Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Bountiful Harvest of Practice Problems - Just in Time for Final Exam Season

It's quite common for most of us learn to prepare for final exams...by, unfortunately, not actually preparing for final exams.  

Here's why:  

If you're like me, I just never quite feel like I know enough law to start practicing problems.

But if we wait until we feel like we know enough, we'll run smack out of time to practice exams because most of our time will be spent instead on creating and reviewing our study tools (rather than using our study tools to help us navigate through "test flights" of practice final exam problems). 

And that's a problem because professors don't test on the quality of your outlines but rather on whether you can use the law in your study tools to solve legal problems.

But that's great news because...

Solving legal problems is a skill that you can learn through practice!  [Like any skill, it just takes pondering, puzzling, and practicing through lots of simulated exam problems to develop expertise as a legal problem-solver.]  So, this harvest season as you turn towards final exam preparations, focus much of your learning on working through practice final exam problems.  

As such, the best source of practice exam problems is to ask your professor for sample exam problems.  If none (or only a few available), feel free to ask your professor and academic support department if they can suggest additional practice problems.  Finally, if you still can't find practice problems, feel free to work through past bar exam essays.  To get started, here's some links for some nifty old bar exam essays, organized by subject, complete with hypothetical scenarios and analysis:

Administrative Law

Agency

Civil Procedure

Constitutional Law

Contracts

Corporations

Criminal Law

Criminal Procedure

Evidence

Family Law

Partnership

Property

Torts

UCC Article 2 – Sales

UCC Article 3 – Commercial Paper

UCC Article 9 – Secured Transactions

Wills and Trusts

(Scott Johns).

November 7, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wise Interventions: A Searchable Research Database

Thanks to the work of social psychologists Gregory Walton (Stanford) and Timothy Wilson (Univ. of Virginia), here's a wonderful searchable database of research articles about interventions to concretely improve learning, life, and community.  

https://wise-interventions/research.

And there's more great news...

It's a free!  In fact, it's one of my go-to sources as I look for ways to enhance student learning.  

(Scott Johns).

October 31, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Neuromyths

The Legal Skills Prof. Blog had 2 excellent posts last week regarding metacognition.  The posts discuss different commonly held myths by students and faculty that have detrimental effects on learning.  My experience is not only do these myths exist, but the hardest thing to overcome is the entrenched nature of the beliefs.  As the posts suggest, students tend to continually slide into comfort over scientifically proven methods.  I highly encourage reading the 2 posts.

Educational Neuromyths and Cognitive Biases

The pernicious falsehood about visual learners and other neuromyths

(Steven Foster)

October 27, 2019 in Learning Styles, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What Can We Learn from the "Best Learners in the Universe"

Ok...here's a thought experiment...

What person or name first comes to mind as the best learner of all time?  

Feel free to blurt it out...

Perhaps Albert Einstein?

Or Marie Curie?  

Or maybe the great scholar, teacher, and mathematician Hypatia?

Well, according to cognitive scientist Alison Gopnik (U.C. Berkeley), it turns out that "...babies are the best learners in the universe." A. Gopnik, The Ultimate Learning Machine, Wall Street Journal (Oct 12, 2019)  

In fact, as a research psychologist, Dr. Gopnik explains that the key to successful development of artificial intelligence requires that computers learn to learn to learn and think like human babies.  Id. And, that's very difficult for machines to do.  Id. Computers are brilliant in processing lots and lots of data but not nearly so good as babies and toddlers in accurately making sense and judgements about the world around them with very little data to boot. Id.  And, most of the time, we have very little data, too.  

Take law school for example.  

We read perhaps a handful of cases on intentional torts.  Perhaps a few on contract formation or consideration.  A few more about equal protection. And, out of just a few experiences we are suppose to generalize, to synthesize, to figure out what intentional torts are all about, or contract law, or equal protection analysis.

So, that begs the question.  

Perhaps we as legal educators might also learn a few things about how to learn by also exploring how babies learn to learn...and learn so expertly and so quickly with so little knowledge at the start [since we too --in our work with law students --often given our law students very little to go on to figure out "the law."].

According to Dr. Gopnik, babies learn through the process of making a mess.  Or, as Dr. Gopnik accentuates, "MESS," which is an acronym that stands for building models about the world that they observe, curiously exploring the world around then, and learning in social experiences with others. Id.  

For example, with respect to models, toddlers and even babies can construct common sense models about such topics as physics and even psychology.  Id. With respect to psychology, even a one-year old baby, when seeing an adult drop a pen, will try to help pick up the pen for the adult out of apparent empathy for the other (but not if the adult was seen by the baby intentionally dropping the pen).  Id. You see, little toddlers have already learned through curious observations about gravity and even about human intentions too.  Id.

With respect to exploring the world, "[babies] are insatiably curious and active experimenters.  Parents call this 'getting into everything.'" Id. Toddlers love to explore, to test out everything, to take things apart and to try to put them together.  Id. It's this sort of "playful experimentation" that is another secret to the ability of children to learn so adeptly.  Id.

The final factor relates to learning in social contexts.  Babies learn by observing people around them, who have the benefit of often times years of experiences, by trying to imitate them.  But there's even more.  Take the situation of toddlers learning to tie sneakers.  Id.  Try as you might, it turns out that it is very difficult to teach computers to learn to tie sneakers [I think it would take lots of mathematical code!].  But children learn to tie shoes by watching others, focusing on the purpose of the task and not just the steps, which leads to learning.  Id. That's something that's just plain difficult for machines to do.

In fact, computers can't generalize very well at all from limited data (i.e., they aren't very good at creating accurate common sense models); they don't really experience the world around them (except to the extent that humans pre-program computers to "act" in particular ways; and they don't have an ability to watch what others are doing (and extract out of those observed activities what purposes might be lurking in one's activities).  

So, that takes us back to law school.  What can we learn about learning the law from babies?

First, as law students read cases (or even before), students can create models or theories about what might lay ahead as they read case after case (or what principle or principles might hold them together).  In short, law students can formulate hypotheses about what they are preparing to read.

Second, as law students work on learning, students should be encouraged to tinker with the cases, to explore them, to be curiously playful.  In particular, law students can imagine different facts, different judges, and whether those sorts of changes might change outcomes.

Third, as law students learn to solve legal problems, faculty should explore with them how they solve legal problems, perhaps walking through reading essay questions and then even writing out answers in real time, with students then having the opportunity to practice themselves by trying to imitate what they watched experts perform.  And, students should be encouraged to think about the purpose behind solving the legal problems and reading the cases.

I know.  There's a lot of deep cognitive science behind learning.  But, perhaps the key to learning is not quite as difficult as we (or at least I) sometimes make it out to be.  Life is complex; perhaps learning is not so complex; perhaps it's one of life's beautiful secrets that we - as legal educators and as law students - can learn from the smallest among us.  

So, next time you see a baby, pay attention; there are important life lessons to be learned!

(Scott Johns)

 

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Are We Hiding the Ball?

Consider the disturbing possibility that in law there is no ball or that, if there is one, no one has a really good account of what it looks like. – Pierre Schlag

The Socratic method is an iconic hallmark of legal education. Even in the face of evolving pedagogy, the Socratic method continues to be regarded as an excellent instructional tool that develops important skills and teaches students to think quickly. Yet, the Socratic method remains one of the most widely used, and possibly equally misused, tools relied upon by law faculty.

Taken to extremes, some scholars espouse the position that Socratic-style teaching should deliberately induce confusion in learners. Professor Rick Hills distinguishes “hopeless confusion” from “productive confusion” the latter in which the instructor “helps the student recognize that the way out of confusion is through focused thought and problem solving, by providing necessary information and suggesting strategies when appropriate.”1 Regardless of the distinction, students are likely to interpret instructor-induced confusion as withholding essential information or “hiding the ball.”

In his article by the same title, Pierre Schlag identifies the ironic significance of the “hiding the ball” metaphor: instead of promoting curiosity in new law students, it seduces their attention away from fundamental inquiry into law. Law students seem to prefer direct instruction that identifies the general rules and their distinctions. Professors commonly refer to this instructive style as “bar review.” Professor Hills recounted, [e]very once in a while, I engage in this “bar review” style lecturing just to make it easier. When I do, my [course evaluations] predictably tick up.2

Hills’ example begs the question to what extent should student preferences be considered in establishing legal education norms. In the face of changing enrollment demographics and declining bar passage, would being more direct with learning deliverables produce more practice ready graduates, or would it dilute the quality of legal education as we know it? Washburn Law Professor Jeffrey Jackson says that the Socratic method should not be the sole means for teaching law, but it can be a complementary tool to other methods of teaching, like Legal Writing and Analysis. By using a combination of teaching methods that provide a variety of approaches, the learning experience of law students can be greatly enhanced.3 Professor Jackson’s model allows for the type of multi-modal instruction that today’s law students deserve. 

1  Roderick M. Hills, Jr., William T. Comfort III Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, In defense of hiding the ball in law school classes: Does being confused help you learn stuff?

2 Pierre Schlag, Hiding the Ball, 71 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1681 (1996). 

3 Jeffrey D. Jackson, Socrates and Langdell In Legal Writing: Is the Socratic Method a Proper Tool for Legal Writing Courses?, 43 Cal. W. L. Rev. 267 (2007).

(Marsha Griggs)

October 14, 2019 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success!

It's never too late to make a difference…a positively meaningful difference...to improve academic performance for students, and, in particular, for underrepresented students.  

You see, as demonstrated by social science research from psychologists Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen, a sense of belonging - as a valued participant within a cooperative learning community - is critical to academic success.

Indeed, belonging changes lives.  

And, there's more great news.  

According to the research, just a "brief social-belonging intervention" can make all the difference. A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students.  And, that brief intervention is especially valuable for African-American students. Id.

So, here are the details, at least as I paraphrase the research findings.

Preliminarily, the researchers hypothesized that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes.  As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for academic success in college. 

The research intervention was threefold.

First, the researchers directly shared survey information with students, showing that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time." Id.

Second, the students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages about belonging by writing a brief essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey." Id. 

Third, the students then created short videos of their essays...for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the world better for future generations of incoming students - just like them). Id.

According to the research results, surveys in the week following the intervention indicated that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging.  

And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.  

The researchers then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences.  

As documented by their research findings, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students - both in terms of improving GPA and also for improving well-being.  In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits with students outperforming such traditional academic predicators such as standardized admission test scores.  That's big news.

That brings us back to us ASPers!  

As ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging.  

But, there's more involved than just sharing the news.  

Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not just see themselves - in the words of the research psychologists - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention. Id.  

In short, the key is to empower our law students with tools to share with future generations of students what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.  

Wow!  What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge too!

(Scott Johns)

P.S. Here's the research abstract to provide a precise overview of the research findings:  

"A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health."

Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451.

 

October 3, 2019 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Half of Life Is Figuring Out What Not to Do

Some people arrive at law school with a particular passion such as helping immigrant communities, or aiding small businesses, or supporting victims of domestic violence or abuse. Given that I had no specific passion but only a yen to be useful to ordinary people, it was a relief to get a judicial clerkship, since the clerkship allowed me put off the decision about "what to do when I grow up" a little while longer. At the court, every month the judicial clerks would divvy up the cases newly assigned to our chambers in a totally informal process; as long as we got an approximately equal workload, our justice didn't care which clerk took a case. The court was a great experience, as I got to see not only good and bad lawyering but also cases running the gamut from criminal to workers compensation to water law. I still didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up, but our monthly allocation of cases gave me some clue as to what I didn't want to do. Corporate law? Shudder. Election law? No thanks. Family law - no, PLEASE, I'll take any number of workers compensation cases to avoid family law. By the end of my clerkship, I knew for certain a large number of areas in which I didn't want to practice, which still left a broad universe of possibilities to consider as I moved ahead.

Today I was talking with an upper-division student about her future. A diligent person, she had just attended "Pizza with the Prosecutor," one of a series of events put on by the Career Development Office to introduce students to a variety of available career paths. While other students had emerged enthusiastic about careers in criminal law in general and with the local prosecutor's office in particular, this student was shaking her head as though trying to rid herself of a bad dream. "Well," she said, "that was informative. I definitely know I don't want to be a prosecutor. And half of life is figuring out what you don't want to do."

In any life transition, we spend a lot of time figuring out what not to do. As I've met with 1Ls over the past month, I've been struck by how often they related their experiences in figuring out what not to do. Sometimes, of course, this was because they initially ignored, or didn't believe, or didn't listen to the largely consistent messages conveyed by faculty, staff, and successful upper-division students about how to engage in the practice of being a successful law student. More often, though, they were experimenting and working through different ways of reading, reviewing, outlining, writing, and managing their time. Read two weeks ahead? No, that didn't work -- I spent so much time reviewing that I was doing the work twice. Prepare all my meals for the week on the weekend so I wouldn't have to cook on school nights? No, I know that works for other people, but I was just exhausted from cooking all day and got so bored with my meals that I ended up going out to eat. Retyping my notes after class? That worked, but only once I figured out it was best to write down a summary and then look over my notes and add highlights: when I read through my notes before retyping them, it took hours because I was trying to make everything perfect. Exercising between classes? It seemed like a good idea, but I barely made it to class on time, so I switched my gym time to early morning, which is better even though I'd rather sleep in. Do practice problems? I tried going to the old exams first, but I got so intimidated that I decided to concentrate for now on working through the problems in the notes and questions. As an ASPer, I'm happy to see students engage actively in this type of self-regulated learning that will improve their effectiveness and satisfaction in practicing the skills of successful law students.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

October 2, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

More or Less: What's the Best Bar Exam Approach Based on the Latest Empirical Research?

Common wisdom often suggests more is better...at least when it comes to passing the bar exam.  But, just like more medicine is not always better for one's body (and even poisonous when taking too much), perhaps undertaking more bar-tested subjects as a law student is not associated with increasing bar passage results, at least for those most at-risk of not passing the bar exam.  And, perhaps avoiding experiential learning courses is not necessary for students most at-risk of not passing the bar exam.  Indeed, the latest forthcoming empirical research is all about exploring common conceptions about the relationships among experiential learning, taking bar-tested electives, and bar exam outcomes.

To evaluate these questions, we turn to two empiricist law professors - Robert Kuehn at Washington University and David Moss at Wayne State University - who have just released "must-read" research analyzing often-expressed narratives about the impacts of experiential learning and bar-tested elective courses on bar exam outcomes.  Robert Kuehn and David Moss, A Study of the Relationship Between Law School Coursework and Bar Exam Outcomes, 68 J. Legal Educ. (2019) (forthcoming). 

First, the authors evaluate the hypothesis that law students should refrain from taking too many experiential learning courses (such as clinics, field placements/internships, and simulation courses), most likely based on the belief that experiential learning crowds out doctrinal learning. 

Second, the researchers evaluate the hypothesis that law students should take more bar-tested subjects rather than fewer to boost ones' promise of bar exam success, particularly for those most at-risk of not passing bar exams.

Their research is robust, using regression analysis to evaluate such variables as LSAT scores, UGPA, first-year LGPA, graduating LGPA, experiential learning courses (clinics, field placements/internships, and simulation courses), and bar-tested elective subjects [regression analysis allows researchers to control or take into account the influence of other variables in order to observe whether experiential learning credits and/or bar-tested course work are associated with improved bar exam outcomes].

As indicated in their republished table below, their research spans an impressive 10 year time span, examining  first-time bar exam results, for 3891 law school graduates from Washington University and Wayne State University.

Image1

Given the depth and breadth of the professors' research, their findings provide food-for-thought for these two questions, at least based on their law school populations, as to whether law students most-at risk of bar failure based on LGPA should take fewer experiential learning courses and/or more bar-tested elective subjects.

As an initial observation, with respect to LSAT scores, both law schools observed relatively consistent LSAT means throughout the course of the ten-year period despite a general downward trend in bar passage rates beginning in or around 2013 and 2014. Consequently, at least based on their law school populations, bar exam declines appear to be unrelated to LSAT admission decisions since LSAT scores remained relatively flat throughout the ten-year research period.

With respect to experiential learning courses, the authors observe that both law schools have seen astounding increases in the number of experiential credits hours that their students are taking over the ten year period, which is not surprising given the American Bar Association's 2014 requirement mandating increased experiential learning requirements in order for law schools to satisfy more recent accreditation standards. 

Nevertheless, despite the occasional claim suggesting that law students are taking too many experiential courses, which might compromise bar exam results, the researchers found that there was no statistical association between increases in experiential learning credits hours and bar exam performance (to include those students most at-risk of bar exam failure).  Thus, the authors suggest that law schools should not counsel students to avoid experiential learning opportunities.

With respect to bar-tested elective subjects, the authors observed that both law schools have found that more recent bar takers are taking fewer bar-tested subjects than in the past.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found a modest correlation between taking bar-tested subjects and bar exam outcomes but only for those students with LGPA's that placed them most at-risk of bar exam failure. 

However, critically, the authors observed that that was an apparent sweet spot in the number of bar-tested subjects taken by at-risk students such that there was no statistical benefit in at-risk students taking more than the approximate average number of bar-tested subjects at each school (just four electives out of fourteen bar-tested subjects for Washington University students and just seven electives out of nineteen bar-tested subjects for Wayne State students). 

In other words, in my reading of their research based on their populations of bar exam takers, law schools might counsel at-risk students to take a handful or so of bar-tested subjects but also advise them that they need not take the entire panoply of bar-tested elective subjects (as more than the average has no empirical benefit of improving bar exam outcomes). And, we should not at all fear encouraging at-risk students from actively participating in experiential learning courses, whether in the form of clinics, internships, and/or simulation courses. 

In short, there's much room for curricular exploration by at-risk students without compromising their bar exam outcomes...and that's good news worth thinking about as we meet with our students about their curriculum choices. 

(Scott Johns).

 

September 26, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Back to Basics

The most important knowledge teachers need to do good work is a knowledge of how students are experiencing learning and perceiving their teacher’s actions.  ~ Steven Brookfield

I love innovative pedagogy. Tools like mind maps, retrieval practice, spaced repetition, and self-directed leaning strategies have been game changers in higher education. I am always looking for ways to enhance and improve my teaching. But innovation is an enhancement to, and not a replacement for, the most basic tenets of quality classroom teaching. In this series of weekly blog posts, I will address teaching basics that are the telltale traits of effective teachers.

  1. Know your audience

We cannot afford to make assumptions about the knowledge or background of the students in our classes. Recently, I attended a conference planned for academic support and bar prep professionals. The first few hours of the conference were devoted almost entirely to explaining basic components of the bar exam. I concluded that the presenters either underestimated the skill and experience of the audience or failed to tailor a previously used presentation for the present audience. My perception of audience reaction to the content and delivery was a combination of polite appreciation, genuine curiosity, and suppressed rage. As audience participants, we have both the luxury and opportunity to make critical assessments of the projected and realized learning outcomes. But a seat on the other side of the podium also yields an enlightened perspective on effective learning strategies.

Rather than disconnect myself entirely from the redundancy of the content presented, I used the time to introspectively examine whether I had made the same mistakes. To my deep chagrin, I had. Insert hand raise emoji. I teach an early bar prep course, enrollment in which is restricted to students in their final year of law school. Because I cannot cover all the bar exam subjects in the time allotted for class, I select a few subjects. Routinely included in my course coverage are Property, Torts, Evidence, and Criminal Law. Although I intentionally include required courses, and stray away from electives that not all students will have taken, I failed to thoroughly research my audience this semester. In so doing, I did not discover, until after class had begun, that two students in my class had not yet completed the required course in Evidence.

One student was concurrently enrolled in Evidence and my course, the other had decided to wait until next semester to complete their requirements. I gut-wrenched at the thought of their polite, yet passive, frustration with me as I assigned practice questions testing hearsay  - a topic with which they had no prior exposure. Of course, there are many law schools who do not require coursework in Evidence, and a corresponding number of students who learn/study the evidentiary rules for the first time during bar prep. Pedagogically, however, had I taken the time (actually a lot of time) to review the transcripts of the students enrolled in my class, I could have scheduled assignments that equally serve and challenge them all. Even though time consuming, doing my homework on my audience is just as important as being well studied in the subject matter that I teach. Suddenly my frustration with another’s seeming underestimation of my knowledge base was supplanted with embarrassment by my own overestimation of my students’.

(Marsha Griggs)

September 23, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Learning Styles, Meetings, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A Himalayan Court's Perspective on Case Briefing, Preparation, and Legal Analysis

I have to make a confession.  Last week, I admitted that - as a law student - I was a proverbial "deer-in-the-headlights" when  it came my time to face an ambush of socratic questioning.  Confessions of a Socratic Deer (Sep 5, 2019).  In retrospect, I think that some of that was due to my method of class preparation, namely, I tried to memorize as much of the case materials as I could so that I could regurgitate the cases when called upon (an impossible task, mind you!).  

Now, looking back, I think I should have focused, as indicated in the final point of last week's blog, on preparing for classes by preparing my own questions about the cases assigned as reading, writing:

"As you read cases, puzzle over them, asking questions, evaluating arguments, voicing your own concerns, dialoguing and debating with the courts.  In other words, don't read to memorize the cases.  Instead, read to learn to have conversations with courts, to voice your own opinions and insights, in short, to prepare for a life in the law as a creative thoughtful attorney." Id

That's when I got super-excited about the super-short case preparation checklist from the Royal Court of Justice for the Kingdom of Bhutan. Royal Bhutan Case Preparation Checklist (2018).   

It's just two pages long but jam-packed with informative tips and questions that, in retrospect, would have made a mountain of difference in my law school learning, not to mention my confidence in the face of potential socratic questioning.  

As the Royal Court explains in its document entitled "Briefing a Case," case briefing in preparation for court [and classes of course] is critically important for lawyers [and law students] because the process of case briefing "...organizes ones thinking and forces one, point by point, to consider all the important elements of the decision.  Id.  

To paraphrase, the Royal Court's checklist focuses one's mind on 8 steps:

  1. State the parties of the case and what they want.
  2. Provide a brief synopsis of essential facts.
  3. Briefly describe the procedural history of what happened.
  4. Find out the issue or issues.
  5. Figure out the holding/decisions of the judges.
  6. Explain the court's chain of reasoning using IRAC analysis.
  7. State the ultimate order of the court in disposition of the case.
  8. Voice your analysis.  Id.

In my opinion, the first 7 steps are the means to an end with the end lying in step 8 - voicing your analysis

As the Royal Court indicates its checklist, in the last step about voicing your analysis, explore the significance of the case, figure out how the case relates to others that you have read, identify the case's place in history, ponder what the case shows you about judges, courts, and society in general (to include its impact on litigants, both now and in the future), unpack both the explicit and implicit assumptions of the court, and engage in a thoughtful debate the "rightness" of the decision to include its persuasiveness and logic.  Id.  

I know that that sounds like a lot to take in.  But, learning the law requires learning legal analysis and learning legal analysis requires digging in deeply into the cases assigned for each of your classes.  Unfortunately, I spent way too much time in law school re-reading cases, trying to memorize them, rather than trying to see the patterns in legal thought and persuasion and, best yet, voicing my own analysis of them.  

In short, as I reflect on my own law school experience, the key to case briefing and class preparation, it seems to me, is to take on the role of Socrates yourself, prior to class, in which you probe and ponder the cases assigned.  As a bonus I can promise you, you'll learn to think like a lawyer and, more importantly, you'll be the sort of attorney to which your clients will be mighty grateful because you honed your skills and sharpened your analysis in law school (rather than with them).  

(Scott Johns)

 

September 12, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Confessions of a Socratic Deer

I'm a deer in the headlights.  Throughout law school, I lived in what I'll call a perpetual state of "socratic fear."  I muddled through classes for the first weeks of law school, never called on but ever so fearful.  But, my day finally came. I was called to state the facts of the case and the issue at hand. What case?  I couldn't recall.  What issues?   I didn't have any notion.  Frozen and stuck, I stumbled badly.  It's as though my mind went wildly bank despite my over preparation. 

I never did get over my fear of the socratic method.  Throughout all three years of law school, I was the quiet one. Indeed, I felt like I was the only one who was afraid to be called on by a professor.  And, as you might have guessed, I definitely didn't voluntarily to speak in class.  It was just too risky. Instead, I piled up as much fodder as I could in an attempt to barricade myself from making the dreaded "eye-to-eye" contact with my professors. That was a surefire way, it seemed to me, to be called on. So, I lived with my head buried throughout most of law school, looking down, not up.  

But, there's great news for me (and for you!).  

You see,  we are not the only ones...at all...with "socratic fear."  Indeed, according to survey research out of Europe based on language-learning courses in which students are called on to to speak on the "fly" as they learn foreign languages (much like law students are often put on the spot to answer questions in front of peers about cases), many students are just like us - they feel anxious when put in the spotlight to speak in class with the teacher.  Alessia Occhipinti, Foreign Language Anxiety in In-Class Speaking Activities, University of Norway (2009) (published student research thesis).  Not surprisingly, the survey results suggest that the level of anxiety increases, like a hot autumn day with the noontime sun directly overhead, as the level of personal interaction increases from individual work silently alone at one's desk without being called upon...to group activities and presentations in front of the class...to individual spotlight activities interacting directly with professors.  Id

That got me thinking because, prior to law school, I had no fears of speaking in class, whether language classes or even military pilot training (where students are called in "stand-ups" to explain how they would handle an unanticipated emergency situation to a safe conclusion).  

In other words, there seemed to be something lurking in the law school educational experience that poked holes in my once courageous voice.  

As I scan back to the past, it wasn't due to a lack of preparation but perhaps to a lack of knowing what was coming (which I suspect is the root of much of our anxieties and fears).  And, to be honest, we (or at least I!) also fear being found out to be a fraud, to have been wrongly admitted to law school (or so we feel), that we don't belong at all in law school (and soon everyone will know the truth when they witness us self-destruct...right in front of the class of our peers as the professor interrogates us).  

But, as I think about my own law school experience, and in talking with scores and scores of law students, here's what I've gleaned as suggestions about how to handle the stresses and strains of the socratic method.  I just wish I had known them when I was a law student.

  1. Everyone (or most of us) are afraid of speaking in class.
  2. Just because you have trouble speaking in class, doesn't mean that you don't belong in class.  In fact, it might really mean the opposite.  That you, like the rest of your classmates, are human beings with shared worries and concerns.
  3. Talk with someone.  Be open with classmates in particular.  Be the first to break the ice with trusted friends. Reach out to student affairs, academic success professions, and even your professors.  As a suggestion, ask your law school faculty about their own experiences with socratic questioning when they were students (and what suggestions they might have for you to overcome your concerns).
  4. Realize something extremely important.  As far as I can tell, there's absolutely no association between speaking in class and serving as a first-rate attorney.  Indeed, although I was overcome (gripped) by fear throughout my law school moot court experiences, I loved speaking in courts as an attorney.  Here's why.  I knew that the judges wanted to have conversations with me.  Simply put, judges were asking me questions because they wanted to learn what I was thinking, they wanted to see things from multiple perspectives that they might have missed in their own preparations for oral arguments, etc., they were dependent on me (us) as attorneys to educate them about our clients, our cases, and the governing law.  In short, based on my own experiences, oral argument in court is much more about having a conversation with the judge(s) rather than a battle with professors who, most likely, have already pre-determined most of the answers to their questions.
  5. Prepare for class with questions.  As you read cases, puzzle over them, asking questions, evaluating arguments, voicing your own concerns, dialoguing and debating with the courts.  In other words, don't read to memorize the cases.  Instead, read to learn to have conversations with courts, to voice your own opinions and insights, in short, to prepare for a life in the law as a creative thoughtful attorney.
  6. Repeat no. 4.  There's no relationship between socratic success and legal success, so far as I can tell.  Rather, great attorneys think before they speak, often times rephrasing the questions, and sharing with courts what's on their mind and how that relates to the cases at hand.

(Scott Johns).

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Importance of Relationships in Enhancing Belonging and Academic Achievement

Much of the time, it seems to me, I am occupied with trying to reach the minds of our law students.  But, perhaps that's putting the proverbial "cart before the horse."  The cart, so to speak, is metacognition, or the process of learning to learn (practices such as spaced repetition and the implement of desirable difficulties throughout the course of one's learning).  But, what might be the horse?

Well, a number of possibilities come to mind.  There's been much research of late on the relationship between growth mindsets in predicting academic achievement.  But, I think that there's another horse at play, a factor that might even serve as a necessary precondition for the development of such mindsets as grit, resiliency, and a growth mindset.  In my opinion, that prerequisite is a well-formed sense of belonging...as empowered members of a vibrant learning community.

I love that word "belonging." It's chocked full of action with its "ing" begging us to be fully embraced (and to embrace others), despite all our blemishes and surprises.  And, it starts with the prefix "be," which resonates and comes only alive within the present ongoing moments of community with others, indicating that this is something that we enjoy in the here and now rather than later.  And, it's all-encompassing of the person, with its incorporation of the word "long," reminding me of arms outstretched, to be overtaken in the presence of others, to be accepted as we are...fully and completely (and to stretch our hearts around others within our midsts).  In other words, the word "belonging" is full of action.

So, that brings up a few questions.

First, is belonging even much of a problem in law schools?  

Second, what sort of spark might lead to the type actions that can then develop into a well-spring of belonging for our law students as members within learning communities?  

Well, with respect to the first question, as Prof. Victor Quintanilla documents according to research at the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE): "[W]orries about belonging are endemic to law school." http://lssse.indiana.edu/tag/belonging/  That's the bad news.  And, in my opinion, that's why many fall to the wayside.  It's not because of LSAT scores or a lack of motivation.  It's just darn difficult to succeed when you don't feel like you are a part of something, that you belong within the community, that you are welcome and embraced as vital law school participants.

But, there's great news to be had.  Indeed, as Prof. Quintanilla further explains, the quality of one's relationships with students, faculty, and administrators significantly predicts one's sense of belonging in law school...and the strength of one's sense of belonging significantly predict's one's academic performance even controlling for traditional academic predicators such as LSAT scores.  Id.  In other words, "law school belonging is a critical predictor of social and academic success among law students." Id. (Quintanilla, et. al, in prep).   And, that's great news because - as educational leaders in academic support - we can serve in the frontline of developing, strengthening, and securing our students in positive relationships with others throughout our law school's learning communities.  

That brings me to our final quandary.  How might we actually empower our students to be in vibrant relationship with others in law school?  

In my own case, it means that I need to listen to my students. That I need to frequently pause to take in and hear and observe what's happening to my students, not as students, but as people.  It means that I need to step up to the plate, so to speak, to proactively engage with my students.  Nevertheless, with so much on our ASP plates, that sure sounds hard to implement.  

So, here's an easy way that we might share with our students in order to help spark relationships that can then lead to a sense of belonging.   It's called the "10/5 rule."  Next time you're at your law school, when you come within 10 feet of another person, break out a brief smile.  It doesn't have to be much, but it does have to be sincere.  Then, when you're within about 5 feet of that other person, briefly recognize them with a short "howdy" or "hi."  That's it.  

You see, according to social science research, such actions of a brief smile lead to a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, even, amazingly, if the other person doesn't even recall seeing your smile.  See The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)! 

So, please join me in sharing a smile.  It's a great way to not just brighten your day but brighten the lives of those around you.  Indeed, who knows?  Perhaps that brief smile that you just shared today (or will share in just a bit) will lead another to smile, and then another, and then a whole circles of smiles.  And, isn't a circle of smiles the sort of spark that can create relationships that can lead to belonging and therefore might even help to empower successful learning?    (Scott Johns). 

 

August 29, 2019 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The "Unexamined Case" Might Not Be Worth Reading

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, when a student asks me to work with them through any reading passage (whether a case, a statute, or a multiple-choice problem or 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 - in my mind - the words as they become alive, the punctuation marks as they spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks as they give me time to catch my breath.  

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.

Now, I suspect that most students don't sub-vocalize when they read, i.e., they don't hear voices when they read.  Nevertheless, I gather that most first-year law students (and perhaps most law students in general) feel like they read too slow.  If so, then you're exactly like me (and I'm supposed to be an expert at critical reading, particularly in reading legal texts, etc.).  

But, before I get too far, in my opinion, 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 learning 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.  And that takes time, lots of time. Or, to put it more bluntly, reading is really about "cross-examining" those legal materials, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments and  analysis, and then forming your own opinion about the merits of those arguments (and how you might use those arguments in the future to solve hypothetical problems posed on mid-term exams and final exams).

That gets me to the next question.  How might I teach reading?  

When I first started in academic support, I taught case briefing but not case reading, most likely, because it seemed to me that by briefing a case I had read the case.  I'm not so sure now.  That's because most case briefs (at least most of my case briefs) are composed of just bits of quotes and paraphrases of what the court said...rather than my evaluation of what the court said (or didn't say).  Indeed, as Professor Jane Grisé writes, "critical reading is about 'learning to evaluate, draw inferences, and arrive at conclusions.'" J. Grisé, Critical Reading Instruction: The Road to Successful Legal Writing Skills, 18 W. Mich. Univ. Cooley J. of Prac. & Clinical L. (2017) (quoting L. Christensen, Legal Reading and Success in Law School: An Empirical Study, 30 Seattle U.L. Rev. 603, 603 (2007).  Thus, because critical reading is about learning, it is something that can be taught.  Id. Consequently, based on Professor Grisé research, let me offer the following suggestions on how one might teach critical reading, particularly reading cases that are jam-packed into the massive casebooks that comprise the bulk of reading in law school.

  1. First, confess.  Set the stage for learning by sharing the worries and frustrations that you had (and perhaps still have) as a legal reader.  Let students know that it wasn't a natural skill for you (or for anyone for that matter).  Rather, critical legal reading is a skill that is developed, like muscles through exercise, bit by bit, in which we can all learn.
  2. Second, model pre-reading strategies.   Share with students some of the ways that you engage in reading, even before you begin to read, by, for example, figuring out the purpose of the case by placing it in context with the prior and later assignments based on the case's position in table of contents and it's placement in the course syllabus.  Then, get to know the players.  Learn something about the case from the case caption, figure out the stage or setting for the case by talking through the information gleaned from the citation, etc., picture yourself as another judge or advocate for one of the parties, hypothesize how you might use this case in the future when it comes to exam time, skim through the case to capture the sorts of sections of the case and its organization (either by looking at headings or by skimming the paragraphs), and then poke around at the very end of the case to see what the court decided.  Indeed, that's my favorite pre-reading strategy: Peeking at the end before I begin. That gets my focus jumpstarted! 
  3. Third, read with gusto.  Reading takes energy and focus, so if the time doesn't feel quite right, wait.  But then, when you are reading to go, read the case facts - not as fiction - but recognizing rather that the facts involve real people and entities with real struggles.  After all, cases often come to the court because people couldn't resolve hard-felt (and heart-felt) disputes on their own. As you read, look up words that you don't know.  Write the meaning of those words, in your own words, in the margins of the text.  Rather than highlighting lots of phrases that you think are important, make a notation on the text as to why you think that phrase or sentence might be important.  Feel free to draw pictures or make paraphrases to help you capture the meanings of the words.  If something seems unclear, it probably is, to you and to most of us.  So, go back to those sections, in which the court often times doesn't explain its analysis, and make inferences (guesses) as to what is going on.  Realize that the most (and perhaps all) cases are subject to different interpretations.  Be creative to scope out connections with previous readings.  Look for patterns.  Dialogue with the materials.  Question them, indeed, interrogate the court.  Don't let the court baffle you.  Instead, be on the lookout for mistakes that the court might have made in its analysis.  In sum, talk back to the court and with the court as you read.
  4. Fourth, 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.  Summarize in your own words what you think the case stands for (and why it was assigned for your course).  Evaluate the case as to whether its reasoning was puzzling, or startling, or settling (and why).  Conjure up different facts to test how the decision might have been impacted in different circumstances.  Finally, synthesis a one sentence or phrase statement 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."

Now, before I let you go, just one more 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 an improvement...at all.  Instead, if  you're like me, you feel like its taking lots more of your 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.  

Much like learning to ride a bike, if you are like me, you fall lots and get lots of bruises along the way.  That's because learning is hard 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 clients in the future).  (Scott Johns).

 

August 22, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What I Wished I Had Known When I First Started in Academic Support...

I love to talk, yap, and chat.  The more the better.  And, that's a problem.  A very big problem, at least with respect to my work as an academic support professional (ASP).  I'll explain, but first, a bit of a story to set the stage...

As mentioned in a recent blog entitled Obstacles or Opportunities, I'm on the slow mend after an accident this summer, in which I fractured my back.  Since the accident, I am mostly using a walker to navigate the world upright, step by step, as the fractures heal.

Not long ago, my spouse took me to the public library (in addition to talking, I love to read!).  It started out as a perfect day, with me hobbling straight ahead, walker in action - right up to the newly released books.  I felt like I was in a heavenly garden, with rows and rows of new books.  

Now, before I move on, you've heard of the saying that "you can't judge a book but its cover." Well, as a bit of background, I'm not allowed to "BLT" right now (with my upper-body brace trying to restrain my back from further injury).  That means no bending, lifting, or twisting (not that I could twist at my age even if I wanted to).  

But, the books that were most shiny to me were "bottom shelvers." Nothing was in arm's reach without offending the entire medical community...by bending, lifting, and twisting, too.  Immobilized, I gave up on books that day because, even though the covers looked enticing on those bottom shelves, I couldn't be sure that the titles were indeed profitable since I couldn't poke around the table of contents, the forward, and a few pages in-between.  I left empty handed because I don't get books based solely on the covers.

That brings me back to the world of academic support.  You see, when I first began serving as an academic support person, I set out to read all of the books and the literature, or at least as much as I could, to figure out how to best teach our students the necessary skills to be successful as learners.  Things like reading, note-taking, participating in classroom discussions, time management, creating study tools or outlines, and exam reading, analysis, and writing.  But, to be frank, I didn't learn what I now consider the most important skill at all, until - unfortunately - many years (and students) had past.  In short, I didn't learn to be a listener first and foremost.  In fact, rather than really listening to my students, I was quick to the draw to provide suggestions for them to implement, assuming that I knew the source of the problems or issues that my students were facing.  I wanted to be a source of wisdom rather than what is really wise, listening first before speaking.  How did I realize the errors of my ways?  Well, it happened due to the fortuitous circumstance of getting to know and work a bit with Dr. Martha (Marty) Peters, Ph.D., Emerita Professor of Law from Elon University.  

Dr. Peters would meet - one by one - with students struggling with multiple-choice analysis.  Rather than handing out sage advice (after all, she has a Ph.D. in educational psychology!), Dr. Peters would instead ask students to work through each question that they missed -  slowly - reading and navigating and pondering the problem to see if there might be anything at all, any patterns or words or pauses that might have helped them reach the correct answer.  Then, Dr. Peters would move on to the next question missed.  And, the next question, and then...the next question, etc.  She remained completely silent.  Observing. Hearing. Listening. Watching.  Finally, towards the end of one hour counseling sessions, Dr. Peters simply asked students what suggestions they might have for themselves in order to more successfully analyze multiple-choice questions next time.  In short, she asks students to share what they had learned.  The anecdotal results were simply miraculous.

First, students felt empowered; sorrowful countenances started to be reshaped as possibilities of hope and a future in law.  I know that it sounds a little (okay...a lot) dramatic, but it was unbelievably apparent as students started to actually believe that they could be law school learners, that they could help shape their destinies, that they might actually belong in law school as part of the learning community and future attorneys.  That's because it was they themselves who came up with the answers and the solutions to their learning conundrums (rather than the experts).  In short, students started to become experts in their own learning.  

Second, most students quickly realized that their analytical problems were not with the multiple-choice problems themselves or with the law but rather related to reading.  For the most part, they were missing clues, often because they didn't think that they could actually successfully solve the problems.  Rather than misreading problems and legal materials, students started to develop both their confidence and their competence as critical legal readers.  For helpful critical reading tips, see Jane B. Grisé, Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond (West Academic 2017); see also, Jane B. Grisé, Teaching First-Year Students to Read so Critical that They Discover a "Mistake" in the Judicial Opinion, The Learning Curve (Summer 2014) (available at: https://uknowledge.uky.edu).

Third, in the next batch of multiple-choice problems later that week, scores skyrocketed.  No exaggeration!  Here's why.  Before, many students were answering problems that were in their heads but those weren't really the problems on the practice sets or the exams.  In other words, students were often solving problems that didn't exist.  Now, they were poking and prodding and probing the fact problems and the issues carefully with confident "critical reading eyes," evaluating words and phrases and debating their meaning and possible legal import.  

After working with Dr. Peters for a few days, I realized the most important lesson of my ASP life.  It sort of leaped out of my heart and into my mind.  Scott: "Talk less; listen more!"  Now, before I start to hand out suggestions and advice, I try to ask my students first what suggestions they might have to improve their own learning.  In short, I try not to judge my students by what I think might be their problems and issues but I rather try to let my students co-create with me a learning atmosphere in which to  empower and liberate them...to be the true experts for their own learning.  So, next time you see me, please stop me from talking so much!  It's really quite a problem for me.  

(Scott Johns)

August 15, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The "Secret Sauce" for the Final Week of Bar Prep - Making Memories through Practice!

I recently saw data suggesting that bar passers do things differently in the final weeks of bar prep than those who are not successful on the bar exam.  That got me thinking about what I've been seeing, at least anecdotally, in working with students in preparing for their bar exams.  

But first, let me be frank. Without hard dedicated work in learning throughout the course of bar prep period, and in particular, during the final week, it's really difficult to pass the bar exam because the bar exam, in the last few years, has become much more challenging, particularly due to cognitive load. See L. Schulze, Dear Practicing Attorneys: Stop Giving Our Bar Students Bad Advice.  Thus, it's not just hard work that makes for passing the bar exam.  Rather, it's important to make sure to do what is most optimal for learning during the final week of bar prep. See S. Foster, Positive Self-Talk.

So, even with all of the hard work, what might account for the differences in bar passage outcomes for both groups of diligent bar studiers?  In short, it must be in the type of work that the two groups are doing rather than the quantity of work.  In the last week, bar passers tend to ramp up their practice with lots and lots of MBE questions and essays while also working on memorization while people who are unsuccessful tend to focus on creating perfect study tools trying to memorize every little nuance of law with very little continued practice. In sum, one group is continuing to practice for the exam that they will take and the other group is focused on memorizing for the exam.  

But, here's the rub:

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

But, according to the educational psychologists, there’s something called “desirable difficulties.”  You see, when we jam pack our study tools with everything, we aren’t learning much of anything because we aren't making hard decisions about what is most meaningful.  And, with everything written down, there's no opportunity for retrieval practice, which is the best form of memorization practice.

So, as a suggestion for the final week, tackle two to three subjects per day.  Work through a number of essay questions for each subject.  Then, take your study tool and use it for retrieval practice, reading it and then covering it up to see if you can spout out what's in it.  Push yourself.  You might even take your study tool and, without looking at it, recreate it in a different format, for example, converting it from an outline to a poster, etc.  Then, in the evening, work through a batch of MBE questions, pouring and pondering through them.  Finally, when you miss something in an essay or MBE question, add that concept to your study tool.  As Prof. Micah Yarbrough at the University of Maryland says, your study tool becomes a sort of "bar diary" of your adventurous travels in learning by doing.  And, it's in the learning by doing that makes all the difference in passing the bar exam because the bar exam tests - not just memorization - by problem-solving.   So, for those of you taking the July 2019 bar exam, focus on practice first and foremost throughout the final week of your bar preparations because you aren't going to be tested on your study tool.  Rather, you're going to be testing on whether you can use your study tool to solve hypothetical problems.  And, good luck on your bar exam this summer! (Scott Johns).

July 18, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Creating Super-Short Bar Exam Study Tools (in 2 hours or less per subject!)

Bar Takers!  

It's time to create your own personal handy-dandy bar exam study tools.  But, you ask, how, with so many other things to do (and with just a few weeks before the bar exam).  Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just a few easy steps and in less than 2 hours flat.

But first, let's lay the groundwork.  Why should I create a study tool, especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in  preparation for the bar exam in a few weeks?  

There are at least three reasons.

First, the process of creating your own study tools creates a "mental harness" for your thoughts.  It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past many weeks since graduation.

Second, the process of creating your own study tools cements your abilities to synthesize and distill the rules that you will be tested on this summer.  In short, we memorize (remember) what we create rather than what we read that others have created.

Third, your study tools are, in essence, an organized collection of pre-written, bar exam answers for tackling the hypothetical problems that you will face this summer on your bar exam.

So, let's set out the  steps:

1.  Grab Your Study Tool Support Team!  

That means grabbing hold of the shortest bar outline provided by your bar review company.  Shorter is better because less is often more!  And, you already have too much to remember.

2.  Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!  

That means taking hold of the table of contents in your bar outline provided by your bar review company or the subject matter outlines provided by the bar examiners.  For example, the NCBE provides super-short two-page outlines for each subject on what issues are testable. http://www.ncbex.org/meeoutlines. Then, using that skeleton structure, create an overview of the testable issues in your own desired format, whether as flashcards, posters, or outlines, etc.

3.  Insert Rule Sound Bites!

Using your bar review lecture notes or subject matter outlines, insert rule "sound bites" for each item identified as testable subjects.  Move swiftly.  Don't dwell.  If you think you you need a rule, don't put it in...because...you can always add more rules later if you see that rule popping up in your practice during the course of the next two weeks.  Don't try to create perfect rule statements.  Instead, just insert the "buzz words."  Feel free to be bold, daring, and adventuresome in doodling or using abbreviations to remind you of the rule.  For example, for negligence per se (NPS), my study tool just reads: (1) P.C. and (2) P.H.  That stands for protected class and protected harm.  By writing out just a few tips to help me remember, I am actually enhancing my study tool (and developing my confidence in being able to recall, for example, the requirements for NPS).  Get your entire study tool completed in 2 hours or less!  How, you ask?  By leaving lots of stuff out because you can always add more later.  Here's a tip:  It's called "desirable difficulties."  You see, according to my arm chair understanding of the science behind learning, optimal learning requires us to push ourselves; it requires mental perspiration, it takes sweat.  So, the process of deciding what to put into your study tool (and what to leave out, and, indeed, leaving out lots) enhances are learning because we can't solely rely on our study tools for memorization.  Rather, our study tool because a prompt for our memory.  So, keep your study tools super-short and crisp.

6.  Take Your Study Tool for Lots of Test Flights During the Final Several Weeks of Bar Prep!

Yes, you might crash.  Yes, it might be ugly.  In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly!  But, just grab hold of lots and lots of past bar exam essays and see if you can outline and write out sample answers using your study tools 

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  

You don't have to make an outline as your study tool.  Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a poster with lots of pictures...or a set of flashcards, etc.  

What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts!  It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your bar exam.  So, have fun learning by creating super-short snappy study tools that serve as organized pre-written answers for this summer's bar exam.  (Scott Johns)

July 11, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Living Learning (in Full Color Motion)!

On this July 4th holiday, with just under a month to go for this summer's bar takers, let's face the facts:  

Most of us are downright exhausted.  

And, we should be because we've been working pretty much non-stop since graduation  Moreover, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it seems like we can't let up with our daily regiment of bar studies.  There's just too much to learn.

However, let me offer you an encouraging way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off, whether today or this upcoming weekend.  

Here's how and why...  

Holidays, such as the Fourth of July, are some of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.  

For example...

That box of fireworks someone bought at a big-top fireworks tent stand.  That was procured through negotiation of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most likely provided a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale).

That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised.  Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.

That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits.  In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.

You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we are live in the midst of a world of bar exam problems.  In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us.  So, it's a good thing to get our heads out of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.

That means that you can completely feel free to relax and take a whole day-off because even while taking a time-off, you will still be learning lots from just living in the world.  And, because you've been trained as a professional problem-solving attorney, you can't help but see legal problems in full color everywhere.  That's a sign that you are well underway in preparations for your bar exam this summer.

So, please rest assured - bar takers - that in the midsts of a day-off with family and friends, you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too!  (Scott Johns).

July 4, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

ASP Behind a Mask

Mask: n. a covering for all or part of the face that protects, hides, or decorates the person wearing it. – Cambridge English Dictionary

It is a common practice for high-stakes gamblers, also called “sharks”, to use a trusted acquaintance when placing a bet to keep the identity of the shark gambler unknown and preserve the odds. By concealing one’s identity, an actor may control or influence audience perception. Academic Support professionals influence the perception and actions of the students we serve. ASP behind a mask allows us to fulfill our mission of student service and advancement. Behind a mask our message is not altered or concealed, only the messenger is.

My real-life experience behind the mask looks like this. For weeks, I preached and pushed a certain commercial tool to my bar takers. I negotiated a substantial discount for their purchase. I offered weekly incentives, provided demonstrations, and all but swore a blood oath that this tool would increase their chances of passing the bar. Crickets. I asked a recent bar taker to share her experience with the tool. She made one social media post that echoed verbatim my message. Within minutes of the post, I received multiple inquiries about the tool and sign-up confirmations.

Today’s law student does not respond to the pedagogy of the past. We may tell our students what is best for them academically and make recommendations for learning tools to support their development. And we may be right. But until our students “hear us” and find credible our advice and recommendations, our words fall hallow. We can strategically use the peer learning model and employ student tutors, fellows, and former students to promote our messages by sharing what has worked for them to positively influence the actions of current students.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 17, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

First Moves

If I recall correctly, the line went something like this:  "The world is filled with lonely people waiting for others to make the first move." At least, that's my recollection of the saying from the wonderful movie entitled "The Green Book," which I happened to have the opportunity to watch on my flight while traveling to the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference a few weeks back.  Little did I know at the time the tremendous impact someone would make by reaching out to me at the AASE Conference in Seattle.  

You see, it was the final day of the three-day conference.  With just a few more presentations available, I thought it best to focus my remaining time on bar prep sessions because that's my primary job.  But, while mingling in the hallways of the law school building at Seattle University, I got a friendly tug in another direction.  A person - who I had only briefly talked with at the conference - came marching and smiling right up to me and encouraged me to go to her presentation, which was set to start in a matter of moments.  The warm-hearted invitation got me.  Oh my golly, am I ever glad that I went!  Her presentation was earth-shattering.  It was the sort of talk from the heart that brought tears and promise.

Here's a brief snapshot.  

The presentation was entitled "Academic Skills Invented by Necessity - the Untapped Potential and Creativity of Disabled Learning, and Inclusive Teaching." Professor Karen Wade Cavanagh's story was featured as part of a documentary by Oprah Winfrey in 2015 entitled "Belief:"   http://www.bu.edu/law/featured-in-oprah-winfreys.

In short, Karen suffered a traumatic brain injury in a boogie boarding accident.  In her talk, Karen showed photos of her rescue. Twice Karen was brought back from the brink.  Life for Karen has since necessitated numerous surgeries and rehabilitation.  Much was starting over from scratch.  But, that hasn't stopped her (or others either).

Here's as an example...

Post-accident, while moving on a sidewalk in a wheelchair on her way to school, Karen was at an impasse.  You see, due to crumbling infractures, many of the intersections at city crosswalks were no longer graded to allow rolling back up.  Karen went down to cross the street...but couldn't get back up due to curb.  Stopped in the roadway in the crosswalk, Karen noticed joggers and walkers run and walk past her, up the curb, and back onto the sidewalk.  So, what did Karen do?  She stuck her thumb out to the next passer by.  That jogger came alongside and pushed her up and over back onto the sidewalk.  Success.  She was soon at school.

Life has tough spots for all of us.  But, as Karen's story reminds us, it's sometimes difficult for us to see the tough spots that others are facing.  

The first lesson I learned is that when I am in a tough spot, I need to just go ahead and stick my thumb out.  

The second lesson I learned is to keep my eye out for others.  Try to look at life from their perspective, not mine.  And, be ready to reach out to others.  

Life is not meant to be lived alone but rather in community with others.  To be frank, as an ASP'er, I often tend to approach the issues that my students are having from my vantage point, usually with the idea that a particular academic study tip might be of help.  But, I am often too quick to the draw with suggestions such that I miss seeing what is really going on.  That's because I am too quick to talk instead of  listen.  But, in my experience, most of the time, so-called academic issues are not academic at all.  They are life issues instead.  And, life issues requires me to open up, to be vulnerable to others, and to live within the perspective of others (and not just myself).  In short, being an ASP'er requires me to live life in "being" with others. I think that is what it means to not just be an ASP'er but truly a human being too. (Scott Johns).

P.S. Thanks Karen for making a mark that will live with me forever!

June 13, 2019 in Advice, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Muscle Learning & Bar Prep Success

Last week at the annual Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference, Professor Paula Manning shared an analogy about learning that gripped my mind and heart.  

You see, as Professor Manning reminded us, working out to get in shape is tough work.  Building muscles, well, takes daily pain.  It requires us to push ourselves, to lift beyond what we think we can, to walk further than we think we can, and to run harder than we think we can.  And, it requires us to work out nearly everyday.  Moreover, as Professor Manning related, the next day after a heavy workout can feel just downright aching.  "Oh do those muscles hurt."  But, we don't say to ourselves: "Wow, that hurt; I'm not going to do that again."  No, instead, we say to ourselves: "That was a really great workout; I'm building muscle."  In short, we are thankful for the temporary pain because we know that it will benefit us in the future.

But, when it comes to learning, as Professor Manning reflected upon, we often tend to not view the agonizing daily work of learning as beneficial in the long term.  Rather, if you are like me, I tend to avoid the hard sort of learning tasks, such as retrieval practice and interleaving practice, for tasks which, to be frank, aren't really learning tasks at all...because they aren't hard at all (such as re-reading outlines or highlighting notes, etc.).  But, if you and I aren't engaged in difficult learning tasks, then we aren't really learning, just like we aren't really building muscles if we just walk through the motions of exercise.  

So, for those of you just beginning to embark on preparing for your bar exam this summer, just like building muscles, learning requires building your mind to be adept at legal problem-solving by practicing countless multiple-choice and essay problems on a daily basis.  In short, the key to passing your bar exam is not what you do on bar exam day; rather, it's in your daily practice today that makes all the difference for your tomorrows.  

As such, instead of focusing most of your energies on watching bar review lectures, reading outlines, and taking lecture notes, spend most of your learning in problem-solving because that's what you will be tested on this summer.  Big picture wise, for the next six weeks or so, half of your time should be spent in bar review lectures, etc., and the other half should be spent working through practice problems to learn the law.  So, good luck in working out this summer!  (Scott Johns). 

May 30, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)