Thursday, October 3, 2019

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

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

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

Indeed, belonging changes lives.  

And, there's more great news.  

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

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

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

The research intervention was threefold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That brings us back to us ASPers!  

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

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

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

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

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

(Scott Johns)

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

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Success Beyond the Bar

July 2019 bar exam results are not due to be released in New York for a few more weeks, but already here in Buffalo we have glad tidings, for one of our students took the Florida bar exam and has learned that she has passed.  What a thrill!  One that will soon be experienced by many others across the land.

Is there anything else that prompts the same surreal combination of pride and relief?  In an instant, a person’s very definition changes.  They go from not possessing a certain authority to possessing it (at least after other formalities are met).  Is it any wonder that the storied Jonathan Harker, wandering alone in a foreign land and distracted by the strangeness of it all, forgot for a moment his own momentous achievement?:

What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked? Was this a customary incident in the life of a solicitor’s clerk sent out to explain the purchase of a London estate to a foreigner? Solicitor’s clerk! Mina would not like that. Solicitor—for just before leaving London I got word that my examination was successful; and I am now a full-blown solicitor!

Harker’s momentary pleasure at the memory of his bar passage is soon dampened, however, by the cold foreboding of the great estate he stands before – and no wonder, for only a few minutes later he meets the master of that castle, who greets him with the words, “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will! . . . I am Dracula. . .”

Whatever horrors Harker had to face next, at least he had made it past the doubt and anxiety that many people feel while waiting for their bar results to be revealed.  Consider the unfortunate Mitch McDeere, the latest Harvard Law graduate to be hired by the high-end Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert and Locke.  One autumn afternoon, Mitch is called unexpectedly into an urgent meeting:

Lambert, Avery, and what appeared to be most of the partners sat around the conference table.  All of the associates were present, standing behind the partners. . . . The room was quiet, almost solemn.  There were no smiles. . .

“Sit down, Mitch,” Mr. Lambert said gravely. “We have something to discuss with you.” . . . He frowned sincerely, as if this would be painful. “We’ve just received a call from Nashville, Mitch, and we wanted to talk with you about it.”

Poor Mitch immediately guesses what this is all about:

The bar exam. The bar exam. The bar exam. History had been made. An associate of the great Bendini firm had finally flunked the bar exam. . . . He wanted to speak, to explain that he deserved just one more chance, that the exam would be given again in six months and he would ace it, that he would not embarrass them again. A thick pain hit below the belt.

“Yes, sir,” he said humbly, in defeat.

Lambert moved in for the kill. “We aren’t supposed to know these things, but the folks in Nashville told us that you made the highest score on the bar exam. Congratulations, Counselor.”

The room exploded with laughter and cheers.

Surprise!  Not what Mitch was expecting.  Unfortunately, Mitch’s satisfaction is nearly as short-lived as was Harker’s, for less than two pages later, in John Grisham’s The Firm, Mitch McDeere meets an FBI agent who explains that the Bendini firm is mostly a front for the criminal activities of the Chicago Mob, and that attorneys who try to leave the firm always end up dead.

Dracula and The Firm were both sensationally popular novels, which suggests that there is something highly resonant about the notion of passing the ultimate test of professional ability, only to be led directly into a world of evil and mortal danger.  I suspect some people enjoy the irony – He’s supposed to be so smart, but he wasn’t smart enough to avoid the King of the Undead or the Capo di Tutti Capi – and other people appreciate the moral question – Does mere intellectual knowledge even matter when a person is faced with a threat to his life and soul?

But law graduates might see yet another layer to these tales: After all this hard work to pass the bar, over three crushing years in law school and ten blistering weeks of bar preparation, is my “success” just going to take the form of an indenture to forces that seek only to exhaust my vitality to feed their own appetites?  True, most attorneys do not end up working for vampires or gangsters, but even a wholesome job for a decent employer can feel like purgatory to someone whose interests and aptitudes lie elsewhere.  When our students are no longer our students, when they have taken and passed the bar and are out there gainfully employed, is that the end of their stories?

There might be a brief frisson in thinking so.  Isn’t that why people read suspense stories?  But if there are two last messages we can leave our students with, they are that passing the bar is both an ending and a beginning, and that the skills they’ve learned in meeting that particular challenge will be skills they can use in meeting future challenges as well.  If they can pass the bar exam, they can overcome anything – a misfit job, a toxic employer, even a threat to their lives and souls.

And Jonathan Harker and Mitch McDeere are evidence of this, because they each survive their ordeals.  In both Dracula and The Firm, the heroes triumph by relying on three core competences – the same three competencies we emphasize in preparing our own students to pass the bar and to perform well in practice: knowledge of the law, application of sound personal judgment, and reliance on a network of support.  Harker escapes from Dracula's castle by finding an unconventional route to freedom and judging that the risks of flight are smaller than those of remaining in place.  Once he makes it back to England, he uses his legal skills to locate Dracula's hidden lairs, documented in a tangle of deeds and conveyances, and then he teams up with a band of friends to track down and eliminate the fiend and his minions.  McDeere has the good sense to realize that neither the firm nor the FBI has his safety or best interests at heart, and, turning to a small group of family members of those previously hurt by the mob's activities, devises his own plan to use the legal tools he has learned to escape from the gangsters while passing along the evidence needed to bring down the Bendini firm.  Sure, this is all fiction and fantasy, but fiction is often popular because it provides another way of telling a truth.

To everyone who finds out in the next few weeks that they have passed the bar examination: Congratulations, and may the rest of your life be just as successful.  Know that you have the ability to make it so.

[Bill MacDonald]

October 1, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Books, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Federal Court Ruling on Bar Exam Accommodations in New York

With a hat tip to Prof. Chris Lasch...

This week, a federal judge issued an order, finding that the New York State Board of Law Examiners is not immune under the Eleventh Amendment in a civil action by a bar exam applicant who was twice denied testing accommodations, alleging violations of federal disability law.  T.W. v New York State Board of Law Examiners, Memorandum and Order, September 18, 2019, U.S. District Court E.D New York, Case 16-CV-3029 (J. Dearie).

According to the brief facts as stated in the court's memorandum of its order, the plaintiff failed the New York Bar Exam in her "first two tries, causing her to lose a lucrative job...and undermining her job prospects to date," although the plaintiff subsequently passed the New York bar exam when she was finally provided testing accommodations.  

The plaintiff raises two federal statutes in support of her claim that the New York bar examiners violated her rights in failing to twice provide bar exam accommodations.  First, the plaintiff asserts violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which, roughly speaking, prohibits discrimination by any program or activity that receives federal final assistance. Second, the plaintiff asserts violation of the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), which, broadly speaking and in relevant parts, prohibits discrimination by programs and activities by any public entity.

The New York bar examiners filed a motion to dismiss, contending that the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over both of the plaintiff's federal statutory claims in that the State contends that the plaintiff's claims are barred by sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, which, in general, prohibits suits in federal court against states absent an exception (two of which were raised by the plaintiff in response to the defendant's motion to dismiss).  

First, with respect to the ADA statutory claim, the plaintiff asserted that Congress properly abrogated (or removed) state sovereign immunity when Congress adopted the ADA statute.  

As indicated by the Court (and as tested in law school exams and bar exams too), Congress can remove sovereign immunity provided that Congress uses unmistakably clear language and provided that Congress adopted the statute at issue pursuant to congressional power to remedy and deter constitutional violations under Congress's post-Civil War 14th Amendment Section 5 power.  

With respect to this issue, the New York bar examiners argued that Title II of the ADA was not enacted pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority as the commerce clause power, in and of itself, is constitutionally insufficient for Congress to abrogate state sovereign immunity.  Despite the interesting constitutional arguments over this issue, the Court did not reach the constitutional issue with respect to the ADA, explaining that the plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act was sufficient to resolve this case because the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA have the "same legal standards and remedies."  Thus, the Court focused only on whether to dismiss the plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Second, with respect to the Rehabilitation Act claim, the plaintiff asserted that the State waived its constitutional right under the Eleventh Amendment to not be sued in federal court when the State accepted federal funding for some of its state court programs.  

As the Court stated in its decision, the Rehabilitation Act requires states to waive sovereign immunity as a condition of receiving federal funds for state programs for lawsuits brought in federal courts for violations of the Rehabilitation Act.  Consequently, the Court next focused on whether the state waived its constitutional rights when the New York court system received, in part, federal funding.  

In brief, the Court held that the New York bar examiners had waived sovereign immunity protections from lawsuit in federal court under the Rehabilitation Act because the New York bar examiners were organized as a sub-entity of the New York court system, which did receive federal funding, and therefore, the plaintiff's claim of violation of the Rehabilitation Act by the New York bar examiners could proceed to the next stage of litigation as the court has federal question subject matter over the plaintiff's claim.  

With respect to this issue, the decision is a bit complicated and is fact intensive, as illustrated by the Court's citations out of Wisconsin, which indicate that the Wisconsin bar examiners are distant separate entities from the Wisconsin court system.  In such cases, the particular government entity must intentional waive its sovereign immunity rights by receiving federal funding, which, apparently, the Wisconsin bar examiners did not.  

Nevertheless, with respect to New York, the Court ruled that the New York bar examiners were a sub-compnent agency of the larger state court system such that the New York bar examiners are subject to lawsuit in federal court based on the Rehabilitation Act.  As such, the Court denied the New York bar examiners motion to dismiss. Consequently, the plaintiff can proceed with a claim against the New York bar examiners in federal court for violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

For those of us in the academic support field, that raises an interesting question because, anecdotally, even in states using the identical Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), it seems as though there are wide differences with respect to granting disability testing accommodations.  But, before you counsel students to sue state bar examiners in federal court for potential violations of the Rehabilitation Act, its important to underscore that that a case in federal court might well turn on a deep analysis of the organizational and legal structure of the bar examiners, specifically, whether they are a sub-entity of a state agency that is the recipient of federal funding.  Many or some state bar examiners might not receive any federal funding and might well be independent of a state agency that does receive federal funding such that federal litigation might be precluded against state bar examiners.

Finally, for those of you working with law students (or bar exam applicants), this is a great case to raise with them because it interweaves federal civil procedure and constitutional law.  Indeed, this is a problem ripe for a bar exam question.  And, for those law students preparing for midterms in civil procedure or constitutional law, this is a great practice problem to test one's analysis.  

(Scott Johns).

 

 

September 19, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Law Dreams

Four weeks into the semester, the reports of law dreams are starting to trickle in.

For those who have never experienced this phenomenon, law dreams are the bane of the conscientious law student. (I've never had a report of a classic law dream from a devil-may-care student.) The law dream doesn't resemble your garden-variety exam dream, in which students dream they are sitting down to take a Corporate Taxation exam when they haven't even finished Contracts, let alone registered for any upper-division courses. No, the classic law dream, as I've experienced it and as students describe it, involves involuntarily wrestling with legal concepts during sleep. After a full day of conscientious studying, you lay yourself down to sleep, hoping to feel rested and refreshed in the morning. You drift off to sleep, and suddenly your unconscious brain is wrestling with the reason Palsgraf wasn't decided on the basis of duty, why it matters which ship "Peerless" the cotton from Bombay was loaded on in its passage to Liverpool, or whether to treat consent or its lack as an element of the tort or as a defense. These dreams feel like they last forever, and students wake up feeling drained by the mental struggle. 

Exhausting as law dreams may be, it may be some comfort to know they serve a useful function. Tons of research now shows how important sleep is not only for health but also for memory consolidation, with different areas of the brain consolidating long-term memory and procedural memory. Sleep after learning is essential to save the short-term memories into long-term memory, and new research also suggests that sleep is needed before new learning so the brain is receptive to new memories. But what about those law dreams? One influential paper suggests that "Type I" thought-like dreams are the result of memory replay as data is transferred from short-term working memory to long-term memory during non-REM sleep (those are the law dreams), while "Type II" dreams during REM sleep are the more familiar non-linear dreams. Remember the old jokes about sleeping with your book under your pillow to learn? Some researchers now advocate using sleep for active problem-solving by focusing on a problem before going to bed. There's even a technique called "lucid dreaming" which allows sleepers to gain control over the progression of their dreams as they practice awareness that they are actually dreaming and make choices about what will happen in the dream. Lucid dreaming, though, is only possible if you have regular healthy sleep. 

Now, go to bed.

(Nancy Luebbert)

September 18, 2019 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Scott Johns)

 

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

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Confessions of a Socratic Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Scott Johns).

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Importance of Relationships in Enhancing Belonging and Academic Achievement

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

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

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

So, that brings up a few questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The "Unexamined Case" Might Not Be Worth Reading

I hear voices.  Not all of the time, mind you.  But, definitely at the most inconvenient of times...like when I'm trying to read!  [I think this is called sub-vocalization.]  You see, I can only read as fast as I speak (and I don't tend to speak very fast unless I'm excited or nervous, which I often am, particularly when I'm trying to digest dense legal materials).  

Indeed, when a student asks me to work with them through any reading passage (whether a case, a statute, or a multiple-choice problem or essay prompt), I really want to go in hiding, into a "sound chamber" so to speak, so that I can read slowly and not so-silently, as I work out the meaning of the text through hearing - in my mind - the words as they become alive, the punctuation marks as they spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks as they give me time to catch my breath.  

In short, if you haven't caught the gist of what I am saying, I feel like I am a poor reader because I am a slow reader.

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

But, before I get too far, in my opinion, rushed reading is not reading.  To paraphrase Socrate's famous line that the "unexamined life is not worth living," an "unexamined case" is not worth reading.  In other words, in law school, it's not how fast you read but what your learning about the law and legal problem-solving as you read.  To cut to the chase, reading is about examining the cases and the statutes and the legal texts assigned in law school.  And that takes time, lots of time. Or, to put it more bluntly, reading is really about "cross-examining" those legal materials, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments and  analysis, and then forming your own opinion about the merits of those arguments (and how you might use those arguments in the future to solve hypothetical problems posed on mid-term exams and final exams).

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

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

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

Now, before I let you go, just one more word about speed.  You don't get faster at reading cases by trying to read fast.  Rather, over time, much like water as it heats slowly on the oven range, using these strategies won't feel like an improvement...at all.  Instead, if  you're like me, you feel like its taking lots more of your time, energy, and perspiration to learn to be a critical legal reader.   And, it is!  But, by going slow, conversationally with the text, through practice in pre-reading strategies, then reading the text with robust gusto, and finally polishing off the reading by making sense and connections with the text for future use, you'll end up becoming a faster reader without even trying.  

Much like learning to ride a bike, if you are like me, you fall lots and get lots of bruises along the way.  That's because learning is hard difficult work.  But, just like learning to ride a bike, once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to being a better legal reader (and a better advocate on behalf of your clients in the future).  (Scott Johns).

 

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Practicing Self-Care

Be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.Airline safety instructions

Academic support professionals are the first responders in law school. In many cases we guide entering students through new student orientation, provide critical skills workshops early in the semester, and offer practice exams and extra help later in the term when things begin to look bleak. First responders are professionals that we look to for help and comfort in times of crisis, be it related to health, safety, or law school survival. The start of a new academic year is a good time to remember, that by being there for others, first responders put themselves at risk, not just of physical harm, but of emotional burnout.

Heavy is the cape of those who play the role of professor, listener, solution provider, advocate, adviser, administrator, coordinator, counselor, collector and keeper of statistics (whether you like math or not), researcher, scholar, and more. Executive coach Donna Schilder says “if you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and inability to sleep.” Sure, students may look to us for answers or coaching, but we sometimes will need to first coach ourselves to create a space for restoration.

Schilder recommends spending time each day on a renewal activity like sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking calls or responding to emails, listen to soothing or uplifting music throughout the day, set aside time to journal your thoughts or ideas, and infuse laughter into your daily routine to cut down on stress. When we practice self-care, we better position ourselves to be an effective resource for others.

(Marsha Griggs)

August 12, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Welcome to Law School!

A new journey begins the next couple weeks for many students around the country.  1Ls at my school start tomorrow.  The emotions range from excited to anxious.  Whatever your emotion, I want you to know that someone else is probably feeling the same thing.  They are probably only 2-3 seats away from you in class.  Your feelings are normal.  Embrace the new journey.

Some students walk into law school worrying that everyone will be ahead of them.  I understand the feeling.  I wasn't planning to attend law school until the summer before my last year of college.  None of my family were attorneys (until I married into a family of attorneys later).  No one in my family graduated college.  Torts were still yummy desserts until 9am Monday morning of my first day.  I had no idea what law school entailed, but I planned to work hard to do my best.  Even without the background, I succeeded and became an attorney.  All of you can do that too.

My suggestion for entering 1Ls boils down to 2 points.  Work hard and seek feedback.  I love the quote hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.  I am a firm believer that most of us can succeed with the right amount of quality work.  The second piece of the advice is quality work.  Quality work requires feedback.  Don't aimlessly go through law school.  Ask professors and ASPers for help.  Seek feedback on outlines and practice essays.  Feedback helps demonstrate where to improve, which leads to our growth.  The right kind of hard works makes a difference.  Worker smarter and harder.  Everyone can do that.

My background and experience illustrates that you don't need lawyers in your family to succeed.  If you haven't worked at a law office, that is alright.  Most students entering your classes will not have a significant background in law.  Law school will be a new and exciting journey for everyone.  Do everything you can to maximize your potential and enjoy the journey.  Have a great first semester!

(Steven Foster)

August 11, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Trying to Appreciate More

While driving home from my son's flag football practice today, he asked what else we were doing.  Most days we do have other things, because my kids play too many sports, but today, I told him nothing.  He responded with the sort of whine and attitude that only a 9-year-old possesses.  I proceeded to lecture him for far too long about appreciating what he gets to do instead of complaining about what he doesn't get to do.  As I went through my day though, I thought I may need that advice more than him.

The new semester is right around the corner, and no one has enough time.  I just finished helping students prepare for the bar exam, so I am exhausted.  However, I teach a 1 week intro class to our 1Ls, need to create syllabi for my upcoming bar prep classes, and still need to manage emails.  Being away from everything is overwhelming.  I complain when I am not at work about how much needs to get done and complain when I am at work that I need a break.  During the semester, it is easy to complain about needing more time for individual feedback but also needing to teach all the classes because no one else teaches like ASPers.  I am sure many of us want more leadership in the law school but also complain about the commitments if we had the role.  My inner 9-year-old probably (definitely) complains too much.

Many of our complaints are legitimate, and my guess is most of us don't have enough time.  We should be leaders of our respective schools.  However, the focus on what we don't have has an impact on our mental health.  All of us have a big impact on students' lives.  The type of impact that changes career's, and for some, helps students become lawyers.  I want to try to focus on the positive impact more.  I am not saying don't strive to get better status or role at schools.  I want to both appreciate my impact and strive to help more in every way I can.

John C. Maxwell wrote a piece recently for Success Magazine with 10 tips to stop complaining.  I plan to try to focus on 1 or 2 each week to enjoy work just a little more.  Every small improvement in my joy has the potential to help more students, and maybe I won't be as much of a hypocrite when I talk to my kids.  Well, maybe I won't be a hypocrite on this issue at least.  Enjoy the start of the semester.

(Steven Foster)

August 10, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dealing with the In-Between Like a Lawyer

For thousands of bar takers, the waiting begins this afternoon; it will be weeks or months until they know the results of the hours and months they have spent preparing for the bar exam. Rebekah Cudé, a gifted trial lawyer and appellate lawyer now serving as Idaho Law's Director of Student Affairs, has shared her practical wisdom with our bar takers for years, and she has kindly given permission to share her post-bar exam advice (lightly edited for this blog) with a wider audience. Director Cudé tells bar takers: 

How do I prepare for the possibility that I might not pass the bar exam? I was asked this question a lot last year, and the year before. So, I am going to answer it now, to hopefully help you to stop contemplating this particular possibility as quickly as possible, and maybe recover from the past few weeks a little more quickly as well.  I truly hope it helps you navigate the next few weeks in a sane, healthy way.

How should you prepare? Like a lawyer.

A trial lawyer works their heart out getting ready for trial. Researching, writing, thinking. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the challenges posed by the case. And then the trial arrives, and it is hours, days, sometimes weeks of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the trial lawyer submits it to the jury or the judge. And waits.

An appellate lawyer works their heart out getting ready for argument. Researching, thinking, writing the briefs. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the questions the court might ask. And then the argument arrives, and it is a very intense (though mercifully brief) time of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the appellate lawyer submits it to the court. And waits.

The way that lawyers learn to survive the waiting is to learn to let it go.

Healthy lawyers realize that it is out of their hands now, and there is nothing more they can do. Once they get a decision, yes, there may be things to be done. But in the in-between, they let it go.

You are that lawyer now. You have done all of the work. You have laid it all out there for others to decide. You have submitted it to the examiners. You are in the in-between. You need to let it go.

You have the rest of a beautiful summer.  You have friends and family who have missed you. Some of you have jobs to get to, some of you have jobs to seek out.  All of you need to spend some serious time just taking care of yourselves.  So, let it go. And maybe enjoy life a bit.

Here's the deal:

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life. For nothing.

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you do not pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life.  For nothing. AND you will be that much less prepared to rally your energy and resources to do it again.

You don't really know how you did.  Trust that it was enough.

Because life is far too short to not enjoy the in-between.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Shaking Off Self-Doubt

You can choose to listen to the skeptics or hit the ignore button. - Michael Peggs

Our students today have become adept at shunning criticism and negative input. When coaches or teachers prejudge students at any age, there is an army of protective advocates who will stand up for the wronged student and demonstrate that with the right accommodation a student may exceed the expectations of a perceived disability. We full-scale reject the haterist mindset that seeks to label learners with arbitrarily imposed limitations. Taylor Swift warned us that “haters gonna hate”. Yet, too often when the stakes are high, and especially during bar study, we stir up our own hater-aid. Over the years I've overheard students say things like: “I’ve never been good at standardized tests,” “I am never going to learn all these essay subjects,” “I’ve got too much going on to study the way I should,” and “I don’t expect to pass on the first time.”  

You may need to mute your inner monologue, if it is filling your mind with self-defeating prophecy. Each time a fear-based thought tries to creep in, hit the ignore button and block it like a call from a telemarketer. Follow Taylor’s lead and shake off the self-doubt. Use daily bar study affirmations as an exercise in mindfulness to allow you to meditate on your positive potential. For the next two weeks, the only attitude you can afford is a can-do attitude. Repeat these affirming words until they become your reality: I can and will pass the bar. I am worthy of a bar card, and right now I am making plans for my life as an attorney.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 15, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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

Bar Takers!  

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

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

There are at least three reasons.

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

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

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

So, let's set out the  steps:

1.  Grab Your Study Tool Support Team!  

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

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

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

3.  Insert Rule Sound Bites!

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

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

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

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Starting with Stories

Like my colleagues, I am thinking ahead to the new school year even as my attention is consumed by those preparing for the bar exam three weeks from now.  Last year at this time I was thinking mainly about scheduling and content and skills development, and how to tweak and rearrange my classes and workshops to make them more effective.  This year, I find myself thinking at least as much about stories as about skills.

Part of this cogitation is driven by my conversations of late with students dealing with varying degrees of anxiety about the bar exam.  I ask them how they are doing and what has led them to whatever position they currently find themselves in, and their narratives fall broadly into two categories.  Some students tell me kinetic stories about what work they have done, what challenges they have faced, and what strategies they have employed.  They may not have conquered every problem that has come up -- in fact, that's usually why they are talking to me -- but they still see themselves as the protagonists who are driving their stories and pursuing some kind of prize.  Other students, even some with objectively similar obstacles, tell their stories in a different way.  They are still the centers of their own stories, but things keep happening to them (poor performance on a practice test, illness, misunderstanding, etc.), and they are just doing what they can to cope.  These latter folks are not doomed, by any means; they are, in fact, often quite capable.  But they do seem to feel more anxiety and doubt than the more protagonistic students.  So part of what I am wondering is whether it might be possible to cultivate that sense of protagonism by using language that highlights one's sense of agency and potency, from the very start of law school.  Perhaps by using less language about "what will happen" and "what you will encounter", and more language about "what you will learn to do" and "how others have overcome difficulties", I can shift students' perspectives in a more empowering direction.

Another aspect of storytelling that has become clearly significant over the past year is how students perceive their stories in relation to their law school -- their fellow students, their class as an entity, their professors, their administration, and their alumni community.  At the start of my 3L pre-bar prep course this spring, I felt it was very important to intentionally and repeatedly talk about our class as a team.  We were there to support each other, I said, because we had common goals as individuals and as a group.  Each student wanted to pass the bar exam in July -- that much they knew going into the class -- but, I pointed out, each student should also want to see everyone else in the class pass, too.  Teamwork might mean going a little further to help our classmates in a pinch, but it also means we've got a bunch of other people in our corner, willing to do the same for us.  The faculty, the administration, and the alumni want to see them succeed, too, because their success makes everybody look better, and because we've invested so much energy and faith in them.  And if the class does notably well as a group on the bar exam, their pass rate becomes public information that makes them all look like part of a stellar crop of new lawyers.

At times I felt almost like a goofy cheerleader telling this story, and encouraging my students to tell that story about themselves as a team.  But it seems to have paid off.  This summer we are seeing notably higher rates of participation and completion of assignments in summer bar prep courses.  Recent graduates are spending more time together, on and off campus, and I've been talking to far more of them in my office and on the phone than last summer.  Just telling a story of teamwork isn't enough -- the school has also had to walk the walk, by providing additional resources and guidance to students -- but it is clear that intensifying our characterization of getting ready for the bar as a communal effort has had a positive effect.

This is another thing I am wondering about, as I move forward with plans to work with our new incoming students.  How can I tell that story of the law school as a team in a way that will stick with these new students for three intensive years?  Is there a way to cultivate that story in the face of the known competition for grades in the first year?  Is there a way to keep that story from becoming trite and from being tattered by cynicism?  I think there must be.  It's not just the telling of the story that makes it work; it's also acting the story out, and making it seem real because it could be real.

So, while I will be working on better ways to improve students' analytical and time management skills this fall, I will also be thinking about better ways to tell them stories -- about themselves as individuals and as part of this new community -- that they can believe in.  Stories that they will want to carry on telling themselves.

[Bill MacDonald]

July 9, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making a Comeback 30-Days Out

Don't fight [challenges]. Just find a new way to stand. - Oprah Winfrey

The bar exam is 30 days away. It may feel like you have been prepping for the bar exam all your life instead of six weeks. The 30-day mark is a great opportunity to acknowledge that not all bar takers enter bar study on the same footing. Students without strong academic records may be riddled with self-doubt about their ability to pass. For repeat takers, the mental and financial exhaustion of bar study can be all the more discouraging when experienced a second or third time. Past negative experiences are setbacks of which bar study brings daily reminders. These setbacks are short-term, but under the lens of today, they may seem to indelibly mark one’s chance for future success.

Whether your setback was a previous bar exam failure, or not finishing law school with the ranking or job opportunity that you hoped for, there is a comeback in your future. Maybe your setback is trying to juggle a full-time job and raise a family, while your peers bask in the seeming luxury of full-time bar study and an arsenal of supplemental study aids. Whatever the setback, use it as the gateway to an epic comeback. 

If we track the lives of great actors, athletes, political leaders, and other celebrities, we'll find some major comeback that catapulted their career success. Public figures who have mastered the art of the comeback transform their reputations and eradicate public recall of scandals, felonies, fraud, and political defeat. After a comeback, onlookers almost never remember the setback, that is because the setback is never as good or as lasting as the comeback.

Instead of allowing your setback-circumstances to shape your attitude or approach to bar study, let your setback elevate you to greater heights. Pledge today to reform your thoughts. You are not struggling through bar study. You are making your comeback.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 1, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The "Other" Academic Support Educators

Echoing what Amy Jarmon said in her farewell blog post, the ASP community is awesome. We encourage each other, share ideas and materials, and lift each other up. Sometimes, though, it can feel a little lonely just communicating by phone or e-mail and getting together at the occasional conference.  Although I am blessed to have two terrific ASP colleagues at my law school, they work 300 miles away from the campus where I'm located. And notwithstanding my wonderful local colleagues in this shared endeavor of legal education -- first-rate professionals in legal writing and career development and clinical education and building maintenance and library science and admissions and legal doctrine and every facet of administration -- sometimes an ASPer just wants to get together with other academic support educators who speak the same language and can give insights into common or novel problems. What's a solo ASPer to do?  

Maybe realize that law school academic support educators aren't the only ASPers around.

Today I had the pleasure of a long visit with an academic support educator for undergraduates at my university. After hearing first-hand stories from several friends about the rigors and stresses of law school, and being unaware that law schools offered academic support, he reached out to the law school to see if he could offer assistance to our law students and ultimately connected with me. As we shared our experiences of supporting undergraduate and law students, we realized how many issues we had in common -- helping students manage their time effectively, overcome the fear of stigma, learn critical reading skills, understand the efficacy and desirability of intellectual struggle, and appreciate that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness but of professionalism.  Our discussion made me realize how much I could learn from (and maybe also contribute to) the University's many academic support professionals outside the law school -- educators helping first generation students, persons with disabilities, non-traditional students, underrepresented minorities, students with current or past trauma, and the economically disadvantaged, as well as those simply insightful enough to recognize they could better reach their potential if they learned how to learn more effectively. While legal education comes with a unique set of challenges, at least half my work involves issues that are not unique to law school. So my new (academic) year's resolution is to become more involved with academic support educators of all ilks, helping all types of students in higher education. I fully expect the "other" academic support educators will be as awesome as my AASE colleagues. (Nancy Luebbert)

 

June 26, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Following Our Own Advice

I have a hard time following my own advice. Alice Vuong

Imposter syndrome is a term coined in the late 1970’s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. According to Psychology Today, the term is commonly known to describe a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. I’ve seen, and shared with my students, articles addressing imposter syndrome. You may have done the same.

We work to instill confidence into students who enter law school with modest credentials. Whether we categorize these students as “at-risk” or not at all, I insist that with a productive study routine and regular practice that they can perform as well as, or better than, students who enter law school with many more perceived advantages.

Those of us who work primarily or exclusively in academic support very likely entered the legal academy via a non-traditional path. And so much like the diverse student body that we support, our non-traditional entryway has no bearing on our competency, effectiveness, and right to be included in the law school academic community. Notwithstanding the rapid growth of ASP, we face status issues within the academy. Very few academic support professionals hold tenured or tenure-track positions. At a number of schools, our titles and contract-year terms vary substantially from those of our doctrinal colleagues. In some circles, we may fight an uphill battle to earn the recognition we deserve for scholarship that is categorized as pedagogical and often dismissed.

What a mistake it would be to create a self-perception based on external influences that we cannot control? We cannot afford to allow an imposter mindset to take root into our psyche. It matters not how we entered the legal academy. What matters is the impact of our presence. The student success, the improved or sustained bar passage rates, and the post-graduation thank you notes recognizing our contributions are both real and earned. We must heed our own advice about avoiding the perilous self-doubt of imposter syndrome. While we focus so much on the success of our students, we must also learn to internalize our own successes and acknowledge that we are where we genuinely belong.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 24, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

First Moves

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

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

Here's a brief snapshot.  

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

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

Here's as an example...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)