Thursday, April 8, 2021

Seeking Out Learning & Growth

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).

April 8, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 5, 2021

IRAC Blog Post

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.

(Steven Foster)

March 5, 2021 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Walking Towards Success

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!"

Here's why:  

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).

February 18, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Predictions Are Hard, Especially About the Future

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. 

[Bill MacDonald]

1Roger Buehler, Dale Griffin & Michael Ross (1995) It's About Time: Optimistic Predictions in Work and Love, European Review of Social Psychology, 6:1, 1-32, DOI: 10.1080/14792779343000112.

2Forsyth, D.K., Burt, C.D.B. Allocating time to future tasks: The effect of task segmentation on planning fallacy bias. Memory & Cognition 36, 791–798 (2008). https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.36.4.791

3Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do You Have a Voting Plan?: Implementation Intentions, Voter Turnout, and Organic Plan Making. Psychological Science , 21 (2), 194-199.

February 9, 2021 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Picture Learning

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).

 

Learning Triangle

January 21, 2021 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Keep Writing

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)

References:

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/.

January 18, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Don't Only Rely on the Results

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.

(Steven Foster)

January 10, 2021 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Adopting A Modified Vegas Rule During the Exam Period

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)

December 7, 2020 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Imposter Syndrome

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.

(Steven Foster)

November 21, 2020 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Brief Intervention Statistically Improves Bar Exam Outcomes

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).

 

November 12, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Learning Articles

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:

An Effortless Way to Improve Memory

These 10 Scientific Ways to Learn Anything Faster Could Change Everything You Know About Dramatically Improving Your Memory

How to Teach Your Brain Something It Won't Forget a Week Later

3 Ways to Study Better According to Cognitive Research

The 50/50 Rule

(Steven Foster)

 

October 10, 2020 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Should We Train Specialists?

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.

(Steven F0ster) 

October 4, 2020 in Bar Exam Preparation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2020

Quick Tips to Optimize Your Mind

Success insider has a short list of tips to sharpen you mind.  Check out the list here.

(Steven Foster)

October 2, 2020 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Handwriting v. Typing - The Latest Research

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

(Scott Johns).

October 1, 2020 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Improving Zoom Learning

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.

(Steven Foster)

September 26, 2020 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Tomorrow

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)

September 21, 2020 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Six Steps to Creating Personal Study Tools to Enhance Learning

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:

http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/barprep/resources/colorado-exam-essays

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.

(Scott Johns)

 

 

 



September 10, 2020 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Social Distance Learning

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.

[Bill MacDonald]

September 8, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Few Tips for Staying Engaged in Online Courses

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.

Pre-Recorded Lectures

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.

(Steven Foster)

 

August 30, 2020 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Learning As Activity

Perhaps you've heard the term "self-regulated learner."  
 
To be honest, I'm not very good at regulating myself...at all.  And, I'm just not sure what the term means.  As such, the phrase "self-regulated learner" falls flat on my ears.  And, it sounds so downright mechanical that just saying the term disheartens me; it leaves me feeling like I just don't have what it takes to be a learner (self-regulated or otherwise).
 
In short, to be frank, I just don't think I've got the gumption, the fortitude, and the heart to be all that disciplined and focused when it comes to being a "self-regulated learner."  
 
So, that brings me back to the term "self-regulated learner" that sounds so burdensome to me...  
 
To cut to the chase, let's get rid of the scientific term and replace it with what a journalist joyfully refers to as the "activist approach" to learning.  That's something I can get my mind around.  Indeed, in newspaper article - of all places - a journalist surveys “five tips for honing sharper skills” to better enable learning based on academic studies of optimal learning practices:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-smarter-ways-to-study-1502810531
And, there's more great news. In the article, journalist Sue Shellenbarger confirms that the "activist approach" to learning is what academics most often label as self-regulated learning.   Wow!  I was thrilled to learn of a term that makes sense to me because, after all, that's something that I can do because it suggests that it is something that we work at (rather than our born with).
 
Moreover, I love the phrase “the activist approach to learning" because it suggests that learning really is all about curious, creative work with others in understanding of the world.  And that's why I went to law school; to improve the world, to make things better for others.
 
So, as you begin to embark on your legal studies as a entering 1L student (or continue your studies as a rising upper-level law student), focus your learning energies this week on active learning.  
 
Here's a few tips as gleaned from the newspaper article, re-focused a bit for the context of law school learning:
 
1.  Plan ahead.  Schedule your midterm exams, final exams, and papers in one big calendar.  That's because studies show that such scheduling preparation helps you set the stage for understanding what's going to be required of you as you progress through the academic term.
 
2.  Actively seek out help.  When you don't understand, go see the professor. Talk to your academic support professionals.  Meet with student affairs.  That's because studies show that those who went to office hours were more likely to earn higher grades all things considered.  I know.  It's tough to go meet with your professor.  But, your professors are more than eager, they are downright excited, to meet with you.
 
3.  Quiz Yourself.  Lots of times.  Cover up your notes and ask what are the big concepts.  Pick out the main points in your case briefs.  In some ways, be your own mentor, your own teacher, by asking yourself what you've learned today.  Engage in lots of so-called retrieval practice.  Unfortunately, too many of us (me included) re-read and highlight, which mistakenly results in us being familiar with the materials...to the point that we have a false sense of security that we understand what we are reading or highlighting (when we don't).  Avoid that trap at all costs.  Push yourself.  Question yourself.  Quiz yourself.
 
4.  Limit study sessions to 45 minutes at a time.  Concentrate boldly...and then take a walk, a break, or just sit there staring out the window at beautiful view.  That's because there are studies that show that the best learning happens when we mix focused learning with diffuse big picture reflection (even on things not even relevant to what we have been studying).  That's great news for me because I am a big day dreamer!  But, just remember to turn off the social media and email and notifications during your focused study sessions.  Then, relax and soak in the atmosphere.  Get lost in your thoughts.  Work your learning back and forth between focused concentration and diffuse relaxation.  It's A-okay!
 
5.  Find out what the test covers (and looks like).  Do it now! Don't wait until a few days before the midterm or the final exams.  Grab hold of your professors' previous exam questions. Get a sense of what is required of you, how you will be assessed in the course, what sorts of tasks you'll be required to perform on your exams (and papers too).  Most entering students are surprised that they will be rarely asked to recite the facts of a case (or any cases at all).  Rather, most law school exams look quite different than the case briefing exercises and Socratic dialogue that seems so all-important during the many weeks of regular class meetings.  So, help yourself out in a mighty big way by grabbing hold of practice exam questions for each of your courses.
 
Now, that's the sort of activist learning that can make for a successful beginning with the start of the new academic year.  (Scott Johns).

August 27, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)