Thursday, June 13, 2019

First Moves

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

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

Here's a brief snapshot.  

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

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

Here's as an example...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Time to Change Your World

It is June 11.  Recent law school graduates, separated from the exaltation of graduation by two weeks of breakneck lectures, rote memorization, and mystifying practice questions, are increasingly conscious of the brief (and increasingly briefer) interval between now and the administration of the bar examination.  Less than 50 days to learn all this new material, to recollect even more old material, and to master the skills needed for three different testing modes!  If your students are like mine, they are still displaying a lot of grit and energy, but are beginning, after experiencing the intensity of bar preparation, to wonder if they will be able to accomplish all they need to succeed in the end.

Seven weeks does not seem like enough time to accomplish much.  Or does it?  Consider:

It is June 11.  The Second Continental Congress has been considering the Lee Resolution, a proposal that the American colonies should formally declare their independence from the British Empire.  Unable to agree without the text of an actual declaration in hand, the Congress appoints the Committee of Five – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston – to draft a statement that all the colonies might agree upon.  The Committee of Five presents their draft document less than three weeks later.  The document is considered by the Congress as a whole, after which some changes are made on July 3.  On the morning of July 4, the Declaration of Independence, in its final form, is adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

It is June 12.  A French army, led by Joan of Arc, wins its first offensive victory at the Battle of Jargeau.  After relieving the siege of Orleans earlier that spring, Joan had persuaded much of the French army to join her in opposing the English force that had occupied France and had prevented the coronation of the rightful French king, Charles VII.  After Jargeau, Joan leads this army as it takes town after town and turns the tide against the English.  After the army takes the city of Reims, the coronation of Charles VII takes place on July 17.

It is June 13.  Having received from Daniel Ellsberg copies of the top-secret Vietnam Study Task Force – a collection of original government documents supplemented with historical analysis created by the Department of Defense as a history of the Vietnam War – the New York Times begins publishing excerpts that revealed details of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam that were not previously known publicly.  These excerpts soon become known as "The Pentagon Papers."  The Nixon Administration, hoping to discourage future leaks of classified information, seeks an injunction against the Times to prevent further publication.  This action tests the limits of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press as bounded by claims of national security concerns, and it moves apace all the way to the Supreme Court.  On June 30, the Court, in a 6-3 decision, upholds the right of the New York Times to publish The Pentagon Papers.

This is a great week to begin to change the world.  Remind your students that, this summer, they have the time to change theirs.

June 11, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Finding Rest in the Cycle

Take a rest. A field that has rested yields beautiful crops. – Ovid

In a profession where, by definition, we support and give so much to our students we face the risk of having not enough left to nourish ourselves. Those of us who, in addition to teaching and academic support roles, play a role in professional or supplemental bar prep programs see no end to the academic year. The graduation procession precedes exam grading and final grade submission, only to be followed immediately by a new order of coaching, providing practice essay feedback, and guiding students through the stress of bar study.  We are not immune to the stressors that we try to guide our students through. Our minds echo with resounding worry about whether our students have done enough, whether we’ve helped enough, and whether any one of our students will pass the bar. And while our student-graduates wait in angst for months to learn the results of the summer exam, those in ASP quickly progress to the next peak in the 12-month cycle with very few lulls.

The cycle is seemingly endless. After the arduous 10-week period of bar prep, we go almost immediately into orientation training, then to fall semester teaching, then again to exam grading followed by a feverish period of winter bar prep. Yet in this relentless cycle we must find time to rest and replenish ourselves. All the more so for those of us with scholarship or other additional responsibilities. Those in the throes of summer bar prep should remember that we alone cannot shoulder the weight of the bar results for our schools or for any one student. We must guiltlessly take the time off that is available to us with a sense of enjoyment and entitlement. By taking well-needed time for rest and restoration, we model balance to our students. When summer responsibilities do not allow for a full vacation, we can fit smaller periods of rest into our week by taking a three-day weekend, dedicating one day per week to work from home (if school policy permits), leaving early on a Friday or starting late on a Monday during the summers. We too are at risk of burnout and savoring a simple pleasure, like a long walk or a short drive, a call to a non-lawyer friend or a 15-minute sanity break, can rest our minds and lift our spirits.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 10, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Compliment of Criticism

Don't let compliments get to your head and don't let criticism get to your heart. -- Lysa TerKeurst

The other day we held a bar workshop at my school. At the end of the session we collected evaluation forms from the students. I could hardly wait until the students were all out of the room to look at their written comments. A colleague and I sat at the edges of our seats to read what the students wrote about “our” workshop. As we thumbed through the evaluation forms, we read an abundance of smile-generating comments like: Good, Good, Excellent, Learned something new, Would recommend this session to others, and Glad I came. But our smiles askewed when we reached the one comment that read this session was longer than I expected and the presentation was poor.

Of the many laudatory comments, only one offered anything other than praise. And yet that one evaluation form is all that we focused on for the rest of the afternoon. My colleague and I became defensive and responded to the anonymous feedback as if talking to the student who submitted it. I suspect that our reaction was not atypical in the academic support teaching profession. We probably reacted in the same manner that many professors do as we review our course evaluation forms, student emails, or other summative feedback. We focus almost blindly on what someone did not like at the expense of commentary reflecting the effectiveness of our teaching and service.

So many of us in academic support or other teaching professions may put too much weight on the criticism and not enough weight on the compliments. Perhaps it is because we invest so much in the success of our students and the excellency of our programs that we forget the role that criticism can play in our own professional development. As this summer’s bar prep gets rolling full throttle, I’ve made a promise to myself to not let my view of the forest be impeded by one tall tree. While I am providing my students with daily affirmations, I pledge to affirm and nurture myself and my wellbeing. In doing so, I will be better able to service my family and my students who depend on me.  As you read your course evaluations and performance reviews this summer, challenge yourselves to take criticism with a grain of salt (or a bottle of wine) and be thankful for the wonderful learning opportunity that the feedback provides.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 3, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Muscle Learning & Bar Prep Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Some Things I Have Learned from Colleagues, Observation, and Experience

As my career in ASP winds down, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years. Here are a few things that strike me as important lessons learned from discussions with my ASP/bar prep colleagues, observations of our profession over time, and my own experiences:

  • ASP and bar prep work have gained more recognition through the years. LSAC supported us early on. AALS recognized our efforts with a section designation. Changes to ABA standards brought more attention to our roles. More law schools now have programs, but there is still work to be done if all law students are to have access to full-time, funded services.
  • ASP/bar prep started its work to increase academic and bar success for minority students. With the pressures of stigma and backlash, many ASP programs opened services to all law students. Although programs may still have minority components within the services, the broader law school population has now become the focus. Declining admissions (and the resulting decline in applicant credentials in some cases) and ABA emphasis on bar passage rates have continued the pressure for services to be available to all law students.  Let us not forget our original purpose of supporting diversity as our roles expand.
  • The work we do is not just about grades or bar passage. We teach skills that impact our graduates throughout their lives. We teach skills resulting in better lawyering and more satisfying living. Among the skills we teach are learning strategies, legal reasoning, problem solving, organizing work, managing time, managing stress, and avoiding procrastination.
  • We need to be careful that we do not just jump from the "hot topic or solution of the month" to the next hot topic. It is tempting, but ultimately shallow. There is no magic wand available for ASP or bar prep. Learning, memory, and legal reasoning are complex topics with layers of nuance. To those three, we must add the topics of diversity, motivation, procrastination, learning disabilities, time management, work management, stress management, resilience, grit, mindset, and mental health - also very complex and nuanced. I could easily list another dozen topics that relate to our work. We need to investigate deeply to understand the nuances, remain open to intertwined concepts, and build successful strategies over time.
  • The numbers game is not all that matters. It is nice if large numbers enroll in courses or attend workshops, but numbers alone do not tell the story. Our work regularly impacts on an individual level. We need to remember that assisting one student at a time is valuable. Let us not forget the merit of one-on-one assistance during our law schools' demand for numbers to tout.
  • We need to provide alternative methods for students to access our services. Some services may involve mandatory appointments, workshops, or courses. However, even mandatory offerings may not reach all students who need help or may fail to reach them at the time when they are most receptive. We need to continue to explore different ways to reach students where they are and when they are receptive to services. The possibilities are endless, but include appointments, workshops, packets, handouts, email tips, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, intranet pages, pop-up events, and walk-abouts.
  • We need to remember that each student is unique. One size does not fit all, no matter what theory suggests. Each student comes with individual strengths, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, educational backgrounds, and experiences. We cannot forget the individual when we consider our repertoire of theories, generalities, and strategies.
  • We need to ask questions and listen to the answers. I learn some of the best strategies from students explaining what they have discovered. In the search for the combination of strategies for each student, we need to explore with the student what works, does not work, needs to be modified, or needs to be tossed.
  • We want students to succeed and are personally involved in their learning. However, ultimately the student must implement the strategies, eschew bad habits, and work to achieve success. Despite our best efforts, some students will not reach their full academic potential and may even fail academically or fail the bar repeatedly. It exemplifies the old adage of leading a horse to water.
  • Working 60-70 hours per week (and often more) is the temptation in ASP/bar prep because we want to implement new programs, stay up with professional development, be available to students, show up at events to support them, and answer emails at all times of the day and night. However, working at such a pace leads to burnout and ultimately does not help us or our students. We need to model the work-life balance that we regularly recommend to our students.
  • Have faith in your own expertise and the" best practices" that match your law school's culture. The variety of law schools means that one size does not fit all. Be open to ideas and weigh their value for your law school situation. ASP/bar prep colleagues are willing to share ideas and expertise - usually for free. Read the Law School Academic Support Blog, post queries on the Law School Academic Support listserv, attend AASE and AALS conferences or other regional workshops, and reach out to experienced colleagues. However, be wary of anyone who tells you there is one and only one (that is, the individual's own) path to "best practices" in ASP/bar prep; that viewpoint is just not accurate.
  • No matter how dedicated and expert we are in our work, our law schools have to provide the facilities and resources for us to do our work well. Without commitments for space, budget, staffing, support services, and equal status, we will be limited in achieving the greatest results for our students. Talk is cheap. It takes actions from each and every law school in support of our ASP and bar professionals to make a difference.

ASP/bar prep work is challenging, impactful, rewarding, and gratifying. We can be proud of what we do each day. What we accomplish is important. We need all law schools to recognize how important our work is for our students' academic success and for their futures. (Amy Jarmon)

 

May 20, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Congrats 1Ls!

Congratulations first-year students!  You made it through a grueling year.  Law school is a long and exhausting process.  The semesters are draining, and everyone feels burned out at the end of each year.  Many people could not make it through this intellectual, emotional, and sometimes even physical battle.  You should congratulate yourself because making it through is an accomplishment.  Optimism will help you successfully continue this journey through the next 2-3 years. 

For now, FORGET YOUR FINALS.  You turned in your answers, and at this point, you can’t change anything you wrote.  Talking to other students will only stress you out, and many times, your classmates are wrong.  No one writes perfect answers.  You can miss issues and still receive reasonable grades.  Even if you missed entire questions, you still can’t change it.  Don’t worry, your grades will be out soon enough.  Take this time to relax and hopefully gain experience.

The focus now should be on what to do during the summer.  My suggestions for the summer are:

1.  Gain Experience.  If you can't find a paid internship, volunteer somewhere.  No only do you gain valuable legal experience, you will also see the law in action.  Learning science indicates that we remember information better and longer if we understand context.  Helping litigate a personal injury case, working on a contract, and helping with a real estate transaction can provide context to solidify first year knowledge.

2.  Make connections.  I encourage everyone to make connections inside and outside the legal field.  Spend time with friends and family.  Make new friends, and enjoy time away from the law school.  Also, make connections with practitioners.  You should attend events with both new and experienced attorneys.  

3.  Read a book for pleasure.  You probably didn't get to read for pleasure the past year, so read something fun during the summer.

4.  Read a book for improvement.  You made it through the first year and understand what law school requires.  Spend a little time thinking about where you can improve.  Grab a good book to help improve in that area.  Your Academic Success professor at your law school can give you some ideas.  I also suggest reading books about how we learn, make habits, and persevere.  I love the books Grit, Make it Stick, and Atomic Habits.

5.  Take a break.  The most important piece of advice is to take a break and breath.  The academic calendar is packed.  August will be here fast, so take a moment to breathe.  Rest will be invaluable.

Law school is tough, and not everyone can do it.  Celebrate that you made it, and enjoy your summer.

(Steven Foster)

May 17, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Summer: Associate!

This week, most of my 3L students are taking their last final exams. On Sunday they will graduate, and within a week or so, they will begin preparing to take the bar examination. Twenty years ago, this meant a return to the lecture hall for eight weeks of intensive lectures, surrounded by my closest classmates and a couple hundred other recent graduates. Today, the rise of online courses and live streaming means it is possible to complete an entire bar preparation course without getting out of bed, or at least without leaving one's home. It may be hard in the face of such convenience, but it is important to remind out graduating 3Ls of the substantial benefits of human contact.

One of the first things I tell my incoming 1L students is, "The law is a social profession." Successful practitioners, I explain, know the value of hashing out ideas and strategies with colleagues, and they develop networks of other lawyers to whom they can turn to make (or receive) referrals or to ask for guidance outside of their own areas of expertise. I tell my students this partly to help them to see the benefits of conferring with their own classmates and of taking advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities. But I also tell them because I know that a significant portion of the students in each incoming class needs this kind of encouragement, because they do not reflexively reach out to others for support and information. This tendency is explained in part by their natural inclinations; according to Eva Wisnik, president of Wisnik Career Enterprises, about 60 percent of those who become lawyers are introverts. 

By their 3L year, many students, including some of those more introverted ones, have perceived the value of collaborative work, as in study groups and trial teams. Even so, the ten weeks or so between graduation and the bar exam pose new challenges. Some students, tired of the law school grind, envision a comparatively more manageable summer, one in which they can watch videos and undertake exercises online at their convenience instead of on a set schedule. Others may underestimate the time and attention demanded by the bar exam and conclude that the effort of traveling to campus, particularly on a set schedule, is not worth it. Under these circumstances, it may take extra persuasive effort to convince newly minted graduates that there are benefits to seeking out the company of other new graduates.

Still, there definitely are benefits. Full participation in bar preparation courses can be easier to achieve when the courses are seen as group activities in which groups of students commit to watching videos and working on exercises together (and to hold each other accountable for missed work). Group study and review provides additional opportunities for feedback and clarification.  And when bar preparation becomes a stressful, tedious, and/or exhausting chore, as it often does halfway through the summer, commiseration can inspire tenacity.

How do you get soon-to-be ex-students to take advantage of these benefits by making particular efforts to associate with their peers, even when the apparently easier route would be to go solo?  There are three things to keep in mind:

  • Start early. Don't wait until graduation day is within reach to begin encouraging students to think of ways to work together during bar preparation. Social activities are easier to accept when they are perceived as social norms -- that is, just the way people expect to do things. Pointing out the social aspects of legal practice from the first year is one way to begin. Another way of normalizing the expectation that students will make efforts to work together during bar preparation is to encourage recent alumni who have done this successfully to share their experiences with friends from later classes.
  • Make it easy. Bar study is difficult and consuming. Having to make special efforts to collaborate may seem like too much, to those overwhelmed by course expectations. Anything a school can do to lower the threshold of energy or attention required to collaborate can help. Provide dedicated space on campus so that bar studiers can easily find each other. Set up channels of communication early and keep students informed of resources and opportunities to gather, and look for ways to connect such opportunities to activities already on students' radar screens (such as live video programs sponsored by bar preparation companies).
  • Add value. Finding ways to provide additional benefits to your alumni can change their calculation of whether or not it is worth it to them to step away from solitude and join their classmates, even if only occasionally. Offering small incentives, like free coffee and snacks or access to classroom space, can make getting together more inviting. More ambitious incentives might include providing supplemental live workshops on particular test-taking skills or subject matter areas, which can simultaneously draw students from their isolation and prompt interaction and planning with other participants.

At the end of the day, success on the bar exam does depend on individual effort. But in the face of innate introversion and technological isolation, we can help our students to recognize, once again, that individual effort can be promoted by social cooperation.

[Bill MacDonald]

May 14, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Keep Your Perspective on Grades

Few law students are able to ignore grades - especially if the final exam is the only grade for a course. Whether students have been successful or unsuccessful in the past with their grades, they become anxious about the current exam, the upcoming exam, and the just past exam.

How one feels coming out of the exam is really immaterial because the class as a whole is what determines the outcome. I remember coming out of a property exam hoping I did not fail. I knew property really well but had been unable to finish the exam. When grades were posted, I got a very high grade because I finished more than others and that professor wrote the exam so no one would be able to finish it.

Here are some things to consider as you go through exams and afterwards:

  • Ignore the rumor mill. It has little truth on it this time of year. Use your common sense to spot the ridiculous. Example: Our exams are graded by anonymous numbers, and professors assign final grades by anonymous numbers. The rumor mill had the 1Ls convinced that grades for the semester would now be assigned alphabetically by last name so the only people who would receive A grades were last names beginning with A or possibly a few students with last names beginning with B.
  • It is common to walk out of an exam and realize that you missed an issue, misunderstood a question, forgot an ancillary rule, and made other mistakes. It's okay. Do not beat yourself up about the errors. It happens to everyone. Put the exam behind you and move on.
  • You do not want to talk with classmates about the exam after it is over. Just smile, wish the person luck on the next exam, and walk away. Why? You will stress because someone will mention an issue you missed - but it wasn't there and that person was wrong. Someone will brag about how easy the exam was when you thought it was very hard. Someone will predict doom and gloom and cause you to worry and lose focus on the next task.
  • The days of having to get 90-100% on the exam to get an A grade in a course are over. You left that grading scale behind with college. It is not unusual for a law school A to equal just 70-75% of the possible points - and sometimes even fewer points.
  • A final exam measures your performance on one day on one particular set of questions. You may know that course at a deeper level than your grade will show. Maybe the curve was tight. Maybe there were very few questions on a topic you knew well. Maybe you blanked on a topic. Maybe you were ill.
  • You are not your grades. Good or bad grades, you are far more than your grades. You are the same capable, intelligent, funny, caring, amazing person who came to law school the first day you arrived.
  • If  you want to improve your future grades, the academic support professionals at your law school can assist you in learning new strategies that will boost your academic results. See them early and often next semester.

Take your exams in stride. Do the best you can each day under the circumstances. It is the daily work that pays off in better grades. If you have a bad day, get some rest; start over again the next morning. Best wishes for exams. (Amy Jarmon)

May 13, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Worthwhile Debt

Occasionally I find myself in the surprising position of encouraging students to take on more debt. It's a odd situation for someone who is customarily espouses frugality. For law students, minimizing student loan debt not only reduces stress but also opens the door to a wider range of practice choices when maximizing income isn't the primary driver for employment choices. 

Sometimes, however, I find students so fearful of taking on additional student loan debt that they deny themselves opportunities which would pay abundant dividends in the long run. For investors, putting a portion of one's portfolio in stock funds, even though they carry higher risk, ultimately pays off better than socking everything away in a savings account. But I'm running into more students nowadays who, fearful of increasing  debt, are doing the equivalent of stuffing dollar bills under the mattress. One student, for example, eschewed any legal practice experience during summers or the academic year, choosing instead the immediate paychecks coming from work in the hospitality industry. While the income stream meant that s/he graduated with less debt than many classmates, s/he found it an uphill battle to land legal employment after graduation with no practice experience. Some reject out of hand the possibility of taking plum summer positions in a field they are passionate about if it would mean paying extra rent in another city for a month or two. Even decisions as mundane as choosing local housing can have an impact: I've known students who have settled so far out in their quest for cheap housing that the long commute saps the time and energy they should be devoting to law school.

Law school is an expensive proposition, but students get to choose whether to make it a money pit or a worthwhile investment. When I suspect students are being penny-wise and pound-foolish, I encourage them to do a cost-benefit analysis, focusing on the long term with their goals in mind. Extraordinary opportunities often carry short-term costs. Keeping your eyes on the prize, would this opportunity provide a great experience to learn, to grow, to interact with expert lawyers? Will it provide an unparalleled opportunity to let you explore your passions? Will it pay dividends in helping you become an extraordinary lawyer? If so, it's probably worth the the relatively minimal amount it will add to your student loans. Be frugal, certainly, but take advantage of opportunities to suck the marrow out of your law school experience. 

(Nancy Luebbert)

May 8, 2019 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Are You Having Trouble Sleeping?

Exams have started at our law school, and law students are looking much more sleep-deprived than usual. It is tempting to skimp on sleep to study. It is also easy to toss and turn instead of sleeping once getting into bed. Here are some hints to help in the sleep department:

  • Realize that a good night's sleep of 8 hours will do your brain more good than late-night cramming. You will be more alert, focused, and productive the next day.
  • Exercise expends stress and helps you sleep. Even a 30-minute walk can help. Most research suggests that your exercise should be before 8:00 p.m. to get the most sleep benefits.
  • Avoid naps because they ultimately can disrupt your night's sleep routine. If you must nap, make it a power nap of no more than 15-20 minutes.
  • Take at least one hour as a wind-down break before bed each night. Make that hour non-law and non-electronic time. Walk your dog. Pack your lunch for the next day. Chat with your spouse. Read a fluff novel.
  • If possible, stop studying by 8:00 p.m. at the latest on the night before an exam. Spend time doing something you enjoy that will occupy your mind fully and prevent you thinking about law school. Play the piano. Join a pick-up basketball game. Go to the IMAX theater. 
  • Do not stress if you need 30 or so minutes to fall into a deep sleep. Most people do not fall asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow. Breathe deeply; relax your muscles; think happy thoughts (a memorable vacation, a walk on the beach, inspirational quotes or scripture).
  • Improve your sleep environment to optimize your chances for a good night's ZZZZs: a cool room temperature; blackout curtains; total quiet (for some) or an eco-sound machine as white noise (for others); a cool air mister to add moisture to a room with dry air.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day no matter what your exam schedule is. Your body likes a set routine. You will be more likely to get sleepy before bed and wake up alert if you stay on a schedule.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep, get up and go to another room. Don't stay in bed and toss and turn. Read a few pages in a novel or some magazine articles. Avoid electronics. As you begin to relax and get sleepy, go back to bed.
  • Try one of the old-time remedies that seem to work for lots of people: drink a cup of herbal tea before bedtime; drink warm milk before bedtime; take a lavender bubble bath.

May you fall asleep and have sweet dreams! (Amy Jarmon)

May 6, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Practicing the Art of Rebuttal

It is the time in the semester when I give many, many pep talks. The time when I urge students to stay positive. The time when I suggest students need to rebut their negative self-talk.

We all have experienced a litany of negative statements that we say, often silently, to ourselves at one time or another. As the pressure of upcoming exams increases, I am hearing more and more negative comments verbalizing negative thoughts from students. The statements might be self-critical ("Oh, that was a stupid mistake!") or negative comparisons ("You just aren't as smart as they are.") or pessimistic ("No matter how hard you try, you won't be able to do this.). Whatever the form of the negativity, it deflates self-esteem, discourages further hard work, and waves the white flag of defeat.

I often point out to my students that one of the skills that every attorney needs is being able to plausibly rebut arguments presented by the opposing side. The skilled attorney can listen to the negative statement about their client's case, and then adroitly respond with the positive argument for the client's case. In fact, in preparation of the case, an attorney should consider the opponent's arguments and be ready to rebut those points. Whether by distinguishing facts, interpreting statutory language differently, mentioning an authority with the opposite outcome, or showing flawed logic, attorneys present their advocacy for the client's position.

Law students need to practice the same rebuttal skill when the negative self-talk in their heads starts to undermine their confidence and cause them to doubt their abilities. Here is an exercise that I suggest to my students to help them rebut the negative self-talk that stalks them:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns.
  2. Head the left-hand column "Negative Self-Talk" and the right-hand column "Positive Self-Talk"
  3. In the negative column, list the negative statements that the little voice in your head says to discourage you.
  4. In the positive column, write out a positive rebuttal that tells the negative voice it is wrong and why.
  5. For example: negative side - "You will never learn Property in time for the exam!" positive side - "I can learn this. I just need to learn one subtopic at a time and then move on to the next subtopic."
  6. Add any new negative self-talk and the rebuttals to the list whenever you catch yourself stating something negative that you have not dealt with already.

How do you use the list? Practice your rebuttals and use them every time you state the corresponding negative self-talk. Some students tell me that after a few times, they start laughing at the negative voice. Other students tell me that after a few times, the negative voice has no power over them because they now believe the rebuttal. There are students who post the paper on the bathroom mirror and read the positive self-talk every time they brush their teeth or comb their hair. Other students tell me they carry it around in a notebook to reread the positive statements regularly.

We can be our own harshest critics. But we can also be our own greatest cheerleaders! Aim for the skill of rebuttal and stay positive. (Amy Jarmon)

 

April 29, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 26, 2019

NY ASP Workshop Review

Myra Orlen was kind enough to put together a recap of the NY ASP workshop.  Her report is below.

 

Kudos to Kris Franklin of the NYLS and Rebecca Flanagan of UMass Law School for organizing a wonderful workshop at NYLS on April 12, 2019.

The morning offered excellent presentations – most centering on providing ASP and Bar programs to part-time students. 

The New York Workshop offers a unique opportunity for ASP’ers to select a topic that they want to learn more about and offer to lead a discussion on that topic.  The afternoon sessions offered a mix of  focused discussions and more traditional presentations.  All were excellent!

The morning sessions focused on assisting part-time law students

ASP’ers from Pace Law School – Danielle Kocal, Stephanie Desiato, Stephen Iannacone, and Kerriann Stout shared ideas about helping part-time students maximize their time by thinking about life in terms of buckets: work; family; and school.  Part-time students can benefit by using a planner and filling each bucket at the beginning of the week.

ASP’ers from the CUNY School of Law addressed Time Management – inside and outside the Academic and Bar Support Classroom. Most striking in the CUNY presentation was the ratio of ASP staff to students – in both the full-time and part-time programs. CUNY has a very well-resourced program.  Ninety percent of students participate in CUNY’s voluntary program that stands as a model for those ASP’ers attending the workshop.  CUNY staffers provide in-person and on-line programming.  ASP staff sit in on one-L doctrinal courses and run ASP sessions that cover skills such as doctrinal review, case reading/briefing, note taking, practice exams, and answering hypos.  The CUNY presenters included Haley Meade, Laura Mott, Asima Chaudhary, Nate Broughty, and Allie Robbins.

Reichi Lee of Golden Gate University School of Law spoke on using online/hybrid programs to support part-time students.  GGU has a 60-student part-time program.  Students are on campus three nights a week.  GGU maintains an e-learning on-line website.  The e-learning website contains workshops that are accessible to students.

Kandace Kukas of Northeastern University School of Law discussed coaching part-time students through the bar, including having frank conversations about whether students are ready for the challenge.  Factors to consider are work and life schedules, commitments, and whether they will be able to devote the necessary time to prepare for the bar exam.  Kandace suggested meeting with part-time students early, by their second-to-last year, and at the beginning of their final year.  The key is to establish the trust necessary for honest dialogue with part-time students.  Topics to be discussed include planning, time to devote to bar preparation, work time – can students take time off from work – or will students quit work.  It is important to check in with students during their final semester and as bar applications are due.  Kandace also stressed that it is important to coach students that taking the bar exam unprepared hurts students and their school.  Students who get raw scores of 80/90 on full-length practice exams should strongly consider delaying taking the bar exam.  Attendees at the workshop agreed that failing the bar exam is a devastating blow.

Shane Dizon of Brooklyn Law School lead attendees in an exercise to consider whether law schools should require or recommend upper-division bar course mandates for evening students.

Rebecca Flanagan of the University of Massachusetts School of Law presented on “Them Digital Natives! Gen Z and Technology Usage.”  Rebecca has continued her research on who our law students are – generationally.  Current students can be viewed as Digital Natives – information has always been available to these digital natives.  For Digital Natives, information has always been available and readily consumable.  But these Digital Natives do not know everything about technology.  They know the social aspects, but do not know how to use digital tools. They are not skilled at interacting with each other without a technology as a mediating force and can struggle with interpersonal communications. 

 

The Afternoon Sessions:

As the afternoon sessions began, Kris Franklin sent around a pad and asked those attending the workshop to contribute a “what I wish I knew when I began my work in ASP.”  That list has been shared on the ASP list serve and this blog.

Eileen Pizzurro of Rutgers Law School lead a discussion on Orientation and ASP.

Chris Payne-Tsoupros of the UDC/David A. Clarke School of Law lead a discussion on Enhancing Student Engagement in Summer Programming. 

Nicole Lefton, C. Benji Louis, and Cara Caporale of Hofstra, Maurice A. Deane School of Law, lead a discussion on Reinforcing Executive Function Skills.  In this session, we learned that our executive function is plastic and improvable and learned about techniques to incorporate executive functioning and metacognition into academic success and bar programming.

Stephen Horowitz, of St. John’s University School of Law, presented on “1.5 Gen. Students and “Sound Right” vs. Read-Right Grammar Strategies.”   In this presentation, we learned techniques to use with students who came to the U.S.  in their teens or earlier or for undergrad.  They seem fluent in English, but “quirks” arise in written English.  They learned English by ear and know what sounds right.  One technique addressed was the use of iweb corpus as to word choice.

Kris Franklin of New York Law School, presented on “Framing Legal Rules Helpfully.”  In her presentation, Kris Franklin used an IRAC exercise to show that framing legal rules helps to accurately spot issues. If a student has not accurately framed the rule, the student will have difficulty successfully addressing the whole problem contained in an IRAC hypothetical.

Susan Landrum, of St. John’s University School of Law, lead the final discussion on “Self-care: Reducing Burnout When Working with Stressed-Out Students.”  The last session was a discussion of self-care for ASP’ers.  “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  This discussion was a great way to end the workshop.  Whether it’s setting a time each day for a walk or for meditating, ASP’ers experience high burnout; we cannot give everyone all of our time.  The workshop ended with what all of us do for ourselves.  This writer takes lessons in landscape painting.

 

As usual, after the workshop ended, we went to a local establishment and continued to socialize.  Also as usual, the New York Academic Success workshop did not disappoint.  I end where I began, kudos to Kris Franklin and Rebecca Flanagan!

April 26, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Finding Time for Exam Review and Projects

Many students are trying to decide where they will find the time to get everything done. Here are some tips on finding more time:

  • Block distractors while you study to avoid wasting time or getting side-tracked:
    • put your phone into airplane mode
    • turn off your message signal for email
    • study where others will not stop to chat
    • use one of the many apps available to block URLs
  • Evaluate your class preparation time. You want to be well-prepared for class because the newer material will be tested. However, are you able to be more efficient and effective in your class preparation?
    • Ask questions as you read to get more understanding during your reading which helps you to avoid re-reading sections.
    • Make margin notes summarizing important points as you read so that you do not have to re-read the case to make your notes/brief.
    • Read for understanding and for the case essentials, not minutia; for exams, you need to apply the law from cases, not recite the cases in detail.
    • Use the weekend to prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes and then review your briefs/margin notes before classes. You then free up time during the week to study for exams.
  • Evaluate your outlining time. You want to focus on the tools that will help you solve new fact scenarios on the exams.
    • Avoid minutia in your outlines; focus on the important items.
    • Ask yourself how an item of information will help you on the exam. If it will not be useful, then it does not need to be in the outline.
    • Avoid perfectionism. Make the best outline you can in the time you have left. Next semester you can work on outlines earlier, but for now focus on utility.
  • Evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of study group/partner time.
    • Are you spending mega time on study group and not spending enough time on your own learning?
    • Is your group staying on task or becoming a social outlet?
    • Does your study group have a set agenda for each meeting, so everyone can come prepared to discuss those topics/practice questions?
    • If your group is having problems, visit with the academic support professional at your law school for help in resolving any conflicts.
  • Evaluate your exercise routine. Are you spending more time worrying about your abs than exercising your brain?
    • Experts recommend that you get 150 minutes (30 minutes X 5 days) of exercise a week.
    • Consider exercising for shorter periods of time or fewer days a week if your routine is way over the 150-minutes recommendation.
    • Consider changing your exercise routine for the remaining weeks: walking some days instead of gym time that would take longer; treadmill some days rather than an elaborate multi-machine routine.
    • Would exercising and a meal as one longer block for a break be more efficient than several different blocks of time during the day?
    • Would exercising at your apartment complex fitness center or at the rec center for a few weeks be less time-consuming than driving to and from your usual commercial gym in town?
  • Evaluate your daily life chores for more efficient and effective ways to get things done. We often waste a lot of time on chores and errands that could be avoided.
    • Set aside one block of time to run all of your errands for the week rather than make multiple trips; then plan the most efficient driving route to get them done without wasted miles (and fuel).
    • Do a major shopping now for non-perishable items so your grocery trips in future weeks will take less time.
    • Do your shopping for school-related items now so you have everything on hand when you need it later: pens, printer paper, colored tabs, highlighters, etc.
    • Do shopping and errands at off-times when the stores are less crowded and lines are shorter.
    • Prepare meals on the weekends that can then be portioned out for the week rather than cooking every day. Freeze some extra portions for future weeks as well.
    • Consider packing your lunches/dinners to take to school rather than wasting time commuting back and forth for meals.

Avoid getting discouraged by "larger than life" tasks such as learning Constitutional Law or writing an appellate brief. Break big tasks into sections or topics. Then break those tasks down even more. Each small task can be completed in a smaller amount of time. Focus on subtopics instead of topics. Focus on editing citations rather than all editing tasks. Take control of that small task and slip it into your schedule. Baby steps over time still lead to mastery of walking. (Amy Jarmon)

 

April 22, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Useful Forgetfulness and Study Tools/Outlines: Could There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "Too big to fail."  Well, that might be true, at least according to some, with respect to some business enterprises in the midst of the last recession.  

But, at least from my point of view, that saying is not true at all with respect to student study tools and outlines.  In my experience, too big of an outline can lead to less than stellar final exam results.

Here's why...There's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness."  

As I understand the educational science behind useful forgetfulness, it is in the midst of the filtering process - in which we decide to trim, shorter, collapse, and simplify our notes and outlines - that best promotes efficacious learning because the decision to leave something out of our outline means that we have made a proactive decision about its value.  In short, the process of sorting the important legal principles from the not-so-important leads to active and enriching learning.  

Nevertheless, for most of us, we are sorely afraid about leaving anything out of our outlines because we often lack confidence that we can make such filtering choices about what is important versus what is not important.  Consequently, we often end up with massive 50 plus page outlines in which we know very little because we have not made hard reflective decisions to prioritize the important.  So, here's a tip to help with trimming your outline down to a workable size to best enhance your learning.

First, grab a piece of paper and hand-write or type out, using both sides of the paper, the most important things from your outline.  If you think a rule might be important, don't put it in your outline yet because you can always add to your study tool later.  Instead, only put the rule down in your mini-study tool if the legal principle immediately jumps out to you as critically important.

Second, take your mini-study tool on a test flight.  Here's how.  Grab hold of a few essay problems or multiple-choice questions and see if you have enough on your "one-pager" outline to solve the problems.  If a rule is missing, just add it.  And, as you practice more hypothetical problems in preparation for your final exams, feel free to add more rules as needed.  And, there's more great news.  In the process of seeing a rule that might be missing from your mini-study tool, you'll know that rule down "cold" because you will have seen it applied in context. So, feel free to have less in your outlines because, with respect to study tools, less can indeed be more!  (Scott Johns).

April 18, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Catch Some Z's

In the busy-ness of the end of the term, it's important for all of us -- faculty, staff, and students -- to stick to the basics. And the most basic of all basics is to get sufficient sleep.

Let's just talk about the brain. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers fame (and also author of the lesser-known but magnificent A Primate's Memoir), posits that sleep helps cognition in three major ways.  First, it restores energy.  The brain, it turns out, is an energy hog. While it comprises only about 2% of the body's weight, it uses about 20% of the body's energy, with two-thirds of that energy going to firing neutrons.  Wonder why you feel so tired after intensive thinking? -- you are actually churning through enormous amounts of energy. This energy is restored in slow wave sleep.  Second, the REM sleep in which dreaming occurs consolidates memory. High levels of the class of hormones known as glucocorticoids elevate stress and disrupt cognition. Glucocorticoid levels, however, plummet during sleep, especially REM sleep. So cognition can be enhanced simply allowing the brain to work its way through learned material when these hormone levels are at their lowest, by getting a good night's sleep. Because REM sleep consolidates memory so well, those who study, sleep overnight, and take a test the next afternoon do significantly better than those who study the morning before a test. Finally, REM sleep improves assessment and judgment, especially in complex circumstances, perhaps by exercising lesser-used neural pathways during those wild and crazy dreams. This allows the brain to establish wide networks of connections instead of simple one-lane pathways, leading to deeper, more nuanced thinking. Indeed, Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker suggests that the most significant cognitive benefit of sleep lies not in strengthening the memory of specific items but in assimilating small bits of knowledge into large-scale schema.

More energy for the brain to work, better memory, and better ability to put things into a larger perspective. Sounds like a winning combination for everyone. Let's ditch the late nights and catch some Z's.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

April 17, 2019 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 12, 2019

So Close

It has been an exciting time in Red Raider Land! Our basketball team returned home Tuesday afternoon to a warm welcome. Although they lost in the NCAA final against Virginia, they have set school history. In fact our TTU President cancelled evening classes Monday night and all classes for Tuesday.

I will admit that I was glued to my television for both the Final Four and the Final. The first of those games was such a joyous victory. The team was amazing. The loss to Virginia was heart-breaking, especially because of the OT call giving the ball to Virginia after the replay. The team played well and gave it every ounce of effort. Chris Beard has helped these young men become a family that supports one another at all times. In true Lubbock fashion the team was given a wonderful welcome home. This NCAA championship season will be remembered forever.

In many ways the NCAA tournament is a lot like final exams for law students. The hard work to get there, the high stakes, the pressure. Each exam feels like a "will I be victorious or go down in defeat" moment for some students. Here are some exam tips we can learn from the NCAA tournament:

  • Daily preparation and hard work pay off in the big game. The road to success is built day by day.
  • Practice, practice, and more practice is essential to honing skills for exams. You will never practice too much.
  • A team to help you reach your game-day potential can be important - a study group, a study partner, teaching assistants/tutors, professors.
  • People who believe in you and your abilities - friends, family, and mentors - should surround you in pre- and post-game times.
  • Staying calm under pressure allows you to stay in the game and focus on every point you can get. Breathe deeply, and calm those jitters.
  • Mistakes happen. Instant (or continual) replay after a disappointing exam performance is not helpful. Move on to the next exam in the series.
  • Whether you win or lose, you are still a winner if you did your best on the day. All you can ask of yourself is to do your best.
  • All of us can use victories or defeats to become better players in the future. Exam review later and new strategies can show us how to improve our scores.

For all of our students who are on the downward slope of classes to exams, keep up the hard work and show them what you can do! (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

April 12, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Exam Prep Tips From Learning to Ride A Bike!

I asked my classes this question today: "How did you learn to ride a bike?"

The students then turned to their small groups and the class lit up with stories and smiles and anecdotes as they shared their memories about learning to ride bikes.  Here are some of the things I heard:

• I started out with training wheels.

• No one helped me so I decided to try riding on the grass so that I wouldn't get hurt when I fell.

• I just kept getting back up, one fall after another and one bruise after another.

• Without my knowledge, someone gave me a big push and away I went!

As a class, here's what we realized about learning.  Not one of us learned to ride a bike by reading about riding a bike, or watching You Tube videos about bike riding, or creating a study tool on bike riding.  No.  Instead, to a "T," all my students said that they learned to ride bikes, well, by learning to ride bikes. And, most of us had help along the way.

The same is true with learning the law.  We don't really learn the law by reading about the law.  Instead, we learn the law by problem-solving with the law.  But, far too many students - understandably - don't feel ready to practice final exam problems because they feel like they don't know enough law.  So, here's some tips to get you learning by doing in preparation for your final exams.

Start with training wheels and practice on the grass.  

Here's what I mean.  

Instead of trying to test yourself through past exam problems, open up your notes, outlines, and casebook and work through problems as best you can, untimed, with the goal of learning the law through past exam problems.  

Just like learning to ride a bike, you'll experience a lot of cuts and bruises along the way as you review your answers. But, you'll get better and soon you'll be able to ride without your training wheels (notes).  And, you might start doing some tricks, too, like jumping off the curb, something that a few days or weeks previously was terrifyingly trepidatious. You see, the key to tackling your fears about taking final exams is to take final exams before you take final exams.  So, as you prepare for your exams this spring, make it your aim to practice final exams, slowly and open book.  One pedal at a time.  (Scott Johns).

April 4, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Paper and Fire

A blank piece of paper has so much potential. It can be used to display one's ingenuity. It can be a medium for communication between two people, or among thousands. It can record data and history and memory, to be used by people born long after the recorder is dead. And yet, under certain circumstances, our stationery friend can seem to turn on us. When we are asked to answer an inscrutable question, the oppressive blankness of an empty sheet can be smothering. When we think that our reputation, our livelihood, our entire future depends on scratching the right symbols in the right order, the page can seem like a minefield of hidden threats.

When I was a kid, television seemed to be entering its golden age of public service announcements, and to me it seemed the most common subject was fire. Fire was our friend, we were told, making food safe and houses warm; but we always needed to be aware of what to do if it grew dangerous. And what we needed to know was that our natural inclinations were usually wrong. Foe example, even though we knew that water was the opposite of fire, if something caught fire in the kitchen, then we were not supposed to throw water on it, because it was probably a grease or electrical fire, and water would just make it worse. If our whole house caught fire (say, because we threw water on a kitchen fire), then we weren't supposed to hide in a nice, safe closet, because then we'd be trapped and the firefighters would never find us. If we caught fire, then we weren't supposed to run, trying to find some water to jump into. That, we were told, would just light us up like a Roman candle. Instead, we had to fight every instinct and stop, drop to the ground, and roll around politely.

What I could not understand as a child was that these PSAs really had two purposes. One was simply educational, teaching us that behaviors that made perfectly good sense in one context (dousing fire, hiding from danger, fleeing danger) might actually expose us to additional harm in a different context. They were maladaptive behaviors. Sea turtle hatchings naturally paddle towards a bright light, which helps insure they reach the ocean when the brightest object in the night is the moon reflecting off the water, but which will insure they remain stranded on land when the brightest object is the patio light behind a beach house. Infantry charging a defensive position en masse often led to an advance when the defense was armed with swords, but always led to a slaughter when the defense was armed with entrenched machine guns. The ways to counter maladaptive behaviors are either to return to the original situation (turn of the patio light) or to replace the old behavior with a new one (attack with tanks and aircraft). When Ronald McDonald sang, "Stop, drop, and roll!", he was teaching children a new behavior to replace the old maladaptive behavior.

But even the dimmest of my childhood friends got the gist of Ronald's commands after the third or fourth viewing. Why were we hearing these messages so frequently, from so many different sources? That went to the second purpose of the PSAs. Education is a good start, a necessary start, but the problem is that being on fire, or at least near fire, is an inherently stressful situation. And psychologists know that "Under stress, we regress." That is, under difficulty situations like panic or sensory overload or fear of consequences, humans naturally fall back on older patterned behavior. Most drivers, for instance, know intellectually that if their car loses traction in a skid, they should pump the brakes and steer into the skid to regain control. But the first time they actually hit a skid, most drivers stand on that brake pedal. Only if they live someplace wacky with snow, like Buffalo, do they get enough practice with the skid to develop the new adaptive behavior.

Even television executives were able to recognize that it would be unethical to light kids on fire over and over again until they learned to stop, drop, and roll. So they did the next best thing: they repeated the message over and over again, and encouraged children to try practicing the moves even when they weren't alight, to ingrain the new behavior as much as possible. The more familiar a behavior became, through repetition and feedback, the less likely a person would be to regress away from it under the actual stress of combustion.

At this time of year, I am seeing work from a lot of students who seem to be regressing under stress: 1L students using tactics in their spring semester midterms that appear to be drawn from their most basic legal writing classes, or from college composition classes; 3L students trying to mechanically apply CREAC format to early MEE and MPT practice questions. Even when we know we have shown these students the more advanced strategies they should be using as they progress through their development as attorneys, we have to keep in mind that that blank piece of paper or computer screen can just as easily be a threat as a blessing. Under the stress of self-doubt, or of novelty, or of high ambition, or future consequences -- sometimes of all of these at once -- the amiably clean page can transform into an incandescent hazard. Repetition and feedback are important not just to help our students improve their use of the more advanced strategies they need, but also to make them comfortable and familiar enough to be able to use those strategies at all.

[Bill MacDonald]

April 2, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Now Is the Time for Kindness

We have four weeks of classes left in our semester. Midterm exams, quizzes, paper draft deadlines, presentations, group projects, and many other law school assignments have clustered in the last several weeks with more of the same to come. Grades on that myriad of items are now emerging - for many law students, not as high as they had hoped.

The level of stress and anxiety among the students has risen along with these events and deadlines. Many students are worried about how much they still need to do before the end of classes and start of exams. A number of students are focused on self-negatives: "I should have outlined sooner." "I didn't work hard enough over Spring Break." "I didn't complete enough practice questions." "I didn't study enough for the midterm." Some students are focused on other-negatives: "The prof didn't allow enough time for that quiz." "The midterm wasn't fair." "The multiple-choice questions were too picky." "The prof took off too many points for citation errors." In either version, the negativity abounds.

It is easy for stressed students to become totally self-focused and intense during this point in the semester. People irritate one another, become curt in conversations, and behave rudely perhaps without realizing it. Tempers flare. Hurt feelings increase. Anxiety and stress escalate. Before long, the environment becomes toxic.

Each student has the capacity to de-escalate the tension around the law school. Each individual can nurture a calmer law school environment through words and deeds. To do so, it requires focusing on community instead of self. It requires focusing on the positive instead of moaning. It requires kindness instead of conflict.

Small acts of kindness not only make the recipient feel better, but also make the actor feel better. Here are easy ways for an individual to impact the law school environment through random acts of kindness:

  • Make eye contact and smile at others. Your smile may be the only one a person sees today.
  • Say "please" and "thank you" more often than you might normally remember. You will acknowledge others' help, and notice your blessings more.
  • Hold open the door, offer to carry a box, or help pick up dropped books for someone. Etiquette is never out of fashion.
  • Compliment another student on the good answer given in class today. Everyone can use a boost after dealing with the Socratic Method.
  • Offer a copy of your class notes to a fellow student just back to class after an illness. Or suggest you meet with them to go over missed material.
  • Take time to say an encouraging word to a classmate who is obviously working hard, but struggling. Better yet, offer to chat about the current class topic.
  • Tell your study group members that you appreciate them and why they are important to your law school success.
  • Share your personal study aid copy with a fellow student who cannot afford one. It's not very hard to agree a sharing schedule.
  • Refuse to participate in or pass on gossip about a fellow student. Gossip hurts.
  • Buy a soda or a bag of chips for the person behind you in line at the law school canteen - whether or not you know them.
  • Unexpectedly offer to share your law school pizza delivery with a fellow law student without dinner. Free food is always appreciated.
  • Bake cookies on the weekend, and share your goodies with those who are studying nearby - even if you do not know them.
  • Write a thank-you note (not an email or text) to a classmate who did something nice for you recently or who needs encouragement.

There are many other ways to show kindness. Most of them will cost you nothing - except your heartfelt gesture and a bit of time. (Amy Jarmon)

March 31, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)