Thursday, April 18, 2019

Useful Forgetfulness and Study Tools/Outlines: Could There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "Too big to fail."  Well, that might be true, at least according to some, with respect to some business enterprises in the midst of the last recession.  

But, at least from my point of view, that saying is not true at all with respect to student study tools and outlines.  In my experience, too big of an outline can lead to less than stellar final exam results.

Here's why...There's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness."  

As I understand the educational science behind useful forgetfulness, it is in the midst of the filtering process - in which we decide to trim, shorter, collapse, and simplify our notes and outlines - that best promotes efficacious learning because the decision to leave something out of our outline means that we have made a proactive decision about its value.  In short, the process of sorting the important legal principles from the not-so-important leads to active and enriching learning.  

Nevertheless, for most of us, we are sorely afraid about leaving anything out of our outlines because we often lack confidence that we can make such filtering choices about what is important versus what is not important.  Consequently, we often end up with massive 50 plus page outlines in which we know very little because we have not made hard reflective decisions to prioritize the important.  So, here's a tip to help with trimming your outline down to a workable size to best enhance your learning.

First, grab a piece of paper and hand-write or type out, using both sides of the paper, the most important things from your outline.  If you think a rule might be important, don't put it in your outline yet because you can always add to your study tool later.  Instead, only put the rule down in your mini-study tool if the legal principle immediately jumps out to you as critically important.

Second, take your mini-study tool on a test flight.  Here's how.  Grab hold of a few essay problems or multiple-choice questions and see if you have enough on your "one-pager" outline to solve the problems.  If a rule is missing, just add it.  And, as you practice more hypothetical problems in preparation for your final exams, feel free to add more rules as needed.  And, there's more great news.  In the process of seeing a rule that might be missing from your mini-study tool, you'll know that rule down "cold" because you will have seen it applied in context. So, feel free to have less in your outlines because, with respect to study tools, less can indeed be more!  (Scott Johns).

April 18, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Exam Prep Tips From Learning to Ride A Bike!

I asked my classes this question today: "How did you learn to ride a bike?"

The students then turned to their small groups and the class lit up with stories and smiles and anecdotes as they shared their memories about learning to ride bikes.  Here are some of the things I heard:

• I started out with training wheels.

• No one helped me so I decided to try riding on the grass so that I wouldn't get hurt when I fell.

• I just kept getting back up, one fall after another and one bruise after another.

• Without my knowledge, someone gave me a big push and away I went!

As a class, here's what we realized about learning.  Not one of us learned to ride a bike by reading about riding a bike, or watching You Tube videos about bike riding, or creating a study tool on bike riding.  No.  Instead, to a "T," all my students said that they learned to ride bikes, well, by learning to ride bikes. And, most of us had help along the way.

The same is true with learning the law.  We don't really learn the law by reading about the law.  Instead, we learn the law by problem-solving with the law.  But, far too many students - understandably - don't feel ready to practice final exam problems because they feel like they don't know enough law.  So, here's some tips to get you learning by doing in preparation for your final exams.

Start with training wheels and practice on the grass.  

Here's what I mean.  

Instead of trying to test yourself through past exam problems, open up your notes, outlines, and casebook and work through problems as best you can, untimed, with the goal of learning the law through past exam problems.  

Just like learning to ride a bike, you'll experience a lot of cuts and bruises along the way as you review your answers. But, you'll get better and soon you'll be able to ride without your training wheels (notes).  And, you might start doing some tricks, too, like jumping off the curb, something that a few days or weeks previously was terrifyingly trepidatious. You see, the key to tackling your fears about taking final exams is to take final exams before you take final exams.  So, as you prepare for your exams this spring, make it your aim to practice final exams, slowly and open book.  One pedal at a time.  (Scott Johns).

April 4, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Connected Student & Success

Perhaps you are like me (or your students).  As I confessed to my own students in class today, I spent three years in law school never making eye contact with professors.  I was just too scared to be called on.  I didn't feel smart enough (and I certainly never really understand the professors' questions.).  So, I hid...for three years.  

That experience left me feeling lonely and isolated, as not part of the profession. Looking back, I realize now that most of my fellow students felt the same.  Oh how I wish that I had opened up, just been a bit human instead of machine-like, and shared from the heart.  But, to be honest, I wasn't willing to reveal my deep-felt fears.  Consequently, I now try to share with my students about my own experiences as a law student and what I've learned in order to better help them.

That brings me to a thought.  In my early days as an academic support professional (ASP), I spent much of my time focused on teaching skills (reading, case briefing, preparing for class, taking notes, time management skills, synthesizing course materials into outlines or study tools, and exam writing, etc.).  I still teach those skills, but my focus is much broader now because the skills by themselves do not make for learning.  Rather, it seems to me that there is a social/emotional component to learned that is equally important.  And, the research seems to back up my hypothesis.  

In particular, as recently reported by Dr. Denise Pope, a researcher and cofounder of Challenge Success at Stanford University, it seems that student engagement is the most important factor correlated to academic success, future job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Saturday Essay, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2019.  According to Dr. Pope:  "The students who benefit most from college, including first-generation and traditionally underserved students, are those who are most engaged in academic life and their campus communities, taking full advantage of the college’s opportunities and resources. Numerous studies attest to the benefits of engaged learning, including better course grades and higher levels of subject-matter competence, curiosity and initiative." Id. 

So, what is student engagement? In short, according to studies by Gallup-Purdue as reported by Dr. Pope, there are several key experiences of engagement that can make a lifetime of difference for our students.  Here's the list, as published in Dr. Pope's essay:

"• Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting

• Working with professors who care about students personally

• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals

• Working on a project across several semesters

• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning

• Being active in extracurricular activities". Id.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Pope relates, few students report experiencing that sort of engagement with only 27 percent of students experiencing strong support from professors who cared about them and only 22 percent having a mentor to encourage them.  In other words, most college students, in my own words, feel disconnected and disembodied from school.  That was certainly me throughout much of law school. Nevertheless, there was one professor, later in my law school studies, who took an interest in me.  That professor ended up writing my letter of recommendation for my first job as a lawyer - a law clerk in court.  In other words, looking back, I made it through law school because someone believed in me...even when I didn't believe in myself.  

That gets me thinking about our roles as academic support professionals.  Much of learning can seem mechanical (case briefing, memorization, IRAC, etc.), but the stuff that sticks only sticks when it's socially experienced in an emotionally-positive and engaged academic community.  So, as we build our programs, I try to remember my purpose is not to create an award winning program but rather to help people believe in themselves as learners and experience the wonderful thrill of being part of something that is greater than themselves.  At least, that's my ambition, one student at a time.  (Scott Johns).

March 28, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Overcoming Conversational Blocks & Fear of Public Speaking

I'm a "deer in the headlights" type of person, or, at least that's what I feel like when someone asks me a question.  In fact, at a recent conference, I embarrassingly just stared blankly when someone I've known well said "hello."  

And, as you can imagine, I spent much (well, all) of law school in the "quiet mode," never speaking unless directly called on in class and often times with my eyes cast downward to avoid making what seemed to me "dangerous eye contact."  

You see (and perhaps you are like me), I just never thought I had much of anything to say in law school.  And, I still often feel sort of out-of-place in the midst of so many learned scholars, educators, administrators, and students.

That's when I came across an encouraging article by columnist Sue Shellenbarger entitled: "Overcoming the Terror of an Impromptu Speech"  The column provides handy concrete steps that one can take to help overcome fears in both conversations and in responding to questions, something that I suspect many law students (and faculty, administrators, and community members also fear).  

Here are a few of the tips and observations that I found most helpful.  First, that many of us fear speaking publicly, whether in front of a large group or with a supervisory figure (such as a professor or senior administrator or boss).  In other words, it's human to be afraid of speaking in public.  Second, that being spontaneous in conversations and  in responding to questions actually takes preparation and practice, which is something that we can all develop.  In fact, the article provides helpful steps and guidance for handling questions and conversations. Finally, the tip that has been most helpful to me is to use self-talk, namely, to tell myself that "I'm excited for the opportunity to speak, for the chance to have a conversation with you, for the opportunity to respond to your question, etc."  

In my own case, rather than waiting for people to say "hello" to me, I'm trying to make the most of every encounter, whether by saying "hello" to someone I don't know as they join me in the elevator (and asking them about what they are learning), or whether, as one of my colleagues tonight challenged me, saying "great job" to one of my students or colleagues in recognition of their accomplishments.  You see, for me personally, it's in the midst of just taking these little steps that is helping me to no longer feel like the "deer in the proverbial headlights" but rather joined into and belonging to a vibrant community of learners. And, if you happen to fear conversational encounters and public speaking as I do, I hope this helps you too (and for your students also).  (Scott Johns).

March 21, 2019 in Advice, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lest We Ass-u-me

In the mid-1950s, my father entered the heady field of computing. The astounding MOBIDIC, a mobile computer so small it could fit into the trailer of a semi, was his first major project; over the next three decades, he went on to teach computing to generations of West Point cadets and to write What's Where in the Apple, a book some called the "Bible" for the powerful (64K!) personal computer, the Apple II. Immersed as he was in computing, though, he struggled in teaching its fundamentals to his daughter. Patiently he would teach me what it meant to "boot" and the difference between ROM and RAM. Then just when I was congratulating myself on having achieved the intellectual equivalent of a breakneck 5 mph, he would accelerate up to Warp Factor 2 into ASCII and BASIC and FORTRAN and COBOL. Alas, this felt to me like being asked to do differential calculus right after mastering the times tables. Ironically, because his subject was so familiar to him, the skilled educator who introduced me to the old chestnut "When you assume you make an ass out of "u" and "me" himself assumed that any bright person could make the same intellectual leaps he had made.

Much of the time, we take the knowledge or experience of others for granted. In yesterday's blog post "Consider the Inconceivable," Bill MacDonald talked about the prevalence of the incredulous response of How can people not know that?  When we're steeped in the midst of a culture (whether something as specific as a particular government office or university department, or something as diffuse as upper-middle class culture), matters that are opaque to others seem obvious to us. Administrators assume that faculty and students will know unwritten procedures like which committee to go to for different types of appeals. Instructors assume that students will know how to upload assignments on course management software, or even more fundamentally, that they understand that if they need help they can ask for it. But with all the differences between people -- cultural, generational, educational, social -- it's vital for us to continually test our assumptions and to modify our spoken and unspoken messages as needed.

Here's a wee, out-of-the-classroom example of how even minor assumptions can impinge on law student success. Last semester I had practically identical conversations with two different students several weeks apart. Both told me they were having difficulty finding a time to meet with me. I was surprised, not in the least because one of them regularly walked by my office several times a day. Not only was I scrupulous about keeping office hours, but my door (opening onto the main faculty hallway) was literally wide open most hours of the day. In fact, because my new office seemed so accessible, I had reduced the number of fixed appointment times on the somewhat cumbersome appointment system to accommodate more drop-in opportunities. It turned out, however, that the students and I had conflicting assumptions about my availability: I assumed the open door would make them feel free to walk in; these deferential students, on the other hand, assumed instructors would not want to be bothered outside of fixed office hours and appointment times. The first conversation I thought was a fluke, but after the second conversation I realized my assumption that "wide open door means students are welcome" was not shared by all my students. I had to move past thinking something was obvious to bridge the communication gap. Only by stopping and really listening could I discover the problem and take steps to communicate my availability in additional ways, both implicit and explicit.

The longer I'm an educator, the more my empathy has increased for my dad's attempts to teach me about his life's passion. Even for an ASPer, it's not easy to restrain myself from accelerating to Warp Factor 2 when teaching intelligent, motivated students. To best help them, though, every day I need to mindfully practice slowing down, listening, testing the verbal and non-verbal messages I convey, and correcting those messages that indicate I'm straying in the direction of becoming a long-eared equine.

(Nancy Luebbert)

March 13, 2019 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Consider the Inconceivable

Two stories that I heard recently have been echoing off of each other in my mind, because of what they say about the human reaction to things that we, personally, would never consider doing.

The first was told to me by a fellow professor at my law school.  She said she had been talking with two of her teaching fellows -- conscientious and diligent 3L students with excellent grades -- about the upcoming July 2019 bar exam.  She conveyed to them a recent conversation she had had with me, in which I had told her about the data that showed that many students who were not passing the bar on their first attempt had also not been fully participating in their summer bar prep courses.  She had expected that these top students would share in her incredulity that anyone would not commit themselves 100 percent to their summer bar prep . . . but was astonished when their actual incredulity was prompted by the suggestion that fresh law graduates really ought to do just that.  Each of them had just assumed that, being newly-minted lawyers with excellent academic credentials, they were already mostly well-prepared for the bar exam.  They told her they'd figured they'd watch maybe half the summer classes, in the subjects they had never studied before, and do some of the practice exercises, and that would be enough to bring them up to speed.  Flabbergasted, the professor explained to them why it was important to sit through every lecture in every subject and to participate in as many practice exercises as possible, because the bar exam would be so very different from everything they had done before it.  

Fortunately, these students respected this professor so much that they took her word as gospel, thanked her profusely for telling them what they needed to know, and promised to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their summer bar preparation.  She told me this story partly to make the point: We think it's the struggling students, the ones who already have problems juggling all their assignments, who are the ones who flake out over the summer, but even top students can have the wrong impression about what is required for their success on the bar.  Even as she was telling the story, though, she was still clearly shocked: How can people not know this?

I read the second story this week, when it was widely reported that a woman in Arizona was attacked by a jaguar when she tried to take a selfie in front of the creature.  The beautiful black feline was pressed against the side of its cage, and the woman decided she wanted a photo of herself with the cat in the background.  There was a metal barrier, designed to keep people a minimum distance from the side of the cage, but the woman stepped over it so she could get a closer shot.  When she was within reach, the jaguar stuck its front leg between the bars of the cage and sank its claws into the woman's arm.

This story has been widely reported, and those reports usually feature two snarky points.  One is a criticism of the ubiquitous modern urge to take selfies, even in dangerous situations.  The other is a disdainful incredulity that anyone would blithely cross a safety barrier to put themselves in range of a pawful of tiny daggers.  How can people not know this is a bad idea?  Why, as several news outlets pointed out, the same jaguar did the same thing only last summer, clawing a man who had stuck his arm behind the barrier reaching towards the animal!  Doesn't that just prove what a bad idea it was?  

This last part is why the stories have been resonating for me.  I'm only human, so I enjoy news stories like this, and tweets and memes like Florida Man and Darwin Awards, that purport to showcase just what poor decision makers humans can be.  Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] But the fact that the same animal made the same kind of attack less than a year ago doesn't make the story funnier.  It turns the story sour.  Because the woman who was attacked didn't know about the previous attack.  If, outside the jaguar's cage, there had been a photo display of the man attacked the previous summer, showing the eight stitches he had received just by reaching over the barrier, maybe the woman would have thought twice about cozying up to Panthera onca.  Was not sharing this information with her justified simply because the man's behavior was simply inconceivable to most people?  Because it was not inconceivable to her.

My colleague told me her story essentially for that reason -- she knows how many 3L students I work with, and she wanted to alert me to the need to tell all of them, not just the obviously struggling, about the consequences if they step too close to the jaguar cage by not fully participating in their summer bar courses.  I am grateful to her for that.  Sometimes when you tell people about some of the reasons students do not succeed at school or on the bar -- not participating in a bar prep course, say, or trying to work full-time and study full-time simultaneously -- their dismissive reactions are more along the lines of Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] Sometimes I find those reactions hard to believe in an educational setting, but I feel it is my job to find a way to help those people see that incredulity does not have to forestall empathy, kindness, and instruction. 

[Bill MacDonald]

March 12, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Teaching and Learning Podcasts and Other Information

The weekly teaching newsletter from The Chronicle of Higher Education included information on a list of podcasts on teaching on the Agile Learning Blog written by Derek Bruff, the Director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching. The podcasts and other resources on the blog are focused on higher education in general. However, a number of topics are pertinent to any learners and any teachers. You can check out the podcast list and blog at Agile Learner List of Podcasts. (Amy Jarmon)

March 2, 2019 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean! Congrats Feb 2019 Bar Takers!

For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for bar exam results.

First, let me speak to you straight from my heart!

Simply put...

Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!

Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!

But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.  

That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam,  feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know.   So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for a number of months.

So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:

Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.

Really?

Not that hard?

Really?

You know that I passed?

Really?

There’s nothing for me to worry about?

Let me give you a concrete real life example...

Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over. But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.

But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam experience. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.

At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough to get a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.

So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.

Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts.  

I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store.  There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.

But, here’s the rub:

All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!

But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.

So when several months later the bar results were to become publicly available later that day, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.

To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed!   I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.

That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.

So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.

1.  First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.

2.  Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of the enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you.

3.  Finally, celebrate yourself, your  achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school and tackling your bar exam.  

You've done something great; something mightily significant!  Congratulations to each of you!  (Scott Johns).

February 28, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bar Success Tips for the Final Two Weeks Before the Bar Exam

Recently, I heard a discussion suggesting that bar passers do things differently in the final two weeks than those who are not successful on the bar exam.  That got me thinking about what I've been seeing, at least anecdotally, in my 10-plus years working with students in preparing for their bar exams.

First, both groups tend to work extraordinarily hard in the last two weeks before their bar exams.  So, what's the difference?  It must be in the type of work that the two groups are doing.  In short, during the final two weeks, it seems to me that bar passers tend to ramp up their practice with lots and lots of MBE questions and essays [while also creating super-short compact homespun study tools (2-3-page outlines, flashcards, or posters)].  In contrast, people who find themselves unsuccessful tend to focus on creating extra-bulky study tools and trying to memorize those study tools with very little continued practice of MBE questions and essays. In brief, one group is continuing to practice for the exam and the other group is focused on memorizing for the exam.  

But, here's the rub:

It’s a perfectly natural feeling during the final two weeks of bar prep to want to focus solely (or mostly) on creating perfect study tools and trying to perfectly memorize all the law. 

But, according to the educational psychologists, there’s something called “useful forgetfulness.”  You see, when we jam packet our study tools with everything, we aren’t learning much of anything because we haven’t had to make any hard decisions about what to let go (what to “forget”).  We’re just typing or handwriting or flowcharting like a scribe. But, when we purposefully decide that we are only going to make a super-short “starter” study tools (knowing that we can always add more rules as we work through more questions during the next couple of weeks), our decisions about what to put in our super-short study tools (and what to leave out) means that we actually empower ourselves to know both what we put in our study tools (and what we left out).

As a suggestion, tackle two subjects per day – one subject that is essay-only and one subject tested on both the essay and the MBE exam.  Starting with one subject in the morning, using the most compact outline that your commercial course provides (and referencing the table of contents for each subject), create a super-short study tool with the goal of completing your study tool in 2 hours or less. 

Here’s a tip: 

If you think that you need a rule, don’t put it in because you can always add more later. Instead, only add a rule that you’ve seen countless times over and over. Just get it done.  Move quickly.  Don’t get stuck with definitions of elements, etc.  Stick with the big picture umbrella rules.  Think BIG picture.  For example, be determined to get through all of contracts in 2 hours (from what law governs to remedies).  As a suggestion, have just one rule for each item in the table of contents for your commercial bar review outline.  Don't go deep sea diving.  Stay on the surface.  Then, in the remainder of the morning, work with your study tool through a handful of practice essays.  In the afternoon, repeat the same tasks using a different subject (creating a snappy study tool and working through a few essays).  Finally, in the evening, work through mixed sets of MBE questions. 

In the last week before the bar exam, with most of your starter study tools completed, focus on talking through your study tool (for about one hour or so) and then working through lots and lots essay problems and MBE questions. As you practice in the last week, feel free to add rules that come up in practice essays and MBE questions to your study tool.  As I heard one person explain it, your study tool becomes sort of a "bar diary" of your adventurous travels through essays and MBE questions (thanks Prof. Micah Yarbrough!).  In short, you've created a study tool that has been time-tested and polished through the hard knock experiences of working and learning through lots of bar exam hypothetical problems.  

So, for those of you taking the February 2019 bar exam, focus on practice first and foremost because you aren't going to be tested on your study tool.  Rather, you're going to be testing on whether you can use your study tool to solve hypothetical problems.  And, good luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).

P.S. For those taking the Uniform Bar Exam, there are 12 subjects as grouped by the bar examiners (I think there are 14 subjects in California, depending on how you count subjects):

* Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, Partnership, and LLC)

* Secured Transactions

* Federal Civil Procedure

* Family Law

* Wills & Trusts

* Conflicts of Law

* Contracts/Sales

* Constitutional Law

* Criminal Law & Procedure

* Evidence

* Property

* Torts

 

February 7, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, 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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Power of Brain Breaks - The Heart-Mind-Body Connection to Empowered Learning

Want to power up your learning to improve your final exam performance?  Well, counterintuitively, that means that you just might need to take a break - a brief respite for your brain - by working out your heart instead.

You see, research shows that vigorous exercise, even if just for 10 minutes right prior to an exam, improves academic performance.  And, there's more great news.  The research also shows that exercise boosts your mood and optimism, and that, in turn, leads to more resiliency in learning, which, in turn again, improves academic performance.  In short, exercise is in the center of a great big circle of connections between your body, your heart, and your mind.  

So, rather than just focusing all of your energies in preparation for exams on your mental work, let your body and heart take up some of that cognitive load as you sweat it up a bit.  Feel free to hit the trail, or the bike, or just run up and down the stairs at your law school every hour or so.  Indeed, as the research shows, even just a 10 minute exercise brain break right before your next exam can increase your exam performance.  Not convinced?  We'll, here's a handy article by Marcus Conyers, Ph.D., and Donna Wilson, Ph.D., entitled "Smart Moves: Powering up the Brain with Physical Activity." http://www.kappancommoncore.org  

So, why not follow the evidence to help boost your learning by taking frequent exercise brain breaks - breaks that tap into the power of your whole self  - your mind, body, and heart - to best optimize your learning.  And, rest assured as you take your brain breaks while exercising, the science is behind you.  (Scott Johns).

December 6, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Practice Tools for Approaching Law School Final Exams

As indicated in yesterday's wonderful post by Professor Nancy Luebett, one of the key steps for successfully preparing for final exams is to practice final exams. https://lapproaching-your-first-law-school-final.html. And, the best sources for practice exams are your professors' past exams.

But, what if your professor is new to the law school or there simply aren't many old exams available?  

Well, there are a number of sources for free practice essay problems.  

Here are a few to get you going:

First, you might dig into essays published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).  The NCBE maintains links for a number of retired past essay questions that are available free of charge (the more recent are only available by purchase).  I recommend sticking to the free materials.  Each essay question packet also contains analysis of what the examiners were looking for in good quality answers, so the materials are quite helpful in assessing and improving your own problem-solving abilities.  Unfortunately, the essays are not easily identified by subject matter.  It requires a bit of trial and error to match up the subjects that you are taking as a first-year law student with the essays asked in the past on that subject.  But, below is subject matter table that can help.  Just find the subject and the bar exam month and year that it was tested and then find the bar exam question and answer packet for that particular bar exam using the following link: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mee/preparing/

Second, if you want to work through a number of shorter hypothetical essays, the University of Denver maintains - free of charge - a repository of retired Colorado bar exam essays.  But, please be careful as the law might have changed.  You'll notice that the essays are arranged by exam date and then again by subject matter.  And, there's more great news.  The essays contain point sheets with short answer discussions to help you assess your own learning.  Here's the link for the old Colorado essays: https://www.law.du.edu/coloradoessays

Finally, I like to look through past California bar exam essays.  California provides both past bar exam essay questions (with good passing answers) along with first-year law student exam questions.  The first-year law school questions cover contracts, torts, and criminal law.  But, please be aware that the answers provided are not model answers.  Here's the link for past California first-year exam essays and answers: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/pastfirstyearexams. In addition, here's the link for past California bar exam essays and answers: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/pastbarexamessays 

One last thought...

No one learns to fly or play the piano or dance...without practice...lots of practice.  

Similarly, to prepare for final exams takes practicing final exams.  So, instead of re-reading your notes or memorizing your outlines, focus first and foremost on taking your notes and outlines for practice test flights, using them as your "go-to" tools to work through lots of past exam questions.  And, along the way, guess what?  You'll actually begin to memorize your notes and outlines because you've been using them as learning tools rather than rote memorization tools.  Good luck on your final exams! (Scott Johns).

MEE Essay Subjects List

November 29, 2018 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"Feedback" vs. "Feedforward:" A Path to Improve Learning & Final Exam Performance

I'm worried about final exams.  To be frank, I don't like the word "final."  I have to say that the word "final" particularly bothered me in my previous aviation career, where air traffic controllers clear airliners for the "final approach to runway 18."  I just didn't want that to be my final approach. I hoped to have at least a few more years in aviation.

But, here's the biggest rub that I have with final exams.  

Because law students frequently have only a few mid-term exams to assess their learning (and to therefore improve before their final exams), final exams are, well, too final to make an improvement in one's learning.  In fact, I suspect that the term "final exams" tends to lead to more of a fixed mindset with respect to our law students' learning.  They get their grades, often weeks after finals, and most students - it seems - never review their exams to identify what they did that was good (nor to look for ways to improve in the next round of final exams).

Nevertheless, it's not just final exams that can be a hurdle in improving learning for the future.

Our feedback can be too.  

As summarized by Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog "The Cult of Pedagogy," where she writes that "[r]eally, the experience of school could be described as one long feedback session, where every day, people show up with the goal of improving, while other people tell them how to do it.  And it doesn’t always go well. As we give and receive feedback, people get defensive. Feelings get hurt. Too often, the improvements we’re going for don’t happen, because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace."  https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/feedforward/.  In short, feedback might just stunt growth, which is another way of saying that feedback might stunt learning.

But, there's great news! 

Rather than providing our students with more and more feedback, we might consider providing them with "feedforward" instead.  

But first, here are the problems with feedback.  Feedback focuses on the past.  It focuses on the negative without  necessarily providing ways forward to improve.  It focuses on being stuck rather than helping people get unstuck.  Indeed, as outlined by Jennifer Gonzalez, there are at least three ways that feedback hinders learning:

• First, citing to author and educator Joe Hirsch, feedback shuts down our "mental dashboards." In my words, it crashes our brain.  That's because the "red marks" and the many comments to "change this" or to "change that" tend to cause us to believe that all is lost; there's no hope for us. We just don't see a way forward because, frankly, we are stunned with a horrible feeling that we just don't get it...and never will.  We are locked in the past. The future is hidden from us.

• Second, citing again to Joe Hirsch, feedback tends to reinforce negative thoughts because the comments tend to lead us to believe that we are stuck in a sort of "learned hopelessness" in which we cannot change our future. Rather than building a growth mindset in our students, feedback that is focused solely on what our students have done in the past creates a fixed mindset with students believing that there's little that they can do to improve their learning in the future.

• Third, citing again to Joe Hirsch, we tend to approach feedback with a single-minded crystalized focus to see what grades or marks or numbers we received (rather than seeing feedback as providing us with helpful and hopeful positive tools forward to achieve better grades in the future).  In short, despite all the feedback given, students tend to see and internalize their grades first, and, because first impressions lead to lasting impressions, feedback often falls short in producing improvements in learning for future assessments.  Too often, the grades on feedback crystalize into final exam grades, too.

In contrast, "feedforward" focus on the future.  It takes the work of today and provides insights, comments, and tips framed in a communicative, generative way that leads to improvement in the future. It is forward looking; never backward looking.  Feedforward believes in the future - a bright future - and provides particular ways for our students to move forward towards that future of improvements in their learning.

So, what is "feedforward?"

Simply put, it's coaching students about their current performance with heart-felt questions and insights that get our students thinking for themselves about how they can improve their learning for the future.  

Curious? Rather than going through the six steps in providing helpful "feedforward" to our students, let me just point me to you the steps as cited by Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog article about "Feedforward," available at:  https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/feedforward/.  

And, one last thought...

As academic support professionals, this month is a great opportunity.  In particular, nothing really needs to be "final" about final exams.  That's because we can provide our students with opportunities to receive positive "feedforward" well before final exams - via practice exams, exam writing workshops, academic support small group tutoring sessions, etc. - such that our students will learn to improve well before they take their final exams.  Indeed, the key to a great final exam experience is to have great "feedforward" experiences on the way to taking final exams.  So cheers to the future - our students futures! (Scott Johns).

November 8, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Key to that "Peaceful Easy Feeling"

As reported in a Wall Street Journal essay by author Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year."[1]  Most of us seem to think that is not a problem at all, at least based on our actions.

That’s certainty true of me.  I depend on my smart phone, nearly all of the time.  It’s with me everywhere.  To be honest, it’s not just a telephone to me.  It’s my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my social facilitator and companion, my navigator, my weather channel, my bookshelf, my news outlet, my alarm clock, and my entertainer, just to name a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable handheld technology. 

But, here’s the rub. As outlined by Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies indicating that smart phones, while often times beneficial to us, can also at times be harmful to our intellectual life, our communication and interpersonal skills, and perhaps even our own emotional and bodily health.[2] 

First, Mr. Carr cites to a California study that suggests that the mere physical presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.[3] In the study of 520 undergraduate students, researchers analyzed student problem-solving abilities based on smart phone proximity. The researchers divided students into three classroom settings based on phone proximity while watching a lecture and then taking an exam.  In one classroom, students placed their phones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom, students stowed their phones in purses and backpacks, etc., so that students were prevented from having immediate phone access during both the lecture and the subsequent exam (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom, students were required to leave their phones in a different room from the lecture classroom.  Interestingly, nearly all students reported that the proximity of their phones did not compromise their attention, learning, or exam performance.  But, test results indicated otherwise.  The researchers found that exam performance was inversely correlated with smart phone proximity.  Students with phones on their desks performed the worst while students with phones in another room performance the best. Surprisingly, however, just having a smart phone stowed nearby detracted from exam performance too.  Apparently, just the knowledge that our smart phones are readily available negatively impacts our problem-solving abilities. In other words, to perform our intellectual best as lawyers and law students, smart phones need to be - not just out of sight - but well beyond our grasps whenever we are engaged in intellectual tasks on behalf of our clients because problem-solving appears to be compromised just by the presence of our smart phones.

Second, Mr. Carr cites to a study where researchers found that smart phone proximity is harmful to face-to-face communication and interpersonal skills.[4] In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a phone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no phones present.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  Researchers found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed human relationships and interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were personally meaningful.  In sum, smart phone proximity can negatively impact our interpersonal social communication skills, important skills for law students and attorneys to attend to and strengthen in order to better serve our clients and the public.

Third, Mr. Carr references a study substanting that smart phones can negatively impact our emotional and physical well-being.[5]  In this study out of large US university, researchers evaluated the impact of the presence of smart phones in self-identity, cognitive abilities, emotional anxiety, and physiology by having participants work on word puzzles while measuring blood pressure and pulse correlated with self-reported survey results on anxiety levels and emotional well-being based on a state of pleasantness. While solving word puzzles, researchers at times would remove phones from the presence of the subjects while on other occasions researchers would ring the phones of the subjects.  The results are startling.  Blood pressure rises, pulse quickens, anxiety increases, sense of unpleasantness increases while cognitive abilities decline both when participants are removed from their phones and when they receive phone calls. In other words, we identify ourselves with our phones.  They have become extensions of ourselves, to such a large degree, that to be deprived of access to our phones or the use of our phones negatively impacts our well-being as human beings.  In short, we have allowed our phones to become part of us, to share in our feelings, such that we feel detached from ourselves when we are detached from our phones. In my own words, we feel alone (and indeed unalive) without our smart phones by oursides and in control of our lives. Or, to put it more simply, we can’t seem to live without our smart phones, and we can’t live with them too.

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling around with respect to the beneficial and detrimental impacts of technology on our cognitive, emotional, and physiological beings, there is still much that is yet to be known.  But, I leave you with this thought. 

Recently, I had one of my best weekend ever.  But, it didn’t start out grand at all.  In fact, the weekend begain like most of my weekends, busy, so busy that I neglected to check my pockets before washing my jeans.  In my haste, I washed my smart phone too.  Now horribly drenched, my phone was lifeless.  Comletely dead.  Stlll. At first, I was speechless. But, oh what I weekend I then experienced.  Freed from my smart phone, I slowly began to relax. I started to connect to real people in real relationships and with real things. No phone calls and no buzzing emails or texts to interpret life’s relationships. I have to admit; it was one of the most best days of my life.  Because of that experience, I now try to take one day per week free from my smart phone.  Life can indeed be sweet to our souls, bodies, and minds without the constant intervention of our phones.  And, better yet, life can be even sweeter for those around us too.  So, feel free to join me in taking meaningful smart phone respites.  The more the better.  (Scott Johns)

[1]Nicholas Carr, How Smart Phones Hijack Our Brains, Wall Street Journal, Oct 7, 2017.

[2]Mr. Carr references numerous research articles, several of which are discussed in this article.

[3]Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos, Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2, no. 2 (April 2017): 140-154, https://doi.org/10.1086/691462.

[4]Andrew K. Przybylski, and Netta Weinstein, Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2012), https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407512453827.

[5]Russell B. Clayton, Glenn Leshner, Anthony Almond; The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 20, Issue 2 (2015), 119-135, https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12109.

October 4, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Window of Knowledge vs. The Window of Experience: Learning Takes Seeing Out of Both Windows!

While recently hiking through a wildlife sanctuary, I came across this wooden facade of a building, and it got me stopped right in my tracks.

 You see, I was hiking so fast that I wasn't really seeing the beauty of nature all around me.  

I sometimes wonder if that's true of law school life too.  We tend to spend so much time reading cases and regurgitating notes that we don't often see the big picture purpose behind it all.  But, the goal of legal education is not to be an expert in all of the finer details of the cases but rather to build a legal "window" of experiences from which we can solve legal problems on midterm and final exams (and provide our future clients with wise counsel too).

So, with many law students facing upcoming midterms, now's the time for our students to grab hold of past exams and get out of the "books" to experience and try their own hands at working through hypothetical legal problems.  In short, as students walk through the materials students also need to stop and take in the view.  In my view, that's because learning requires both the so-called "book learning" along with heavy doses of experiential learning, particularly in working through hypotheticals.  As a helpful reminder - that the windows we look through influence what we learn - here's the photo of the facade that I found so encouraging in helping me focus on the big picture learning.  (Scott Johns).

IMG_0430

September 27, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)