Monday, November 19, 2018
Law school is expensive. Tuition continues to rise across the country. I constantly hear anecdotal stories of students walking out of law school with $150,000-$200,000 in debt. The debt load can be crippling when trying to buy a house or even consider starting a firm. Many administrators will suggest to students to plan ahead and try to save money. Saving money is a great idea unless the saving leads to decreased learning.
Students can now save money with digital textbooks. Many publishers are offering digital options, and the digital books tend to be a little cheaper. Students trying to save money are following our basic advice and making the logical move to buy digital books. However, digital books may be harming their long term learning.
Business insider published a story a few weeks ago about reading digital materials. The story is here. The article initially considered previous research on comprehension. Previous studies concluded students reading material longer than a page on digital devices had lower comprehension than if they read the material in print. However, the story wanted to explore digital preferences, reading speed, and comprehension, so they conducted 3 new studies.
The conclusions were not surprising. The overwhelming majority of participants preferred to read digitally. Participants read material on screens significantly faster, and they believed their comprehension was much better. However, their belief was wrong when testing for details. Participants’ comprehension of details was much worse reading digitally, which has an extreme impact on law school and the practice of law.
Print material is much better for identifying the details and placing material in context. One major complaint from law professors is students lack recall of details when reading cases and don’t respond to specific exam prompts. Digital reading exacerbates that problem. 1 word can make a difference in each rule. I recall my Criminal Law exam where the professor had 4 self-defense answers where the word “reasonably” was in a different place in the sentence. Moving the word around changed the meaning of the sentence. Not knowing the specific detail made answering the question impossible. Many rules operate the same way, and the practice of law is similar. 1 word can be the difference between a good contract and malpractice.
Sometimes what we prefer isn’t good for us. That will be true this week when I eat an entire pumpkin pie in less than 24 hours. It is also true for digital reading. Our preference for online material will be less effective when preparing for finals, studying for the bar, and practicing law. Take every advantage possible by using print materials.
Friday, November 16, 2018
During the demands of final papers, exam review, and practice questions, it is very easy to become so focused on intellectual "in your head" matters that all other aspects become blurs. Classmates who are typically collegial can become overly competitive. Intellectual discussions can degenerate into power struggles to show who is superior and always right. Unintended insults, judgmental put-downs, and clipped responses reflect the stress of the semester as students speak without thinking.
Students handle the end-of-semester stress in differing ways. They can either give in to negativity or persevere with positivity. By taking intentional steps, it is possible to stay personally positive and contribute to a positive environment for others. Our thoughts and actions can build our resilience, grit, calm, and focus.
- Count your blessings. As a law student, you have the privilege of gaining professional skills that will make a significant difference in the lives of your clients in the future. You will be their hope in crises and injustice. You will be someone's hero many times over your career.
- Make a list of encouraging quotes, scriptures, or sayings to read first thing in the morning and last thing at night. These positive affirmations will frame your mindset at both ends of the day.
- Model collegiality for your classmates: offer your class notes to a student who has been ill; share information about a good study aid; explain a legal concept to a confused classmate; compliment a classmate on a good in-class answer.
- Spread random acts of kindness throughout your day: hold the door for a classmate loaded down with books; buy a soda for the student behind you at the vending machine; smile and say good morning to a tired classmate; offer a slice of your pizza to someone with no lunch.
- Say "please" and "thank you" often throughout the day. And look the person in the eye when you do so. Politeness can get lost in the rush, but it is gold to those who are recognized in the process.
- At the end of the day, make a list of three things you did for others - however small they may be. Your humanity towards others will warm your heart and contribute to your outlook.
- Take care of yourself. Positive coping results from regular sleep every night, healthy food, and exercise. You are part of an academic marathon and not a sprint right now. Pace yourself.
- Take control of what you can control, and let the other things go. None of us is perfect. We can only do our best each day under that day's circumstances. The next day is a new start, and we can embrace that new start for it's possibilities.
- If you start to give in to the stress, get some help. Talk to family. Check in with a professor, dean, or ASP professional to get your perspective back and make a study plan.
Best wishes for the remainder of the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Mrs. Ryan would be surprised -- and happy, I hope -- to know that the principles I teach 1Ls come straight out of my seventh grade English class.
Marilyn Ryan was smart, demanding, and talented -- the epitome of a good teacher. The first day of seventh grade, she told us, "You're supposed to study grammar in high school but you probably won't get more than a smattering. So this year I'm going to drill grammar into you because you'll need it. It may not be fun right now, but you'll be glad later on." (She was right, by the way -- none of my high school or college teachers ever taught grammar.) So, in addition to enjoying and dissecting great English and American authors, we spent seventh grade diagramming sentences, learning parts of speech, and mastering grammatical rules. During class, Mrs. Ryan would often refer to Strunk and White's classic book, The Elements of Style. And so it was that I was introduced to one of my favorite paragraphs in the English language, from William White's Rule #13, "Omit needless words." White explained his elementary principle this way:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
"Omit needless words" and "[M]ake every word tell." It's clear how writing vigorous prose is useful in practice, in legal writing class, and in practice exam answers, but making every word tell is also, I submit, the key to effective outlines. I find that most 1Ls over-write their outlines. They are so afraid that they will leave something important out that they create monstrous "outlines" which not only record all the nuances of what was covered in class week by week but also add long excerpts from case briefs and sometimes material from hornbooks and other outside sources. Often long quotations from cases and Restatements are pasted in verbatim. Creating a comprehensive record of the class can be a useful source document for students who want to make sure they haven't missed anything in class, but such a long, comprehensive "outline" is virtually useless for preparing for final exams.
It's more useful to think of an outline as a guide for solving a legal problem: in the law school context, this means the outline is a guide for taking an exam. When you approach an outline this way, the excess falls away, including long explanations of historical context, excruciatingly detailed statements of the facts in cases, and long quotations from Restatements and cases. What replaces the verbiage is a structured framework for what issues to address, the order in which to address those issues, the major rules, sub-rules, and elements needed to address the issues, and enough concise examples and context to help you spot the issues when they appear in a problem. In essence, by doing this you are pre-writing your exam, absent the specific facts the exam will supply.
It's especially helpful to write rules in your outline in the same manner in which you plan to write them on the exam. Many students are afraid to put rules into their own words in the outline: they copy rules from cases, restatements, or other sources because they are afraid they might miss the nuances of the rule, or they feel it takes too much time learn the rule well enough to put it into their own words. But that is "stinking thinking." You have more time during the fourteen weeks of the semester than during the three hours of the final. If you thoroughly digest rules well enough to put them into your own words in the outline, you will remember that phrasing during the final; otherwise, you'll waste precious time and mental energy during the exam struggling to translate obtuse phraseology from the outline into a concise sentence that captures the law -- time better spent applying law to the given facts. So prune and make every word tell so your outlines can be the best possible guide for taking your exams. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
I have learned probably hundreds of tips, tricks, and techniques to improve one's performance on examinations. But there is only one that I learned with ten million people watching.
In 2005, I took the Florida Bar Exam -- my second bar exam, after passing the DC Bar Exam seven years earlier. When I returned to my car, the lone message waiting for me on my cell phone was not the expected call from my family. Instead, it was Glenn, from Culver City, California, calling to inform me that I had been selected to be a contestant on Jeopardy! -- the fast-paced quiz show in which contestants vie to answer 61 questions in 22 minutes.
The taping was to be in a month, and so I went right from cramming for the bar to cramming for trivial warfare. I knew there was no way I could study every possible subject that might come up on the show. At the same time, I felt like I ought to be "training". Today, there are websites that archive years of Jeopardy! clues, and old episodes on demand on Netflix, but these weren't available in 2005, so my main source of practice was watching the daily broadcast of the show at 7:30 p.m. And, perhaps because I felt that it was a rather precious resource, I decided that I wasn't just going to casually sit on the couch and shout out responses with the contestants. I decided that I was going to act like a contestant. Each contestant stands behind a podium and holds in one hand a pen-sized electronic button, and the first person to press that button after host Alex Trebek finishes reading the clue gets the chance to give the response -- famously, in the form of a question (e.g., "Who is George Washington?"). So, for a month, I tried to simulate their actions. I watched the show standing up, behind a living room chair. I held a clickable ballpoint pen, and practiced pressing the top button after Trebek finished reading each clue, and only then did I allow myself to call out a response in the form of a question. From time to time, I would feel a little goofy doing this, thinking, Isn't the show really about what you know? But I kept at it, because it seemed like the only way to really practice.
Finally, I arrived in California for the taping. Jeopardy! tapes five episodes in one day, a couple days every few weeks, so on the day on which I was scheduled to tape, I was herded into the studio with about a dozen other contestants. We spent a few hours signing documents and having make-up applied and learning all the rules and, most important and exciting, playing a few practice rounds on the set to familiarize ourselves with the equipment. I noticed some of the other contestants -- all clearly bright and as delighted as I was to be there -- seemed slightly awkward behind the podium. We all knew intellectually what to do, of course; we had all been fans watching the show for years, and we had just received a thorough briefing on what was expected of us. Even so, some contestants struggled to push their electronic button at the right time -- pushing it before Trebek was done talking would lock you out so that you could not answer, but if you waited too long, someone else would get in before you. Others got the hang of the button, with concentration, but then could not remember the responses they were trying to give. And there were times when contestants would press the button correctly, and give the right response, but forget to give it in the form of a question.
But when I went up on stage to practice, it was like I was standing back in my living room. I had practiced the timing of pushing my pen button so many times that, when it came time to press the real thing, I did not even have to think about it. I rang in quickly, focused entirely on recalling the information needed, and then gave the answer automatically in the form of a question. It worked in practice, and it worked in the actual taping. Yes, the show is about what you know, but it's important that nothing hinder you from demonstrating what you know. I won four games, and eventually came back to be a finalist in the Tournament of Champions.
In the years since, I have learned that what I had stumbled onto is known as "simulation training". It is a kind of practice that is not unlike the physical training that athletes do to develop muscle memory and automatic responses. In the context of quiz shows and law examinations, though, what makes simulation training particularly useful is not just the physical skills that it develops. What makes it useful is that it frees up mental space and focus for more complex thought. Not having to think about when to push the button and how to phrase my answer enabled me to devote full attention to reading the clue and retrieving the correct response.
Practicing to take examinations -- whether final exams or Bar exams -- can provide the same kind of simulation training, under the right conditions. Of course, students should write practice exams for other very good reasons, like improving legal analysis and uncovering weaknesses in subject matter knowledge, because law examinations should also be about what you know. But there is an added benefit when practice exams are done under conditions that imitate expected exam conditions. There are dozens of details and stimuli that students encounter consistently during an actual exam that, if unfamiliar, can demand valuable thought or cause detrimental distraction: dressing comfortably, locating a seat, timing bathroom use, logging into ExamSoft, calculating timing targets, contending with silence or noise, reading and following directions, cutting and pasting text, properly submitting responses, etc. Encouraging students to incorporate attention to these elements during their practice work, even when they are not really necessary, can help them improve performance, not because performance depends on finding a proper seat, but because being able to do so with almost no thought allows them to devote their mental energies to the tasks that really need them. Exam performance is about what you know, but it is important that nothing hinder you from demonstrating what you know.
Monday, November 12, 2018
Last Friday, I experienced the pure joy of coaching an 8 year old flag football game at 9:30pm with the wind chill in the 20s. The temperature was the same for both teams, but everyone in attendance could see the difference between how the teams handled the conditions. One team bounced around with everyone running to the ball, celebrating, and having a good time. The other team shivered, jogged, and repeatedly shook their hands to try to stay warm. Most of those kids couldn’t feel their hands by the 2nd quarter, and as you would guess, they lost the game.
I witnessed a similar event a few years ago during the College Softball World Series. In the final series, Oklahoma played Alabama. Oklahoma dominated teams most of the year. They had the best hitter and pitcher in the country. During the second game of the best of 3 series, the heavens opened and rain drenched everything. Oklahoma made a few bad plays, and then, the umpire delayed the game until the rain subsided. During the rain delay, Alabama bounced around their dugout. They danced and sang through the whole delay. Oklahoma mulled around with their heads down from the couple bad plays. After the rain delay, Alabama trounced the Sooners. They subsequently won game 3 the next day for the National Championship beating an Oklahoma team that the following year with similar players was arguably one of the best in history.
The ability to respond to undesirable conditions is critical from elementary school to elite athletes. The same is true for law school final exams. The conditions will be similar for most students. Everyone is taking the same exam. Everyone has the same amount of time between the last day of class and final exams. Some people may have slightly different obligations during finals, but most students are on a similar playing field for finals. The ability to embrace the situation can make a difference in performance on finals.
I tell students every semester that final exams are as much a test of mental strength and discipline as they are a test of legal knowledge and analysis. The key is to embrace the grind of finals. Complaining about the exam, the amount of time, or unknown expectations is the equivalent of shivering on the field. Letting those thoughts creep in gives the final exam the edge before the test begins. Complaining students are the ones sleeping on coaches around the law school or finding every excuse necessary to not study. Making the final harder than it is becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy causing lower performance.
Overcoming negativity makes an impact of scores. Michael Hunter Schwartz developed a program for pre-law students many years ago where he described how high self-efficacy leads to persistence. Worry and other negative emotions don’t promote self-efficacy and tend to harm persistence. Persistence, or the grind, is what leads to improvement and readiness for exams. Final exams are hard. There is an unknown element. However, that is true for everyone taking the exam.
Embrace the grind by planning. As I have posted before, writing down a detailed monthly, weekly, and daily plan can make finals more manageable. The unknown causes some people stress because of the lack of control. Take that control back with a plan of attack. Plan for the whole study period from now through the last final. At the beginning of each day, plan the hours of the day. Take adequate breaks to mentally refresh and eat. Finish at a reasonable time each night. Grab momentum with the areas you can control, which should alleviate some stress. Remember, the vast majority of exams will come from material discussed in class. Exam period is a review of what everyone already experienced throughout the semester.
Start each day with positive affirmations to stop the negative emotion spiral before it starts. Be confident with statements about the ability to succeed, completing the necessary tasks, and overcoming obstacles. Focus affirmations on the study process or overcoming obstacles. Statements about the ability to study hard material or previous hard tasks can motivate anyone to push through the tasks for that day. Exams are a culmination of studies throughout a long period of time. Don’t focus affirmations on final exam results, which is unattainable on a given day. Focus on attainable goals for that day, for example “I am always able to recite sections of my outline after a few hours of study. I will be able to do that by lunch.” Affirmations on attainable goals builds over time for an impact on final exams.
Hard conditions can affect anyone, and law school exam conditions are difficult. However, planning and positivity can put everyone in the best possible position for success. The goal is to be able to walk into the exam with your head up and not shivering. Embrace the opportunity to demonstrate your ability on each exam.
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Ever found yourself giving this advice to students? Do you have colleagues who do so? In this series of posts, I hope to push back against this practice … sort of. There are five reasons why giving this advice is generally unwise. Here goes….
- Missed opportunity. We all know that students will use supplements regardless of our advice. I am a realist, and so I doubt that each of my 60 students will blindly and universally heed every word I say. (Dear students reading this: You should blindly and universally heed every word I say.)
As a result, if my only input on this issue is a blanket policy lacking any nuance, I’ve lost my ability to guide students towards the good stuff (which I call “hornbooks”) and away from the schlocky stuff (which I call “supplements”). (I make this nomenclature distinction because I want to capture the positive connotation of the former, and the negative connotation of the latter. This allows me to focus students on professor-authored resources written with the primary purpose of supporting students, and non-professor-authored resources written for the primary purpose of revenue).
Moreover, if some of my students’ other professors do recommend certain sources, I have just undercut my colleagues and probably undermined my credibility. I would rather influence my students and support my colleagues than posit myself as the all-knowing sage.
- Mitigating the advantage legal education grants to students from privileged backgrounds. Imagine a student whose mother, father, aunt, uncle, or cousins attended law school. No doubt these family members will spend hours at a family barbeque in July inflicting imparting their advice upon the anxious pre-1L, especially if they attended the same law school. This student now knows that her Criminal Law professor closely follows “Understanding Criminal Law.” The student then positively kills it (pun intended) when cold-called on Queen v. Dudley & Stephens, and she gains points for doing so.
Now imagine the student who is first in his family to attend college, let alone law school. Not surrounded by those “in-the-know,” this student goes through law school not knowing some of the crucial hints that might support his success. He struggles through State v. Wilson and loses points. He does less well in the course not because he lacked aptitude or diligence but because he did not enjoy the privileged background that provided others with pre-knowledge.
If the professor admonished the students not to use supplements, she can share the blame for this troublesome reproduction of socio-economic hierarchy. Not only did her blanket rule likely intimidate the second student more than the first, but her failure to guide her students towards quality materials exacerbated the imbalanced playing field that already existed.
In my next post, I’ll continue to lay out the arguments against the blanket policy of “Don’t Even THINK of Using Supplements.”
Saturday, November 10, 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
Friday, November 9, 2018
The editors of The Learning Curve are pleased to publish Summer/Fall 2018 edition which is [linked below]. In this edition, you will find articles related to the theme of diversity. We hope you will find these authors’ articles as insightful as we did as editors.
We are currently considering articles for the Winter/Spring 2019 issue, and we want to hear from you! We encourage both new and seasoned ASP professionals to submit their work.
We are publishing a general issue so we are considering all ideas related to academic support. If you have a classroom activity you would like to share, individual counseling techniques, advice for the academic support professional, and any other ideas, we want to hear from you!
Please ensure that your articles are applicable to our wide readership. Principles that apply broadly — i.e., to all teaching or support program environments — are especially welcome. While we always want to be supportive of your work, we discourage articles that focus solely on advertising for an individual school’s program.
Please send inquiries or your article submission to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com by no later than December 15, 2019. (Please do not send inquiries to the Gmail account, as it is not regularly monitored.) Attach your submission to your message as a Word file. Please do not send a hard-copy manuscript or paste a manuscript into the body of an email message.
Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words in length, with light references, if appropriate. Please include any references in a references list at the end of your manuscript, not in footnotes. (See articles in this issue for examples.)
We look forward to reading your work and learning from you!
DeShun Harris, Executive Editor
Kevin Sherrill, Associate Editor
Sarira Sadeghi, Assistant Editor
Nancy Reeves, Technology Editor*
*Special thanks to Christina Chong (outgoing Technology Editor) for her contributions to this edition.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
I'm worried about final exams. To be frank, I don't like the word "final." I have to say that the word "final" particularly bothered me in my previous aviation career, where air traffic controllers clear airliners for the "final approach to runway 18." I just didn't want that to be my final approach. I hoped to have at least a few more years in aviation.
But, here's the biggest rub that I have with final exams.
Because law students frequently have only a few mid-term exams to assess their learning (and to therefore improve before their final exams), final exams are, well, too final to make an improvement in one's learning. In fact, I suspect that the term "final exams" tends to lead to more of a fixed mindset with respect to our law students' learning. They get their grades, often weeks after finals, and most students - it seems - never review their exams to identify what they did that was good (nor to look for ways to improve in the next round of final exams).
Nevertheless, it's not just final exams that can be a hurdle in improving learning for the future.
Our feedback can be too.
As summarized by Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog "The Cult of Pedagogy," where she writes that "[r]eally, the experience of school could be described as one long feedback session, where every day, people show up with the goal of improving, while other people tell them how to do it. And it doesn’t always go well. As we give and receive feedback, people get defensive. Feelings get hurt. Too often, the improvements we’re going for don’t happen, because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace." https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/feedforward/. In short, feedback might just stunt growth, which is another way of saying that feedback might stunt learning.
But, there's great news!
Rather than providing our students with more and more feedback, we might consider providing them with "feedforward" instead.
But first, here are the problems with feedback. Feedback focuses on the past. It focuses on the negative without necessarily providing ways forward to improve. It focuses on being stuck rather than helping people get unstuck. Indeed, as outlined by Jennifer Gonzalez, there are at least three ways that feedback hinders learning:
• First, citing to author and educator Joe Hirsch, feedback shuts down our "mental dashboards." In my words, it crashes our brain. That's because the "red marks" and the many comments to "change this" or to "change that" tend to cause us to believe that all is lost; there's no hope for us. We just don't see a way forward because, frankly, we are stunned with a horrible feeling that we just don't get it...and never will. We are locked in the past. The future is hidden from us.
• Second, citing again to Joe Hirsch, feedback tends to reinforce negative thoughts because the comments tend to lead us to believe that we are stuck in a sort of "learned hopelessness" in which we cannot change our future. Rather than building a growth mindset in our students, feedback that is focused solely on what our students have done in the past creates a fixed mindset with students believing that there's little that they can do to improve their learning in the future.
• Third, citing again to Joe Hirsch, we tend to approach feedback with a single-minded crystalized focus to see what grades or marks or numbers we received (rather than seeing feedback as providing us with helpful and hopeful positive tools forward to achieve better grades in the future). In short, despite all the feedback given, students tend to see and internalize their grades first, and, because first impressions lead to lasting impressions, feedback often falls short in producing improvements in learning for future assessments. Too often, the grades on feedback crystalize into final exam grades, too.
In contrast, "feedforward" focus on the future. It takes the work of today and provides insights, comments, and tips framed in a communicative, generative way that leads to improvement in the future. It is forward looking; never backward looking. Feedforward believes in the future - a bright future - and provides particular ways for our students to move forward towards that future of improvements in their learning.
So, what is "feedforward?"
Simply put, it's coaching students about their current performance with heart-felt questions and insights that get our students thinking for themselves about how they can improve their learning for the future.
Curious? Rather than going through the six steps in providing helpful "feedforward" to our students, let me just point me to you the steps as cited by Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog article about "Feedforward," available at: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/feedforward/.
And, one last thought...
As academic support professionals, this month is a great opportunity. In particular, nothing really needs to be "final" about final exams. That's because we can provide our students with opportunities to receive positive "feedforward" well before final exams - via practice exams, exam writing workshops, academic support small group tutoring sessions, etc. - such that our students will learn to improve well before they take their final exams. Indeed, the key to a great final exam experience is to have great "feedforward" experiences on the way to taking final exams. So cheers to the future - our students futures! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Some years back, a law student came into our office seeking an emergency loan. Like many law schools, we had a fund available to help students weather financial exigencies caused by situations beyond their control like unexpected medical expenses. Rather than having unexpected emergency expenses, it turned out that this student couldn't make ends meet, even with the maximum possible financial aid package. As we talked, it turned out that the student couldn't possibly do anything about the expenses that burdened him each month. He and his spouse needed to rent a large house because they needed the space. They needed the most expensive cable package because they needed to be able to access all the TV channels as well as internet at home. They couldn't cut rental expenses by taking in roommates because they needed their privacy. The law student couldn't pick up a part-time job because he needed to concentrate on only law school and family. The spouse needed to stay unemployed and not tied down to a job because they expected to start a family within the next few years. They needed to keep their both their late-model SUVs. They needed to eat out at least twice a week. And so on, and so on. We didn't hand the student an emergency loan, but instead referred him to Consumer Credit Counseling. Not surprisingly, this student graduated with an enormous amount of student loan debt, debt which limited his career opportunities not only at graduation but for years afterwards.
Since student success is affected by anything that creates stress, it behooves academic support faculty to address financial issues openly. Most law students now have access to useful financial education tools, such as those offered by AccessLex Max, with great tools, calculators, and advice on financial management. But all the tools in the world can't help if students aren't empowered to say "No" to the consumerism that surrounds them, whether that consists of the pressure to join classmates in the bars every weekend or the expectation that everyone will have the newest smartphone. Like the "It's OK Not to Drink" movement, we can help create a positive "It's OK Not to Spend" culture in which frugality is supported and even commended.
We can help create this culture in at least three ways. First, we can tell stories and model good financial decision-making by being open about the financial choices we and others have made and continue to make. In my experience, students on a budget appreciate hearing a teacher say, "I can't afford spending my money on ____; I'm saving it for ____." The punch is even more powerful when they hear fellow students talk openly about their frugal lifestyles. Second, we can be open in asking questions about financial matters without prying into personal details. For instance, I routinely ask students who contemplate taking one of our summer courses whether it's a better choice for them to tighten their belt and pay out-of-pocket or to take extra credits so they are eligible for financial aid. Finally, we can connect frugality to their goals in attending law school. How many law students have abandoned their goal for attending law school because they needed a higher-paying job to pay off their student loans? Especially as we work with those motivated by public service and helping underserved communities, we can emphasize that the lower their debt, the wider their range of practice choices will be. (Nancy Luebbert)
Monday, November 5, 2018
The wind is gently blowing while the sun rises over the horizon. A cool morning inviting everyone to enjoy the sunrise with a nice run. Many dream of the excitement of running another race, feeling healthy, or being outside. I am not one of those people. Mornings are meant for sleeping. Running is only useful for competitive sports or survival, and I am long past my competitive sports prime.
While I don’t want to run races, especially long distance races, I do run for about half the year. For the past 3 years, I trained for and ran in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon Relay from November to April. I ran the 5k portion my first year and a 10k leg last year. I plan to run the 12k leg this year. I reluctantly started training a couple weeks ago and will continue until the end of April again. I don’t like to run, but I am doing it.
I never enjoyed running in itself, so why would I put myself through the rigor? The answer is the purpose for the run. I was only 5 miles away on a middle school soccer field when the bomb exploded. The explosion and smoke seemed to be around the corner. No one knew what happened yet.
The bombing was surreal. I watched the events unfold on a CRT TV on a rolling cart in English class. My mom called my school to let me know she was ok because she worked across the street from the Murrah Building on the non-blast side. I know numerous people who lost family in the bombing. One of the staging areas for first responders was the original Oklahoma High School, which is the building OCU School of Law moved into a few years ago. The bombing affected nearly everyone in OKC, so my purpose is more important than my disdain for running.
Passion and purpose are critical to success in law school and the practice of law. Many people talk about grit, but some forget the passion aspect. Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book titled Grit explicitly states passion is a large piece to overcoming adversity. Perseverance without passion is unsustainable. Having a purpose is what helps us continue through the roadblocks.
Recalling why you want to be an attorney is critical during law school, especially near finals. You need to keep reading your assignments each day, but you should also start preparing for finals. 1Ls probably had a large memo or brief due recently. 2Ls have more classes and may even be working. They are overwhelmed. Pure perseverance may have sustained you up to now, but you probably need a recharge to push through November. When getting the work done seems tough or when you feel like there is too much to accomplish, sit back for 5 minutes to think about why you want to become an attorney. Are you in law school to help the underserved? Do you want to fight injustice? Do you want to change the trajectory of your own life? Be specific to why you are in law school.
Know why you are putting yourself through the rigor of law school. Seeing progress towards the end goal can make the pain worth it. I don’t like running in my neighborhood, probably the only neighborhood in OKC with hills, but the pain is worth it knowing the cause I run for. The rigor of law school is also worth it if you know what you can do when you are an attorney. Now is the time to remember it to make that final push through finals!
Sunday, November 4, 2018
Congratulations to our Contributing Editor, Steven Foster, for being awarded a Top Ten Badge from Texas Bar Today for his Monday, October 29th post, Time for Hot Chocolate and Completed Outlines. If you missed reading his post, the link is here.
Saturday, November 3, 2018
Dear ASP Colleagues,
As the recently appointed Awards Committee Chair, I am pleased to report that the Awards Committee for the AALS Section on Academic Support is soliciting nominations for our annual section award winner. The AALS Section Award will be presented to an outstanding member of the ASP community likely at our section meeting at the January 2019 AALS Annual Meeting. Please review the eligibility and criteria information below and send nominations directly to me, Awards Committee Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The deadline to submit nominations is Friday, November 9 at 5:00 p.m. EST (a very quick turnaround). For a nomination to be considered, it must include (at a minimum) a one to two paragraph explanation of why the nominee is deserving of the award. Only AALS ASP Section members may make nominations, but all those within the ASP community may be nominated. Membership in the section is free and can be processed by e-mailing a membership request to email@example.com. For further detailed instructions on how to become a member, please view the following link.
Eligibility and Criteria for Selection. The eligible nominees for the award are individuals who have made significant and/or long-term contributions to the development of the field of law student academic support. All legal educators, regardless of the nature or longevity of their appointment or position, who have at some point in their careers worked part-time or full-time in academic support are eligible for the award. The award will be granted to recognize those who have made such contributions through any combination of the following activities:
- service to the profession and to professional institutions—e.g., advocacy with the NCBE or assumption of leadership roles in the ASP community;
- support to and mentoring of ASP colleagues;
- support to and mentoring of students;
- promoting diversity in the profession and expanding access to the legal profession; and
- developing ideas or innovations—whether disseminated through academic writing, newsletters, conference presentations, or over the listserv.
Law schools, institutions, or organizations cannot receive an award. Prior year or current year Section officers are excluded from being selected as an award winner.
The Committee looks forward to receiving your nominations. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Goldie Pritchard, J.D., M.Ed.
Director, Academic Success Program
Michigan State University College of Law
648 N. Shaw Lane, Room 230(B)
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
Southwest Consortium of Academic Support Professionals
7th Annual Conference
March 8, 2019
St. Mary’s University School of Law
San Antonio, Texas
Call for Proposals
We welcome all law school faculty and staff to submit proposals for presentations addressing this year’s conference theme, Collaboration: Rowing Together in the Same Boat.
Academic support programs are under constant pressure to achieve results, but often find themselves working with students who need more than just traditional academic support in order to succeed. Collaboration – either within the law school or with outside sources – can play a key role in maximizing academic support’s effectiveness and reach. SWCASP invites proposals for presentations that explore how collaboration, in all its forms, can improve academic and bar support for our students.
Please send you proposal to Jennifer Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than December 15, 2018. Proposals should include presenter contact information (name, title, school, email) and a brief description (300 words or less). Please note that most presentations will be scheduled for 50 minute blocks. Proposals with multiple presenters are welcome!
Friday, November 2, 2018
The Death of Learning Styles Theory?
For years, “learning styles theory” has been a significant part of law school academic support. It was said that struggling students would perform better if they focused their studies on using their preferred learning style: read/ write, auditory, kinesthetic, or visual, for instance. Moreover, struggling students would also perform better if academic support faculty (or others) diversified their teaching by using all of the learning styles. In fact, many law schools still employ learning styles theory as a facet of their academic support program.
But is there any empirical support for the validity of learning styles theory? Should law school academic support programs continue to promote this method?
The answer is: Probably not.
LST takes on two forms. The first is called “the matching hypothesis.” This idea claims that if instructors use teaching methods aimed at each learning style, students will learn material better because the instruction will engage each student’s preferred learning style. The other type, which we might call “LST study methods,” suggests that students can maximize the effectiveness of their study by emphasizing methods that comport with their preferred learning style, which they determine by means of a “LST inventory.” For instance, auditory learners might leverage resources like lectures; kinesthetic learners should create poster-board flowcharts, etc.
The problem is that many experts now hold the view that LST is probably invalid. According to many researchers, most of the publications advancing these ideas were theoretical and not experimental, and those that did employ empirical methods produced mixed results and/ or were methodologically unsound. Moreover, recent empirical studies, employing more scientifically rigorous methods, support the claim that these theories lack merit.
For example, in Another Nail in the Coffin of Learning Styles Theory? Husmann and colleagues empirically assessed the efficacy of the LST study methods concept. The study followed 426 undergraduate anatomy students to determine whether aligning study strategies to mesh with students' learning style, as determined by a VARK instrument, correlated with academic performance. Analyzing the data, the researchers found that students using study methods consistent with their highest scoring VARK scores performed no better than those who did not. The authors also noted that students’ use of methods with which they were most “comfortable” might run afoul of the concept of “desirable difficulties,” which holds that cognitive struggle actually promotes learning.
Rogowsky, et al, in Matching Learning Style to Instructional Method: Effects on Comprehension, administered several common “learning styles inventories” to test subjects to determine each one’s learning style. They then randomly placed subjects in different instructional conditions, including e-texts for one group and audiobooks for another, for instance. Not only did the study fail to produce evidence supporting the “matching hypothesis,” but the researchers suggested that LST might actually be harmful due to its tendency to steer students away from improving their weaknesses.
These studies are just a few of the numerous empirical analyses of LST that seem to undermine its legitimacy. From these studies we might conclude that ASP faculty should be skeptical both of the “matching hypothesis” and the “LST study method” concepts. What remains of LST, however, might be the strategy of diversifying teaching and studying not so much to comport with learning styles, per se, but to promote learning engagement. There IS empirical evidence that diversifying learning promotes engagement, and that engagement promotes knowledge acquisition and retention.
Of course, how can students accomplish this feat when legitimate outside resources are scarce and oftentimes banned in law schools? I will take up that issue in a future post.
As always, I welcome comments.
Here's some "food for thought" in light of the fact that a number of states have legalized recreational marijuana. According to National Public Radio ("NPR"), "[a] study published [this past week] in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that when adolescents stop using marijuana — even for just one week — their verbal learning and memory improve." https://www.npr.org/
In the study, researchers recruited a number of teens and young adults (from 16 to 25 years old) who were smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana regularly. The researchers then required a group of the volunteers to abstain from marijuana use for 4 weeks. As detailed by NPR, within one week memory improved for those who abstained in comparison to the results of pre-abstention memory tests while the other group of volunteers, who continued to partake of marijuana, saw no change in their cognitive memory abilities. Based on their study results, the research authors speculate that active cannabis use might be associated with "users having difficulty putting new information into their long term memory," something that is critical for academic success.
For the scientific details of the research (to include possible limitations of the study's results), please see the article available at the following link: https://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
A note arrived in my office last week. It said, "Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself. I do belong here." I doubt the most experienced academic support professional could have received such a message without getting a little misty-eyed. For me, this note helped turn a sad time into a day of joy.
Later that same day, I talked with a law student who has earned a Ph.D. in the university of hard knocks. If ever a person had reason to be embittered by the hand life dealt her, it would be this woman, but instead she radiates joy. She's a true friend to her classmates, the custodians, the dean, and everyone in between. She mentioned keeping a gratitude journal, so I asked about it. She told me the last thing she does every evening is write in a gratitude journal. She keeps each entry short -- just a sentence or two. She said the gratitude journal profoundly affects the way she looks at life. "I won't lie," she said. "Some days it's been hard to write something in there. But even on the worst days there's always something to be grateful for. It makes my life better to think about this every day."
Gratitude transforms lives -- not only the life of the person receiving the thanks, but even more the life of the person who is grateful. Consciously choosing joy can change your outlook on school, work, and life.
Most of us entered law school (whether two months or forty years ago) because we wanted to use the power of the law to help others. But law school and law practice have a way of dragging us down. Stress piles on -- from lower-than-expected evaluations, heavy workloads, pointed critiques, looming deadlines, and the sheer mental effort of constantly being logical and analytical. We end up swathing ourselves in a suffocating miasma of negativity. Our optimistic mission of serving others devolves into a pessimistic, painful grind of grubbing for grades instead of reaching for understanding, of grasping for prestigious positions rather than seeking opportunities to be of service.
Like the penetrating sunshine, consciously practicing gratitude can help dispel the miasma by recharacterizing our experiences. An extra-long homework assignment turns from a chore into an opportunity for effective reading; a heavy work assignment turns from a burden into a chance to practice efficiency. Professors' comments in class turn from cutting criticisms into helpful critiques which will help us become better lawyers; interactions with challenging peers turn from obnoxious situations into practice in people management skills.
In a famous TED talk, Amy Cuddy discusses how adopting a powerful body language can actually help you feel and act empowered. Likewise, consciously spending time being grateful will turn you into a happier, more positive person. In her practical book, A Short & Happy Guide to Being a Law Student, Paula Franzese writes, "Say thank you countless times a day. . . . Your day will move in the direction of your focal point. Focus on the good in your midst and the good to come."
Here's a concrete suggestion for 1Ls worried about fall semester finals -- look forward to your finals with gladness instead of trepidation. After all, you don't have to take exams. You get to take exams. You have the opportunity to strut your stuff by showing your professor -- and yourself -- how much you have learned in a few months and how far you have progressed on the road of thinking, writing, and acting like a lawyer. And that is definitely something worth celebrating. Write it down in your gratitude journal and rejoice in another great day. (Nancy Luebbert)
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
To lawyers, law students, and professors, the IRAC formula is as commonplace a tool as yellow highlighters or The Blue Book. Some may tout or prefer one of its dozens of variations, particularly in specific situations, but at heart, they all do the same basic job of providing a reliable structure for building an argument. It may take some time for students to internalize that structure and use it consistently. Once they do, however, some students lean on it heavily, as a way of making sure all the expected components of their analysis (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) are included. Other students may see it with more anxiety, as a set of expectations imposed by certain professors; they may worry that if they don't use IRAC, they won't receive full credit in their essay responses.
In either case, students can sometimes be stymied when trying to adhere to IRAC format in an essay test response that requires multiple pieces of analysis, like a rule with multiple elements. For example, trying to fit a discussion of a negligence claim into one big IRAC paragraph -- as some students may feel they are required to do -- may start off well, as the student correctly identifies the question of negligence as the issue and the requirement to show duty, breach, causation, and damages as the rule. But then the application section may become messy, as the student tries to write about each element. If more than one element depends on tricky or subtle facts, or if there are multiple arguments and counterarguments to some elements, then the student may struggle to control multiple threads of analysis, without additional structure, in an enormous paragraph that spreads over two or three pages. The student may lose some of those threads, and so might the reader.
This is an unsurprising consequence of the emphasis on sticking to an overall IRAC format: students, for comfort or consistency, might feel compelled to turn every argument into a unitary IRAC. This may be less of a problem for long-term projects, like a legal research and writing memo, where a student may be given more instruction about formatting and will have opportunities to rewrite and edit their essays. But on a timed assignment, like a final exam, the urge to create one big IRAC argument -- or the fear of not doing so -- can slow students down and inhibit clarity.
One way to help students improve their relationships with IRAC is to point out that a well-reasoned argument can have layers of IRACs built into it. The Application portion, after all, is where the meat of the analysis appears, and if that analysis requires that the student examine multiple elements, each element could be discussed in its own separate sub-IRAC paragraph. To use the negligence example:
Issue: Negligence claim
Rule: Duty, Breach, Causation, Damages
Rule1: [e.g., Obligation to act as reasonably prudent person under circumstances]
Application1: [Application of rule to specific facts]
Conclusion1 re: Duty
Conclusion2 re: Breach
Conclusion re: Negligence claim
This layering of IRACs allows students to take advantage of the order imposed by the format, while still providing the flexibility to address separate sub-issues separately. Theoretically, the layering could continue indefinitely, if certain elements have sub-elements to consider:
Rule3: Actual cause and Proximate cause
Issue3A: Actual cause
Conclusion3A re: Actual cause
Issue3B: Proximate cause
Conclusion3B re: Proximate cause
Conclusion3 re: Causation
This layering of IRACs may not always be the most artful way to organize a legal discussion, but in an exam situation in which students are trying to maximize speed, completeness, and clarity simultaneously, it can provide an efficient way for them to put together a complex analysis.
Monday, October 29, 2018
The leaves are changing and falling. For some, the weather is beautiful. The crisp air makes many want to cuddle up by the fire with hot chocolate and read a fully completed Con Law outline. Well, maybe not the outline part.
All joking aside, now is the time to evaluate your preparedness for finals. The semester flew by, and for most, finals are 4-5 weeks away. You still have classes for 3 weeks, so you don’t get unlimited study time. Analyzing how prepared you are right now and planning for November is critical.
First, check your reading progress. Are you still completing all your class readings? If not, put reading back on your daily schedule. Your professors will test material from the last few weeks of class. If my memory is correct, which is debatable, over half of my classes had material on the final exam from the very last day of instruction. Every day matters, so get back on track reading for each class.
Next, check your outlines. My advice is to complete outlines before reading week. I know many students wait until reading week to finish, but reading week is too late. Working on outlines that week means you aren’t doing practice questions, reviewing the material in depth, or talking with professors about confusing topics. Reading week is most useful for in-depth preparation, not finishing outlines.
Create a plan to finish outlines before Thanksgiving. Look at where you are now with outlines and determine how much time you need to get them up to date. Write down what must happen prior to reading week, which is normally right after Thanksgiving. A good plan is to have outlines up to date before eating turkey and dressing. You will be both better prepared and less stressed out while quietly dozing off to the Lion’s game.
Lastly, analyze your progress on practice questions. Have you completed questions in each of your classes? Have you completed CALI lessons or multiple choice questions? Have you sought feedback on your answers? Make sure to schedule time during November to both write answers and meet with professors for feedback, especially if you haven’t completed questions yet. Feedback is critical to improvement. Professors want to meet with students to help them improve.
The semester is almost over. Now is the time to evaluate where you are and create your plan for November. Enjoy the weather, crisp air, and completed class outlines.
Sunday, October 28, 2018
For the past two weeks I have met many new first-year students. Feedback on midterms, practice questions, or legal practice assignments has begun. So students who previously had thought they did not need assistance - or at least were delaying assistance - have taken the plunge. Some have realized they need better time management routines for more study time. Some have realized they definitely need to start or catch up on outlines. Some have asked about IRAC or multiple-choice assistance. Some have realized that they need to curb procrastination. Some are just anxious and wondering if they should be more or less anxious than they currently are.
Other students, both 1L and upper-division, are returning for 10,000-mile checkups. We are tweaking their previous time management routines for more study time now that they are more efficient and effective at class preparation and outlines. We are exploring the different tasks that all make up exam review. We are discussing how to condense their outlines into attack outlines or how to add visual organizers for some learners. Memory strategies have been a popular topic with these students who have made progress on black letter law, but have a few stumbling blocks. 2Ls and 3Ls are thinking ahead to exam schedules and evaluating courses in that light.
And with both the new and returning students, there are good measures of dispelling rumors about grading for 1Ls (the grapevine is especially bizarre right now), praising progress and wise decisions, and motivating the procrastinators. In some cases I am dispensing tissues, in some cases packets or handouts, and in some I just let them vent before we look for solutions.
The students who are pretty much on target leave with renewed confidence and strategies. The students who are catching up but not in critical shape leave having regrouped. The students who are getting close to a danger zone leave with a reality check and a plan - and usually follow-up appointments.
For now, ASP is a bit like a local medical clinic: some need vitamins or a bandaid; some need an ace bandage or cold remedy; a few need crutches or a walking boot. Right now no epidemics or massive injuries have crossed the threshold.
But I have been doing ASP enough years to know that the triage cases will show up right at the end - just before and after Thanksgiving Break. And like any good ER doctor, I will try everything I can to save the patients. (Amy Jarmon)