Monday, October 5, 2020
Trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances . . . experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening[,] and that has long-lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” With the pandemic, resulting recession, and ongoing social unrest stemming from racial injustice, if the year 2020 doesn’t fit this definition, I’m not sure what does. I am navigating a lot right now. We are all navigating a lot right now. There is so much uncertainty in the world and many of us have been socially isolated for more than six years months. Though trauma is centered in an individual’s experience, I think it’s safe to say that current circumstances represent trauma for many folks.
Many of my students seem to be faking it until they can make it taking the current situation in stride (at least on the outside). However, I have found myself wondering how well they are really doing with focus, learning, and managing any stress, fear, and anxiety they may be feeling. I also keep thinking about what else I can do to help them. In seeking resources responsive to this moment in history, I stumbled upon several articles about trauma-informed teaching and learning.
Trauma-informed teaching prioritizes helping students feel safe, seen, empowered, and connected. This approach recognizes that, because of the current convergence of crises, students may have more difficulty: completing tasks; finding the motivation to complete reading assignments, “show up” to class, and participate in class discussions; completing writing assignments; effectively managing their time; and, more generally, staying engaged with their legal education. If you’re looking for ways to provide additional support for students during these difficult times, consider the following trauma-informed teaching practices:
- Work to create safety for your students. Think about what makes you feel safe when you feel most vulnerable or are facing uncertainty, and consider sharing your vulnerability. Be honest with students about how you have been affected by current circumstances and tell them how you are doing. By naming your emotions in this way, you are modeling for students that it is healthy to share and process emotions in a community setting. Accordingly, ask your students how they are doing and solicit their thoughts on how you can create a feeling of safety for them in your course. Suggest that they journal as an outlet to express their feelings and create/offer a space for students to share if they feel comfortable doing so.
- Foster relationships and facilitate peer support. Relationships are a key to resilience. Encourage students to check on one another, if they are comfortable doing so, and promote storytelling. The act of sharing their stories with their peers can help students better cope because it creates a feeling of shared experience and fosters a sense of community.
- Create a sense of trustworthiness and transparency. Be clear, transparent, and reliable in interacting with students. Creating and maintaining trust can help lessen stress and anxiety. Adopt and adhere to routines to create some level of predictability for students.
- Empower voice and choice. Validate and normalize student concerns by talking to students about fear, anxiety, stress, and trauma. Empower students who may feel a diminished sense of control to advocate for themselves. Ask their opinions, survey them about how you can help them learn during these difficult times, and brainstorm ways for students to play a role in creating or structuring assignments.
- Understand that students are not a monolith. View student challenges through the lens of intersectionality. We are all trying to navigate the trauma of 2020. However, not all of our students are experiencing this trauma in the same way or to the same degree. Many BIPOC students, for example, may be experiencing trauma much more severely because of intergenerational trauma, ongoing oppression, and structural inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Interrupt microaggressions in the classroom. Microaggressions are a daily source of traumatic stress for students with marginalized identities. Commit to learning more about how to identify and respond to microaggressions in your classroom. Navigating multiple crises and online learning as a law student is traumatic enough.
- Emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose. Share your passion for teaching, learning, etc. with students and invite them to reconnect with their sense of purpose.
- Re-emphasize concepts and scaffold. Trauma can affect law students’ self-regulation and executive functioning skills, which means they may have a more difficult time planning, remembering, and focusing. Consider providing more reminders about dates and deadlines, what was covered in prior classes, and how it connects to what students are learning next. Build these additional guideposts into your syllabus, learning management system, class meetings, etc.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the need for us to also prioritize care for ourselves. Doing this work, in addition to everything else we’re trying to navigate in 2020, is not for the weary. In addition to adapting and adopting trauma-informed practices to better support students, we must also carve out time to unplug, unwind, and de-stress. We and our students will be better for it.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Mays Imad, Seven Recommendations for Helping Students Thrive in Times of Trauma, Inside HigherEd, June 3, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/06/03/seven-recommendations-helping-students-thrive-times-trauma.
Natalie B. Milman, Yes, You Can Do Trauma-Informed Teaching Remotely (and You Really, Really Should), Educ. Week, Apr. 3, 2020, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/03/yes-you-can-do-trauma-informed-teaching-remotely.html.
Beth McMurtie, What Does Trauma-Informed Teaching Look Like?, Chron. Higher Educ., June 4, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2020-06-04.
Kara Newhouse, Four Core Priorities for Trauma-Informed Distance Learning, KQED, Apr. 6, 2020, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55679/four-core-priorities-for-trauma-informed-distance-learning.
 BIPOC means Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
For many, the summer and early fall is a time to evaluate lectures and programming. I teach a required 1L class, and one of the upcoming classes is on outlining. For a couple years now, I have not liked my outlining class. I tried to integrate or use exercises from other ASPers and ASP books, but in the end, students still struggled with outlining. I didn't like the way it flowed. My basic assessment is I understand the context and what I am trying to teach, but the students don't have the same context. I needed help.
I sought help from an expert and someone I trust, my wife. She is an communication professor and has unique expertise in argumentation. She coached numerous highly successful individuals at the national high school speech and debate competition prior to becoming a professor (along with her own collegiate national championship). She has expertise in speech and argumentation structure but is not entrenched in law school terminology. I explained my problem, and she understood what students needed to do. However, she could explain it as an outsider who never created a law school outline. The experience was enlightening.
My experience helped me in a couple ways. First, I believe I improved my outlining lecture. She discussed underlying communication problems for untrained individuals. A person without context for a task becomes overwhelmed when given multiple steps even when he/she works through those steps with guidance. First semester students don't have much context for law school outlines, especially not this early in the semester. Giving them a 3 or 4 step process for creating an outline won't help many students because they still don't have the schema to assimilate the information. ASPers discuss schema in relation to doctrinal material, but outlining and skills have similar requirements.
She suggested a basic format for how she would teach the process. She encouraged re-framing the discussion around 1 idea. She called it a visual framework. Students won't complete 4 tasks. They will create a visual framework that includes a few components. Students won't get as overwhelmed with the steps since it is essentially 1 task. She suggested examples and activities that many of you utilize. She used her argumentation and speech outlining background to say students should create instructions, outlines, or steps for common practices like making spaghetti. Many of you utilize similar activities. Also, providing a fill in the blank form and examples of completed outlines helps. I was glad that I do many of the activities she suggested, but I appreciated her fully walking through how she would approach teaching the skill. For me, the communication and framing piece is helpful since she approached it from a non-legal perspective.
The second big takeaway for me is to seek help both inside ASP and outside the law school. Our Universities have experts in areas that could help us reach students. The obvious example is the education department for teaching, but we should look beyond even that department. Communication scholars have significant knowledge on how people receive information. We need students to understand and incorporate our teaching, and communication classes could help with basic speech/lecture organization to presentation techniques using technology. Psychology departments can help with understanding motivation and human behavior. The business school can help with marketing. Athletic Departments and coaches focus on maximizing potential. Our Universities have abundant intellectual resources. From my experience, I think we should seek them out even more. I know I could learn from those around me, and it would probably be quicker than the usual trial and error method in my programming.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
I enjoy describing the seasons changing and how it relates to where we are in law school. Normally, I would write about the hot summer days and getting back to work with new students. However, my description this year would be close to the cool breeze from my air conditioner permeates my home office setup, which is really a laptop at my kitchen counter. Not quite the same imagery as previous years.
The imagery is not the only thing different this year. Many schools are online, while others created numerous sections to stay in-person. Some schools are using so many sections non-class activities will not happen live. Not only that, ASPers are always the big draw. We couldn't possibly social distance with our crowds, or at least that is my optimism at the beginning of the year. Most of us will need to change our programming to reach students.
Everything seems different. The images, programs, students, and classes will be new experiences. Many of us will continue to try to make our program the perfect hybrid, online, asynchronous, etc. experience possible. I commend everyone for that. However, let's not forget a sound piece of advice we provide our students every year. Don't miss the forest for the trees. Fundamentally, we are trying to help students succeed to his/her best ability. To do that, most of them just need a guide with solid directions. Becoming a guide or coach comes from building relationships with our students. They understand the difficulties of the current crisis, and most of them appreciate what schools are doing to be both safe and provide quality education. We can build those relationships in classes, zooms, teams, and imperfect workshops. You will have amazing opportunities this year to empathize and be present for students. Embrace those opportunities.
Nearly all ASPers are building amazing workshops, and keep doing it so I can continue to borrow your ideas. Don't spend so much time on those workshops though and miss the chances to reach students. Embrace your new relationships!
Sunday, June 28, 2020
About six weeks ago, I posted a question on Twitter: “Students, assuming we’re all doing online learning again in the fall, what do you want your profs to keep doing/stop doing/start doing?”
The tweet got a lot of comments from students, faculty, and parents spanning many disciplines and education levels. Naturally, plenty of responses were unhelpful (“Stop charging full tuition”), others were contradictory (“Synchronous classes!” “Asynchronous classes!”), and some had suggestions that I assume by now are obvious (“Provide closed-captions or transcripts for prerecorded videos.”) Some interesting themes and tidbits did emerge, though, and I thought I’d share:
Course materials. Students were enthusiastic for faculty to upload as many materials as possible as soon as possible—suggestions included scheduling material uploads (e.g., next week’s materials will be posted on Wednesday mornings) and uploading your lecture notes before class so students can follow along. Please don’t use slides that are only photos—when reviewing later, it’s difficult for students to know what the intended content was. Also keep in mind that students have limited access to printers at home; format accordingly.
Communication, in class and out of it. Clarity of assignments and expectations is paramount. Use the course homepage to post announcements, rather than expecting students to sift through their emails for course updates. Polls and discussion boards are largely ineffective for student engagement or facilitating conversation. Instead, encourage students to pose questions using the chat feature (which TAs can monitor for you, if you have a TA.)
Assessments: There were several calls for more frequent, smaller assignments rather than big assignments during the semester. Graduate-level students in particular requested final papers over final exams, to demonstrate depth of learning and thought rather than memorization. Students appreciated flexible deadlines where possible, as it relieved students of having to request (sometimes multiple) extensions. One commenter pointed out that middle-of-the-night deadlines do not necessarily benefit students residing in other time zones. When a timed final exam is necessary, make sure students can see the entire exam at first—it’s impossible for students to triage or manage their time effectively if the software shows only one question at a time and doesn’t allow a student to go back. For exams that inevitably go for many pages or include multiple questions, a cover sheet can help by explaining how many questions there are and how much each question is weighted.
Tech hacks for video transcripts: Faculty posted various suggestions to get transcripts of pre-recorded videos. Write out a script for yourself, which reduces your ums and ahs and also serves as a transcript after the recording is finished. Software-generated transcripts are generally pretty good, though you’ll have to edit them. Various platforms were suggested: YouTube, Kaltura, and Screencast-o-matic, along with the dictation functions on Microsoft Word, Google, and Google Slides. (If you’re not comfortable with your content being on YouTube, your videos can de-listed so they’re accessible by link but not by searching; you can also upload a video, download the transcript, and take down the video.)
Ask the students for feedback: They’re digital natives, plus they’re the ones taking your course. Professors have gotten good feedback from students, particularly when they explain why they’re asking (“My colleagues and I all noticed that by the end of the semester, few students had cameras on. This was very difficult for me as an instructor, because I realized how much I depend on non-verbal communication. Not seeing faces was really hard for me. On the other hand, there's clearly something going on. Research has shown that having cameras on can be stressful, and it's obviously not just one or two students without cameras. So what insights do you have? Should I not even bother trying to get people to connect with cameras? Should I leave it as an option? Why weren't most students turning their cameras on?”)
(Cassie Christopher - Guest Blogger)
Sunday, May 24, 2020
The Learning Curve released the Spring 2020 issue. It has a number of great articles that will help us all teaching next semester. Kevin Sherrill posted it on the Google Group.
As a reminder, they are also seeking submissions for the next issue. This installment will focus on the issues we all face going forward this summer and fall in this very challenging time. Many discussions have begun on this listserv and in various webinars on these issues, so the foundations for many useful articles are out there already.
They hope to have this issue published by mid-June so that it can hopefully serve as a useful resource for everyone. Therefore the submission deadline will be May 31. They will accept articles on a rolling basis and begin editing as soon as we accept in order to move this along. Please send your submissions to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com.
Friday, May 1, 2020
The Learning Curve sends out the call for submissions for the next issue, which is looking to turn around very quickly. This installment will focus on the issues we all face going forward this summer and fall in this very challenging time. Many discussions have begun in various webinars on these issues, so we think the foundations for many useful articles are out there already.
The hope is to have this issue published by mid-June so that it can hopefully serve as a useful resource for everyone. Therefore the submission deadline will be May 31. We will accept articles on a rolling basis and begin editing as soon as we accept in order to move this along. Please send your submissions to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com.
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Toni Miceli invites you to a virtual conference/discussion about Lessons Learned from Pre-COVID Online Teaching. The conference/discussion will take place on Friday, May 1 at 2:00 PM EST.
You can register for the discussion here: https://nova.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEodu-rrjopEtE5Hc2rC41ZD5kFzJgkFEIU
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Toni will be moderating a panel discussion of our colleagues who were presenting online ASP programming prior to the recent shift to remote learning. Panelists will share their experiences and lessons learned that they have used in making the more recent transition.
Panelists will include:
- Dr. Susan D. Landrum, Assistant Dean for the Academic Success and Professionalism Program at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law
- Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law
- Quentin Huff, Associate Director of Bar Success at Wake Forest Law
- Anne Johnson, Adjunct Professor of Law at Mercer University School of Law
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Law school and the bar exam require immense mental toughness during regular preparation periods. Online learning combined with the stress from uncertainty magnifies that difficulty. Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote an article for Success magazine in 2016 describing 15 qualities mentally tough people exhibit. The list includes:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Neutralizing toxic people
- Embracing change
- Saying no
- Fear leads to regret
- Embracing failure
- Not dwelling on mistakes
- Others won't limit joy
- Won't limit the joy of others
- Get enough sleep
- Limit caffeine
- Relentlessly positive
All those qualities may not apply to law school or the current situation, but many of us could benefit from doing more of a few of them. Most of us should be more confident, say no more, embrace failure, not dwell on mistakes, exercise, get sleep, forgive, and stay positive. Check out the article for advice in each one of these areas. Most of us are trying to do much more now than a couple months ago. Be reasonable and take steps to stay mentally fresh.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
COVID-19 dramatically changed the way we all experience life. Social distancing and quarantines require using technology for work and education. Most of us utilize technology regularly through email, word processors, databases, etc., but fully online working and education is not the norm. Everyone will need to adjust to a new normal.
The new normal requires new engagement methods and instruction. I downloaded a free trial of a program to create interactive online lectures because I worried zoom wouldn't engage large classes. However, my attempts will probably have flaws. Many instructors will use zoom, and students will learn the material. They will also probably make some mistakes. The reality is everyone, instructors and students, will make mistakes.
Most of us know mistakes will happen. We even say we will cut students some slack. Will we cut ourselves slack though? In the past week, I saw more emails on the ASP listserv about online tools, best practices, conference calls, etc. than any other given week. I am overjoyed that our community is willing to help each other reach our students. The amount of information though is overwhelming. In the constant drive to reach every student and be flawless in our instruction, we may have unleashed an overwhelming flood of information. The tools are limitless, and instruction is happening now. Some may try to accumulate and evaluate all the tools to pick what will work best. I am not sure if that is the best practice in this moment.
Right now, our students need us mentally ready to help them through a difficult situation. We tell students to stay mentally fresh throughout a semester and the bar exam. We need to take the same advice right now. No system or tool is going to be perfect. Find one that will accomplish your goals, and commit to that for the rest of the semester. Students don't expect any of us to be perfect or have all the answers right now. What they expect is someone to help and be available. I am not discouraging seeking information. I heard the conference call last week was amazing. Definitely pay attention to information. Just don't overindulge to the exclusion of other important mental health activities during this crisis. Being present and there for each other and our students will have the biggest impact on their education.
I hope everyone is safe and healthy.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Just to be clear, law students are not dogs. Law students are people, full of humanity, volition, self-awareness, and agency. Dogs, in contrast, are full of caninity, impulsiveness, incomprehension, and opportunism. If a dog sees you after a one-week absence, she will yelp and leap excitedly, as if witnessing your literal resurrection from the dead. A law student, on the other hand, will just shrug, or perhaps nod, understanding that class only meets once a week, and that you are not killed and eaten by bears in between meetings.
Nevertheless, learning to be a better dog owner had helped me learn to be a better law student teacher, too. This is *not* because law students and dogs are similar. Law students have never bitten, drooled upon, or shed on me, and they do not think of squirrels as morsel-toys. No, what has helped has been the realization that I make some of the same mistakes with my puppy that I sometimes make with law students, but with dogs the consequences are more readily noticeable. Tula provides me with an immediate feedback loop that helps me realize the errors of my ways more quickly:
- Using inconsistent language. When I am walking my dog and she pulls ahead of me, I invariably find a variety of ways to show my disapproval. "Tula, come here." "Tula, back it up!" "Tula, no pulling." These all mean essentially the same thing to me, and, in a sense, they mean the same thing to Tula, as well, except from her perspective what they mean is nothing. Why? Because when I taught her to walk next to me, I told her to "Heel!". When I say "Heel!", she knows to walk alongside me. When I say "Back it up!", I might as well be speaking Orcish, and she merrily ignores me. Students are not so obvious when they are puzzled by a change in vocabulary, so I might not notice that I have confused them if I switch spontaneously from "meeting of the minds" to "mutual assent" without explanation. But an overeager German shepherd quickly promotes consistent terminology.
- Failing to spot trouble coming. A peaceful walk around the neighborhood can become a nerve-jangling melee of barking, yanking, and tangled leash if I do not notice the squirrel that my pooch has fixed her gaze upon or the approaching tween walking her poodle. Tula means well, but her fervent enthusiasm would lead her into trouble if I had not quickly learned to watch out for temptation. Law students, too, face hazards to their success -- substantive misunderstandings, time management issues, overconfidence, etc. --- but these dangers can smolder, unaddressed, for weeks or even months before finally leading to very visible, and sometimes catastrophic, misadventures. Having to learn to control a fanged furry beastie has impressed upon me the importance of spotting and dealing with trouble before it generates an emergency.
- Ignoring personality and mood. Every dog owner dreams of having the perfectly-behaved pet that responds instantly and consistently to every command, like a fuzzy predictable robot. I have seen a few of these animals -- they are really scary, like police K-9 dogs, trained through thousands of hours of repetition to such automaticity you can practically hear them barking, "I'll be back!" The rest of us all have to contend with real dogs. They mean well, really they do; but if your dog (like mine) is just a quivering bundle of excitement, then you have to accept that you cannot always turn your back on them after commanding them to sit. And if they are tired, or hungry, or frightened, then you have to adjust your expectations and adjust your guidance accordingly if you want to see the behavior you are used to seeing. If you don't, then you will see things go awry very quickly. Law students are not dogs, which have no control over the expressions of their moods or personalities; people, sometimes with very good reasons, can subdue their reactions. But those reactions matter -- they affect perception, motivation, and intention -- and their effects might show immediately, or might not make themselves clear until much later. A good teacher will attend to each individual student's personality and mood and adapt their teaching strategies to take them into account.
Dogs are terrible models for law students -- they do not read books, once one of them starts yapping they all have to jump in, and they would probably sleep through every class. But dog owners might have something useful to teach law professors.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
I love youth activities because they start out so spirited, often with a riddle, a challenge, or a song.
Recently, I realized that my some of the difficulties that students face is that they can easily avoid the obvious. That's because many students often lack confidence that they actually belong in law school, seeing themselves as imposters.
In working with children, youth leaders understand that the sense of inadequacy is omnipresent, especially with middle schoolers. So, in order to help build community and break down barriers to learning, leaders often start youth meetings with some adventurous fun. Call it team building if you want.
As academic support professionals, perhaps it might be helpful for us, likewise, to kick off workshops and classes with an "ice-breaker" of sorts because, let's face it, law school can share many of the insecurities of teenage life. So, below, is an exercise that might help your students relate to each other, laugh a bit, and learn perhaps even a little too.
As background, this week, most of my students missed a relatively easy essay issue dealing with consideration, even though it was right under their noses. That's because we really do often believe that we aren't smart enough to solve the problem or that they must be tricking us. But, sometimes the answer is right in front of us, if we just take the time to ponder it a bit. Nevertheless, we are often in a rush, because of time pressures, to start working on the problem at hand before we even understand the problem at hand.
With that background in mind, let your students know that you'd like to take a breather, and oh, let's say, work on a math problem for a moment. Not one that is too difficult, mind you. Just one from back from the days when you were taking algebra.
Then, scribble on the board: "Find x." Follow that with the equation: y = 2x/3 + 25. Then let them have at it. Oh, and make sure that they know that they are free to work in groups, after all, its a math problem!
At this point, a few engineers and scientists will be plugging away but most students will be frantically trying to figure out: "How do we solve for x?"
But note the "call" of the question. It's not to "solve" for x but rather to "find" x. And, just like that, one of your students will scream out I've got it! I've found x! That's when you ask the student to come to the board, with a marker in hand, and explain what they came up with. Watch with amazement as the student circles on the board where x is!
Back to my essay problem involving consideration. Based on a past bar exam essay, the problem involved a person who immediately risked her life to save a dog from a burning house. After the dog was rescued, a conversation ensued between the rescuer and the dog's owner with the owner learning that the rescuer wanted to go to paramedic school but couldn't afford it (no contract yet!). That's when things got exciting. The owner promised that she would pay for paramedic schooling because she wanted to "compensate" the rescuer for his heroism in rescuing her dog. Well, as things go on bar exam problems, the owner didn't pay and the rescuer, who was denied admission to the paramedic school, pursued a different line of education.
Most students explored lots of issues, including offer, acceptance, statute of frauds, mistake, conditions, anticipatory repudiation, and you name it. But, the key was in writing the issue: "The issue is whether the rescuer has any contract claims when the owner promised to pay for paramedic school to compensate the rescuer for a past act of heroism." In a nutshell, there was an issue concerning whether there was consideration based on the pre-existing duty rule and there was an issue concerning whether, assuming no consideration, whether the promise could be enforced under the material benefit rule and/or promissory estoppel. That was it. Once the students saw the answer, they then saw the facts that triggered that answer, and it all came down to writing the issue statement.
That's when I brought out the math problem below. Using this challenge, students were reminded that it's important to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. And, in order to ask the right questions, we have to take time, before we write, to think. It was one of the most memorable learning exercises of all for my students because they all knew the rules of consideration and promissory estoppel but in their haste to solve the problem...they missed the problem. Love to have your thoughts on how the "Find x" exercise goes with your students! (Scott Johns)
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
It is an oddly resonant time of year.
This has been happening for the past week or so:
- A student comes to my office to talk. It's a 1L student, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving first-semester grades. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for law school? Will they even make it through the first year? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their grades seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for students not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, a recent graduate comes to my office to talk. It's someone preparing to take the bar exam in February, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving the results of their first simulated MBE exam. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for the bar exam? Will they even pass? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their score seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for examinees not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, another 1L student comes to my office to talk . . .
It is the nature of our jobs that we sometimes find ourselves trying to convey multiple messages -- sometimes contradictory -- at the same time. In January, this messaging consists of finding the right balance of intensity and perspective, of patience and urgency, of recognizing the effects of circumstance and shouldering the burden of personal responsibility. It can be tough in part because the people we counsel can be so different -- words that barely allay the anxiety of one person might be enough to lull another person into a false sense of self-confidence. Better to calm our advisees down just enough for them to be able to hear and take in our more practical suggestions about focusing on step-by-step goals, specific tasks, and formative assessments, which provide them not only with routes to get to where they want to be, but also help them strengthen their abilities to more accurately judge their performance and progress.
For those preparing for the February bar, it might also be worthwhile reminding them that they may have had similar moments of uncertainty when they first entered law school. They figured out enough to get obtain their J.D.s. Why should they doubt that they have the capacity to figure out how to clear that final hurdle?
Friday, January 10, 2020
The Section on Academic Support hosted a panel presentation on Friday, January 3, 2020 entitled Access to the Legal Profession as a Pillar of Democracy: Bar Exam Scores and the Future of Diversity at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. The afternoon was expertly moderated by Melissa Hale of Loyola University Chicago, and the four invited speakers each offered a unique perspective on law student success.
Catherine “Cassie” Christopher of Texas Tech discussed her forthcoming article Normalizing Struggle. Steven Foster previously highlighted her article in his July 5 blog post, and the great article deserves a second mention here. Professor Christopher smartly observes that students who understand that struggling while learning is a normal part of the learning process are more likely to be successful in law school. She then offers concrete suggestions on how students, faculty, and law schools can help students not only normalize the struggle process, bust also more expressly differentiate struggle from failure.
Marsha Griggs of Washburn previewed her work-in-progress regarding law school student archetypes. Borrowing from social science literature, Professor Griggs posits that underperforming students typically fall into one of a handful of archetypes—that is a category with common characteristics. For example, “the student leader” may struggle because they have set unhelpfully low academic goals for themselves and few professors challenge these students to place a higher emphasis on their academics, incorrectly believing that because the student is so successful outside the classroom they will also naturally be successful in the classroom. For more on Professor Grigg’s work-in-progress and her experience as a first-time presenter, read her related blog post here.
Jane Grise of Kentucky has been busy crunching bar passage data with surprising results. She has observed that men consistently perform better on the MBE than women, and women perform better on the MEE/MPT that men. When the multiple-choice and writing scores are combined, some studies in Texas and California have found that the pass rates cancel each other out so that the scores do not differ substantially. An Ohio study did find that men passed at a higher rate than women. Professor Grise hopes to unravel the cause of the disparity in performance on the MBE and propose solutions to remedy the inequity.
Joan Howarth of Nevada Las Vegas also sees inequity in bar exam scoring, especially regarding UBE cut scores. She suggests that the UBE move to a uniform cut score of 260 (currently the lowest adopted cut score) arguing that there is no data to suggest the attorneys licensed with a passing score of 260 are less competent than attorneys licensed in jurisdictions with a higher cut score. If a uniform cut score of 260 were adopted a disproportionately higher number of minority applicants would be eligible for admittance to the bar, as the higher cut scores adversely impact minority applicants at a higher rate than white applicants.
The four speakers attracted an impressively large crowd. The 80-chair room was packed to capacity with additional folks electing to stand in the rear for the entire 1.5-hour (90 minute) presentation. Notably, when the presentations ended and the room was restricted to Section Members only for the business meeting, approximately three-quarters of the attendees left the room, indicating that most of the attendees were not members of ASP community—a pleasant and welcomed surprise to the ASP section members!
At the conclusion of the panel presentation, section members held their official business meeting. During the meeting, Jamie Kleppetsch of DePaul presented Laurie Zimet of UC Hastings with the Section Award, which is commonly viewed as the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” award in the ASP community. Melissa Hale’s related blog post has more details on the award and Professor Zimet’s accomplishments.
(Kirsha Trychta, guest blogger)
Saturday, November 30, 2019
Over the past couple months, Scott Fruehwald and the team at the Legal Skills Prof Blog tackled different neuromyths that permeate legal education. I previously passed along one of the articles, but I thought I would compile a longer list for everyone's reading pleasure. I may have missed one, but here are the ones I have saved. Enjoy the reading.
Monday, November 18, 2019
You must not know ‘bout me. – Beyonce
Popular or “pop” culture is the aggregate of people’s beliefs and attitudes. More narrowly, pop culture” refers to the media of popular culture—movies and television shows as well as music, computer games, stage plays, novels, and the like. Pop culture influences all walks of daily life from social interactions and religious expression, to legal trends and classroom teaching. In a discussion of legal ethics in popular culture, one author suggests that the effectiveness of pop cultural works depends strongly on the imaginative identification of the audience with their heroes.1
When law students engage with pop culture products, the result is quite different from what occurs in other undergraduate or graduate courses.2 Since the early years of my teaching career, I have used pop culture references in my classroom to enhance my teaching and to make learning relatable to my students. To keep my references current and effective, I’ve had to add social media, hashtags, Insta®, Finsta, Netflix, shipping, shaming, and an uncountable number of terms to use and avoid, to my lexicon. In an attempt to connect with my students, I never hesitate to ask for explanation, demonstration, or example, when they use or present new terms or make what appears to be generally accepted reference to a pop figure. Each year in the classroom, I’ve learned – without judgment – something new that has served the greater purpose of understanding the mindset and frame of reference of the students whom we prepare to enter the legal profession.
Open mind notwithstanding, even I was not prepared for what happened in class last week. Brace yourselves. This news will not be easy to digest. A student did not know who Beyonce was. I found myself responding with an audible gasp when the student, commenting on a PowerPoint slide with an inserted photo of Queen Bey, said is that a picture of someone we are supposed to know?
I had long since replaced my references to 8-track tapes, the Sony Walkman®, Peyton Place, public pay phones, and phone numbers like Davis 8-4476 in my lectures. But this? How could anyone walking the earth today not know who Beyonce is? I feared that the utter lack of recognition could stir the Beyhive, and possibly devalue my communicative currency.
As I came to my senses from the sheer shock of it all, I remembered these wise words: the most important focus is on how students are experiencing learning and perceiving the teacher’s actions. As a corrective measure, I’ll get myself in formation and add this experience as another installment to my post about knowing your audience, as a reminder that an example, a visual aid, a personal or pop culture reference is only as effective as the perception of the audience.
1William H. Simon, Moral Pluck: Legal Ethics in Popular Culture, 101 Col. L. Rev. 421, 440 (2001).
2Michael Asimow, The Mirror and the Lamp: The Law and Popular Culture Seminar, 68 Journal of Legal Education 115-116 (2018).
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Pay for play is a big topic in college sports right now. The NCAA vaguely capitulated to some form of monetizing likeness for college athletes, but they haven't established the rules governing the situation. Very few people believe the new rules will be much better than the current encyclopedia of regulations. However, performance incentives seem to be right around the corner. Players are about to have an incentive to perform better to sale more jerseys and get advertising deals. Will the incentives work?
This post will not be about the NCAA proclamation, even though I could write a law review article on my views of college athlete compensation. The incentive discussion is interesting to me for bar prep. All bar review companies provide a fundamental statistic about bar preparation that we already knew. The more students study, the more likely they pass the exam. The question then becomes, what is the best way to encourage them to study. One thought is to pay them. Would it work?
I don't have a definitive answer to whether that strategy will work. I understand the logic that if doing the homework is what matters, then paying someone to do the homework should lead to passing. Many parents pay kids to take out the trash or for good grades, so why not pay bar takers to do homework. Unfortunately, my anecdotal experience runs counter to what seems logical. I offered incentives, bar review scholarships, iPads, etc., to attend a bar prep program. Over a few years, prize winners had the worst pass rate of any demographic at the law school. The statistic was so bad, I stopped incentivizing attendance. I still didn't have the science based answer though.
Recently during a discussion about improving bar pass rates, Mike Sims of BARBRI told me to watch Daniel Pink's Ted Talk. You can watch it here. Pink collected numerous research studies and wrote a book about motivation. His argument is individuals must have internal motivation to do creative tasks. If/then rewards are a terrible way to motivate someone for these creative tasks. The research he cites indicates if/then rewards not only demotivate people for continued hard work after the incentive expires, the reward also leads to worse performance. The talk is about 20 minutes. I then downloaded and listened to his audiobook Drive. He expands on that topic, and my experience tends to follow his findings. Incentives and rewards haven't worked for me.
The even better news is that Pink gives the solution to building internal motivation. He argues individuals should get autonomy. The autonomy concept seems to compliment self-regulated learning practices. The book is interesting. I highly recommend it.
As we embark on the February bar prep season (yes it is really here), I encourage everyone to work with students to help him/her establish their own purpose for passing the bar. Internal motivation is the hardest to build, but it is also the foundation for the resiliency needed for success.
Thursday, November 7, 2019
It's quite common for most of us learn to prepare for final exams...by, unfortunately, not actually preparing for final exams.
If you're like me, I just never quite feel like I know enough law to start practicing problems.
But if we wait until we feel like we know enough, we'll run smack out of time to practice exams because most of our time will be spent instead on creating and reviewing our study tools (rather than using our study tools to help us navigate through "test flights" of practice final exam problems).
And that's a problem because professors don't test on the quality of your outlines but rather on whether you can use the law in your study tools to solve legal problems.
But that's great news because...
Solving legal problems is a skill that you can learn through practice! [Like any skill, it just takes pondering, puzzling, and practicing through lots of simulated exam problems to develop expertise as a legal problem-solver.] So, this harvest season as you turn towards final exam preparations, focus much of your learning on working through practice final exam problems.
As such, the best source of practice exam problems is to ask your professor for sample exam problems. If none (or only a few available), feel free to ask your professor and academic support department if they can suggest additional practice problems. Finally, if you still can't find practice problems, feel free to work through past bar exam essays. To get started, here's some links for some nifty old bar exam essays, organized by subject, complete with hypothetical scenarios and analysis:
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Thanks to the work of social psychologists Gregory Walton (Stanford) and Timothy Wilson (Univ. of Virginia), here's a wonderful searchable database of research articles about interventions to concretely improve learning, life, and community.
And there's more great news...
It's a free! In fact, it's one of my go-to sources as I look for ways to enhance student learning.
Sunday, October 27, 2019
The Legal Skills Prof. Blog had 2 excellent posts last week regarding metacognition. The posts discuss different commonly held myths by students and faculty that have detrimental effects on learning. My experience is not only do these myths exist, but the hardest thing to overcome is the entrenched nature of the beliefs. As the posts suggest, students tend to continually slide into comfort over scientifically proven methods. I highly encourage reading the 2 posts.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
I have been reading about the concept of "community of inquiry", a model that attempts to explain how, in a variety of contexts, groups of individuals work together to share and develop knowledge. The concept originated as a philosophical explanation of the process of scientific inquiry, but has come to be applied in other areas, including education. One of the foundational premises that distinguishes the community of inquiry model from more traditional epistemological theories is that knowledge should not be conceived of as fixed and absolute truth that can be discerned by any single rational observer, but instead as a contingent and potentially fluid understanding of truth that depends upon common agreement in a social context for its legitimacy. It is not hard to see the value of such a premise in learning and teaching the law.
Community of inquiry is too rich and intricate a concept to be explicated entirely in a single blog post. However, one aspect of community of interest theory, as applied to education, is easy to grasp, and potentially a helpful way to examine the robustness of a course, workshop, or other legal educational experience.
In this schema, a meaningful and effective educational experience depends on three interdependent elements:
- Social presence: This is the ability of those in the community of interest to perceive others, and to be perceived themselves, as real individuals in that community. This facilitates interaction and collaboration. Notably, this concept arose early in consideration of online learning platforms, where social presence may not arise naturally. At the same time, even in live classrooms, factors such as a teacher's openness and receptivity, opportunities for students to be heard, and activities and platforms through which students can work together can all enhance social presence.
- Cognitive presence: This is the extent to which the necessary "raw materials" are available and accessible for members of the community to use to construct and confirm meaning and thus to develop their own knowledge. These raw materials include reading materials, lectures, experimentation, feedback, and the like -- much of what traditional models of education consider to be the greater part of education.
- Teaching presence: In the law school context, teaching presence usually refers to the carrying out of two essential functions by the professor or lecturer: first, the design of the educational experience, including the selection of content and activities; and second, the facilitation of that educational experience, meaning the real-time execution of those activities and provision of assessment arising from them.
In the broadest terms possible, these three presences correspond to the people who will learn, the stuff they are supposed to learn, and the teacher who will help them learn it. What I think is useful about this model is that it suggests1 that we can look at pairs of these elements to help us determine how to improve three sometimes noticeably troublesome aspects of the learning experience: climate in the classroom, productivity of discourse, and transmission of content.
- Climate in the classroom is defined by the intersection of teaching presence and social presence. Thus, problems with climate (inattention, unruliness, anxiety, competition, etc.) can be addressed by considering changes not just to how the teacher is leading the class (teaching presence), but also to the structures that facilitate social participation.
- Productivity of discourse is defined by the intersection of social presence and cognitive presence. Here, then, the sense that students are not making the best use of their opportunities to interact with the teacher and with each other can be addressed by considering changes not just to the structures that facilitate social participation, but also to the raw materials that are available and accessible to the students to use for discourse.
- Transmission of content is defined by the interaction of cognitive presence and social presence. If students do not seem to be absorbing enough of the information provided in class for them to be able to build upon what they already know to construct new meaning, this can be addressed by considering changes not just to the raw materials that are available and accessible, but also to how the teacher is leading the class.
There is a lot more to explore in the community of inquiry model; this handy and practical way to think about possible ways to improve classroom experience seemed like a good place to start.