Thursday, December 6, 2018
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).
Thursday, November 29, 2018
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).
Thursday, November 8, 2018
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).
Thursday, October 4, 2018
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." 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.
First, Mr. Carr cites to a California study that suggests that the mere physical presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities. 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. 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. 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)
Nicholas Carr, How Smart Phones Hijack Our Brains, Wall Street Journal, Oct 7, 2017.
Mr. Carr references numerous research articles, several of which are discussed in this article.
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
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).
Saturday, September 22, 2018
EdWeek Update recently ran a quiz that readers could take to test their knowledge about dyslexia. After taking the quiz you can review your answers with explanations for the correct answers. To get your answers and explanations, you will need to register. It was worth it to find out some interesting things about dyslexia and what is going on with K-12 education in this regard. The link to the quiz is Knowledge on Dyslexia Quiz. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Starting outlines can be an intimidating process, especially for those who are not "born organized." Using flashcards to construct outlines is a useful technique for those having trouble getting started, for kinesthetic and visual learners, and for anyone who has trouble organizing masses of complex material within the confines of a laptop computer screen. This is also a useful technique when small study groups want to work together to construct an outline.
Although outlining with flashcards can be time intensive and certainly doesn't work for all students, it has advantages for many students. Like using a whiteboard to construct flowcharts and mind maps, using cards is highly visual and kinesthetic, so it involves the whole person in learning. The learner doesn't have to start off being organized or understanding the material -- rather, understanding and organization come from engaging in the process. Unlike a whiteboard, cards allow for more detailed information and more permanence even while they allow for easily moving, manipulating, and deleting information. And the same cards used for constructing the outline can also be used as flashcards for memory work and issue spotting.
Here's my recipe for starting to outline using the flashcard method. Like any recipe, alter it to your own taste.
- 3 X 5 cards, store-bought or homemade (Check your local dollar store for good deals. It may be cheaper to buy cardstock paper and cut to size.)
- Pens, pencils, and highlighters in desired colors
- Glue dots
- Rubber bands
- Source material -- case briefs, class notes, casebook
- Room with a big table or tables (an empty classroom is ideal) or with big blank walls
- "Brain-dump." On each card, handwrite one, and only one, piece of information. That could be a concept, definition, major rule, subrule, element, policy, case holding, case facts, example, or hypothetical. Handwriting is important here, because creating cards on a computer may bog you down in perfection paralysis -- and perfectionism is the enemy of starting outlines in the first place.
- Once you have brain-dumped, review each individual piece of information to make sure it is accurate. Did you use the proper terminology? Does a rule include all the elements in the proper order?
- Spread your cards out so you can see each individual card. You can do this on any flat surface like a table, but many people find it easier to see and grasp the information if the cards are on a wall (glue dots are incredibly useful for this).
- Now start sorting your cards into rough groupings. For example, which rules and cases come under duty and which under breach?
- As you engage in working your way through the material, you will almost certainly think of more concepts, rules, definitions, and examples you didn't think of when you were starting out. Great! Create a new card for each of these and plug into the appropriate place.
- Work your way from rough groupings into more formal relationships shown by outline format. For instance, does this case illustrate a major rule or a subrule?
- Use this process to think your way systematically through the material and deeply engage with it. Remember, relationships are not always obvious and might be logically placed in different places, but you want to find the best place. For example, if you were analyzing some torts or crimes, would you treat lack of consent as an element, or would consent be an affirmative defense?
- Color code, number, or otherwise mark your cards to show the order between them. It's handy to periodically take pictures of your cards as arranged on the wall to record your outline as a visual construct. If you are working at home and have lots of room, you might keep the cards on the wall; if not, take down your cards in order and secure them with a rubber band.
- Revisit your outline often with the new understanding gained by working your way through hypotheticals and taking practice tests. Are the concepts in the best order? Are your rules accurate? Are your examples helpful for understanding the concept?
- The more you use the cards, the better you can understand the material on both a micro and macro level. It's critical to periodically spread the cards out to get a visual sense of the whole organization of your subject. In addition, you can use the cards as flashcards for memory or issue-spotting work.
Friday, September 14, 2018
A post late last month in EdWeek Update on teaching introverted students in K-12 education discussed how grading participation could disadvantage students who were introverted and cause teachers to see extroverted students as more successful: link here. The post discussed Quiet by Susan Cain. Even if you have not read the book, you may be familiar with its subtitle slogan of sorts, "The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." The post caused me to revisit participation grading in law school.
All of us in ASP work are familiar with students who rarely raise their hands in classes, who only speak when randomly called upon, who are often stressed by Socratic Method no matter how well-prepared, and who may prefer to work entirely alone without study partners or study groups. These are also the students about whom the professors comment once grades are posted, "Student X got the highest grade in my class, but never opened his/her mouth the entire semester. I was so surprised!"
Several years ago I started providing multiple ways to get participation points in my international law seminar classes. A small seminar depends on discussion if the professor wants to avoid being a droning voice. I also genuinely think that law students need to become comfortable in active discussion because they will be on teams or on committees once they are in practice.
However, I recognize that not all students find it natural to speak regularly in class. I have participation count for 20-25% of the grade depending on the course. Quality (as opposed to mere quantity) comments can garner "double points" for class participation. I will pause before calling on students to give the reflective students longer to think about a question. Additional participation points can be gained by reporting on international events relevant to the discussion (in writing or in class), completing written answers to study questions, working on a team task in class, or completing other exercises. If students are working on papers, I will ask them to discuss their research for a few minutes at a lataer class when a topic ties in to their paper topic.
Some students will come talk to me about their hesitancy to speak in any of their classes. We brainstorm strategies they can use to become more at ease with in-class participation. I encourage them that a seminar class is a great place to practice participation with fewer people and more discussion opportunities. At times I purposely throw out "softball" questions for encouragement to get these students started. A few students will even ask me to call on them during a certain class to help them get started.
When I was in practice, I observed more extroverted, talkative lawyers sometimes discount their quieter colleagues as less able. It always made me smile when one of the quieter lawyers would later be the very one who would quietly catch an important error made by the lawyer who had felt superior. All learning preferences have value - even when individuals want to assume their own preferences are the more important ones. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Radical. Bold. Ambitious. And shocking too. Until I read the research. But first, the country-wide experiment in learning...
As reported by CNN, starting earlier this month with the new school year, France has banned, I mean completely banned, student cell phone use in all primary, middle, and high school campuses throughout France (and throughout the entire school day (lunch included)): https://www.cnn.com/france-smartphones-school-ban-intl/index.html
As detailed by CNN, there's research to back up the educational benefits. As described by CNN, the research evaluated the relationship between cell phone use and academic achievement for 130,000 UK students. The researchers "found that following a ban on phone use, the schools' test scores improved by 6.4%. [And,] [t]he impact on underachieving students was much more significant -- their average test scores rose by 14% (emphasis added)." https://money.cnn.com/smartphones-schools-ban/index.html. Citing research authors Dr. Richard Murphy and Dr. Louis-Philippe Beland, CNN reported that just by prohibiting cell phone use in schools, "[s]chools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap...."
That's big news - that ought to make a big splash in legal education - because the research suggests that a low tech solution might help law schools too narrow the achievement gap for those most at-risk of not doing well in law school. So, as you meet with students who are struggling this semester, you might ask your learners about their cell phone habits. No need to be pushy. Instead, just show them the research and then let them make a decision. http://cep.lse.ac.uk/publishedresearch
Based on my own review of the research, here's my recommendation to my students: "For one week, just leave the mobile phone at home...or in one's school locker...or tucked away with the power off in one's backpack. Even if it doesn't lead to better learning, you'll find that you'll quickly put a quash to those never-ending furtive glances at one's phone to see if someone has tried to connect with you. And, more importantly, you might find that you are actually making better connections with the materials (and others) by not connecting to the digital world while at law school. In short, you might reap the same educational benefits as those documented in the UK." That's a great educational goal for all of us. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 30, 2018
I recently heard a pastor say something to the effect:
"We listen in lines.
We learn in circles.
We grow in circles.
We change in circles."
As I take it, here's the point.
Whether at a place of worship or at a school (or at any other place of learning), most of us think that we are learning when we are sitting passively, and yet attentively, in an orderly line with others, listening, watching, and taking notes from an expert teacher...as the teacher presents the materials to us.
In contrast, according to the speaker, if you (or me) think that we are learning by just being present in class, by sitting in lines, we are sorely mistaken. Let me be frank. We are in fact self-deceived. We are merely listening but not learning; not growing; not changing. Listening ≠ Learning.
I realize these are strong words (strong medicine). But, as Dr. John Dunlosky, professor of psychology, suggests, we are all easily tricked into imaging and believing that we are learning when we are merely studying. https://www.aft.org/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf There is in fact a big difference between studying and learning.
Let me be direct.
In my own view, learning requires us to live and move in circles. It requires us to move beyond the lines of our classroom environment, to no longer just sit still and silent, but rather to share with others what we are thinking, to loop back through our notes to distill and reshape them using our own words, and to make what we have heard into something personally meaningful to us individually. In short, it means to act...to act upon what we have heard.
If that sounds difficult, it is. But, it's not impossible...for any of us.
However, it does mean, as Dr. Dunlosky observes, that we will often feel uncomfortable and uncertain about our learning (indeed, whether we are even learning at all). That's because learning means that we understand that - as presently situated - we have things to learn, things that we don't yet know, and indeed that we don't really know anything until what we learn becomes part of who we are as human beings. And, that happens in circles not lines. It happens with us daily interacting and acting with and upon the materials. It happens when we pause and reflect. It happens when we share and debate with others what we are thinking. It happens because learning is really in reality a social activity, a social enterprise that helps shape us into who we are as people.
So, as you celebrate this upcoming Labor Day holiday, feel free to step back and think about your past learning. In particular, take time to reflect on how you personally learned something in the past that now sticks with you forever. Perhaps it was learning to play guitar. Perhaps learning arithmetic. Perhaps learning to meditate and be mindful. Whatever it was, the things that you have learned - really learned - all occurred because you moved beyond the line into creating meaningful circles of relationships with what you heard and watched. So, take the next step in being a learner by taking charge of your learning journey, and, in the process, you will grow and change. In short, you'll learn. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 28, 2018
It's sweltering in much of the USA. And, the heat is only getting hotter for the many recent law school grads preparing for next month's bar exam.
So, I thought I'd offer a few "hot" tips on how to enhance one's learning this summer based on a recently published study entitled: "Smarter Law School Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with LGPA," by Jennifer Cooper, adjunct professor at Tulane University, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3004988
As detailed in the article statistically analyzing study tactics and learning, Professor Cooper found that two particular study strategies are positively correlated with law school grades.
The first is elaboration, i.e, explaining confusing concepts to others. So, be a talker this summer as you prepare for your bar exam. In short, be a teacher...be your teacher!
The second is the use of practice questions to learn. So, grab hold of every opportunity you have this summer to learn by doing. Take every mock bar exam you can. Work through every bar exam practice problem available. Be tenacious in your practice. Learn by doing!
Finally, as documented by Professor Cooper, beware of reading and re-reading. It might make you feel like you are learning, but there is little learning going on...until you put down the book and start working on problems for yourself. And, that particularly makes sense with the bar exam...because...the bar exam is testing the "practice of law" not the "theory behind the law."
So, throughout this summer, focus less on reading and more on active learning - through lots and lots of practice problems and self-taught elaboration to explain the legal principles and concepts - as you prepare for success on your bar exam next month. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 14, 2018
It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer. That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.
You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.
Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."
In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."
You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams. In other words, he spent his law school years studying. In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing. In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.
So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying. What does that mean? Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day. Yep...that very day. That's key. Learn today. Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems). That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do. So, be a doer this summer! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam. Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores. In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.
Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers." People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores. I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students. And, that brings me to the field of human performance.
You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits." Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."
In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc. As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance. However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance. According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.
That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage. We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon. As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam. Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?
Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results. And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc."). Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."
And, that's where we come in. Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined. It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam. Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice." So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk. Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
This year, I became a teaching assistant (TA) once again. This was not planned and what started as just another responsibility on my list of responsibilities resulted in an amazing experience. For our TA program, we try to select students who have performed well in a particular course with a particular professor and students who have performed well across the board academically. However, this fall I was faced with a dilemma. I tried to recruit TAs for a professor who did not teach the previous academic year so my pool was smaller and furthermore, the class time conflicted with an elective course that almost every 3L was enrolled in. I presented the professor with three options, one of which was to have me as the TA, just for this year. She chose the latter.
I was well aware of the challenges I would face so I approached this new task with some trepidation but saw all the amazing rewards and value I would reap from this experience. The primary challenges I anticipated included student discomfort because I am the Director of the academic support program and not their peer. I also anticipated discomfort with my presence in the classroom as students might perceive me as a person who was monitoring their every move. I anticipated low attendance at the bi-weekly TA sessions because I did not have the professor as a student, I did not attend this law school and thus students believed that I did not have much to offer them. This particular situation intrigued me the most as TAs who have worked with new professors in the past, have had similar experiences. However, these TAs have been successful and usually work closely with the professor to provide even more helpful material to the students. Moreover, students are more independent spring semester and take less advantage of various resources. Finally, I found it interesting that students could feel uncomfortable with me particularly because I train the TAs and work with students studying this topic for the bar exam.
The positives I looked forward to were opportunities to evaluate the structure of the current teaching assistant program, to get to know or become familiar with about one- third of our 1L class, to work collaboratively with one of our professors and to expand the offerings of my office. Sometimes as ASP’ers, we are so removed from the law school experience that we forget certain aspects of what it means to be a student even when we try to remind ourselves every year. I looked forward to coming away from this experience with new ideas and avenues to be effective with students and maximize how to effectively utilize my TAs in the future.
Within the TA responsibilities, TAs attend each scheduled meeting of the doctrinal course they are assigned to. They prepare lesson plans and materials for every teaching assistant lab session. They are generally available for questions during office hours. They also work closely with the professor and complete additional tasks the professor might request such as tracking class participation, passing out papers, etc…. The materials produced for the lab sessions are either reviewed by me or the senior TA. I submitted to all of these expectations and requirements. My senior TA reviews my materials; I try to put everyone at ease so I tried to create a safe environment for my senior TA to enjoy reviewing my materials. I mentioned this to the students at the first lab session and they laughed.
What was most informative about student behavior within the classroom was sitting through the course lectures and observing students. Initially, students were uncomfortable, particularly, the ones who decided to sit near me but that discomfort subsided over time. In my opinion, students became too relaxed. I ensured that I came to class prepared with casebook, laptop, pen, and paper. I sat next to a talkative student who was by no means uncomfortable with my presence. I was conscientious about being mentally present, free from distraction, and focused. It is amazing how many clues professors provide and how much advice about preparing for exams this professor dispensed. It appeared that students were not always paying attention though. I saw students on Facebook, instant messenger (apparently speaking with students in the class and others outside of the class), shopping, buying concert tickets, working on legal writing assignments, scrolling through pictures, texting, stepping out the room to take phone calls, drawing, researching topics (associated and unassociated with the class), laughing at and with one another, engaging in side conversations, asking me what was just said (trying to read my notes), falling asleep, passing physical notes, playing video games, watching movies, and watching sports. It is amazing what happens in a law school classroom in the span of one hour and forty minutes. Students got more and more comfortable as the weeks progressed so I saw more and more on computer screens. Some privacy screens work very well, I could see nothing while seated in the back of the class.
When I am in front of a class, presenting, I notice that some students are distracted but I never imagined the extent. I understand that some students need to be accessible for work, children, and emergencies. I also understand that some students doodle to focus and listen. I had no idea of the volume of distractions available in class. I can certainly understand why some professors ban computers in the classroom.
I wonder if this is the new student norm, all these stimuli competing for their attention. When I was in law school, the early years of laptops, I do not recall all this going on but maybe I was focused because I was fearful of appearing unprepared when called on. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. Being exhausted from grading numerous writing assignments into the wee hours of the morning, Prof. Katherine Lyons and Prof. Aimee Dudovitz (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) caught my attention with the title of their talk: "Integrating Quick Classroom Exercises that Connect Doctrine and Skills and Still Allow You (and Your Students) to Sleep at Night."
Frankly, this was a presentation that spoke directly to me. It was medicine for my tired heart and my hurried mind. I needed sleep (and lots of it)!
My favorite tip was what I'll paraphrase as the "one-moment question."
Just pop on the screen a one-moment research question and ask your students to get to work researching, drafting, and writing a quick 5-10 minute email answer. That's right. Start with researching. As the professors made clear, don't let them blurt out an answer. Instead, make them work. Tell them to start looking on the internet, digging into the legal research engines for their answers. Then, based on their own research discoveries, direct your students to write out short emails to provide you with precise answers to that particular question. Once submitted, now you can open up the classroom for a well-researched and informed conversation about the answer to the one-moment question. And, because the answers are super-short, it shouldn't take much time to at least make a mark or two on each answer as follow-up feedback.
As an example, Professors Lyons and Dudovitz suggested that one might ask - in the midst of a civil procedure class discussing the propriety of "tag" jurisdiction for instance - whether a plaintiff could properly serve a corporate defendant by serving the summons and complaint on an out-of-state corporate officer just passing through the local airport of the plaintiff's forum state. As a tip, the professors suggested that you pick out a question that has a bright-line answer based on jurisdictional precedent (and one that can be easily researched). And, as they suggested, as a bonus have the students keep track of their research trails in arriving at their answers.
That got me thinking. In my own teaching this semester, perhaps I should ask my students - in the midst of our studies of constitutional law - whether a state such as Colorado could hypothetically prohibit out-of-state residents from being licensed as Colorado attorneys and, if not, why not. To confess, I'm pretty sure about the answer but not exactly certain of the reason. But, I think it has to do with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause. So, I better take heed of the professors' advice and start researching for myself. In the process, I think that I might just become a better learner (and teacher too)! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning techniques, but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Some (or perhaps, most) law students get tired of reading judicial opinions every single day. I have found that giving students the option to listen to audio files or watch movies in lieu of reading a case helps to create some variety and spices up the learning process. For example, last week my Criminal Procedure students had the option to watch the 1980 movie “Gideon’s Trumpet” or read Gideon v. Wainwright and the corresponding notes in the textbook. I included both the audio and textbook options expressly on the syllabus. About half the class opted to watch the movie while the other half read the case; importantly, the whole class was able to engage in the discussion. Similarly, next week students will have the option to read the portion of the textbook discussing jury selection or to listen to More Perfect’s “Object Anyway” podcast.
Even if you don’t teach a substantive law course, the audio files can be helpful to aid any student who is struggling to connect with the written material. Earlier this semester a high-performing first-year student stopped by my office concerned that she had lost her fall semester spark. In the fall semester, she was excited about law school and thus enthused to work hard. Her hard work paid off, earning her very high grades in December. But, when she returned in January, she just couldn’t connect with the cases and material like she had done before. The spring semester courses of Constitutional Law and Property weren’t peaking her curiosity the way the fall semester courses of Criminal Law and Torts had. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I could tell that she needed a new way to engage with the material. I suggested some legal podcasts, especially ones that would give her the story behind the litigation. She needed to be able to relate to the parties on a more personal level, and I thought a well told story about the litigants could help. After just a few podcasts, she has already reported that Con Law has become more interesting to her now that she’s “getting to know” the justices’ personalities and she enjoys learning what happened to the litigants before and after the lawsuit.
If you’re interested in introducing an audio option to one of your courses or academic support arsenal, consider:
Oyez “is a multimedia archive devoted to making the Supreme Court of the United States accessible to everyone. It is a complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Oyez offers transcript-synchronized and searchable audio, plain-English case summaries, illustrated decision information, and full text Supreme Court opinions. Oyez also provides detailed information on every justice throughout the Court’s history and offers a panoramic tour of the Supreme Court building, including the chambers of several justices.”
According to More Perfect’s creators “Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to – but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab's first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court's hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for "we the people" who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court’s biggest rulings.”
Legal Talk Network is a podcast network for legal professionals with hosts from well-known organizations and brands in the legal community. Over 20 different active podcasts cover important legal news and developments, including access to justice, law school, industry events, legal technology, and the future of law. The most relevant podcast within the network is the ABA Law Student Podcast, which covers issues that affect law students and recent grads.
In addition, Learn Out Loud offers numerous legal podcasts and audio files for free download. (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Are your students struggling with reading comprehension difficulties?
Well, it might be just related to something quite surprising...the ever-increasing emphasis in on-line reading over paper-based reading.
You see, according to educational researchers in Norway, even controlling for learning differences in student populations, on-line readers statistically underperform in comparison to paper-based readers (as ascertained by test results concerning reading comprehension). Anne Mangen, et al, "Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension," International Journal of Educational Research, 58:61-68 (2013), available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com
According the article, at least based on my own reading of the article, there are several possible reasons for the disparate tests results between on-line readers versus paper-based readers such as:
First, on-line reading often requires scrolling, which seems to negatively impact spatial orientation of the text because it disrupts our abilities to mentally represent and recall the material.
Second (and closely related), on-line reading lacks the visual certainty of knowing where to re-locate material that one is struggling with because on-line text is fluid (with different parts of the text never occurring preciously on the same page of the screen) in comparison to paper-based texts (in which we often visually recall a certain passage from its spatial position, for example, in the upper-left hand-side of the page in the text book). In other words, paper-based readers might perform better in comparison to on-line readers because paper-based readers can more easily reconstruct a mental image, leading to more efficient recall during assessment of the material previously read. Those same clues are often lacking in on-line text presentations.
Third, on-line reading seems to impair our overall metacognition abilities (our abilities to monitor and assess our own learning) because on-line reading tends to be perceived by us -- at the outset -- as a familiar way to glean information quickly (and almost effortlessly). In contrast, paper-based reading tends to be perceived by us -- from the get-go -- as requiring much more effort on our part in order to make sense of the text, which by implication suggests that paper-based reading pushes us to better monitor whether and to what extent we are learning through our reading as we move back and forth through the text. In other words, in on-line reading, we tend to overestimate our reading abilities.
If the article's conclusions are true, then that leads us to wonder whether, the next time we see one of our students struggling with reading cases, dissecting statutes, or analyzing multiple-choice or essay problems, perhaps we should first ask about their reading. Are they primarily reading using on-line text or paper-based text? The answer to the question might just lead to a memorable breakthrough in one's success in law school.
That leads me to one final thought.
I wrote this blog trying, as best I could, to read the Norwegian article online. So, please take what I've written as a grain of salt...because...I might have well have overestimated my own metacognition of the research findings.
In fact, writing this blog has been mighty hard work on my end because it's required near-endless multi-tasking as I switched screen shots between the article and the blog. In short, I very well might have demonstrated the merit of this research based on my own, perhaps mistaken, paraphrases of the research findings. I'll let you be the judge. Just make sure you print out the article before you read it! Oh, and if you're not sure if you can recall how to read old-fashioned paper text, here's a funny video clip that'll serve as reminder: https://www.youtube.com/medevialreadinghelpdesk (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Sunday, January 21, 2018
We are finishing our second week of classes. As part of the start up, I have been meeting one-one-one with probation students. We will have weekly appointments during the semester to assess strengths and problems, implement strategies, and monitor progress. The first appointments with students always give me a great deal of insight into their mindsets on success.
Here are some of the characteristics of the students on probation who are ready to succeed this semester:
- They arrive on time or ahead of time for their appointments.
- They take out a pen and paper or laptop to take notes during the meeting without prompting from me.
- When asked to fill out an information sheet, they can list fall courses/professors/grades and their spring courses/professors without having to look them up.
- They have reflected on last semester's grades and study strategies and can articulate some ideas for improvement.
- They ask questions throughout our discussion to clarify points or inquire about areas we will cover this semester.
- They have started the exam review process with emails to some of their fall professors before seeing me.
- They use a daily planner or electronic calendar to record assignments and the date/time of our next meeting.
And then there are students on probation who do not seem ready to succeed yet (fortunately a small group). Hopefully that will change after grade shock/anger/angst has passed.
- They have not scheduled an appointment with me before the end of the second week of classes as required by the law school
- They "no show" the first appointment or arrive late to the appointment.
- They come to the appointment without anything - no pen and paper, no laptop, no knapsack, nothing.
- When asked to fill out an information sheet, they do not follow clear instructions or cannot remember the information to complete a section.
- They have not given any thought to the last semester's grades beyond "if I had been in the easy section" or "Professor X's exam was too hard" or "I wouldn't have been on probation if I just got a D+ in Y course instead of a D" or other answers that are basically non-reflection.
- They scowl, slouch in their chairs, sigh deeply in boredom, or exhibit other signs of frustration and animosity for having to meet.
- They make no notes on assigned tasks or the date/time for the next meeting.
Past semesters reassure me that the second group of students will come around. It may be several weeks before they are ready to take advantage of new strategies, but they come around at least 95% of the time. Unfortunately, if it takes too long to do so, they will have lost valuable time.
But I live in hope. (Amy Jarmon)