Thursday, December 13, 2018
Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, perhaps a chart might be a way to improve classroom teaching...with the help of dozens of other teachers.
Take a quick peek at the photo below. What do you see?
First, you might notice that the chart has a silhouette of a pineapple.
As indicated by teacher extraordinaire Jennifer Gonzalez, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. This photo is taken from her wonderful blog posting entitled: "How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development." https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/ (The photo itself, on the blog "The Cult of Pedagogy," comes from Gator Run Elementary School in sunny Florida.) As used in educational circles, the pineapple serves as a welcoming invitation to host other teachers to visit classroom spaces for informal observations of your teaching.
Second, the pineapple chart invites teachers to share in a community of teaching by learning in connection with each other. The pineapple chart represents one week's worth of classes. Teachers who are interested in opening up their classroom spaces for informal observations simply fill out one of the available spots with name, subject, time, and classroom location (and even sometimes a description of the agenda),
Third, find a common location for the pineapple chart. Even better, make it a heavily trafficked prominent location. You might consider locating the pineapple chart in your mailroom or student affairs office or even on the walls of one of the main corridors of your law school building. In short, make it easy for people to sign up.
Fourth, participate. We are all members of learning communities.
Now, I realize that it takes great courage to open yourself up to others, especially to others to observe your teaching. But, I often find that it's in the courageous things of life in which I grow best. So, let go of being all alone in your teaching and instead invite others to participate with you in improving your classroom teaching. And, for the rest of you yet to sign-up for observations, make yourself available and present to observe your colleagues as they freely open up their workspaces to you. That takes courage too. And, please know that we all have so much to learn from each other.
Let me be frank. I suspect that this simple pineapple chart might radically change your learning community for the better, or, in the words of blogger Jennifer Gonzalez, might "revolutionize" your professional development. That's something worthy of sharing with others. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
It's inevitable. Coming out of any law school exam, someone will know they messed up -- or feel like they've messed up. The list of things that can go wrong in an exam seems endless, from random quirks of fate to "I knew better than this but did it anyway" scenarios. Sometimes folks already have the sinking feeling coming out of the exam; others are filled with confidence over their performance until they start discussing the exam with others.
If the person who messed up was you, what do you do?
Unlike a lot of people, I'm not going to tell you to ignore that sinking feeling. You want a pity party? -- go ahead and throw it. Whether you know you messed up or whether you merely feel bad about your performance, it's disingenuous for those of us on the outside to tell you not to worry. It's like someone sitting in a warm dry house advising you not to panic when you get lost in the woods. So feel free to wallow in your misery, as long as you follow these ground rules:
- Only one person is invited to the pity party. You.
- You have ten minutes to wallow. Period.
Your ten minutes is up. Feel better? I thought so. Your emotions may still be running high, however, going in one of two directions:
- It's not really my fault. The professor / the proctor / the tech person / the ________ (fill in your favorite scapegoat) messed up. I shouldn't have to pay for their mistakes.
- I am such an idiot. I don't belong here. I deserve to be thrown out. I should just disappear and not come back next semester.
Whichever is the case, now is your time to act like a lawyer. Be calm, be analytical, and spend your energy on solving problems, not on brooding about them.
Let's say the problem was caused or exacerbated by another person's actions. Was it a problem that's likely to recur? If by speaking up you can help prevent it from recurring during this exam period, by all means speak up, recognizing as you do that intelligent persons of good will can make mistakes. So focus not on blame -- "S/he did this which messed up my exam!" -- but on identifying a problem which might affect you or other test-takers in the future and on suggesting ways to prevent the problem.
Can you identify something discrete you personally did wrong? ("I skipped Question 5 but I didn't skip the scantron bubble for that question, so all my multiple choice answers are off by one"). After you have finished the exam, there will rarely be a chance of fixing the problem for that particular exam, but don't hesitate to calmly explain your problem to the exam coordinator in case there is a solution you hadn't considered. Communicate only with the exam coordinator -- writing a direct note to the professor, either in the exam itself or by a message after the exam, is never fruitful and may actually constitute an honor code violation by violating anonymity. Knowing that you made mistakes, accept yourself as a human, learn from the mistake and vow to not repeat it, forgive yourself, and move on.
In addition to things you know you messed up, you may feel you messed up based on your emotional reaction coming out of an exam ("I just flailed around and did awfully") or based on hearing others talk about the exam ("I didn't spot the same issue everyone else saw in the second essay"). Especially for 1Ls, neither one of these is an especially reliable way of analyzing your performance. Group post-mortems often get off track and usually freak people out unnecessarily, and your subjective reaction to an exam is rarely reliable. Step back from your own emotions (your pity party is already over, remember?) and view your reaction from the vantage point of a sympathetic outsider. Acknowledge that your very emotion shows that you care deeply about what you're doing. and practice self-compassion.
If you have a tendency to mull over your mistakes, real or imagined, now's the time to learn the lawyerly skill of harnessing those feelings toward improved performance. If you are still in the middle of exams, think about how you can apply what you learned from your mistake towards doing better on the next exam. If your semester's exams are over, practice empathetic self-reflection where you identify the type of mistakes you tend to make during exams and brainstorm ways of preventing those mistakes. Realize that worrying cannot help your grade: it will only distract you from paying attention to those ideas, experiences, and relationships you should be concentrating on now. Know that your both your successes and your mess-ups have the potential to move you along the path of becoming a better lawyer. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
How are you? How is Mrs. Claus? I hear the aurora borealis is quite nice right now. I hope you can snag a few minutes to enjoy it.
I know how busy you are this month, so I will get right to the point: I have been a very good Director of Academic Success this year. Or at least I have not been bad. Fine – the truth is, I have had many students thank me effusively for my help and support, but I have also noticed a few people in the back of my class roll their eyes. I don’t know if the latter have already learned what I am trying to teach, or if they have detached themselves from my class because it’s non-doctrinal, or if maybe some of them have pollen allergies that are causing them eye irritation. Anyway, look me up – I’m pretty sure I’m on the “nice” list.
Because I have been good this year – probably – I feel like I deserve an extra special present. I have given this a great deal of thought. My first idea for a present was a watch like the one on that old episode of The Twilight Zone – you know, the one with the pocket watch that froze time for everyone but the user when her clicked the button on top? That would be an awesome present – more time! Imagine having 150 essays to comment upon, and clicking on that watch to stop time all around me. I could start commenting at 9:01 am, and finish before 9:02! No more deadline stress!
But then I realized that I would have to sit through 50 or 60 hours of commenting, and then, once I got the world started again, I’d *still* have to do another entire day of work. I’d probably age three or four times as fast as all of my colleagues, too. Eventually my driver’s license would say “60” but my real age would be over 100. No thank you. I think I’ll just keep improving my time management skills. After all, I am always suggesting the same thing to my students. They may as well learn now that that quest never ends.
So then I came up with a second idea. One of the toughest parts of my job is learning the names, faces, backgrounds, interests, strengths, and weaknesses of all 450+ students in my law school. Don’t get me wrong – I have some great students with some amazing stories and aspirations – but it is hard to keep everything about everybody straight. I don’t have a photographic memory. But you could give me one! How about one of those fancy electronic computer watches with a built-in camera, microphone, and speakers? If I had that, then I could just take a quick photo every time I interact with a student, and then quickly type in or audio-record what they tell me about themselves.
Still, once I had the photographs, I’d still need to cross-reference them to class lists, and I’d have to study all the facts to remember who is whom. Every class I taught would become like a massive open-book test – I’d be spending half the class looking people up. Plus, I get to know and understand facts better if I learn them and then work with them, rather than always just looking them up. Again, like I say to my students. So, ixnay on the atchway.
This brought me to my last idea, which, honestly, is probably asking a lot. It’s not something I could find in a store here in the States, but, I mean, you are Santa Claus, right? A genuine saint and performer of miracles? So I thought I might as well ask. What I want for Christmas is a mind-reading machine. Nothing too conspicuous – maybe something I can strap to my forehead, or maybe a special kind of hat that connects my brain waves with other people’s brain waves? See, students come into my office all the time to ask for help, but often, when they do, they can’t necessarily explain to me exactly what it is they need. Sometimes they just have trouble putting their concerns into words, but more often it’s because they aren’t really clear themselves on what the issue is. And we might have to meet more than once before we both finally can articulate exactly what help the student needs.
If I had a little mind-reading hat, though, BOOM! Every time someone comes into my office, I could scan them, size them up in an instant, and send them along with whatever homework I think would help. That would be supremely efficient! Although, then I would not get to spend much time with any particular student. I wouldn’t really get to know anybody. And, the students wouldn’t really get to know me . . . and, I guess, in a way, they wouldn’t get to know themselves as well. I mean, I could tell them, “This is what is giving you trouble,” and maybe they’ll take my word for it, but maybe not? Sometimes people trust a discovery more when they feel like they made it, or at least helped to make it, themselves. And, when it comes right down to it, while I want to help my students address individual issues, what I really want is to help them learn the process of figuring these things out themselves, following the example of working with me. And I guess they won’t get that if I’m always just telling them what to do.
Well, where does that leave me? I can’t see myself not continuing to want more time, memory, and understanding any time soon, but you don’t have to worry about that. I’ll just keep gleaning what I can the way I have been. So, for my actual Christmas list, I’ll just wish for peace on earth, goodwill towards all, and a substantial Barnes & Noble gift card. Oh, and to keep getting to do this work for another year.
Monday, December 10, 2018
Norman Vincent Peale said “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I try to follow that philosophy, which many times leads to unrealistic expectations. However, my thought is if I get close, then I did a great job. Many times, I am correct. Unfortunately, that philosophy crept into my classes in a way that may have decreased expectations instead of helping students thrive.
The top complaint on my teaching evaluations is I assign too much work. My classes are usually either 1 or 2 credit hours, but students say the classes assign 3 to 4 credit-hours worth of work. My homework is more difficult because students must actively do something (ie – rewrite answers) as opposed to passive reading. The complaint isn’t far off though. I tend to assign a ton of work with the thought that getting close will produce improvement. However, my setup may not be working as intended.
I experienced a few unintended consequences from my assignments. The first problem is the effort applied to homework. Many of us complain about students only wanting to do the minimum to get through. I experience the same phenomenon, and my classes probably exacerbate the problem. The work load is high. Students want to get through it as fast as possible or need to get through it fast because they waited to the last minute. The quality isn’t maximizing student potential because they are trying to get more done. Too many times, the re-written essay answers are only slightly better than the original. The classes may unintentionally communicate quantity over quality work.
Late work is the next issue. I believe doing the exercises is what improves skills. I don’t want to let someone off the hook from doing the work. They should still complete the assignment for its inherent value. You all know where this is headed. Unfortunately, the class culture becomes doing the work on their timetable and not the deadlines, which is a terrible habit for bar prep. Students are receiving the message everything can be crammed in at the last minute, which is a recipe for disaster.
Lastly, I may be setting students up to continue to not do enough work. The example I set is not getting everything complete can still lead to success. I believe that is true when “shoot(ing) for the moon.” Students may not understand my expectations are set extremely high. All they see is missing the expectations and being ok. When they set their own goals or expectations, they may not set them high, but they learned missing the mark is still ok. Whether this is the exact phenomenon in bar prep is debatable, but I have students every summer complete significantly less than assigned. If they completed less in my class and passed, I may have taught them completing less in bar prep can still lead to success. We all know less work in bar prep can be catastrophic.
Change for me starts next semester. My classes will contain significant work because I believe the bar exam requires hard work. However, I plan to create explicit scoring expectations so students can’t submit a quiz at the last minute by guessing through the questions. The online system I use allows me to return the quiz to students if they don’t meet a minimum score. I will require significant completion of the work with no late acceptance. I know everyone has an off day, so I won’t require perfect completion for credit. My syllabus will clearly communicate students can’t drift too far from completing everything. Lastly, I will communicate all of that information to the students. Communicating expectations early is critical to coaching them up to a higher standard.
I believe the vast majority of us have students’ best interest at heart. In my effort to try to get students to reach higher and do more work, I may be sending contradictory messages. I hope to change that message next semester. I am sure I will make some mistakes while doing it. Like I tell my students, the process of improvement is what matters. Hopefully, I can continue through the process.
Sunday, December 9, 2018
In my last post, I took up the issue of “blanket policies forbidding supplements.” I argued that such blanket policies squander an opportunity to influence students and that they re-entrench socio-economic hierarchies. In this post, I will continue to contend that such policies are generally unwise, but I will focus now on arguments arising out of the science of learning.
- Killing Metacognition. If Donald Rumsfeld taught us just one thing it is that the “unknown unknowns” are the biggest problems. That is, the biggest problems are the ones we do not even know that we do not know. This is true in learning the law as well. After underperforming on an exam, a student might say “I knew that course backwards and forwards.” The problem, though, is that she only knew what she knew … she was blissfully unaware of the things she did not even know she did not know. How does a student fix this problem when she does not even know what she is missing?
The answer is metacognition. Roughly speaking, metacognition the practice of skeptically monitoring one’s own knowledge, learning, and progress. That skepticism – always pushing back on that “illusion of mastery” – compels the student to explore her learning assumptions and root out the things she did not even know she did not know. If, for instance, she takes a practice problem and gets it wrong due to a doctrinal misunderstanding, she just discovered a misunderstanding that otherwise might have hurt her performance on an exam.
Students need extrinsic sources to support metacognition. If the knowledge they have gained from the traditional sources has left them with (unknown) learning gaps, it is patently illogical to guide them back to those same sources. By imposing a blanket policy against the tools of metacognition (tools like Joe Glannon’s questions in his fantastic E&E series), the professor has just undercut one of the most powerful tools of learning.
But, what about the problem of conflicting sources? Each professor likely has certain nuances that differ from the sea of supplements out there. I would rebut this argument on two grounds. First, this is why we should lead students towards “hornbooks” and not “supplements.” Focusing on hornbooks, i.e., sources written by professors who are experts in their fields, reduces the chance that multiple sources will lead to doctrinal discrepancies. I also lead students away from “supplements,” sources not written by professors, because I have observed doctrinal errors or difference in nuance in these sources.
Second, I think it is key not to let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very, very good. Although slight distinctions might exist between one professor and another, it is entirely rational to believe that the law in required courses is settled to the degree that any doctrinal distinctions between faculty and quality hornbooks will be limited in number and de minimus in scope. The benefits of metacognition are so great that we should not undermine metacognitive practice just because of slight differences in nuance. See generally Preston, et al., Teaching 'Thinking Like a Lawyer': Metacognition and Law Students, 2014 BYU L. Rev. 1053 (2015) (noting the importance of teaching law students the skills of metacognition).
Banning outside sources undermines the crucial skill of metacognition and, in turn, leaves students without these important skills as they become practitioners. They become dependent on the “sage on the stage,” which after law school takes the form of the law firm partner who has little time to lecture to a neophyte lawyer who lacks the skills to find answers herself.
In my next post, I will continue to line up arguments that push back on the practice of banning outside sources.
Saturday, December 8, 2018
Hat tip to Susan Wawrose at the University of Dayton School of Law for alerting us to the third installment in the ABA's podcast series on law student well-being. The podcast (entitled Episode 3 on the web page) includes three parts (why a law student would benefit, ways to get started with mindfulness, how to overcome roadblocks) and a bonus 3-minute mindfulness exercise. The link to the ABA web page that has all three installments in the series is: ABA Law Student Well-Being Podcasts. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, December 7, 2018
CALL FOR PRESENTATION PROPOSALS
Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Summer Conference
“Teaching Today’s Law Students”
June 3-5, 2019
Washburn University School of Law
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning invites proposals for conference workshops addressing the many ways that law professors and administrators are reaching today’s law students. With the ever-changing and heterogeneous nature of law students, this topic has taken on increased urgency for professors thinking about effective teaching strategies.
The conference theme is intentionally broad and is designed to encompass a wide variety of topics – neuroscientific approaches to effective teaching; generational research about current law students; effective use of technology in the classroom; teaching first-generation college students; classroom behavior in the current political climate; academic approaches to less prepared students; fostering qualities such as growth mindset, resilience, and emotional intelligence in students; or techniques for providing effective formative feedback to students.
Accordingly, the Institute invites proposals for 60-minute workshops consistent with a broad interpretation of the conference theme. Each workshop should include materials that participants can use during the workshop and when they return to their campuses. Presenters should model effective teaching methods by actively engaging the workshop participants. The Institute Co-Directors are glad to work with anyone who would like advice on designing their presentations to be interactive.
To be considered for the conference, proposals should be one page (maximum), single-spaced, and include the following information:
- The title of the workshop;
- The name, address, telephone number, and email address of the presenter(s); and
- A summary of the contents of the workshop, including its goals and methods; and
- A description of the techniques the presenter will use to engage workshop participants and make the workshop interactive.
The proposal deadline is February 15, 2019. Submit proposals via email to Professor Emily Grant, Co-Director, Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case you did not receive an email from AccessLex regarding their upcoming regional workshops, I have included the text below. I hope to see some of you at the Houston workshop! (Amy Jarmon)
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).
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
A colleague came by my office yesterday to tell me about a conference he had just held with one of his students. "S/he doesn't have any natural ability for law," this professor remarked of the student, "but s/he makes up for it in attitude and work ethic." We agreed that we both held the student in high regard.
When I think about the current and former law students I most admire, the tenacious ones rise to the top of the list:
- the student, once on academic warning, who now teaches in law school;
- the academically dismissed students who successfully tackled law school the second time around;
- those students, once set back by illness, domestic violence, or other life circumstances that might derail most people, who are now respected members of the bar.
Tenacious law students keep their long-term goals in mind. They swallow their pride and ask "stupid" questions so they can learn, often to the great relief of their classmates who were too timid to ask themselves. They experiment with different learning techniques to find what works for them. They are willing to take the time to do what it takes for them to learn, whether it is writing outlines out in longhand, or enlisting the help of their teenager to quiz them with flashcards, or working over the same practice problem numerous times until they can produce a well-written analysis. They have the humility to listen deeply to peers, professors, and any sources of wisdom. If they feel they bombed an exam, they analyze what went badly to learn from the experience, then they set aside their disappointment to focus on the next task. They seek feedback, even when it is painful, so they can progress.
Tenacity, then, can be summed up as work ethic + self-reflection + long-term goal-orientation. By itself, tenacity will not always result in top grades, but it will result in solid achievement and a first-rate reputation. Tenacious students become the lawyers we refer clients to -- and becoming a great lawyer is the ultimate point of all the work in law school and the bar exam. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
At this time of year, I am working mostly with two groups of students: 1L students preparing for their first set of law school final examinations, and recent and soon-to-be graduates who are planning to take the February bar examination. While these two cohorts are about as far apart as students of law can be, there is at least one common element to their experiences: the peril associated with reaching a goal.
Regretfully, some of those preparing for the February bar exam, at my school and elsewhere, are graduates who have already taken the July bar last summer and did not pass. Every year, people who find themselves in this position include some strong law school performers, people with GPAs and other indicators that suggested that they should not have had any problem passing with their classmates. Sometimes, their disappointing performances can be explained by extenuating circumstances, like illness. But other times, it just appears that the new graduate only put in a fraction of the effort needed over the summer to prepare for the bar exam -- e.g., having signed up for a bar preparation course, they completed less than half of the assignments. Few people would stand a chance of passing the bar with so little preparation.
Observers of such misguided lack of effort might attribute it to overconfidence -- good students mistakenly believing their law school performance was preparation enough. Maybe it seems like that even to the disappointed graduates, shrugging their shoulders and otherwise unable to explain just how they had let 10 weeks get away from them without applying themselves to their studies as they had in the past. But perhaps for some there is another, less self-condemnatory element at work. Consider this: in the two or three weeks before bar studies were to begin, these students had just completed probably the most grueling three years of study of their lives, and it had all culminated in proud marches across the graduation stage. They had reached the finish line at the end of a very demanding course. But, as Gretchen Rubin notes in her book Better Than Before, "A finish line marks a stopping point. Once we stop, we must start over, and starting over is harder than continuing. . . . The more dramatic the goal, the more decisive the end -- and the more effort required to start over."
We see examples of this all the time. People who exercise scrupulously to lower their weight to a target goal -- and then stop exercising and gain back the weight. Writers who work diligently every day to complete a long-term project, but then lose the daily habit once the project is complete. Surely at least some portion of those capable law school graduates who did not put in the effort they might have made to prepare for the bar had at some level seen their final final exams and their pompously circumstantial degree conferment as manifestations of a very dramatic conclusion, and then found themselves at a psychological disadvantage in trying to start, in bar preparation, what seemed to them a brand new test of willpower, tenacity, and capacity.
This suggests that one way to help some of our 3L students prepare to jump right into the huge bar preparation undertaking is to message it not as a novel ordeal, but as just one more step toward the ultimate goal of practice. We might also downplay the significance of their spring final exams -- liberally reminding our students that those will not be the last exams they ever take -- and even minimize the ceremony of law school graduation, by pointing out to them that the real endgame is the swearing-in ceremony. The more psychological continuity that students cultivate between law school and the bar examination, the more likely they will be able to carry over their habits of diligence and fortitude into the bar study period.
This kind of messaging might also be helpful to some of our 1L students right now. They are not yet near graduation, but no set of final exams before the last seems more momentous and conclusive than the first set at the end of the fall semester. Students who have the perspective to see this first set of exams as just one of six may be less like to feel that they are psychologically starting over again in the spring. Conversely, those who more explicitly see these exams as a finish line -- students who tell themselves, "If I can just get through these . . .", or those who seem to focus on the weeks off between semesters as a sort of quasi-retirement -- may not have as much momentum going in to classes in 2019, and may struggle to bring themselves back to the same level of diligence they had reached in the fall. Bringing to these students' attention the long-term effort required in law school, and the expectation that what they learned in that first semester will be needed again and again through graduation, the bar exam, and practice, may help them find getting back into reading, briefing, and studying in January is just that much more achievable.
Monday, December 3, 2018
Finals are starting, and if your office is like mine, most students only come around for emergencies. I may have a few students asking doctrinal questions or for a few more tips, but in general, my office is quieter during finals weeks. I use that time to finish grading and reflect on my classes to try to improve them for the next iteration.
I tell students about self-regulated learning at orientation. I implore them to constantly evaluate their progress and make improvements. Studying isn’t the only area where the steps of self-regulated learning is applicable. We can use those steps when developing and improving our classes.
Finals weeks and the week before Christmas break is a good time for reflection. With a little quieter office, analyzing courses is easier than when attending to constant emergencies. Finals time is also good because classes just ended. You may remember a little better what worked and what didn’t work. I find it difficult to remember what I didn’t like if I don’t teach the course again until the following year. Right now is much better for evaluating courses.
I suggest analyzing the course structure, in-class exercises, and the homework. Categorize each activity or course choice as works great, decent, and failed miserably. I know variations among those categories exist, but the idea is to identify what you must keep, what must go, and what could be better but not necessary to change now. I provided a few considerations below when looking at the 3 categories. Make sure to specifically write down the assessment and note the changes now before forgetting them.
Course structure is the big picture of the class. Some considerations are:
- Did the course achieve its objectives?
- Did the course flow logically through the semester?
- Should the topics be in a different order?
- Do students need context or other knowledge to better prepare for the topics?
In-class exercises are great when they work well, but sometimes exercises fail miserably. Think about each exercise and consider:
- Did the exercise achieve its purpose?
- Did the exercise further the lesson/topic of the day?
- Did the exercise need additional instructions to run smoother?
- Did the setup take too long?
- Did it take too long to get the class back on task after completing the exercise?
- How many students completed the exercise poorly or failed to complete the exercise?
- Was there ample time to achieve the goal of the exercise?
- In a perfect world, what would I change about the exercise?
Many professors, including myself, spend significant time preparing for class instruction but don’t think as much about homework. Sometimes homework is reading cases or rewriting essays. Homework should further our goals within the class. Being deliberate with each homework assignment can help support learning in the classroom. Analyze:
- Does the homework flow with the class discussion?
- Is there good formative assessment in the homework?
- Did the homework integrate spaced repetition?
- Did the homework further the class discussion or improve skills?
- Did the course assign too much writing homework so the instructor couldn’t reasonably provide feedback on the work?
- Was the instructor able to provide any feedback using homework?
- Did students understand the homework’s purpose?
Now is the time to evaluate our courses and write down what we should change. I forget the changes I want to make until I see the problem again the next year, so I start making notes and changes earlier. My suggestions are not a comprehensive list. The goal is continued evaluation to make courses better. We can all do that.
Sunday, December 2, 2018
Thank you to Sandra L. Simpson, Co-Director of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning at Gonzaga, for her email about a post written by Lindsey Gustafson of University of Arkansas Little Rock on the ILTL pages reviewing a 2016 article by Elizabeth Ruiz Frost entitled "Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback." The review can be found here: Article Review. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, December 1, 2018
POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT -- DIRECTOR FOR INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY EDUCATION
Saint Louis University School of Law seeks a Director for Inclusion and Diversity Education. Nurturing and working collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students to create a diverse and inclusive environment are integral parts of the mission of the School of Law. We seek an individual who is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion, deeply committed to social justice, and dedicated to supporting and increasing the diversity of the students, faculty, and staff. The Director will hold the faculty title of Instructor, with a full-time, twelve-month appointment.
While the responsibility to promote an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all students is shared by the entire community, the Director will play a leadership role in guiding the institution with respect to inclusion and diversity. The successful candidate will have autonomy and support to pursue initiatives that promote the multicultural awareness and cultural fluency of all members of the law school community and to bring attention to traditional structures of power. As a member of the full-time faculty the Director will report directly to the Dean and will work closely with the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Office of Admission, the Office of Student Services, the Academic Resource Center, and other members of the law school leadership team.
We seek candidates with at least 3-5 years of relevant experience in diversity and inclusion work. Experience in higher education is also strongly preferred. A J.D., Ed.D., Ph.D. or other terminal degree is required; a J.D. is preferred. The position will remain posted until filled. The full position description is at https://jobs.slu.edu. Applications should be submitted online at https://jobs.slu.edu.
For additional information please contact:
Professor Amy Sanders
Associate Director and Instructor
Saint Louis University School of Law
100 N. Tucker Blvd. | St. Louis, MO 63101
314-977-8176 | email@example.com
Dr. Jonathan C. Smith
Vice President for
Saint Louis University
221 N. Grand Blvd. | St. Louis, MO 63103
SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW is a Catholic, Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, social justice, community engagement, research, and service located in the city of St. Louis. As a social justice institution in an urban setting, the School of Law recognizes a distinctive, mission-driven responsibility to engage with the community and to seek justice, as we train and educate the future leaders of the bench and bar.
SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. All qualified candidates will receive consideration for the position applied for without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military/veteran status, gender identity, or other non-merit factors. We welcome and encourage applications from minorities, women, protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities (including disabled veterans). If accommodations are needed for completing the application and/or with the interviewing process, please contact Human Resources at 314-977-5847.
Friday, November 30, 2018
The posts on Wednesday and Thursday by Professors Luebbert and Johns gave excellent exam advice and suggestions about practice questions. In case you missed them, the links are: Professor Luebbert Post and Professor Johns Post .
To add to the theme, here are links to some law school or individual professor exams that were not passworded as of noon today.
You need to consider several caveats about these exam sources, however:
- Some sites list exams by professor and not course, so it takes some patience in finding exams for your courses.
- Many sites do not include model answers or rubrics with the exam questions.
- Law schools outside your jurisdiction may test state-specific law for some subjects; you need to decide whether the questions/answers are relevant/correct for your course jurisdiction.
- Some posted exams are old; you need to decide whether changes in the law make the questions/answers no longer relevant or incorrect.
- Remember you can always rewrite a question for your jurisdiction or a change in the law if you need to do so.
Good luck with your exams! (Amy Jarmon)
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).
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Treat your first law school final exam as an opportunity to show your excellence in thinking and writing like a lawyer. Here are some guidelines for the coming weeks.
Put together the final pieces:
- Learn your professors' individual preferences. Should you use IRAC, IPRAC, CIRAC, or another organizing structure? Does your professor favor headings, abbreviations, or use of case names? Tailor your writing to their predilections.
- Take practice exams. Use the professor's previous exams if available, but any exam with complex fact patterns and multiple issues will be useful. After writing your answer, set it aside for a time, then evaluate it, treating it as if it were written by a stranger. Peers and professors can provide useful feedback.
- Distill your outline down to a one-page issue checklist or "attack outline" you can handwrite in 2-3 minutes. Memorize it.
- Gather the items you want to bring to the exam room, and make sure you understand what is permitted. Common items include power cords, earplugs, watches, cough drops, and water bottles.
- Don't stay up late cramming, because exhaustion hampers your ability to analyze. Do something fun for a few hours before bed and get a solid night's sleep.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to the exam: you don't need the anxiety of fearing you'll be late. And, remembering Hofstadter's Law, then give yourself more time than you planned.
- The hours before the exam are for you and you only. Talk with classmates if you like, but don't feel you have to be sociable.
Approach the exam with confidence:
- "Brain dump" (3 minutes). As soon as the exam starts, jot down your issue checklist from memory, or read through it carefully if the exam is open-book. Starting the exam with the issue checklist in mind prevents panic and helps you approach the exam from a position of knowledge and confidence.
- Skim the exam and allocate your time (3 minutes). Look over the entire exam, noting the number of questions and the points or suggested time for each. Allocate your time according to the number and weight of questions. Write down the ending time for each section.
Devote quality time to reading and organizing:
- For each question, read the call of the question first to make your reading and issue-spotting more efficient.
- Read multiple times to spot issues and identify relevant facts. On the first read, immediately jot down the issues as you recognize them. Then read the fact pattern line by line, looking for relevant facts in every sentence. Mark every relevant fact and identify the issues, elements, or defenses raised by these facts.
- Consult your issue checklist. It may alert you to issues in the fact pattern you did not previously notice.
- On essay problems, spend 1/3 of your time reading/marking the fact pattern and outlining your answer. Don't rely on cut-and-paste to organize. Your exam outline can be sparse, consisting of just the issues, elements, and facts relevant to each. Don't waste time writing rules in the outline: save that for your written answer. Time dedicated to careful reading and outlining helps you craft a well-organized, thoughtful answer.
Show your excellence in essay answers:
- Follow instructions: they are vital, not surplusage.
- Make your answer easy to follow. Use headings for major issues. Treat issues and elements in logical order. Write simply and clearly.
- Think inside the box. Thoroughly discuss each issue before moving on to the next. For instance, don't let a discussion of the mailbox rule creep into a paragraph about consideration.
- Stick to the facts, and make sure you have them correct. Distorting the facts can make you miss issues entirely.
- Interweave specific facts with the rule. Instead of blanket assertions ("Alonzo's actions show Alaska was his domicile"), interweave parts of the rule with specific facts ("Alonzo's intent to remain in Alaska was shown by him buying a house and voting in local elections.")
- Use IRAC (or the organizing structure your professor prefers) for each issue. When resolving an issue requires detailed discussion of several elements, use mini-IRACS or sub-IRACs to work through each element's requirements.
- Issue -- Ask a question: if you conclude first, you may disregard facts or law that don't support your preconceptions.
- Rule -- Be concise but thorough. State the rule before, not midway through, the analysis.
- Analysis -- Explain how the rule applies to the specific facts. Explore any ambiguity in the law and the facts by going down each "fork in the road."
- Conclusion -- Limit your conclusion to one sentence; don't bring in new arguments or restate your analysis ad nauseam.
- Omit needless paragraphs and issues. Nix any introductory paragraph that merely restates the facts. Discuss only issues that arise from the fact pattern. This is not the time to regurgitate everything you know just because you know it.
- If it's hard, that's where the points are. Rejoice when an issue is difficult or when the facts or law seem ambiguous. Here's where you get to strut your stuff!
- Keep track of your time, and move on. If you find yourself running out of time on a question, concisely treat the most important remaining issues, then move to the next question.
After the exam, let it go. Don't fret or dwell on mistakes. Avoid discussing the exam with your classmates, for someone in the group (maybe you, maybe a friend) will always leave dispirited after such a conversation. Take several hours off, then tackle the next challenge with confidence. You are now one step closer to achieving your goal of being an excellent lawyer. (Nancy Luebbert)
Monday, November 26, 2018
AT&T sponsors a huge college football game each year in Dallas. During the breaks in the game, they have celebrities, including the coaches from each team, take the pledge to not text and drive. They blast their “it can wait” slogan. AT&T’s campaign has over 20 million supporters. However, data from dmv.org indicates 1 in 4 car crashes are the result of texting and driving, and 9 people die every day from distracted driving. We know we shouldn’t text and drive. Many of us even pledge to make changes, but in the end, many people still succumb to the same bad habits, even when they are extremely dangerous.
Students fall into similar traps as distracted drivers. They make plans and pledge to study more. Some even incorporate more practice questions into the plans. However, many students fall back into the same bad habits of re-reading outlines and studying throughout the night. If distracted driving is a hard habit to break when the dangers are serious, then changing study habits will be near impossible without mechanisms in place to ensure quality studying.
My wife has a great quote on her wall in her office. It is “dreams don’t work unless you do.” I write often about how to plan for finals and the bar exam. I believe planning is critical for success, but I always tell students in my bar prep class that students must plan and execute the plan. Execution is critical. Plans only work when followed. The key is to figure out how to follow your plan.
The first step after creating the plan is to remove distractions. Plans are great until a Kardashian posts a new Instagram story that is breaking news or when a friend sends a text. After chasing rabbits for an hour, you may get back to studying. Too many rabbit holes and you studied half the planned time. When sitting down to study, get rid of distractions. You can put your phone in another room or under some papers. Print out your outlines and turn off your computer. Study in the library so you can’t see the clutter in your house. Removing distractions is the first step to successful studying.
After removing distractions, chunk your studying to improve execution and motivation. Studying for long periods the same way without breaks is exhausting. When reviewing material, look at outlines in chunks. Understand the big picture skeletal outline. After understanding the big picture, look at information within sub-topics. Then, complete a few practice multiple choice questions or issue spot an exam. Switching between tasks helps improve focus because the tasks aren’t monotonous. Also, completing a task is rewarding. Finishing a chunk marks something off our list, which many people find satisfying. We are then more motivated to completed the next chunk.
The last step to executing your plan is constant evaluation. In theory, plans are great. However, sometimes we make bad plans. I make bad plans all the time. I overschedule myself by underestimating how much time a task will take. I think leaving the house each morning should only take 5 minutes, but my 8 and 4 year old tend to double that amount of time, on the best days. Studying is the same way. You may think it only takes a couple hours to study agency (or any other topic), but after 6 hours, you may be off schedule. Evaluate your progress at each major break, which is normally lunch and dinner. Make adjustments as needed. Evaluation and modifying your plan can help improve how much you accomplish.
Making plans is a great first step to studying. Work your plan to accomplish more by eliminating distractions, chunking studying, and evaluating progress. Those steps will put you in a good position on exam day.
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Invitation from NCBE
The National Conference of Bar Examiners requests your assistance with a significant research study regarding the bar examination. NCBE has created a Testing Task Force to oversee a comprehensive, future-focused research study of the bar examination, and we want and need to tap the insights of legal academics. We would like to invite you to participate in one of six focus group sessions held at the AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans on January 3 and 4, 2019.
The Task Force is approaching its study with no preconceived notions and is considering the content, format, timing, and delivery methods for the bar exam to ensure it keeps pace with a changing legal profession. For more information about the study, please read the overview of our research plan at www.testingtaskforce.org/research/.
As a legal educator, you are a vital part of the legal licensure process, and gathering input from you and other stakeholders is an essential component of the study. We hope you are as eager to share your ideas and opinions about the bar exam of the future as we are to hear them! The focus group sessions will be facilitated by one of the Testing Task Force’s independent research consulting firms, ACS Ventures LLC. The number of participants will be capped at 12-15 people per 90-minute session to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to provide their input, so you are encouraged to register early to reserve your spot in a session.
To sign up for a focus group session at the AALS Annual Meeting, complete this online registration form. You’ll receive a confirmation with logistical details and additional information about the session by email.
NCBE and its Testing Task Force are committed to creating additional opportunities for focus groups and web-based interactions to gain insights from legal academics, law students, and other stakeholders in the next six months. Subscribe at the Testing Task Force’s website to receive updates about the study and to be notified about other opportunities to participate.
Thank you for all you do to help prepare law students to become lawyers. If you have questions, please feel free to contact the Testing Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Saturday, November 24, 2018
I am pleased to announce that we are now accepting registrations for the 2018 New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference, at University of Massachusetts School of Law – Dartmouth on Friday, December 7, 2018.
“What is ASP?: The Evolving Role of Academic Support Programs” will be our focus this year. This one day conference is open to all and is FREE! Come learn about the expanding role of academic support professionals including, inter alia, working with doctrinal professors, providing training to adjuncts, and law student wellness programming. Full agenda to follow.
To register please email your name, email address, and institution to Sara Marshall at email@example.com. Deadline for registration is Monday, November 26, 2018.
We have a special hotel rate of $99.00 available for people who wish to come early and/or stay late. Just me know when you register and I will forward the hotel information to you.
Hope to see you in December,
Chair: Lori Albin
Director of Bar Success
UMASS School of Law, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chair: Joe Brennan
Director of Academic Success and Assistant Professor
Vermont Law School, email@example.com
Treasurer: Liz Stillman
Associate Professor of Academic Support
Suffolk University Law School, firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary: Sara Marshall
Assistant Professor of Academic Excellence
New England Law / Boston, email@example.com