Thursday, September 30, 2021
Often times I see but I don't. Perhaps an analogy will explain.
It's bear season where I live. But the bears are awful hard to spot, despite their large size. It seems that their big paws tend to distribute weight so that they move with stealth-like grace as they forage among the mountain berries, shrubs and trees. They tend to make not much more noise than a trifling breeze or a bird at work building a nest.
But I have a secret weapon to spot the bears - my dog.
You see, a few weeks back, while hiking, Maisey came to a screeching halt, sat perfectly still, and sniffed the mountain breeze. A sniff here and a sniff there. I was like, "Come on Maisey, let's get going." But she sat, still.
After about 5 minutes of waiting silently, I finally noticed a slight rustle down the hillside from the trail. Not much of anything. But then another rustle and another and another, all ever so silent. Suddenly, I saw what Maisey had sensed all along before. A bear, foraging in the scrub oaks. For the next twenty minutes or so, I watched the bear slowly eat its way down the hillside before I finally lost sight. But the lesson wasn't lost on me. I would not have seen that bear by myself. I needed the sense of another, one with keener senses than me.
I think law school is bit like that.
As law students, we can re-read our papers or our notes or our midterm answers and not really see what we really wrote. It's sort of like we are blinded by our own senses, by our own sight.
However, much like my experience on the trail scouting for bears, as law students, we have available to us, just for the asking, people who have keener senses than us, finely tuned, who can take a look at our work and thus open us up to a whole other way of seeing and experiencing things. In short, we can turn to our faculty and academic support teams to help us - as learners - see what's really in our answers (and what isn't).
So, as law students, don't feel like you need to go it alone in law school, at all. Freely reach out to others for help. Let experts review your work. Get feedback from your professors and your ASP team at your law school. You'll be surprised at what you'll see. It probably won't be a bear, but I can guarantee that it will help you become a better attorney. And that's what we are here for -- for you. (Scott Johns).
Monday, September 20, 2021
One of the ways we support our students who are on academic warning or probation is to require them to take a second-year course in Legal Analysis and Methods. The title is vague enough to appear on a transcript without stigma to the student and, as a side benefit, it also gives us a lot of latitude in what we teach in the course. In my section of Methods, I teach study and exam skills as well as a smidge of legal writing, a dash of argumentation, and a bissel of statutory construction/interpretation. I also conference with students one-on-one towards the beginning of the semester to check in on an ungraded “getting to know you” assignment and to try to understand how they got stuck, I mean were fortunate enough to enroll, in this class.
I had a set “script” for these conferences. At the beginning of each conference, we discussed the ungraded assignment (there is written feedback for everyone as well). I thanked each student for doing a great job in our simulated legislature class last week (seriously, the Massachusetts legislature could learn from them). Then, I asked about the other classes they are taking to see where there might be stress points.
Finally, I ask about the elephant in the room, “How do you find yourself on Academic Warning/Probation?” I intentionally use the passive voice. If a student says they had some “personal problems,” I do not ask for details, I just ask if the issues are resolved (or resolving), and if our Dean of Students’ office is aware of them just in case they need some higher power intervention. If a student says they had issues on exams, I make a note of the type of exam it was for future classes on exam skills. Now granted, I knew some of the students coming into these conferences because we met regularly last year. Other than now knowing how tall they really are and confirming that they do indeed have legs, I didn’t need to hear how they got here, but I did need to know how they were doing now.
This year, like all years, I take notes of these meetings. As I flipped through the legal pad for these conferences after meeting with my 22 students, I saw one word show up at the end of my notetaking for every single student, “Zoom.” This was the always part of the answer to how they found themselves in academic trouble.
Zoom or remote learning wasn’t the whole problem for most students: it was Zoom plus. Students told me that last year was not academically successful because of Zoom plus: ADD, ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, having COVID, having a family member with COVID, having a chaotic living situation, having a bad internet connection, and so on. But remote learning was, as one student put it, “at least 30-40% of the issue.” Everyone in the remote learning situation-those of us teaching and the students learning- were all trying our best. The bottom line is that remote learning does not work for everyone. These students were concerned that when they take the bar, they will not have learned enough in their first-year classes to get them into a passing range. They felt that they were building their law school houses on weak foundations. This is a valid concern. Going through two (or three for evening students) more years of law school feeling like you are perpetually trying to overcome a deficit will also take a toll on confidence.
I am not saying that remote learning is universally negative either. I had students last year that thrived in a remote learning environment, as well as students who were very nervous about returning in-person because of the pandemic. Remote learning allows broader access for students; I think that is the promise of remote learning going forward. A student can, for example, attend a law school in a place they cannot afford to move to (like Boston) or attend school when health or family issues might otherwise prove an insurmountable barrier. And this is not even close to a complete list of pluses.
Yet, the students who preferred remote learning are just simply not the students I am seeing in academic distress right now. I am not asserting that my 22 student class is a representative sample of all law students but they are mine to teach and I need to know where things fell apart for them before they came to me. The current in-person situation has pluses and minuses as well. Students report that are much happier to be back in-person--but also stuck in a position of navigating the 2L curriculum with a 1L understanding of law school culture. Some of them have spent less time in the building than the 1L students who came to school before classes started for orientation-- a few more cracks in the foundation that will need filling. One student thought that being called an upperclassman was laughable because they felt they had very little to offer the incoming class in terms of wisdom and “the ways” of law school. And yet, they hoped that the expertise they did have was, and would continue to be, obsolete. I hope so too.
As academic support folks, we know there have always been (and will most likely be) students who are in academic distress. Some have had family issues, relationship issues, a failure to understand the time investment etc., but it seems that today’s students have all of these troubles plus Zoom.
 Bissel means just a little bit in Yiddish, https://www.dailywritingtips.com/the-yiddish-handbook-40-words-you-should-know/
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Recently, Professor Liz Stillman (Suffolk Law) provided excellent guidance and encouragement on creating study tools. Stillman, L, "Seasons of Law," Law School ASP Blog (Sep. 12, 2021).
If you are wondering what that might look like, take a quick dash over to Suffolk's Law's academic support materials. https://www.suffolk.edu/-/media/suffolk/documents/law/academics/academic-support/acadsupport-creating-an-outline_pdftxt.pdf?la=en&hash=2678C2FDA2AAF306EDC4BF80613AD174A77679B0
In just a flash, you'll be able to get the big picture view along with concrete guidance on how to best create your own study tools in preparation for upcoming midterm exams. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, September 9, 2021
I've read a lot of articles and books about teaching and learning. But, as others have pointed out, reading is not really learning. So, if I'm honest, they've not tended to lead to better teaching. However, I recently joined a small class as a student. That's when the lessons, principles, and methods that I've read so much about began to take root in me. In particular, I started to notice something special about how to teach because I was no longer the teacher but the student who was learning and growing.
I loved this teacher's method because the teacher would read a portion of text and then asks us what we saw. In other words, it was learner-centered teaching. The star of the action was not the teacher but us as our teacher guided us by asking us to see, learn, think, create, reflect, interpret, explain, test, hypothesize, analogize, critique, extrapolate, and create meaning. And, the best part of this class has been that we've been doing all of this as a group in community with each other. Not in competition but in cooperation in which each voice adds to the whole of what we learn. And, one of my favorite moments is seeing my teacher takes notes as we converse about what we see in the text. That suggests to me that if I am not learning from my students, they aren't learning either. It's absolutely thrilling to be a student guided by such wonderful teaching.
So, if you feel stymied in your role as a teacher, you might see what you can learn by joining a class as a student. It's a lesson that is guaranteed to produce results.
Oh, and as a side note, some of my worst classes as a teacher have been when I over-prepared so much that I left no room for my students to learn. I'm not saying don't prepare, but teaching requires us to listen, to reflect, and to learn with our students. It's a conversation in relationship with each other. And, that's risky because it means that, if we are honest, we don't have all of the answers or even all of the questions. And that's okay. We don't have to be perfect as teachers - being present in learning with our students is more than enough. (Scott Johns).
Saturday, August 28, 2021
Since classes started last week, we have had a lot of chatter on our faculty list-serv about teaching while masked. Last year, most faculty members taught unmasked from home, so this is new for them. Yes, your mask gets gross after about thirty minutes and, also, yes, it is hard to be understood and understand students when everyone is masked. Yet, it is nice to be back in a classroom and feel that energy even when I am not sure I could pick my students out in a line-up. I was contemplating a blog entry about the best masks for teaching or learning in classes that are longer than one hour-but I am still doing that research.
But what about the other masks that we are all wearing in class? The ones that do not obscure our noses and mouths, but rather the ones that obscure how we feel or our point of view? I am usually concerned about the things I can’t see about students even when their faces are visible to me. I know that my students on academic warning are multi-faceted and that they find themselves on academic warning for a number of reasons-many of which many not be academic. I want to see them regardless of how we are conducting classes.
So, I asked them to show me who they are behind the mask. I didn’t have anyone unmask in the classroom, but the first request for the class was to take a survey (not an assignment because I was asking some questions that might be considered more personal than students are comfortable answering). I had started doing this last fall during remote teaching to ascertain technology and space constraints on the advice of my amazing department chair for my undergraduate classes. I threw in a few fun questions like whether or not talking about the ending of Bridgerton or Wandavision would be a spoiler and which one of my pets they would like to see come to class for a visit (I underestimated the number of guinea pig fans, but she made her cameo nonetheless).
This year’s survey was a little different but began with the usual getting to know you questions like names, what you would like to be called, pronouns etc.. I asked about what they will miss most about remote learning (the commute was the number one answer there, followed closely by snacks). I asked open ended questions about things they think I should know about their learning style and ways we can make our class a community. I asked about what things outside of school might impact their academics and about what skills/knowledge they hoped to leave the class with. I got some very thoughtful and helpful ideas about what I could do to make this a useful class. I know students had to give up another class to take this required class and knowing what students want from it and how they would like it to happen is incredibly valuable information. This class doesn’t work without buy-in from students, so knowing what they are shopping for is always better.
Finally, I asked about attending the class in-person. It was the last question in the survey. The question prompt was “In person learning is:”. Unlike other multiple-choice questions they will encounter this year (and beyond), there were no wrong answers and you could check as many as applied. The choices I offered were: “Amazing”, “New for Me for Law School”, “Scary”, and “A lot and I am Overwhelmed”. Out of the twenty students who answered the survey (from a class of 22), 14 said this was new for them, 5 said it was scary, 4 said it was overwhelming and slightly more than half (11) thought it was amazing. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, no one checked just one answer. In retrospect, maybe I should have offered an “All of the Above” option because that is the option I would have chosen.
I still may not be able to recognize everyone when (and if) we unmask at some point, but for now, I see them clearly.
 The masks with the clear mouth area creep me out. I get a beginning of Rocky Horror coupled with Pennywise vibe from those, so they will not be appearing on that list.
 Intentional use of the passive voice.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
In follow-up to Professor Victoria McCoy Dunkley's outstanding blog post entitled "Be in Your Bag (of Questions) as a 1L Reader," here's some thoughts about how you might use your senses to help make sense of the cases that you are assigned for class reading: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/08/be-in-your-bag-of-questions-as-a-1l-reader.html
But first a story...
I've been doing a lot of walking. In fact, I've walked about 380 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail (I still have about 120 miles to go of high altitude terrain). As a person who fractured my back two summers ago in a car accident, I'm a slow mover and that's okay.
You see, as Professor Denise DeForest at Colorado Law quips, when you find yourself lost, "slow down, stop, and sit on a log." I love logs, rocks, and boulders. My favorite time on the trail is resting. But, as I sit on a log recuperating, my senses come alive. I start to hear buzzing. I spot all kinds and manners of activity that I missed while hiking, like the scurry of ants preparing for the fall mountaintop snow storms. My hands feel the bark of the downed log that has become my lounging spot. In short, just because I stopped doesn't mean that I stopped learning and experiencing. Rather, by slowing down and stopping, I saw more than I did while moving.
There's a lot to be gleaned from these sorts of experiences. Most of our lives, let's be honest, are lived in haste. As though there's no time to waste. But critical reading takes pondering time; it takes using your senses to experience what the parties might have felt like when they litigated the case that you are reading, what they might have exclaimed or cursed when the decision came out, how the court might have explored and explained how they viewed the case and the facts.
So, in follow-up to yesterday's excellent blog post on 1L reading, feel free to journey through and with the cases. Situation yourself in them. Be expressive, feel free to be combatant and skeptical, let yourself run wild, so to speak, as you give voice to what you are seeing, as you learn and question and interpret what you are reading. That's learning. In other words, it's going to take time. But it is not wasted time at all.
That being said, I spent all of first-year of law school super-afraid (really most of law school) because I'm not good speaker or a reader (I was a mathematician in college). And, the gold lettering on most of the case books - with lots of red and black - psyched me out.
But not all that is gold glitters. Much of what you read is, well, not very well-written or good or even just. So take aim at it. Don't let the cases fool you. You belong in law school, which means that your voice and life counts. Share it with others. And, as you journey through reading, let me know what you are learning. I'd love to hear from you! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Congratulations as you begin to embark on your legal education as entering first year law students! It's an exciting time!
But, as others have pointed out, amidst the buzz, there can also be a lot of anxiety. Stress especially seems to mount at the most inopportune times, like when we've been assigned lots of stiff reading in preparation for our first law school classes.
So, here's a few suggestions about how to read for classes.
But first, I have a confession...
I hear voices. Not all of the time, mind you. But, definitely at the most inconvenient of times...like when I'm trying to read! [I think this is called sub-vocalization.] You see, I can only read as fast as I speak (and I don't tend to speak very fast unless I'm excited or nervous, which I often am, particularly when I'm trying to digest dense legal materials).
Indeed, I'm not a very good reader. To be frank, when someone asks me to work with them through a reading passage (whether a case, a statute, a multiple-choice problem or an essay prompt), I really want to go in hiding, into a "sound chamber" so to speak, so that I can read slowly and not so-silently, as I work out the meaning of the text through hearing. That's because as I hear the words the words become alive, the punctuation marks spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks give me a chance to catch my breath and digest what I've just vocalized. But that takes time.
In short, if you haven't caught the gist of what I am saying, I feel like I am a poor reader because I am a slow reader.
So here's my first tip: Rushed reading is not reading. To paraphrase Socrate's famous line that the "unexamined life is not worth living," an "unexamined case" is not worth reading. In other words, in law school, it's not how fast you read but what your learn about the law and legal problem-solving as you read. To cut to the chase, reading is about examining the cases and the statutes and the legal texts assigned in law school. It takes lots of time so plan on it. To put it bluntly, it means "cross-examine" the cases, asking questions, evaluating the arguments and analysis, and then forming your own opinion about those arguments.
Second, don't let the "gold" bindings on the fancy case books and the big name judges that signed the cases intimidate you. In my opinion, many of the cases in the casebook are just wrong because, to be honest, there's no perfect opinion. There are always weaknesses. So be bold and give it your best shot and challenge the opinion.
Third, realize that reading is a skill; it's not something that comes natural to us, especially critical legal reading. But that's great news because, as a skill, it is something that we can learn to do and learn to do well. In other words, believe in yourself.
Fourth, don't just dive into the cases. Instead, model what expert readers do prior to reading by engaging in pre-reading strategies. Take a look at where the case is located in the syllabus and in the casebook table of contents. Based on that placement, try to predict the purpose behind being assigned to read that case. Then, get to know the players. Learn something about the case from the case caption, which might be as simple as the jurisdiction (state or location) in which the dispute took place. Then skim the case to capture the sorts of sections of the case and how it looks organizationally. Finally, here's my favorite pre-reading strategy: Peek at the end of the case to see how it comes out.
Fifth, read with your heart. Recognize that behind each case lies real individuals and organizations with heart-felt disputes that they couldn't resolve without going to court. Put yourself in the shoes of the parties. Let the facts as related by the court speak to you. As you read, look up words that you don't know. Write the meaning of those words in your own words. Then feel free to draw lots of pictures and diagrams to help you visualize what is happening. Realize that each case is subject to multiple interpretations so you have much more freedom than you might think at first to really dialogue with the text. Indeed, try to catch mistakes by the court. Talk back to the court and with the court as you read the opinions.
Finally, realize that reading doesn't stop after you read. Instead, after reading, be an explorer to construct your own meaning of the case. As a suggestion, compile a list of questions that you would like to have asked the court or the advocates. Or, summarize in your own words what you think the case stands for (and why it was assigned for your course). Or, evaluate the case as to whether its reasoning was puzzling, or startling, or settling (and why). Or, conjure up different facts to test how the decision might have been impacted in different circumstances. Then, to wrap up, synthesis a one sentence statement or phrase for what you've learned from the case, such as: "Vosburg (involving a schoolhouse kick) stands for the proposition that people are liable for battery even when they don't intend to harm anyone as long as they intended the contact because the purpose of battery is to protect people from - not just harmful contacts - but from all contacts that interfere with another's bodily integrity as a co-human being."
Before I let you go, let me say a word about speed.
You don't get faster at reading cases by trying to read fast.
Rather, over time, much like water as it heats slowly on the oven range, using these strategies won't feel like much of an improvement...at all. Instead, if you're like me, you'll feel like it's taking a lot more time, energy, and perspiration to learn to be a critical legal reader. And, it is!
But, by going slow, conversationally with the text, through practice in pre-reading strategies, then reading the text with robust gusto, and finally polishing off the reading by making sense and connections with the text for future use, you'll end up becoming a faster reader without even trying. Indeed, much like learning to ride a bike, you'll surely fall lots and get bruises along the way. That's okay because learning is difficult work. But, just like learning to ride a bike, once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to being a better legal reader (and a better advocate on behalf of your future clients too). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Ah, just about the middle of the summer. It's sort of like the 7th inning stretch in baseball, a time to stand, sing, and refocus a bit. Especially with so many of us working with so many of our recent graduates as they prepare for remote and in-person bar exams. It's an opportunity for a quick breather before the final three weeks of bar prep polish and work.
Personally, this weekend is an opportunity for me to step back a bit, to take a look at what I ought to really be focused on, to ask how would others view the programs that I am responsible for delivering to our students and graduates.
Well, to be honest, I'm a bit afraid to ask others. But, as I think about preparing for the upcoming academic year, I thought I'd share the follow as food for thought about "ASP Best Practices." I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments too. P.S. Thanks to Visiting Prof. Chris Newman (DU Law) for development of this slide and his insights too. (Scott Johns).
They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words. Well, here's a picture of what I call the so-called "Learning Triangle," put together with a few words to boot, thanks to Prof. Chris Newman, Visiting Asst. Professor of Practice at the University of Denver. Let us know what you think! (Scott Johns).
According to author Jesse Singal: "Power posing, grit and other trendy concepts are scientifically unproven but have become enormously popular by offering simple solutions to deeply rooted social problems."
In particular, Singal suggests "[b]ecause they promise so much reward for so little effort, social psychology fads often win attention and resources long before there is any evidence of their effectiveness." As evidence, Singal writes "only about half of all published experimental psychological findings are successfully replicated by other researchers." Singal, J., "The False Promise of Quick-Fix Psychology," WSJ (April 10, 2021).
While I haven't yet had a chance to dive into Singal's book, as a trained mathematician, I have my doubts regarding any research results making make singular claims about human nature because human nature, it seems to me, is just too complex to nail down to one variable of influence. Singal, J., The Quick Fix, Macmillian (2021).
That being said, I do share with my students research about growth mindset and grit, for instance, and the empirical claims about associations with learning effectiveness.
Nevertheless, I'm not sure that growth mindset and grit is something that you can just call upon on command. Rather, I see our roles as educators to come along side our students, in community with them and with others, to help them see themselves as valuable members of our educational community. In sum, I sense that growth mindset development is more the result of a sense of well-being and belonging within the academic community, which for many of our students, is often felt lacking.
So, rather than focus on pep talks about growth mindset and the power of grit, I think that it might be more valuable for our faculty and staff to get to know our students, to hear them out, to let them express themselves. With summer well in swing, one possibility for beginning that project is to form a one-evening book or movie club this summer with a handful of staff and faculty members and a few entering law students, current law students, and alumni members too.
Closer to home, with bar prep in full swing, this past week, I've been hosting a number of zoom chats focused on reviewing mock bar questions with them. My first questions, almost without exception, are about their passions for the law and about how they are doing. With close to 200 students this summer, I sometime feel like I just don't have time for the so-called "niceties," But without the "niceties" of life, there really is not much to life because it's the "niceties" of life, the opportunities to learn, grow, and discovery together, that really make life well-lived. And, I'm not so sure that my role as as an educator is to fix people but rather to live with them in community, something that has seemed to be particular difficult in the midst of this pandemic.
So, as we appear to be turning a page on the pandemic, I am looking forward to meeting and working with students, faculty, and staff together again, and in person, too! And, I look forward to seeing you again at a conference or other event! Cheers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 18, 2021
It might seem a bit late in the learning curve. To welcome our students, again, to class.
But, I suppose I'm in a habit of doing so because each class I start with an enthusiastic "Welcome!"
Nevertheless, do I, do we, really mean that? Do we really "welcome" our students? And, if so, what do we mean and how do we go about "welcoming" our students?
It seems to me that the word "welcome" suggests something like "being present to embrace my students, coming along side them to create a place of graciousness wellness."
So, taking the inspiration from a presentation by Prof. Katie Jones (Lincoln Memorial University) about how to incorporate online corporate drafting exercises in law school spaces, I tried my hand at a very brief mini-exercise with the goal of helping my students welcome each other.
As Prof. Katie Jones explained, the first step was to craft a discussion question requiring group responses. Dividing the class into 12 to 20 small groups of students (and using google docs), the students - working in teams - drafted answers to the following question:
"What are three things that you share in common with your group outside of law school and legal education?"
Hard at work, the groups came up with lists, often times with more than 3 things shared.
Back together as a whole, I asked one group to share what they had learned about their group. The lists were fascinating, welcoming, and embracing, even if some of the things that they shared were things such as "We are all so fully spent and exhausted."
In short, they learned, at least a bit, that they weren't alone.
I next asked the group of students to share how they had learned the things that they shared in common.
That's where it got really interesting because the key to learning about group members was in asking questions, lots of questions, sometimes questions that led to dead ends and then other questions that led to sparks of commonness.
The questions required curiosity and creativity and openness. As they questioned, they learned. In fact, as one of my students at the end of class responded to the question from me about what they had all learned today, the student remarked that she learned that "asking questions is a form of learning."
How true! How well said!
So, rather than having students read research articles about how to learn to learn, you might try this simple exercise, courtesy of Prof. Kate Jones, in exploring in real-time how to learn. After all, sometimes the best lessons - the lasting lessons - come from within. (Scott Johns - University of Denver).
P.S. Asking questions, being curious, and engaging in creativity seem like the same tools that can make law school learning bloom.
Thursday, March 4, 2021
I just read an article suggesting that learning to learn is the latest fad in higher education. Something that will pass, sooner or later, much like the buzz a few years back about learning styles. I'm not so sure.
Now I do have my doubts about the efficacy of lectures featuring talking-head presentations about how to learn to learn. That doesn't seem like learning how to learn. Rather, that seems like a good way, especially on zoom, to lull a class into a nice dreamlike state of slumber.
But, I've shown a few of the charts from the research reports to my students. When I show graphs to my students, I don't' talk. I wait. I wait some more. And I ask them what they see. I ask them what they learn from that chart about learning. I ask them how they might apply what they are learning to their academic work as law students. In other words, I have them act and create something personal from what they are witnessing so that what they are learning becomes part of them, becomes true to them.
So is learning to learn the latest craze? I can't say for sure. But it sure seems to be helping my students develop confidence in actively learning and diving into their studies, not as students, but as learners instead. And that's something to say, fad or no fad. (Scott Johns).
You've heard the quip about "the chicken or the egg, which comes first?"
Well, as the joke goes, "I've just ordered one of each from Amazon, so I let you know tomorrow!"
That got me thinking about memorization.
My students are really concerned about memorization, particularly because most of their law school exams, unlike bar exams, are open book/open note exams. But take a look at the word "memorization." That's a word of action, of a process, of recalling something previously learned. In other words, at its root core the word "memorization" derives from creating "memories." So how do you create memories when it comes to learning rules of law?
Or, to ask it another way, which comes first, memorization or memories?
Well, I think that the answer to that question is in the question because it's memories that we memorize. So the key to memorizing is to work through lots of problems, to test yourself with your study tools, in short, to create lots of memories with the rules. You see, memorization is just a fancy word for the process of experiencing memories through distributed and mixed practice over time. So, instead of worrying about memorization, make a memory (and lots of them). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Sometimes I wonder if being a teacher is a bit of an act. If so, or at least if that's how I am playing my role in academic support, I might not be doing it quite right. I might not be really serving my students but myself instead.
You see, I love to be seen. In fact, when working with students, I find myself too often trying to mold them to think like me, to work through problems like me, to learn like me. In short, to watch me. But, that's a big problem because none of them - not one - is like me. We are all remarkably and marvelous and wonderfully different.
That means that my job is really not to be seen but to see, to observe, to listen, and to respond to my students. In short, I'm not the star; they are. And that makes a world of difference in how I approach academic support as a teacher, a coach, a facilitator, a mentor, and an encourager.
To put an emphasis on it, if I am only wanting to be seen, then I'm falling up short in my obligations to my students as an academic support professional. But if I am seeing them, like much in life, that's the beginning of understanding, learning, and growth, for my students and for myself.
Let's make this honest. Too often I do all of the talking, teaching, and coaching that I end up crowding out much of the learning.
To be frank, that's because I have "relationship" issues. I'm not confident enough in my abilities to actually help them, to listen to them, to respond with them.
But, as many have pointed out, the best solutions for overcoming learning difficulties come from within not without. So, as I move forward in my role as an academic support professional, I find myself trying to move a little out of the way so that my students can take center stage.
After all, it's for them that I serve. It's for them that we serve. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 28, 2021
I sometimes think that those who fall behind were left behind.
That might be particularly true in legal education.
Learning well is also about being well, about finding a place within the community of learners to belong, about developing the confidence that one has what it takes to thrive in law school. And there's research to bear this out, especially with respect to bar exam performance.
According to researchers on successful mindset interventions for bar takers:
"As Mindsets in Legal Education (MILE) researchers, we designed, administered, and evaluated the online productive mindset intervention referred to as the California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program (the program). In partnership with the State Bar of California (SBC), we streamlined and simplified the enrollment process while improving participation on the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams.
Proven Effectiveness: Working closely with the SBC, we conducted a preliminary analysis of the program in January 2020. The results suggest that the program increases the likelihood of passing the bar exam, after controlling for LSAT and GPA, by between 6.8 to 9.6 percent, depending on the analysis conducted.
Boost for First-Generation and Underrepresented Minority Students: The program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses.
Reductions in Psychological Friction: Our analyses suggest that the productive mindset intervention succeeded by reducing psychological friction. Among applicants studying for the exam, it fostered stress-is-enhancing and growth mindsets that helped them succeed in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes."
Too often, I think that the law school experience is filled with needless "psychological friction." That was certainly true of my law school experience.
As one turning forty in law school, I spent most of my time alone, worried about how to keep up, worried about being called on in classes, worried about being shown up to be an imposer, utterly unsuitable for the practice of law. Because of that experience, which still bites into my heart, I find myself often wondering what my students are facing, especially in the midst of this on-going pandemic.
Rather than wondering, perhaps I should ask? Perhaps I should listen more? Perhaps I should...
It's really up to us to help our students not fall behind by being left behind. That's a tremendous challenge...and responsibility...for us as legal educators. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 14, 2021
I just got out of class. An online zoom class, not surprisingly. But, in reflection of the first class, I had a bit of a surprise. I did a whole lot of talking and talking and then, even more, talking. You see, I took a glance at the audio transcript file. And it was quite an eye-popper.
I did most of the talking, which means that my students did very little.
It makes me wonder whether I left enough time in the midst of my words for my students to learn. I once heard a brilliant teacher say something to the effect that "the less that I talk the more that they [my students] learn."
Of course, as the saying goes, the "proof is in the pudding."
Which leads to my next surprise. I try to end classes with asking students one thing that they learned along with one thing that they didn't understand. Well as you might expect, I didn't leave enough time for the last question because, you guessed it, I spent too much time talking.
But, in response to the first question, what they learned, well, they learned about what I liked (snickers!) and where I ate lunch on the first day of the bar exam (the liquor store since I forgot my lunch), etc. In other words, it seems like they learned a great deal about me but perhaps not as much about bar preparation, which is the subject of our course.
Lesson learned, especially for online teaching...speak less and listen more. In short, trust them to learn by learning together, as a team, rather than just trying to pound information into their heads. I sure learned a lot today. Next class...my students are going to learn plenty too! (Scott Johns)
Thursday, November 12, 2020
In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures. In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance. But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better. And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.
As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019). Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure. https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/
The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams. Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes. Id.
According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)." Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).
In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:
"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id.
As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies. In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.
In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys. That's a wonderful win-win opportunity. And, there's more great news. The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, October 1, 2020
I had a chance to spend a bit of today on the hiking trails. The forests are alive, the colors vibrant, as the winds tickle the aspen trees with the cooling approach of autumn skies.
Despite the majesty of the landscape, I spent much of the time out-of-breathe, which gave me a chance to pause. It was in the moments of rest when I saw much more than as I hiked, as my senses took in the environs, with my ears perked up with every little rustle in the leaves. It seemed as if everywhere I turned there was life on the move preparing for winter's homecoming. I was amazed, though, that the chipmunks, birds, and squirrels didn't seem to rush about their business. Instead, the animals of the forest seemed to work steadily but methodically, unhurried, as they prepared their stores of nuts and harvest foods for the winter darkness.
To my surprise, there might be something that we can learn about learning from observations of the forest animals.
According to a recent research article, the fast-paced speed of typing might not be as beneficial as the slower-paced steadiness of handwriting in enhancing learning and memory. As stated by one of the authors Prof. Van Der Meer:
"The use of pen and paper gives the brain more 'hooks' to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better." https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-kids-smarter.html.
Practically speaking, Prof. Van Der Meer suggests writing essays via typing (i.e., exam answers) but taking notes via handwriting:
"The intricate hand movements and the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways. If you use a keyboard, you use the same movement for each letter. Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses. It's important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible. I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I'd take notes by hand during a lecture." Id.
For more information: Eva Ose Askvik et al., The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults, Frontiers in Psychology (2020). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810
Thursday, September 10, 2020
First Year Law Students:
It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools.
But, you ask, how?
Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!
But first, let's lay the groundwork.
Why should you create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand your attention in law school?
There are at least two reasons.
First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts. It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so. And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.
Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too). In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.
So, let's set out the 6 steps:
1. Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!
That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes. They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool. Here's a tip: Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus. The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool. And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below. Voila!
2. Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!
That's right. It might look like a skeleton. Not pretty at all. That's okay. Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning. So, relax and enjoy the mess. My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others. But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use. Here's a tip: Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.
3. Insert the Rules!
Be bold. Be daring. Be adventuresome. If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool. Bravo!
4. Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).
Most rules have multiple-parts. So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements! (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration. Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.
5. Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!
Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement. Here's a tip: A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision. Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.
6. Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!
Yes, you might crash. In fact, if you are like me, you will crash! But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool. Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two. Not sure where to find practice problems? Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams. Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter:
Finally, let me make set the record straight. You don't have to make an outline as your study tool. Rather, your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards. And there's more great news. There are no perfect study tools, so feel free to experiment. Indeed, what's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork. So feel free to let your artistic creative side flow as you make your study tools.
Thursday, August 27, 2020