Monday, October 18, 2021
In the musical Hamilton, Eliza tries to persuade her husband, Alexander, to take a break, “Take a break…Run away with us for the summer. Let's go upstate…There's a lake I know…In a nearby park. I'd love to go.” Alexander refuses to go and, no spoilers beyond this, it doesn’t end well.
Two weeks ago, on the first Monday in October, I asked my undergraduates why this time of year was so important, and one student said, “It’s spooky season.” I was trying to get at the Supreme Court getting back to work (on what very well may a spooky season of cases), but it is also, as ASP folks know, that scary time of year when our 1Ls hit a wall. I’ve stockpiled candy (easy this time of year), tissues, and some advice.
We all know that 1Ls have a moment of crisis when they lose their altruism about helping the world with their law degree and become caught up in a smaller world of grades, midterms, legal writing assignments, outlining, and the overwhelmingness of just showing up for class. Students lose sight of why they even came to law school to begin with. Surely, masochism wasn’t the reason mentioned in their application personal statements. Sometimes, students need to be reminded of their initial reasons for being a lawyer. A gentle reminder might be enough for some students. It never hurts to tell them that no one really comes to law school to be a law student, they come to become a lawyer. Being a law student is temporary. And while it seems counterintuitive to advise taking a break, that is the advice I often give them at this point in the semester.
This may be a perfect time for a student to take a small break (hours, not days). Midterms are over, legal writing is less intense (for the moment) and they have been doing the reading, briefing, and outlining for long enough that it isn’t all consuming. Honestly, if Boston was a drag queen, this time of year would be its death drop in terms of the weather and natural beauty. Soon enough, everything will ramp up again and often with larger consequences, but at this very moment, a few hours spent away from law school is doable.
To that end, I have “prescribed” a drive to a beach town about 40 minutes north of here with saltwater taffy, a giant rocky sea wall that is both walkable and climbable, and just sitting at the edge of the ocean and getting perspective. Need something closer? Walk down to the aquarium, smell the ocean, and watch the harbor seals frolic in the outdoor (free!) exhibit. Even closer? Walk the Freedom Trail (it is right outside the doors to our law school). Really, anything can be a break; the only rules are no books, no laptop, and no regrets. Time spent rebuilding yourself is priming the pump for students (and faculty). The investment will pay off.
So be on the lookout for students hitting the wall. Be their Eliza. I would always prefer my students took a break than get broken.
 © Lin-Manuel Miranda
Sunday, September 12, 2021
A supermarket I go to occasionally has a little maze of seasonal items right at the entrance. This is a tricky way to entice you to purchase these colorful things at the beginning of your shopping trip when your cart is empty and/or perhaps a way to mollify any small child you have brought with you with something small to play with on the journey. Yesterday, when I arrived, I saw a sea of orange and black: candy as far as the eye could see. There were also some decorative scarecrows and rust colored “hardy mums,” (which I consider a challenge, but more on my lack of gardening skills in another post). In the middle of the maze, I saw a single display of popsicle shaped window clings, Whiffle bats, sunscreen, some mismatched kickboards, and s’mores skewers-all 50-75% off. Summer was on sale-despite the fact that there is at least another week of it on the calendar. I sighed and realized that we had actually already been in school for almost four weeks and the time had come for the seasonal shift from merely briefing cases to…(please read each of those periods as dun, dun, dunnn respectively): OUTLINING.
Now that students have covered at least one full topic in each class, the time has come for them to take those case briefs and carefully written class notes and knit them into a nice cozy outline for December exams or, more urgently, upcoming midterms. This is also a good time to start because it intersects with students learning how we use and talk about cases in their legal writing courses. The magic formula of how we use cases in memos and briefs: FHR (facts, holding, reasoning) is how they can incorporate the components of their case briefs into their outlines. This is really a win-win because they are practicing using the FHR formula for outlining in legal writing and vice versa.
Now, I know you have probably discussed outlining at least twice already with students. We do it in a pre-orientation module, during orientation itself and have a class on it planned for the coming week. The number of times I say, “your outline should be rules based rather than case based” could be a drinking game at this point (not that I condone drinking while outlining as either effective or efficient).
How can we best communicate the message that it is currently prime outlining season to our students? I thought of the buzzer at the beginning of a swim meet heat, a ribbon cutting or even a giant banner, “START OUTLINING NOW!!!!” Maybe I should stand in front of the law school with a sandwich board that says, “Ask me about outlining-I’m not just an ASP professional, I’m a client!” Maybe we should perform, “Outlining the Musical,” with such tunes as:
525,000 pages more,
How do you make sense of a course in the law?”
“Oh, it is time to start ‘lining,
Time to take a little of the briefs we’re writing,
Time to take time,
Because it’s already fall--exams are in just no time at all….”
(sincere apologies to Rent and Pippin).
Yet, we all know that no matter how or how often we sound the alarm at this point in the semester, we will still be talking with students who are just getting started in November. And while we will silently groan and do an internal face palm, we will advise those students to move as quickly as they can to ideally finish their hastily organized (but nonetheless helpful) outlines when classes end.
I expect that the next time I will need to think about getting students to begin outlining, the supermarket entrance will be aglow in red, pink and white: candy as far as the eye can see -- except for the candy canes in the center on sale.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
In follow-up to Professor Victoria McCoy Dunkley's outstanding blog post entitled "Be in Your Bag (of Questions) as a 1L Reader," here's some thoughts about how you might use your senses to help make sense of the cases that you are assigned for class reading: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/08/be-in-your-bag-of-questions-as-a-1l-reader.html
But first a story...
I've been doing a lot of walking. In fact, I've walked about 380 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail (I still have about 120 miles to go of high altitude terrain). As a person who fractured my back two summers ago in a car accident, I'm a slow mover and that's okay.
You see, as Professor Denise DeForest at Colorado Law quips, when you find yourself lost, "slow down, stop, and sit on a log." I love logs, rocks, and boulders. My favorite time on the trail is resting. But, as I sit on a log recuperating, my senses come alive. I start to hear buzzing. I spot all kinds and manners of activity that I missed while hiking, like the scurry of ants preparing for the fall mountaintop snow storms. My hands feel the bark of the downed log that has become my lounging spot. In short, just because I stopped doesn't mean that I stopped learning and experiencing. Rather, by slowing down and stopping, I saw more than I did while moving.
There's a lot to be gleaned from these sorts of experiences. Most of our lives, let's be honest, are lived in haste. As though there's no time to waste. But critical reading takes pondering time; it takes using your senses to experience what the parties might have felt like when they litigated the case that you are reading, what they might have exclaimed or cursed when the decision came out, how the court might have explored and explained how they viewed the case and the facts.
So, in follow-up to yesterday's excellent blog post on 1L reading, feel free to journey through and with the cases. Situation yourself in them. Be expressive, feel free to be combatant and skeptical, let yourself run wild, so to speak, as you give voice to what you are seeing, as you learn and question and interpret what you are reading. That's learning. In other words, it's going to take time. But it is not wasted time at all.
That being said, I spent all of first-year of law school super-afraid (really most of law school) because I'm not good speaker or a reader (I was a mathematician in college). And, the gold lettering on most of the case books - with lots of red and black - psyched me out.
But not all that is gold glitters. Much of what you read is, well, not very well-written or good or even just. So take aim at it. Don't let the cases fool you. You belong in law school, which means that your voice and life counts. Share it with others. And, as you journey through reading, let me know what you are learning. I'd love to hear from you! (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Over the years, I have noticed that many legal educators and students have an imperfect understanding of the utility of using prior exams for practice. This misunderstanding usually holds that the purpose of such materials is for students to review the exams simply to see what topics professors test and methods with which they do so. In turn, faculty become leery of providing such materials, as doing so might create an unwarranted expectation on students’ part that their exam will test the same topics and use the same methods.
This impression is problematic. Both students and faculty are squandering the opportunity for students to use materials that will make them better learners, improve their performance in law school and the bar exam, and increase their knowledge and skills (both in classes and on the bar exam).
An important recent (methodologically sophisticated) study supports this claim. In Understanding the Metacognitive “Space” and its Implications for Law Students’ Learning, Professors Jennifer Gundlach and Jessica Santagelo found statistically significant evidence that: “Students who reported using active strategies at the end of the semester were more likely to succeed in the class … relative to students who never used active strategies.”
Faculty should better understand the use of prior exams and other materials that would allow students to practice rather than re-read over and over again. Although many law professors used re-reading and re-reviewing prior exams in their studies, their success quite possibly could have been despite and not because of those flawed methods. Faculty tend to have had an elite education, elite aptitude, and elite socio-economic condition opportunities for academic success. They thus had a great degree of wiggle-room in terms of the efficacy of their learning methods
Many of our students are not so lucky. If we admit students with fewer socio-economic opportunities and with non-elite academic credentials, we should not erect further obstacles to their success by assuming that the methods we used in very different circumstances will be effective for them.
Especially given the recent findings quoted above, we should not rely on the anecdote fallacy (that because one person had success with a method all will have such success) and the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (that because certain study methods preceded success, those methods must have caused that success). Instead, we should rely on the empirical evidence that shows that active learning, including taking practice exams, fosters success more optimally.
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Ah, just about the middle of the summer. It's sort of like the 7th inning stretch in baseball, a time to stand, sing, and refocus a bit. Especially with so many of us working with so many of our recent graduates as they prepare for remote and in-person bar exams. It's an opportunity for a quick breather before the final three weeks of bar prep polish and work.
Personally, this weekend is an opportunity for me to step back a bit, to take a look at what I ought to really be focused on, to ask how would others view the programs that I am responsible for delivering to our students and graduates.
Well, to be honest, I'm a bit afraid to ask others. But, as I think about preparing for the upcoming academic year, I thought I'd share the follow as food for thought about "ASP Best Practices." I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments too. P.S. Thanks to Visiting Prof. Chris Newman (DU Law) for development of this slide and his insights too. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
So, you may, or may not, remember my yule log. As I mastered the art of making a roulade, or rolled cake, it made me think of growth mindset and legal writing.
Last month, well in May, I traveled to St. Louis for the virtual AASE Conference. Yes, I realize I didn’t have to leave my home, or even my yoga pants, for a virtual conference. But I decided to join fellow AASE member and my co-author, Toni Miceli, as we are both vaccinated, so we could enjoy the conference together. There may have also been the real need to work on finalizing some teacher’s manual materials for our book, as well as bake with her son, Alex. Both clearly, equally important.
Alex loves to bake, and loves to learn about baking. Specifically, I think he loves to decorate more than the baking part, and I’m not sure I can blame him. Plus, he’s getting good at it!
So, he heard that I might be coming to his house for a visit, and kindly asked whether we could make a layered cake. (Fun fact, when I was 6 I wrote in one of those school projects that “I want to be a layer when I grow up”. Well, now I am a lawyer that can layer! Sorry, I’ll see myself out.)
Alex wanted a 3-tiered ocean themed cake. I assured him that we could make this happen, but we would have to learn some new things together.
See, as much as I love to bake, I’ve never really layered things before. So, this became my opportunity to continue my baking growth mindset. See, I had mastered the rolled cake (I use the term “mastered” loosely), but that doesn’t mean I can make ALL cakes expertly. And just like with the rolled cake, while I could transfer SOME skills, many were still brand new.
Now, last time I tried layering a cake it had a distinct Leaning Tower of Pisa vibe that was not part of my vision. So, this time around I did some research, and discovered that – a ha – I needed to use dowels and cardboard to stack the layers. Fantastic! So, Toni went out and bought a set. Then, I watched multiple videos on stacking. Finally, the day came – we were going to stack these cakes! Six of them to be precise, for a grand total of three tiers! Toni and I read the directions for the layering kit carefully, remembered the video, and viola – success. Well, there was still a minor tilt or two that we smoothed with icing. But overall, a resounding success.
Similarly, in law school you will learn many new skills. And most of them transfer to new situations and assignments. However, you often have to tweak these skills, adapting them to new situations (or more likely, varied types of legal writing), just like I had to adapt to a new style of cake!
The two most important steps in adapting to this new style of cake making were to 1) read the directions before hand and carefully follow those directions and 2) have patience. It also helped to work in collaboration. Toni and I are both skilled and experienced bakers, but putting our skills together meant we likely got a better result than we would have working by ourselves. Unless otherwise prohibited, work with your study groups, or even just one partner. If you are in law school, you are a skilled and experienced student, and combining your skills and experience with others skilled and experienced students might help you refine the new skill a bit faster!
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions or try new techniques. Or rather, just think outside of the box. One of the joys of baking with Toni’s son was seeing growth mindset in real time, through a child’s eyes. Alex is learning new baking skills all the time, and eager to learn new things. He’s getting better and better at baking and decorating because he’s not afraid to fail. We decided to try to make our seaweed out of melting chocolate (remember, this was an ocean themed cake, so seaweed was a must). I will admit that I had never done this before, and am not great at “freehand” chocolate. I told Alex as much, and very wisely he said “Well, let’s try. If it’s bad, it’s still chocolate – we can eat it!”
So true – and I encourage us all to adopt Alex’s attitude in all things – if it’s bad, it’s still chocolate and we can eat it!
Sunday, May 2, 2021
The first Saturday in May is must watch TV every year. The fastest 2 minutes in sports. The Run for the Roses. The iconic Kentucky Derby. Everyone in my house listens to the analysts for the hour leading up to the race, and then, we choose who to root for. For 2 minutes, we jump, scream, and cheer on our chosen horse. Most years, one of my kids picks the winner. It is always fun, and the last few years made me think of our students.
This year, the winner was a front running horse. He got to the lead early and held it the entire race. They kept saying he has never been passed in a race, and he wasn't last Saturday. However, I have seen many front runners tire out and lose. I have seen horses in the middle of the pack win and horses come from nearly last (Street Sense). The winners are the ones who run their race not letting the other horses dictate their strategy. We should all understand that running our own race is the best strategy.
I know many students are studying for finals right now. Let me overemphasize, run your race. Don't worry about what your friends are doing. They may be doing something that is incorrect or not the best for you. Don't worry about what the upper class students say. Think about what works best for you, and discuss your strategy with an Academic Support Professional. He/She can tell you if your strategy will put you in a good position to succeed.
Also, run your own law school career race. Don't worry about someone else's CALI/Am Jur awards or class rank after first semester, year, etc. I see students start at the top and slide down the rankings over 2 years. I also see students start near the bottom of the class and climb their way up. Everyone has a different background and knowledge base walking into law school. Run your race to do your best. Keep improving on your best, not worried about what others are doing.
I understand the anxiety of asking whether you are doing enough and seeking information. I am not saying ignore feedback or outside information. I am saying get feedback from faculty and staff at the law school that can help you do what is best for you. Stay on your pace to do your best. Do what is best for you on these upcoming finals. Good luck.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
As one of my colleagues Visiting Prof. Chris Newman mentioned, "reading week" is a bit of a misnomer (at best) and a disaster (at worst). That's because preparation for final exams requires, well, lots of preparation with lots of activity and engagement in learning and doing.
With that in mind, I asked my students to share one thing they learned this semester.
Here's a sample of the many suggestions from my students to you that can help you engage in successfully preparing for your final exams too:
"Practice even if you think you don't need it."
"Practice makes perfect."
"Re-reading is not the best way to study."
"When you eliminate the impossible, whatever's left has to be right."
"Practice and don't be afraid to fail."
"Keep the hope high and practice!"
"Believe in the growth mindset!"
"Embrace failure and learn from it."
"Because, Because, Because!"
"Failure is a part of learning."
"Start with the call of the question."
"Making mistakes and getting things wrong helps you learn even more."
"Do vs. Memorize."
So, good luck to all of you as you put these sorts of tips into action in preparing for your final exams! (Scott Johns).
P.S. For more information along with concrete strategies and action items, please see Prof. Steven Foster's blog post, entitled: Foster, S., Effective Finals Preparation (Apr. 18, 2021). Not sure where to find practice problems, here's a resource of old bar exam problems, organized by subject matter (and they are available free of charge!): Practice Essay Exams.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
The semester is nearing the end. Most students are in finals study mode, so I want to provide a few pieces of studying advice.
- Create a good study calendar. The calendar focuses on what you will study on which days. Start with putting your final exams on the appropriate days. Then, work backwards to today adding in what classes you will study each day.
- Create a good daily/hourly schedule. The next schedule to create is an hourly schedule for each day. When will you wake up, work out, study, have lunch, etc. The more you write down, the more efficient you will be with your time.
- Utilize ACTIVE studying techniques. Re-reading an outline for the 5th time probably won't help you remember the material. Test whether you understand and can recall the material by:
- Trying to recite the structure/skeletal outline out loud;
- Talking to a non-lawyer friend and explaining a concept in a way the non-lawyer would understand;
- Issue spotting practice essay questions;
- Creating hypos that would test each major sub-topic in the course;
- Taking practice multiple choice quizzes; and
- Writing out essay answers.
- Ignore external non-emergency distractions until after finals.
- Ignore rumors from classmates. Only worry about what you can control, which is your preparation.
The semester flew by, and finals are right around the corner. Make sure to study both efficiently and effectively to be as prepared as possible. Good luck to everyone on finals.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
With just a few more weeks of classes for most law students, many of us are afraid. Sorely afraid because we know that we've got a lot to do and a lot to learn.
Facing those fears is key. I recall when I was growing up that parents constantly told me to be "careful." "Watch your step." "Play more gentle."
Sometimes I wish that the advice was instead: "Be courageous!"
You see, without bruises there can be little growth and thus little learning.
Nevertheless, it need not be all hard-knock lessons. After all, you as law students are paying valuable consideration to earn your law degrees. So take advantage of the resources that are available to you.
Let me give you a suggestion based on a column that I saw from a behavioral economist in response to the question "[w]hat's the best way to get useful feedback and make the most of...conversations?" D. Ariely, Dear Can Column, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 4, 2021).
The short answer is don't ask for feedback.
Instead, "...research shows that in general, looking at the past isn't the best way to figure out what we should be doing differently in the future. Instead of asking for feedback, which is backward-looking and usually vague, try asking your [professor] for advice. That will encourage them to look ahead and give you concrete suggestions and actionable items." Id.
So, be courageous. Seek out advice. Ask for concrete action items to improve future performance. Skip the feedback and instead ask for "feed for the future," i.e., advice. (Scott Johns).
Friday, March 5, 2021
Otto Stockmeyer from WMU-Cooley Law School recently reposted one of his prior blog posts explaining the background and basics of IRAC. Most graders read answers where we believe the student knows more information than is written on the page. Many times students make incorrect assumptions about what scores points on exams. This is a good post to forward to students explaining the background of IRAC and providing a basic structure. Check it out here.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Like many of you, this week's been hectic, filled with chats and jam sessions to help graduates finish strong in preparation for next week's bar exam.
Most look tired, really tired. Me too.
So we took a break from consideration and equal protection and secured transactions to talk about steps we might take to provide refreshment to rejuvenate our battle-worn minds.
I don't know what possessed me, but I asked our students if they had time to take a break, a walk, or a little excursion from bar prep. But before they could answer "no", I answered for them. Simply put, I blurted out - like an excited utterance - that "you can't afford NOT to take a break!"
As reporter Betsy Morris explains:
"Spending times in the woods - a practice the Japanese call 'forest bathing' - is strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue." Morris, B., "For Better Health, Just Head Outdoors," Wall Street Journal (Feb. 16, 2021). And, with respect to cognition, as Dr. Gretchen Daily observes based on research at Stanford University, "A 45-minute walk in nature can make a world of difference to mood, creativity, [and] the ability to use your working memory." Id.
In short, all work and no play is a recipe for disaster not success. Simply put, it doesn't work.
So, as you meet with bar takers for last moment tune-ups and encouragement, let them know that it's okay to take breaks, to put on a cap and gloves and hit a local park for a wintry walk. Along the way, they'll be not just feeding their spirits but also strengthening their minds. Now that's a great way to prepare for success, whether it's on the bar exam or in life. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Here it is, Tuesday evening, and I am finally settling down to write another blogfest – this, like many weeks, despite having specifically placed this high enough up on my to-do list that I genuinely expected to be starting in the early afternoon. The problem – one I am sure we are all familiar with – is not the writing, but all the other things I had planned to finish beforehand, which took far longer than I had originally estimated they would. Fortunately, such difficulties are illustrative of this week’s topic of discussion – the planning fallacy and how to counteract it.
The planning fallacy is a simple psychological phenomenon: human beings’ predictions about the time needed to complete a future task are usually significant underestimations. In some cases, wild underestimations: for example, when construction began on the Sydney Opera House in 1959, it was expected to be completed by 1963, but the site was not actually finished until 1973. Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky were the first to describe this phenomenon, more than forty years ago, and Kahneman writes about it in his wonderful book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. He explains it as a kind of optimism bias, a tendency of people to adopt the rosiest scenarios as they imagine how a task will proceed. Later scholars added other nuances to this explanation. One reason for this apparent optimism bias, for example, might be the self-serving human tendency, when considering similar past situations, to take personal credit for all the things that went right (and thus assume they will go right again in the future), but to attribute errors and delays to outside forces that they presume will not occur again.1 Nassem Taleb, in his book Antifragile, suggests it may not only be a psychological phenomenon, but also a consequence of a natural asymmetry: whenever circumstances or events cause a deviation from a well-laid-out plan, chances are far greater that the disruption will lead to delay than to expedition, so that the sum total of all deviations would always be expected to be postponement.
How many times have we seen the planning fallacy in action amongst our students? Just in the past month, I have met with returning students, vowing to perform better in this coming spring semester, who base this determination on unaccountably confident projections of all the steps they will complete to do so. I have worked with February bar examinees, noses to the grindstone, who despite their genuine efforts are finding themselves slipping behind their intended schedules. Not every student suffers from this bias, of course, and many of those who experience the bias don't actually suffer for it, either because they start with ambitious goals that leave plenty of leeway or because they find the extra time and energy to offset their underestimated projections. Still, every year brings a significant crop of students who do not perform as well as they might have, because they seriously underestimate how long it will take them to complete an essay test question, compile a useful outline, learn the rules governing a specific legal topic, research, draft, and edit a significant writing assignment, or attend to the demands of student organizations.
Fortunately, the psychologists and scientists who have studied the planning fallacy have suggested a few strategies that can be used to counteract it, and these strategies are easily adoptable -- or correspond to techniques already used -- by academic support professionals. In his book, Kahneman suggests the use of reference class forecasting -- that is, making predictions of the time needed to complete a task based not on a person's (or an entity's) internal sense of how long it should take them, but on observations of actual outcomes in prior similar situations. In other words, if I were going to build an opera house, I might start off by assuming I could get it done in a few years, but if I considered how long it took to build the one in Sydney (and of course in other locations), I should understand that it is likely to take more than a decade. Many of us do something at least adjacent to this with our students already -- providing them with estimates about how long they should expect to take to complete a case brief, for example, or to study for the MPRE -- but the idea of reference class forecasting suggests that it might be even more powerful to refer specifically to prior performances by other students. Instead of saying, "You should devote at least 24 hours," it might be more effective to say, "Last year, every student who devoted 4 hours a day, every Saturday and Sunday, for three weeks, completed this successfully."
Another suggestion is the use of the segmentation effect. It has been observed that a person's estimate of the total time it will take to complete a task will be longer -- and thus likely more accurate -- if they are asked to segment the task (break the task down into a number of sub-tasks), to estimate the time it will take to complete each sub-task, and then to add all those times together to come up with the total time.2 However, there is a cognitive cost to being mindful and particular enough to break complex tasks down into numerous sub-tasks, and, without help, this kind of approach may be hard to learn and sustain. Fortunately, this is just the kind of help we can give, especially to inexperienced students who may not be able to envision how a long-term task can be broken down, or even what all the steps involved might be. By providing students with a framework of what to expect, and encouraging them to think realistically about what it will take to build each part of that framework, we can help them to stay on track, or at least in the general vicinity of the track, by using the segmentation effect.
Finally, another tool that has been suggested to combat the planning fallacy is the implementation intention, a term coined by Peter Gollwitzer for a particular model of thinking about future actions. Encouraging people to think specifically about when, where, and how they will act towards their goal tends to make them more likely to move forward steadily, and in a timely way, towards them. For example, people who received a telephone call in which someone asked them what time they planned to vote, from where they would be heading to the polling place, and what they would be doing just before they left to vote -- all questions designed to prompt them to think about when, where, and how they would vote -- were more likely to vote than those who did not receive the phone call.3 The mental IF-->THEN statement (as in, "If I am aiming to take a practice exam, then I should get a copy of an old exam from the library on Friday") is the implementation intention that moves people apace towards their goals. This, too, is something that academic support professionals do, or can do. By querying students about the specifics of how they expect to achieve their long-term goals, we can induce them to map out their plans in advance, changing vague ambitions about what they would like to achieve into articulable steps (the implementation intentions) that they can follow methodically to their desired ends within the time they have available.
It is a natural human tendency to overestimate what can be done in a given period of time. By helping our students account for this tendency, even if we cannot help them complete everything, we can at least help them get in a position where they've done enough to succeed.
1(1995) It's About Time: Optimistic Predictions in Work and Love, European Review of Social Psychology, 6:1, 1-32,
Thursday, January 21, 2021
I wonder. Perhaps this diagram might serve as a visual tool to help students reflect on learning. After all, many students are quite stressed by first semester grades. Here's a possible diagram, artistically captured by the handwork of Prof. Betty Bobbit Byrne (Paulkner University), that might just help students explore possible ways to improve their learning. Feel free to share with your students. (Scott Johns).
Monday, January 18, 2021
It is that time of year again. Many first-year law students are anxiously awaiting grades from their first semester of law school. To all of you, I say: I hope your first semester grades are everything you want them to be.
Regardless, try to maintain perspective. Each grade is but a snapshot of your performance during a “moment” in time and, sometimes, it can feel as if there is no rhyme or reason to how each of those snapshots develop. Students who studied more may not perform as well as expected. Students who studied less may perform better than expected. The exam you thought was your best performance may end up being your worst grade. Similarly, the exam you thought was your worst performance may end up being your best grade.
Whatever your grades are, your feelings about them are valid. It is okay to feel excited about and celebrate your good grades, but do not rest on your laurels (keep doing the work). It is okay to feel frustrated or disappointed about less-than-ideal grades, but do not get stuck in that frustration or disappointment. Process your feelings and then pivot.
Your grades are not the final word on your abilities or the opportunities you will have. They are also in no way indicative of your value as a person or how great of a lawyer you will become. What matters more than a less-than-ideal grade is what you do in response, and that response can make for a great narrative of grit and resilience that you share with, among others, future employers.
If your grades are not everything you want them to be, get to work changing your reality for the spring term. Connect with your ASP faculty and/or staff to discuss your strengths and identify areas for growth, then develop a plan to expand upon the former and work on the latter. Cultivate a growth mindset. Your abilities and skills are not fixed—you can develop and refine them with practice and by leveraging your feedback. One semester of grades does not define you or dictate your story. YOU are the author of your story. Keep writing.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Eduardo Briceño and Dawn Young, A Growth Mindset for Law School Success, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Sept. 12, 2017), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2017/09/12/growth-mindset-law-school-success/.
Heidi K. Brown, Law School Grades Are Not Your Story—You Are Your Story, ABA Student Lawyer Blog (Jan. 9, 2020), https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/01/09/law-school-grades-are-not-your-story-you-are-your-story/.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Winter break includes the wonderful benefits of a work break, time with family, and college football bowl games. Media and fans began degrading bowl games again this year after numerous players chose to not play in their team's bowl game. Those media and fans clearly did not talk to my kids while we watched the Montgomery Bowl, Cheez-It Bowl, Liberty Bowl, and numerous other college exhibitions. I do agree with my kids that constant college football is awesome, so we watched games throughout the break.
Announcers talked about the impending playoff games throughout each of the games. A major storyline for the upcoming Ohio State-Clemson game was how Clemson coach Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th on his coaches' poll ballot, well outside the top 4. For context, COVID caused disruptions in college football like everything else. However, the disruptions weren't uniform. Individual conferences made different decisions based on what the conference thought was safe. The Big 10 conference, which includes Ohio State, originally decided not to play a fall season. However, the SEC, Big 12, and ACC (which includes Clemson) decided to start in September. Teams in the latter conferences played approximately 9-10 games. The Big 10 eventually reversed course, but the teams would play fewer games. Ohio State only played 6 games prior to the playoff. Swinney said a team that only plays 6 games shouldn't be ranked with the teams that played 9-10, so he ranked them lower. Then, the game happened.
The game proceeded like any MBE question or prime-time drama. Ohio State beat Clemson from the opening whistle. The game wasn't particularly close. Critics screamed from keyboards about Swinney's ridiculous ranking. Clearly, Ohio State was far better than the #11 ranking on his last ballot. He clearly couldn't evaluate teams, and he probably provided motivation for Ohio State to prove him wrong. Critics were quick to use the game results to prove Swinney wrong, but was he wrong? Is it possible that Ohio State is both one of the 4 best college football teams in the country and also not deserving the ranking because they hadn't played enough games? I don't think the two sentiments are mutually exclusive, but critics seem to rely too heavily on the game's results to disprove his ranking. If Clemson won, does that mean his ranking was legitimate? The post hoc analysis seems to rely heavily on the result to either prove or disprove his claim when his claim focused more on deserving to be there and not ability to win.
The playoff storyline wasn't the only instance of relying too heavily on results. In a pro football game, the Las Vegas Raiders were losing by 2 points late in the game. Instead of scoring an easy touchdown with a minute left, they proceeded to kneel down multiple times to kick a field goal with 19 seconds left. The coach said he didn't want the opposing team to have enough time to score. Statistically, it was the best decision. A team shouldn't be able to score in 19 seconds, but of course the opposing team scored in a few quick plays. Critics pounced after the game saying the Raiders coach made the wrong decision. He made the statistically correct decision that didn't work. Does the result inherently mean the decision was wrong? If they score a touchdown, and the other team also scores because they have more time, would that be the wrong decision. I would argue he made the right call, but the decision didn't work. That doesn't make his decision wrong.
The idea of relying too much on results applies to law students as well. Grades are about to come out, and some students will be disappointed. Those same students made decisions throughout the semester about what, when, and how to study. Do low grades mean the study decisions were wholly incorrect? I don't think so. Grades are only 1 feedback device to analyze. I help students create new plans every semester. Some of them integrate more self-regulated learning, quizzes, reading, and/or review. Integrating self-regulated learning isn't bad just because grades didn't end up exactly as desired. Making the right decision doesn't always lead to the desired outcome, but the decision to be a better learner is still the right decision.
I encourage all students to evaluate progress. Grades are a good place to start, but students should also look at how often they read, whether they made outlines, how many practice questions they completed, whether they sought feedback, and any other tool to determine whether they were prepared walking into the exam. Anything can happen during a 3 hour exam. Computers crash and fact patterns surprise students. Grades may be important, but grades are only a snapshot of performance during a 3 hour time block. Focus on the process before the exam to determine where to improve.
Results provide feedback, and I want everyone to continually try to improve. However, results aren't the full picture because bad results can sometimes come from good decisions. Focus on preparation to continue to improve through the law school marathon.
Monday, December 7, 2020
Law students seeking to avoid unnecessary stress and maximize learning opportunities should consider adopting a modified Vegas rule during the exam period. In the law school exam context, this rule is simple: Take the wisdom, Leave the substance (Take the “W” and Leave the “S”).
Each law school exam provides an opportunity to become a better exam taker. Students experience firsthand the challenges of effectively managing their time, ordering issues, outlining responses, and applying rules to a new set of facts. Do not ignore the wisdom to be gained from each exam experience. Instead, identify the lessons to be learned, and commit to practicing and refining your skills and/or exam-taking strategy as needed before the next exam.
Once you have completed an exam, do not discuss the substance of it with anyone during the exam period. If someone tries to engage you in such a discussion, politely decline. Walk away, leave the chat, step away from the video call. Do not talk substance, do not collect anxiety. Nothing good comes from rehashing the substance of your exam with your peers (and it may run afoul of your law school’s honor code). Almost invariably, someone will have “spotted” an issue that you “missed.” As you sit and listen, second-guessing your answer, anxiety levels rise and confidence levels fall. In reality, that issue you “missed” may not have really been an issue at all. The damage that discussion can do to your confidence and focus, however, is very real. Keep your eyes forward and on the prize.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Many of us try to help students with imposter syndrome. A colleague from CALI (Hat tip to Deb Quentel) passed along an article about imposter syndrome in the classroom. Check it out here.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures. In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance. But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better. And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.
As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019). Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure. https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/
The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams. Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes. Id.
According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)." Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).
In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:
"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id.
As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies. In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.
In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys. That's a wonderful win-win opportunity. And, there's more great news. The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).
Saturday, October 10, 2020
A colleague recently sent me an article about memory she saved in getpocket.com. I don't know much about getpocket, but the article she sent me and the few articles below it were pretty good. They are short enough students may actually read them, but they have helpful information. They were originally posted a couple years ago at different sources, but many of our current students probably didn't see them. Here are the links: