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:
Sunday, October 4, 2020
Tiger Woods may be the best golfer ever, and he started swinging clubs when he started walking. He engaged in deliberate practice and prepared mentally as early as 6. He is the epitome of hyper-specialization. Todd Marinovich experienced similar training in football. His father was the strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, and he started training his son when he was extremely young. His dad planned for him to play quarterback and make it to the NFL. Marinovich set many national high school football records and did make it to the NFL. However, his NFL career ended abruptly due to off-the-field issues. His intense focus did not result in greatness in the same way as Tiger Woods. Most people believe Tiger is the hard work breeds greatness story and Marinovich is the exception. David Epstein in his book Range argues Tiger is actually the exception, and his work may provide advice for our students.
Epstein compares generalists to hyper-specialists in Range. He argues the general public sees Tiger and believes specialization early is the best way to achieve success in life. He then proceeds through the book with constant examples of individuals who were generalists with multiple areas of expertise that both succeed and out-performed the hyper-specialists. Multiple stories in the book involved teams in problem solving competitions. The teams that included different specializations solved more problems and were always more accurate. He also discussed NASA's leadership. Under leaders that encouraged cross-departmental communication, missions succeeded at higher rates. Leaders who discouraged communication encountered disasters that lost lives. His argument is people who hyper-specialize only see the problem they study, the old-saying that "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Individuals with broader knowledge have more problem-solving tools and approach situations with analogies to other areas.
The book is interesting, but also enlightening for our students. This definitely helps with career advice. I tell students to intern in different offices and specialties. They can find what they like, and they will see different perspectives. This is also important for bar preparation. I encounter students every year who worked exclusively in Criminal Law or Family Law, for example, who won't approach other subjects. They don't want to practice Property, so they ignore it. Students can use other subjects' ideas or rules to help on the MBE. I always try to get students to use all the rules in their toolbox to reach the "right" answer, even when the rule is from a different subject. Hyper-specialization, or hyper-focus in law, can be a detriment when preparing for a test designed for a generalist.
Broadening our knowledge is both fun and can make us better problem solvers.
Friday, October 2, 2020
Thursday, October 1, 2020
I had a chance to spend a bit of today on the hiking trails. The forests are alive, the colors vibrant, as the winds tickle the aspen trees with the cooling approach of autumn skies.
Despite the majesty of the landscape, I spent much of the time out-of-breathe, which gave me a chance to pause. It was in the moments of rest when I saw much more than as I hiked, as my senses took in the environs, with my ears perked up with every little rustle in the leaves. It seemed as if everywhere I turned there was life on the move preparing for winter's homecoming. I was amazed, though, that the chipmunks, birds, and squirrels didn't seem to rush about their business. Instead, the animals of the forest seemed to work steadily but methodically, unhurried, as they prepared their stores of nuts and harvest foods for the winter darkness.
To my surprise, there might be something that we can learn about learning from observations of the forest animals.
According to a recent research article, the fast-paced speed of typing might not be as beneficial as the slower-paced steadiness of handwriting in enhancing learning and memory. As stated by one of the authors Prof. Van Der Meer:
"The use of pen and paper gives the brain more 'hooks' to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better." https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-kids-smarter.html.
Practically speaking, Prof. Van Der Meer suggests writing essays via typing (i.e., exam answers) but taking notes via handwriting:
"The intricate hand movements and the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways. If you use a keyboard, you use the same movement for each letter. Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses. It's important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible. I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I'd take notes by hand during a lecture." Id.
For more information: Eva Ose Askvik et al., The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults, Frontiers in Psychology (2020). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810
Saturday, September 26, 2020
The Legal Skills Prof. Blog picked up a story from the LA Times about the difficulty of learning with Zoom and some ideas for improvement. I encourage everyone to check out the blog post here.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the mythical land where the vast majority of your productivity resides. Tomorrow is when you fully unlock and harness all of your motivation and efficiency. Tomorrow you will get everything done. In truth, tomorrow will come but the enhanced productivity, efficiency, and motivation you anticipate may not.
Putting off tasks until tomorrow is a common form of procrastination and procrastination hinders one’s ability to allocate work and manage time effectively. One of the most challenging aspects of law school (and one of the most important skills for law students) is time management. At any given time, law students may be juggling class preparation, writing assignments, extracurricular activities, networking events, interviews, personal commitments, etc. Effective time management is essential to keeping each of those balls in the air.
Here are a few strategies to avoid procrastination and make the hypothetical productivity, motivation, and efficiency of tomorrow a reality today:
- Commit to timeliness. Commit to being on time to class, work, events, etc. Commit to timely completion of assignments. Set deadlines and keep them.
- Start today. Starting is often the hardest part. If you find yourself waiting or searching for the “perfect” time to start, remember that there is no perfect time. Since procrastination involves delaying doing something, the most direct way to stop procrastinating is to start. By starting today, you will put the most difficult part of the task behind you.
- Find your motivation. If you’re searching for motivation to complete a task, try reminding yourself why the task is important and how it connects to your goals.
- Break large projects into smaller pieces. This practice enables you to better allocate your workload and makes those larger projects seem less intimidating. Think of these as mini-goals and create deadlines for completing each smaller task. The feeling you get from accomplishing these smaller tasks can motivate you to keep going.
- Convert items on your to-do list that are likely to induce procrastination into blocks of time on your calendar. Blocking time for these tasks on your calendar transforms them from the indefinite to the definite and represents a commitment to yourself that you will “show up” to work on those tasks. It also serves as a visual cue and a reminder of your priorities as you navigate your daily schedule.
- Make the tasks you need to complete more fun. For instance, if you need to clean and only have 20 minutes, set a timer for 20 minutes and see how much you can get done before the timer sounds. You may not get it all done, but the process becomes more fun and you will probably come away with ideas about how to be more efficient the next time you clean.
- Reward yourself for creating and meeting your deadlines. Reward yourself when you resist the urge to procrastinate, complete one of your mini-goals, complete a task on your calendar, etc. Rewards help reinforce the behavior you want to repeat.
- Find an accountability partner. Choose someone you like and trust (and who likes and trusts you) to fill this role. Share your goals with that person, discuss the specifics of your partnership, and plan accountability check-ins.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Thursday, September 10, 2020
First Year Law Students:
It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools.
But, you ask, how?
Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!
But first, let's lay the groundwork.
Why should you create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand your attention in law school?
There are at least two reasons.
First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts. It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so. And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.
Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too). In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.
So, let's set out the 6 steps:
1. Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!
That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes. They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool. Here's a tip: Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus. The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool. And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below. Voila!
2. Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!
That's right. It might look like a skeleton. Not pretty at all. That's okay. Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning. So, relax and enjoy the mess. My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others. But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use. Here's a tip: Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.
3. Insert the Rules!
Be bold. Be daring. Be adventuresome. If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool. Bravo!
4. Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).
Most rules have multiple-parts. So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements! (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration. Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.
5. Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!
Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement. Here's a tip: A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision. Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.
6. Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!
Yes, you might crash. In fact, if you are like me, you will crash! But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool. Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two. Not sure where to find practice problems? Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams. Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter:
Finally, let me make set the record straight. You don't have to make an outline as your study tool. Rather, your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards. And there's more great news. There are no perfect study tools, so feel free to experiment. Indeed, what's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork. So feel free to let your artistic creative side flow as you make your study tools.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates. Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days. These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness. Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas. Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds. After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support. Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.
This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture. In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes. Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard. Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.
In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted. If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast. Resist this temptation! Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester:
- Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself.
- Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you.
- Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups.
- Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you.
- Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.
- When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.
Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment. Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier. Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network. And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Have you ever been reading and your mind wander? Have you read the same sentence a few times without knowing what it said? Has your mind ever drifted when in conversation with someone? If you answered yes, then you are normal. We all lose focus and attention during tasks. The risk is even greater when the person talking to us isn't in a face-to-face conversation. Taking active steps to stay engaged will be even more important with online learning to prevent losing focus.
Online classes provide a different learning environment. Whether you have the autonomy to complete the course at your own pace or you participate in video conference (zoom, teams, etc.) classes, staying engaged will be critical to retaining information. I provided a few tips below for staying engaged while participating in different styles of classes.
Zoom, Teams, etc.
1. Turn your video on if possible. Some professors require this. The video creates accountability because the professor can see whether you are playing on your phone, watching TV, or at least nominally listening to the lecture.
2. Take notes in a notebook instead of your computer. Many students take notes on computer while in class. However, your laptop is now the medium for instruction. Decreasing the screen size or minimizing it will effect what you see and learn. Handwritten notes adds the benefit of retyping notes into outline format, which improves retention.
3. Fully brief cases and print out the briefs. Students migrate to book briefing as soon as they feel comfortable, but I don't think that is the best strategy in general. The printed out case brief is a good place to then take class notes, including highlighting important information and adding in the professor discussion. One benefit of this strategy is both reading and class discussion information is in 1 place.
4. Volunteer to answer questions. Volunteering is more engaging than passively listening to class.
5. Answer hypos and questions on your paper or in your head. The last 2 pieces of advice aren't unique to zoom, but the online environment is easier for mind wandering. Answering every question will prevent losing focus.
6. Use the chat function to ask questions. This is another engagement tool, and you don't need to speak in class.
1. Fully brief cases and print out briefs. Similar advice to above. Pre-recorded classes are even easier to lose focus, so any tool that helps is important.
2. Pause the video at a reasonable break if you mind wanders. Get a drink, snack, or anything else that will improve focus.
3. Plan when to complete the work. Asynchronous (online autonomous) courses are difficult because you have the autonomy to complete the work on your schedule. If you don't create a plan for when to complete the work, you will get behind. Catching up is hard, so create a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule for your work.
4. Complete activities or questions as if you are in class. Yes, the lecture is pre-recorded, and yes, the professor will give the answer after a short pause. However, don't let that lull you into not working on each practice problem. Treat each activity as an opportunity to engage the class.
The online environment will take adjustment, but you can learn as much in this environment as a regular class. The learning may be difficult. However, deliberate actions during each meeting or recording can actively engage in the process. The engagement will lead to the long-term learning needed for success.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Hat Tip to Adjunct Prof. Alan Blakley....
In light of the ongoing pandemic, here's a free online program created by Harvard Law School for possible consideration and/or adoption by law schools as we move towards the fall start for entering law students. According to the introductory video, Zero-L is a free online program focused on helping entering law students develop confidence and competence in thinking like law students: https://online.law.harvard.edu. Specifically, Zero-L indicates that it is designed as an "onramp" for law school students, regardless of background and experience. For more details, please see the syllabus, available at the following link: https://online.law.harvard.edu/Zero-L_HLS_Course_Syllabus.pdf.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
I keep getting asked about memorization for the bar exam. Specifically, “How on earth am I supposed to memorize all of this?” and “Do you have any tips on memorization?”
So, here we go!
First of all, memorization is a bad word. I hate it. You want to remember, or recall, but not memorize. Why do I make a big deal about this? Well, for a couple reasons.
First, our brain is awful at memorization. Briefly, we have short term memory, long term memory, and memory retrieval. Short term memory can also be called working memory. It’s like a short picture that only lasts minutes. Next is long term memory, where memories are stored. And finally, memory retrieval, which is what you are concerned with for the bar exam. This is also the most difficult to achieve. So, your aim isn’t really to “memorize”, but to remember and recall.
Also, if you focus on memorization, instead of learning, you will get overwhelmed and stressed. So, reframe the idea in your mind for more success.
So, what CAN you do?
The power of Story and Emotion
Memory is often tied to stories, and strong emotions. This is why our autobiographical information is easy to recall. We might smell a certain food, and fondly remember a lovely family celebration we had as a child. These memories are typically vivid and strong. That’s because we process them as stories, not facts. If you are at a party, you don’t focus on individual details to remember, like the color of the walls, or the music playing, and consciously try to memorize it. You remember it because it’s happening to you, it’s a story. In addition, you are more likely to have a vivid memory of that party if you are feeling a strong emotion, usually intense happiness. (Carey, 2014) or (Tyng, Amin, Saad, & Malik, 2017)
So, how do you make this work for bar review? The act of studying doesn’t make for a good story, and you aren’t likely to feel very strong emotions. Maybe frustration, or stress, but those actual have a counterproductive impact on memory. So, it’s up to you to manufacture stories and happiness. Don’t just stare at outlines, or black letter law. Do more and more practice questions, which are stories. Or, even better, make up new hypotheticals of your own, the more ridiculous the better. If you’ve seen me lecture on any bar topic, you know I love crazy stories. I’m sure my students often roll their eyes, and wonder why I’m being ridiculous. But it’s to help with memory. The more absurd or ridiculous my examples, the more likely you are to remember the law.
Also, manufacture happiness, as much as you can. Studies have shown that test subjects that are placed in a room with simple smiling faces do better on memory. So, surround yourself with happy photos or pictures of your pets. Call one another on zoom and make up ridiculous hypotheticals until you are all laughing.
Speaking of stories, practice! Each MBE fact pattern, and each essay hypothetical, are stories! So, not only will practice make you better at tackling the essays or MBE questions, but practice gives your brain
stories to hold on to. The examples will help your memory! If you are trying to memorize the rule for parol evidence, doing 10 MBE questions, and really learning from each question, will serve you better than reviewing your outline over and over again.
In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which individual pieces of an information set are broken down and then grouped together in a meaningful whole. The word chunking comes from a 1956 paper by George A. Miller, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information". This was because the brain can typically only remember 7-8 items at once.
So, what does chunking information mean for you? Well, let’s think of a grocery list.i
So, you have to buy the following:
You might want to chunk by meal. For example, Bread goes with turkey and cheese, and maybe tomato. Milk goes with Cereal, and maybe those go together with orange juice. As I’ve listed it, the items are random, so there is no way to remember them. Or there is, but it’s very difficult. But grouping by the meals will help your memory.
Alternatively, you can group by where the items are in the store. It is likely that the orange juice and milk are together, and the so are the bread and cereal, and the turkey and cheese.
So, the first step in chunking is to think about how you will need to use the information. This is one reasons I place practice so highly. When you go to memorize the law, you can’t memorize it in a vacuum. You have to think about how you will be using it, and then chunk from there.
Our brain learns more effectively if we space out information. So, this is more support for my theory that breaks are magic! Think of it like this, if you are building a brick wall, you need to let the motor in between the bricks dry before you stack too high. Similarly, you let one coat of paint dry before you put on another. You get the idea.
So, while studying for the bar, space out your studying. While it might feel like you don’t have time, you need the space to solidify your knowledge.
Take breaks! I wrote an entire blog about this last week. But your brain can only process and remember so much at once. Essentially, if you are reading 50 pages of outline, without a break, you are only likely to remember the first and last few pages. That’s a waste of time! Take frequent breaks, and break up what you do. The more active you are, the better.
Write an essay with open notes. Do a set of 5 MBE questions, and then review the applicable law. Mix up subjects. All of that will help with memory.
General Mental Health
Finally, I mentioned before that if you are frustrated or stressed, that doesn’t help with memory. That means you have to take care of yourself mentally while you are studying. This is going to vary for everyone, but make your mental health a priority. And if you feel yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, see above and take a break!
Finally, remember that your aim is to learn, not merely memorize! Also, this is just meant to be a primer, and is already too long for a blog post. There is so much more to be said about various memory techniques.
Carey, B. (2014). How We Learn: The Suprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. New York: Random House.
Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M. N., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frong Psychology.
i I completely took this idea from Paula Manning at the 2015 AASE Conference in Chicago, and have been using it ever since!
Thursday, May 28, 2020
That might be an overreach. But not by much. I only witnessed - at the most - 3 different flowers along the nearby hiking trail. Another hiker, who I met along the way, exploded with joy that she had spotted 44 different flowers along the same identical path, many of which were rarely seen during the short Colorado spring season. Same path; different eyes.
That experience left me wondering what else I am missing in this journey of life. Much, I suspect. Especially in these times with much of my face hidden behind a bandana. You see, I had a different purpose in mind on the hiking trail. And that resulted in a different pace and a much different outcome.
My fellow hiker's words hit home with respect to bar prep. Much of the colloquial wisdom is to practice testing yourself, constantly, as you prepare for your bar exam. Watch the clock, and my oh my, certainly don't take a timeout to research a bit of law when you are stumped. But, if in your bar prep you are driven by working the clock, you'll miss much. And what you miss is the opportunity to learn to improve critical reading and problem-solving skills because developing those skills takes lots of time and concentration - just like my fellow hiker spotting 44 flowers in beautiful bloom along the trail.
Let me share a secret. Rare is it that people run out of time on the bar exam. Oh it happens. But it's not because they didn't practice with the clock. Rather, it's often because the gambled with proven strategies to tackle their bar exams. They grabbed hold of the essays and then spent precious time looking for their favorites. Or, they hit the multiple-choice bubbling along the way while leaving many answer choices blank, with a long list of questions that they'd like to come back to, in the event that they have more time left at the end. On the bar exam, you don't have time to look at questions twice (or even more). Rather, just solve them one-at-a-time as they appear in the materials.
I know, you're saying, "Well, how am I going to get faster if I don't practice with the clock?" I'm not saying never practice with the clock, but the time to do so is much later, mostly only with mock bar exams, and mostly only in the last two weeks or so. In my experience, if you work on getting faster, you'll be super-fast but also often super-wrong because you haven't worked on seeing the patterns and observing the commas, the phrases, and the many nuances that are the heart of doing well on the bar exams.
Let me make it concrete. I have never seen a person fail the bar exam because they didn't know enough law or weren't really speedy enough. Rather, when people do not pass the bar exam, they tend to write about issues that weren't asked by the problems. That's because they worked mostly for speed through as many problems with goal of constantly testing themselves. "Am I passing yet? Is that good enough? I've got to get up that trail, so to speak, as fast as possible."
Instead, let go of the clock. Spend time in the midst of the problems. Question the questions. Puzzle over them. Ponder and probe the language, the phraseology, the paragraph breaks, and the format of the questions. In short, for the first six weeks of bar prep, practicing problems to learn with just an occasional check-in mock bar exam to see how you are doing. That way you'll be sure to see what's hidden in plain sight. And, that's the key to doing well on the bar exam. To locate and expose, what one of my recent students brilliantly called the "undertones" of the problems...that are really in plain sight...if only we take the time to learn to see.
(Scott Johns - University of Denver).
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).