charcoal-burner Young Billy is as good a mentor as one is likely to find anywhere.  If we are hard-working and conscientious, we'll create excellent charcoal mounds (a/k/a outlines/case briefs/appellate briefs/lesson plans/curriculum proposals . . . ). And if our mounds are the result of so much good work, we naturally think we ought to be able to light them on fire and walk away, secure in the knowledge that our efforts will result in excellent charcoal with no further effort on our part. But even the best-laid plans need tending. There is no moment of perfection in which we can be secure and rest on our laurels. Rather, a hole will develop even in the best-created mound, meaning that we will need to pat down a spadeful of earth to make our mound secure -- and this will happen again, and again, and again. In his 70s, Young Billy was the most patient of professionals. However good his mound, he knew holes would develop. Rather than grow frustrated or angry, he paced himself, patting earth against one hole, then patiently patting over the next hole as it developed; in this almost meditative approach, he knew that his patient, consistent practice would over the long haul create consistently good charcoal -- and a good life in which he could be both excellent in his craft and a good neighbor to friends and curious children alike. And that's a pretty good recipe for being a lawyer, too.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

February 13, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Keeping Our Students in the Game

Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday made me think of my students.  By no means am I implying any similarity between football and the legal profession.  After all, one is a grueling slugfest, featuring breathlessly intense clashes between aggressive competitors on behalf of highly partisan, sometimes even fanatically tribal, stakeholders, with pride and sometimes lots of money at stake.  The other is just an athletic contest.

No, the reason I thought of my students was the sudden shift in the game in the fourth quarter.  Through the first 50 minutes or so of play, the scores remained unusually low and very close.  Neither team could gain a clear advantage, and with less than ten minutes remaining, the score was still only 3 to 3.  Across the country, spectators were complaining about how stagnant and boring the game seemed.

Suddenly, within a minute or so of game time, everything changed.  The Patriots called a play in which a receiver wound up open in the middle of the field, just beyond the Rams' defensive line, and Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady deftly passed the ball to him and gained several yards.  By itself, the play was only mildly exciting, and then only because it provided comparatively more action than most of the preceding gameplay.  But the Patriots realized right away that the Rams' defense, which up until that time had been pretty successful at confining the Patriots' forward motion, had not had anything in place to keep that lone receiver from appearing unguarded behind the defensive line.  So for the next few plays, the Patriots ran essentially the same play, except for choosing a different receiver to run up the field each time.  In the space of four plays, the team moved all the way down the field and set up the winning touchdown run.

From the Rams' point of view, everything was fine, until suddenly it wasn't.  They were basically evenly matched with their opponents, in a game that looked like it might go into overtime -- and then, in less than a minute, everything fell apart.  One weakness was exposed -- one play that they had no planned defense for -- and before they could adjust to it, the other side had taken advantage of that weakness and taken a significant lead.  And the fact that they were in that distressing position left the team vulnerable to more trouble.  They rushed and ran riskier plays, hoping to score their own tying touchdown in the short time they had left, and under this pressure the Rams' quarterback Jared Goff accidentally threw the ball into the hands of a Patriots defender, leading the Patriots to score an additional three points.  The Rams went from having an even chance of winning to having no chance, all because of one weakness that wasn't addressed quickly enough.

In his fascinating book How We Die, the physician Sherwin B. Nuland explained that human death often follows a similar trajectory.  Laypeople often imagine that those suffering from serious injury or illness usually experience a long but steady decline until they pass away.  However, Nuland pointed out that at least as often, if not more so, the afflicted person manages the illness (or injury, if it is not so catastrophic that it simply kills them right away) fairly handily, with only slight decline or sometimes even with improvement, for days or even weeks.  If nothing bad happens, then they might even make a full recovery.  But if one thing goes wrong and isn't corrected quickly enough, it can cause significant damage, which itself leads to additional life-threatening complications, and in a short time the patient may spiral down past the point where any medical intervention will be enough to save him.  An infected wound, for example, if not treated quickly enough, can lead to a generalized blood infection, which can cause a patient's kidneys, liver, and other organs to stop working properly, and the patient, who otherwise might have almost completely recovered from his initial injury, will die of multiple organ failure.

We see the same phenomenon in other realms than just sports and medicine, such as business and politics.  In any complicated system, there can be long, steady declines, but the sudden drastic reversal, attributable to one or a small number of neglected infirmities, is often more likely.

And the life of a law student is pretty complicated.  New information to learn, new ways to think about it, new tasks to perform, all while juggling stress and ambition and self-doubt and mountains of practicalities like housing and relationships and (painfully often) finances.  We all know that a few students struggle right from the start, but very often students will be managing -- holding their own, even if not excelling -- and then they run into one tribulation they can't fix, and they can't handle.  A course they can't wrap their head around.  A romantic breakup.  Lack of funds to buy textbooks.  A death in the family.  An extracurricular activity that takes up too much time.

It almost doesn't matter what the problem is, because it's just the trigger.  It starts the landslide that could pull the student down.  Struggling in one course, for example, could pull the student's attention away from his other courses, leading to anxiety about not maintaining his GPA . . . and what started as one problem spirals into multiple problems.

The response, from an Academic Success perspective, has to be twofold.  First, we need to be able to detect these kinds of issues as early as possible, before they turn into the equivalent of a touchdown by the other team or a raging blood infection.  We need to have direct interaction with the students most at risk (incoming students, first-generation students, those in danger of financial difficulty, etc.), so we get to know them and encourage them to be forthcoming.  We also need to develop strong networks among those in the faculty and student services who might pass along observations of possible distress.

Second, we need to have systems in place to help these students address these issues quickly, before they do become intractable.  We are expected, of course, to handle purely academic issues on a moment's notice.  But we should also be familiar with other means of support on campus and in the community, to be able to quickly refer students who need help in financial, psychological, spiritual, and other realms. 

Time sometimes really is of the essence.  None of us want to end up being Monday-morning quarterbacks, lamenting that if we had just changed our defense one play sooner, we could have saved the game.

(Bill MacDonald)

February 5, 2019 in Advice, Books, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Sports, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Use the Simulated MBE Results for Improvement

One of my favorite sports commercials is the Nike Commercial with Michael Jordan below.

 

Bar takers can learn a valuable lesson from Jordan.  Arguably the greatest basketball player of all time failed constantly.  However, he didn’t let failure define him.  He used failure to learn how to get better.  Learning from the failure of the simulated MBE will be critical for success in a few weeks.

The simulated MBE is not a confidence boosting experience for most bar takers.  Many students from around the country will feel defeated and not know what to do between now and the bar exam.  My first suggestion is to take the results as an opportunity to learn where to improve.  If you missed 100 questions, then you have 100 opportunities to get better before the next test.  The goal isn’t to be perfect right now (or ever).  The goal is to get enough correct at the end of February to be sworn in.  That goal is still achievable.

After putting the test into perspective, develop a plan.  All the bar review companies produce a good score report.  I suggest identifying small sub-topics within each subject to study for a few minutes each night.  Finding significant time during the day for extra studying is near impossible.  However, 15 minutes right before bed to look at a handful of rules is possible.  Identify highly tested subtopics where you didn’t get many questions correct.  Spend 15-20 minutes each night on a subtopic.  Switch subjects each day.  With 21 days of studying left, everyone can make it through 3 subtopics per MBE subject. 

My other suggestion is to add a small set of MBE questions to each day.  Many of the bar review companies have small sets of questions in the subtopics.  Do a set of questions in one of the subtopics each day.  Don’t do the set of questions in the same subtopic that you study that night.  Rotating to different areas helps with long term retention. 

I know the simulated MBE was tough, and everyone wanted to get more questions correct.  Many students get knocked down on the test.  The question is what will you do after you get knocked down.  Watch the 2008 600m Big 10 Championship below.

 

There is still a lap left in bar prep.  What are you going to do?

(Steven Foster)

February 4, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Prevalence of Neuroscience Myths in Education

I count myself as an educator.  And, as I am also a lawyer too, like many attorneys, I sort of consider myself as a bit of an expert in all things too because the law, at least it seems to me, has its hook in every field of endeavor.  As such, that means that I read and think an awlful lot, and therefore, I often see myself as an arm chair scientist, psychologist, and counselor too.  

But, could a little bit of dabbling in neuroscience and learning knowledge be a bit misleading?  Unfortunately, it seems that I'm not quite the expert in neuroscience and learning that I think I am (and, to be frank, I'm not much of an expert in most things at all).

The good news, if it is good, is that it seems like I'm not all alone, at least among educators.  Indeed, research indicates that "neuromyths" are widespread among educators.  K. Macdonald, L Germine, A. Anderson, J. Christodoulou, and L. McGrath, "Dispelling the Myth," Frontiers in Psychology (Aug 2017).  In particular, according to this research article, educators can often be susceptible to neuroscience myths concerning learning.  What's a neuromyth?  Well, "[n]euromyths are misconceptions about brain research and its application to education and learning."  Based on survey results with participants indicating whether a particular statement was true or false, "[t]he most commonly endorsed neuromyths item was 'individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic),'" with 76 percent of educators erroneously believing in the learning style myth.  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth

Reading between the lines of the research article, it seems that educators like me are understandably scouring websites and media sources for the latest cure-all, really, anything at all, that might help our students improve their learning.  That's because we all understand the immense value that learning brings to individuals and to the worlds in which we inhabit.  That hunger for a solution, for a salve, for a cure-all, apparently means that as an educator I am vulnerable to neuroscience myths.  Indeed, as explained in the same research article, "[o]ne characteristic that seems to unite...neuromyths together...is an underestimation of the complexity of human behavior, especially cognitive skills like learning, memory, reasoning, and attention. Rather than highlighting these complexities, each neuromyth seems to originate from a tendency to rely on a single explanatory factor, such as the single teaching approach that will be effective for all children...."  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth

There's actually some very good news about the neuroscience myth concerning learning styles. It seems that classroom teachers who "weave visual and auditory modalities into a single lesson rather than providing separate modality-specific lessons to different groups of children based on self-identified learning style preferences" actually enhance learning.  As such, "[a]n unintended and potentially positive outcome of the perpetuation of the learning styles neuromyth is that teachers present material to students in novel ways through multiple modalities, thereby providing opportunities for repetition which is associated with improved learning and memory in the cognitive and educational literatures."  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth.  In other words, although the myth itself lacks empirical evidence to justify teaching to a particular student's preferred learning style, the method of implementation ends up producing concrete empirical evidence - according to peer-review research articles - of improvements in learning outcomes.  In short, the ends end up justifying the means, so to speak.

What do to about neuroscience myths concerning learning?  Well, the article has some suggestions.  Most to the point, the article suggests that educators ought to seek out peer-review articles behind the latest media stories and internet crazes.  Those stories might not be crazy at all, but often times, there's more lurking behind the story than first appears.  So, it's important for us as educators to take time to read the research, maybe just like we teach our students to read cases, with a critical eye.  (Scott Johns).

January 24, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

To His Coy 1L Students

O, why must IRAC dominate the page

When brilliant students try to write a bit,

Their eloquence confined, as in a cage,

Restricting scope and rhetoric and wit?

 

O, why must you capitulate to rote?

Abandon your unique persuasive voices?

Unless -- the logic these formats connote

Provides you with a better set of choices . . . ?

 

If you surrender to formality

You’ll find the structure helps you to direct

Your argument to only what is key,

And lets the reader know what to expect.

 

A writer who’s committed to a norm

Ironically is freed up to perform.

 

[Bill MacDonald]

January 22, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Power of Performance Reviews (and Feedback) to Influence Retention & Improve Performance

As educators, we hold enormous power in our hands; power to change destinations and shape destinies.  

Last fall, at the AccessLex Legal Education Research Symposium, Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio - Chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minority Attorneys at Harvard Law School - changed the way that I think when giving "performance reviews" to my students, whether in formal feedback, informally during class discussions, or during individual student meetings.  

The best way to express what I learned is to hear directly from Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio as she describes her research on the power of performance reviews to shape career destinies:  "Let me give you an example: the annual performance review. We’ve all been through it, either as a reviewer or as a reviewee. It can be dreadful because it's time-consuming and nerve-racking. What I found is women and minorities overall, were more likely to receive different types of feedback–more critical. Their successes were oftentimes attributed to luck. Based off of that, working with an organization, we came out with a new system that required more frequent performance reviews that would take less than fifteen minutes, where four to six people could be reviewed at the same time. The result was amazing." https://mgte.thefemalequotient.com

As I recall from her keynote address (with apologies if I don't remember precisely), Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio explained that she observed the interactions between supervisors (partners) and employees (junior associates) during performance reviews.   Overall, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio observed that performance review comments differed between male and females associates.  In general, partners provided women with feedback focused on the past (leaving recipients with the message that this law firm wasn't the place for them); while, in contrast, partners provided men with feedback that was forward-looking (suggesting to recipients that there was work to do to improve performance but that the firm was in it for the long-haul with them, as exemplified by supervisory comments such as "you might try this to better persuade the court next time," etc).    Based on these findings, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio empowered supervisors with ways to retool their comments for all associates by focusing on the future rather than the past, regardless of gender.  The results...retention significantly improved for women associates.

That brings me back to my role (our roles) as educators.  Our comments can make a difference; our feedback can change paths.  I often recall that I had a law professor who told me, point blank, that I would never be a litigator.  I just didn't have what it took.  That feedback stuck (and still sticks) to the heart.  But, I had others who encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me.  In short, their constructive feedback - focused on improving my performance with an eye to the future - won the day.  I became a litigator.  As a result of those experiences and in light of Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio's research as a behavioral scientist, my comments can make a truly positive difference for my students. Do I do it well?  Not yet.  But, I'm learning, one comment at a time...with an eye on my students' futures.  (Scott Johns).

January 17, 2019 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Listening to Learners

This may not be true in every law school, but at my school, things are a little quiet right now.  Some students and professors are on campus for the brief winter term, but the entire community will not return until the spring term begins in February.  The students are just now getting their fall grades, so the students who are around and have come looking for me have all wanted to talk about them -- whether they were surprised or disappointed or content, and what their grades might mean for the future.

I cannot help but be reminded by this combination of relative quiet and conversationally-motivated students of the importance of listening.  Like many teachers -- and many lawyers -- I revel in talking.  I like explaining things to people; I enjoy the performative aspects of a well-delivered lecture; I am fond of delivering spontaneous oracular pronouncements to my advisees.  And, aiming to communicate complex information in a useful way, I spend a fair amount of time fretting about the content of what I say and the manner in which I say it.  This is entirely appropriate: our students' expectations are high, their goals are ambitious, and their needs are great.  They deserve to hear wise and engaging words coming out of our mouths.

Still, nobody wants to be nothing but a bunch of talk.  If that's all you've got, you might as well just throw books at your students.  Listening is the complementary skill that helps to make sure that what we say possesses the value that our students need.  It's how we determine precisely which beautiful insights we choose to articulate.

As with many skills, people are not always good at judging how well they listen.  Those to whom it comes naturally may underestimate how talented they actually are.  Others may mistake mere silence for listening, or may assume that they are listening well because they are quickly assessing and generating responses to what they are hearing.  One way to more accurately judge -- and, if necessary, improve upon -- one's listening skills is to consider whether you are achieving any or all of these three outcomes:

  1. Determining what is troubling the speaker.  In many or even most cases, this is ostensibly the reason we are talking with our students in the first place.  They come to us with an issue or a concern, and we introduce conversational probes to figure out what the source of the problem is.  Ironically, though, the better and more experienced we get at our jobs, the easier it may become to jump to quick conclusions.  This speed, borne of experience, can be valuable, but we must take care not to confuse our satisfaction at having identified a likely issue with the student's confidence that they have actually conveyed the concerns they had.  Watch their facial expressions and body language.  Do they appear relieved, as if they have gotten something off of their chest, or are they still holding on to some tension?  Listen to the tone of their voice -- do they sound unsure?  Do they seem to want to interject more into the discussion?  Try not to judge how well you have listened for their concerns by how you feel about the conversation, but by how they appear to feel.  When in doubt, before making any definitive declarations of diagnosis, reflect the conversation back to them.  Statements like "It sounds like you feel you do not understand the law correctly" can be non-threatening ways to offer the speaker a chance to clarify what they mean to say, and you may find that there are more or different issues from what you had first suspected.
  2. Encouraging the speaker to dig deeper.  Sometimes students do not come to us entirely of their own free will; they are advised or even required to meet with us, and they just want to get it over with.  Other students may come anxiously to us, fearing complicated bad news and hoping instead to hear a quick fix.  Students like these might be content to give a brief synopsis of what they assume is the problem, in hopes that we will take over the conversation and get to the end as quickly as possible.  Such situations provide great opportunities to use your listening skills as active conversational tools.  Simply maintaining eye contact and keeping silent will prompt a speaker to continue to speak, sometimes revealing additional information in their stream-of-consciousness monologue.  If silence is not enough, a brief reflective question, based on what you have already heard, may help.  Even non-reluctant students can benefit from this kind of prompting.  If a student makes an assertion that sounds too pat or incomplete, attentive listening can encourage them to keep pressing on to try to get to the critical facts or to their real emotions.  Personally, I think every student conversation of more than just a few minutes should include at least one instance of focused, silent attention on the student, to give them the opportunity to elaborate on a point or to bring up a new one.
  3. Developing the speaker's trust.  Trust is valuable currency in our job, and like Bitcoin, it can take some time to generate.  It is great to be trusted for our sound advice, but that is not the only way to build trust.  Listening is another great way, and this illustrates why good listening is not mere passive silence but is actually active participation in the conversation.  A good listener demonstrates that they are hearing the information being conveyed by reflecting back some of what they've heard and by following up with questions that build off of that information.  What is also just as important, and in some cases is even more so, is that we attend to our student's affect as well -- not just the information, but the emotion.  Students can bring to Academic Success some intense feelings -- excitement and hope, when things are going well, or anxiety, sadness, and anger when they are not.  Acknowledging these sometimes uncomfortable feelings in a non-judgmental way, through our own facial expressions and responses, can help a student feel not only that are you listening to all they are saying, but also that your office is a safe place to experience and express those feelings.  This is a sure way to develop the trust that is often needed to get students to buy into your plans for their success.

These outcomes are noteworthy not just because they are the effects of good listening, but because they are specifically effects that are valuable to our work in Academic Success.  Even when things get hectic and tiring over the next few months, try to make a point of asking yourself, after every student encounter, if you are seeing any of these outcomes arising from your conversations.

[Bill MacDonald]

January 15, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Starting the Day Off Slow Might be the Right Step to the Fast Track

At my law school, we're in the midst of the first week of classes after the long break.  It seems like there's no time to pause.  Everyone's busy and bustling; places to go and people to see.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if we are moving so fast that we might be missing out in one of the best things in life - the present.

That's when I got a bit of startle while reading the newspaper.  It seems that there's value in staring the day-off slowly, without the frantic rush. According to a Norwegian think tank (as referenced in a newspaper article this past week), "staring the day with intentional slowness helps spark creative thinking," and that's something I sorely need, especially as an educator.  E. Byron, "Wellness: What's the Rush? The Power of Slow Mornings," The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2019, A22.  

Unfortunately, too often, I start my day with my phone, checking email.  And, let me be frank.  With apologies to my email senders, I've never yet received any creative impulses or stirring messages from my dash to check my email at the start of each day.  Instead, it seems like starting with email has left me chasing circles, getting nowhere fast.  It's not that emails are not important; it's that emails should not dictate my priorities.  People should. 

Nevertheless, I seem to have this overwhelming habit to have to check my phone.  And, apparently, I'm not alone.  According to the same article, "[M]ore than 60% of [people] say that they look at their phone within 15 minutes of waking and check their phones about 52 times a day." Id.  That sure seems like a lot...and a lot of wasteful checking, too.

So, here's some ideas to help you (and me) get our days started out strong. First, don't dare sleep with your phone.  Rather, put it far away from you.  Indeed, use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up in the morning, instead of putting your phone within arm's reach right at the beginning of your day.  Second, turn it off.  That's right.  You be the pilot of your phone; take command. Let your phone work for you.  You decide when it's time to turn on your phone to check your email, text messages, or social media accounts.  Third, relax.  Take deep breathes.  Appreciate life.  Take the opportunity at the beginning of the day to express gratitude. In short, start the day right by living in the present, fully alive and fully present.  In my own case, that means that I'm choosing to turn out much of the noise in my life.  And, interestingly, that's leading to more productive days, less fretting, more creative teaching ideas, increased opportunities for spontaneity in learning with my students, more time to listen to and be present with others, and just in general enjoy the moment.  So, here's to starting out slower each day as the key to actually getting more done.

P.S. For more information about how smart phones impact our cognitive lives as learners, our emotional well-being, and even our biological and physiological selves, please see an article that I recently wrote based on a previous blog: http://www.dbadocket.org/wellness-corner-smart-phone-dilemma  

(Scott Johns)

January 10, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Month of the Janitor, Part II

Act I, Scene I

It was the era of back-to-the-land, and I was not immune to the lure of the times. After years of practicing public history, I decided to take a new direction by moving to a cabin in the woods, living a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, and picking up odd jobs to pay for my groceries and chainsaw.

Eager to establish ties in my new community, I was thrilled to accept a dinner invitation from my college's regional alumni association. Shedding my sawdust-covered jeans for a dark suit, I joined fellow alumni (mostly doctors and lawyers, as it turned out) to reminisce about professors, teams, Winter Carnival, and dormitory pranks. I felt at home at the swank gathering until a 40-ish lawyer asked, "And what do you do?"  Happy to share my journey, I replied, "Right now I'm working as a janitor to . . . ." My sentence died in my mouth as the lawyer turned away, along with everyone else within earshot, as though my lowly position tainted me irreparably.

Act I, Scene II

Ten years later, when I worked temp jobs at a university between fire seasons, everyone in the Plant Sciences department gushed about their custodian. She was the consummate professional, efficiently finishing her long list of assigned duties before the end of each shift. With the remainder of her time, she talked with students, staff, and faculty about how she could help them improve their work spaces, and she worked on these extra projects as time allowed. The laboratories, offices, and hallways gleamed under her care.  She befriended anxious freshmen, guided befuddled visitors, and shared good cheer with all. When she was reassigned to a different building on campus, the entire department mourned her departure and turned out to wish her bon voyage.

Act II

As a freshly-minted academic support professional, I noticed a curious phenomenon. During fall semester, when 1Ls were nervous about their ability to master the demands of law school, they were, by and large, respectful to those they encountered during the course of the day. But a few weeks into second semester, with grades out and the confidence of actually becoming future lawyers, behaviors began to change for a significant portion of the class. While full professors were treated with deference, instructor-level faculty received lesser courtesy and staff were sometimes addressed with a brusqueness that crossed the line to rudeness. The cleanliness of the building suffered: restrooms were littered with paper towels thoughtlessly tossed, spills remained on floors, and dishes piled up in lounge areas, as if it was the duty of the custodians to serve as vassals to self-important students who were superior to them.

The Moral of the Story

"Every calling is great when greatly pursued," declared Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The beginning of the second semester, when grades are released, is a particularly critical time for students.  Most gain the confidence that they will become lawyers.  Others bravely face the reality that they should contemplate a different future, either because law does not feed their soul, or because legal reasoning is such a struggle that it is better to pursue a different vocation. Whatever their path, every person involved in legal education needs to remember that it is not financial success, or academic degrees, or career status that defines a professional. Rather, it is respectfully and ethically using one's talents in the service of others, whether in the courtroom or as the janitor. Professionalism always involves treating others with the respect that acknowledges their inherent dignity and value. As we help our students take the lessons they need to from what they have been through, and to prepare for the tasks they lie ahead of them, an important part of our task as gatekeepers is to remind our students of the dignity of every person and the greatness of every calling.

(Nancy Luebbert)

January 9, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Month of the Janitor

January is the gateway between the old year and the new.  The name “January” derives (either directly or indirectly, depending on which source you ascribe to) from the name of the Roman god “Janus”, who was the god of beginnings and endings, of passages and transitions.  He’s the god that is usually portrayed with two faces: one looking to the future and one to the past.  From “Janus” also came the Latin word “ianua”, or “door”, and thence the Latin word for “gatekeeper” – “ianitor”, or, as we now spell it in English, “janitor”.  While today people often associate janitors with menial missions like mopping and maintenance, the original meaning of the word is closer to “guardian” or “caretaker” – a person who helps to ensure safe passage.

I often describe my role in academic and bar support as consisting in large part of helping law students through the two biggest transitions they face: learning to “think like a lawyer” upon entering law school, and preparing to take the bar examination after graduation.  But perhaps that is too limited.  Any learning process can be seen as a series of transitions, and our job is to help our students pass through them all.  We are their janitors – the old-school kind, the caretakers and custodians.  True, sometimes we have to help clean up some unforeseen messes.  But our best work is really about helping our students to take the lessons they need to from what they have been through, and to prepare for the tasks they lie ahead of them.

January itself is a time of transition for law students, particularly 1L students, as they wrap up one semester and move forward into the next.  As Steven pointed out yesterday, the new year is a natural time for looking ahead, setting goals, and developing processes.  And it is also a natural time for taking stock, assessing successes and stumbles, and cultivating a clear sense of what has been accomplished and what remains.  Some students might wrestle with this in different ways, calling for flexible strategies from us.  We might help students who have not yet come to recognize the value of retrospection, or who avoid looking back out of shame or disappointment, by helping them to focus on specific, actionable lessons they can take from their past experiences.  We might help other students, perhaps those devastated by disappointing performance or those made complacent by success, by reminding them that the past may not guarantee the future, and that next semester they are starting with a clean slate.

January really is Law School Academic Success Month.  After all, we help students get through what might at first seem like a long, cold, dark time, and get them to see that it is really just the start of a brand new chapter of their lives.  We are tutelaries of beginning, endings, and transitions, all year round.

January 8, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Year, New You?

The ball dropped, fireworks exploded, and 2019 began!  In the following days, did you make a resolution to drastically change this year?  Many people decide, usually haphazardly, that (insert year) will be the turning point.  For law students, grades will improve at least 1 full letter grade, studying will begin at 8am with perfect briefs, and completing practice questions are all on the list.  While admirable, are those resolutions achievable?

New Year’s resolutions are generally ineffective.  Numerous studies over the years looked at how many people actually complete his/her resolution.  One recent study found 35% of people fail by the end of January.  Another study found even more dire results with 92% of people failing by Valentine's Day.  In a short amount of time, a large number of people fail.  Should we ignore resolutions as a result?  Absolutely not.  The better alternative is to make well informed and focused resolutions that are attainable.

One of the initial problems with resolutions is the focus on the outcome.  Similar to previous posts, this is essentially results based goal making.  How many people resolved to lose X number of pounds, quit smoking, exercise more, get healthy, or any number of other generic result based ideas?  Results don’t provide a map for completion or a tool to evaluate progress.  How would someone know if they were “getting healthy.”  The same is true for law students trying to achieve “an A.”  How does a student know in March whether what he/she is doing is “A” material?  The lack of a road map and easy evaluation makes the better grades resolution impossible to achieve.

More concrete resolutions can lead to success.  Process based thinking and planning is better.  Breaking down each day resolving to complete a brief for every major case or resolving to start outlining after the 3rd week of class provides concrete systems that are easy to follow and evaluate.  The process of achieving short term goals and checking off items from the list can build momentum for improvement.  Paraphrasing a quote from my pastor last weekend talking about habits, he said individuals don't rise to the goals, they fall to the level of their systems.  Basically, our daily processes and decisions will determine whether we fulfill our resolutions.

Many people, especially high performers like law students, also set unrealistic goals.  We want to conquer the world, end all suffering, spend time with all our friends, and relax, which are all great aspirations, except probably not possible.  Make resolutions that are challenging but attainable.  Try to focus on a small number of resolutions.  Anything more than a couple will probably be overwhelming.  I am not a morning person, and I could not possibly start studying in law school by 8am.  Any resolution to start earlier would have failed in week 1.  Know yourself and create resolutions that will encourage improvement while also being realistic about what to change.

Deadlines also help encourage meeting resolutions.  Deadlines shouldn’t be too distant because the deadline won't create an urgency to start working.  Set a timetable to get tasks done.  Catching up on outlines by the end of week 4 is good or submitting a practice question to a professor each week create short term deadlines to encourage completing the resolution.  The idea is to create both a timeline and another tool to evaluate progress.

New Year’s resolutions and new goals for the semester are great.  However, most people fail to meet the goals because they are generic and unrealistic.  Spend extra time developing a good process with specific tasks and deadlines to set up your semester for success.

(Steven Foster)

January 7, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

I. Linear Learning

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

 Figure 1  

Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

Fullsizeoutput_cba

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

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

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

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

II. Recursive Learning

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

Figure 2

Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

Fullsizeoutput_c9c

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Turn Around

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

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

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

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

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

Come, yet again, come, come.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

 

 

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Finals Are Over!! Now What?

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

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

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

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

(Steven Foster)

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

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Congratulations to Our First-Year Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pineapple Charts - A Community Way to Improve Teaching!

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

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

image from www.cultofpedagogy.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For

Dear Santa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Santa,

[Bill MacDonald]

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