Sunday, April 21, 2019

What I Wish I'd Known in ASP

The NY Regional ASP Workshop is a leader for many reasons.  If my history is correct (which it may not be), NY was the first of the regional ASP workshops.  I remember asking Kris how it started and for any advice in starting one in the southwest, and she said to just do it (which we did).  This year, they had another great idea to collect thoughts on what ASPers wish they had known when they started.  With Kris' permission, I combined her emails and posted the responses below so we can forward the information to new people in the community each year.  Here is the list they created:

  • There is a big and supportive academic support community. Use it!
  • You are valuable. You bring knowledge and expertise that students—especially contemporary students—need to not only succeed in law school, but in the practice of law. Don’t underestimate the impact you have on students, whether or not you see an immediate outcome.
  • No two students are the same. It’s fun to try to figure out each one, and to create an individualized solution and plan with him/her.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once when building new programming—choose one thing at a time; focus and develop it, and then add more. Meet 1-on-1 with faculty to learn more about students and about faculty concerns about your students.
  • Don’t shy away from hard conversations with both students and Sometimes you are the one who can see the realities of a situation, and your opinion is important. And one they need to hear.
  • Realize exactly how time-consuming ASP is and how hard it is to get to the point of having individual trust and a personal relationship with every student. But just know that the payoff of getting a phone call (not an email) from a student saying “THANK YOU, I PASSED THE BAR” is so incredibly rewarding.
  • I wish I had a better understanding of the politics of legal education in general and as it relates to ASP in particular. As a new person, it’s important to learn some of the history without taking on battles that belong to others. Give yourself space to listen and learn, but be a neutral observer for as long as you can until you get a sense of the politics and can begin to develop your own vision.
  • Don’t remain in the ASP silo—make faculty allies! But do learn from all the ASPers who came before you. Read, read, read.
  • Know the budget! I wish I knew more about resource allocation.
  • Help students place class exercises in context. Meet with 1L professors, sit in on their classes, and develop an understanding of when they are doing and why. Where needed, translate for students so they can grasp what they are being asked to do and why.
  • I wish I’d known how much patience, stamina, and support from my family and partner I would need for this work, even more than I expected. And I wish I had known how much technology can bolster information transmission and learning.
  • Don’t let your students’ issues become your issues.
  • Don’t give away your skills, value and expertise. Ask for status, security, and money. Really.
  • That doing ASP work can be even more rewarding if you’re doing it at a school that has a mission you feel inspired by and aligned with.
  • Students in a panic are usually looking for a strong voice pointing out a clear path. Don’t be afraid to tell them the work they have to do.
  • Students feel so much more overwhelmed and intimidated about managing their time than I would have guessed!
  • Don’t underestimate the power of anxiety and lack of confidence in undermining student success.
  • Without failure there is no learning. Share your own humanity and failure. Students see you as human, fallible, and successful.
  • You will burn out if you try to bring the “magic” to every student. Don’t neglect your own soul. HOLD BOUNDARIES, respect yourself, respect your students.
  • Never forget the importance of building relationships and culture with your students. Your upper-class peer models are extremely valuable and get you insights on your students’ experiences that you will never have on your own. (And seeing them is another reminder that you can, indeed already have, made a difference.)
  • “It takes a village” really applies in ASP. I was expecting more of a competitive attitude, and I pleasantly surprised to find out how willing other ASPers were to share their strategies. Ask others what they are doing, what has worked, and what flopped—they will tell you!

April 21, 2019 in Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Paper and Fire

A blank piece of paper has so much potential. It can be used to display one's ingenuity. It can be a medium for communication between two people, or among thousands. It can record data and history and memory, to be used by people born long after the recorder is dead. And yet, under certain circumstances, our stationery friend can seem to turn on us. When we are asked to answer an inscrutable question, the oppressive blankness of an empty sheet can be smothering. When we think that our reputation, our livelihood, our entire future depends on scratching the right symbols in the right order, the page can seem like a minefield of hidden threats.

When I was a kid, television seemed to be entering its golden age of public service announcements, and to me it seemed the most common subject was fire. Fire was our friend, we were told, making food safe and houses warm; but we always needed to be aware of what to do if it grew dangerous. And what we needed to know was that our natural inclinations were usually wrong. Foe example, even though we knew that water was the opposite of fire, if something caught fire in the kitchen, then we were not supposed to throw water on it, because it was probably a grease or electrical fire, and water would just make it worse. If our whole house caught fire (say, because we threw water on a kitchen fire), then we weren't supposed to hide in a nice, safe closet, because then we'd be trapped and the firefighters would never find us. If we caught fire, then we weren't supposed to run, trying to find some water to jump into. That, we were told, would just light us up like a Roman candle. Instead, we had to fight every instinct and stop, drop to the ground, and roll around politely.

What I could not understand as a child was that these PSAs really had two purposes. One was simply educational, teaching us that behaviors that made perfectly good sense in one context (dousing fire, hiding from danger, fleeing danger) might actually expose us to additional harm in a different context. They were maladaptive behaviors. Sea turtle hatchings naturally paddle towards a bright light, which helps insure they reach the ocean when the brightest object in the night is the moon reflecting off the water, but which will insure they remain stranded on land when the brightest object is the patio light behind a beach house. Infantry charging a defensive position en masse often led to an advance when the defense was armed with swords, but always led to a slaughter when the defense was armed with entrenched machine guns. The ways to counter maladaptive behaviors are either to return to the original situation (turn of the patio light) or to replace the old behavior with a new one (attack with tanks and aircraft). When Ronald McDonald sang, "Stop, drop, and roll!", he was teaching children a new behavior to replace the old maladaptive behavior.

But even the dimmest of my childhood friends got the gist of Ronald's commands after the third or fourth viewing. Why were we hearing these messages so frequently, from so many different sources? That went to the second purpose of the PSAs. Education is a good start, a necessary start, but the problem is that being on fire, or at least near fire, is an inherently stressful situation. And psychologists know that "Under stress, we regress." That is, under difficulty situations like panic or sensory overload or fear of consequences, humans naturally fall back on older patterned behavior. Most drivers, for instance, know intellectually that if their car loses traction in a skid, they should pump the brakes and steer into the skid to regain control. But the first time they actually hit a skid, most drivers stand on that brake pedal. Only if they live someplace wacky with snow, like Buffalo, do they get enough practice with the skid to develop the new adaptive behavior.

Even television executives were able to recognize that it would be unethical to light kids on fire over and over again until they learned to stop, drop, and roll. So they did the next best thing: they repeated the message over and over again, and encouraged children to try practicing the moves even when they weren't alight, to ingrain the new behavior as much as possible. The more familiar a behavior became, through repetition and feedback, the less likely a person would be to regress away from it under the actual stress of combustion.

At this time of year, I am seeing work from a lot of students who seem to be regressing under stress: 1L students using tactics in their spring semester midterms that appear to be drawn from their most basic legal writing classes, or from college composition classes; 3L students trying to mechanically apply CREAC format to early MEE and MPT practice questions. Even when we know we have shown these students the more advanced strategies they should be using as they progress through their development as attorneys, we have to keep in mind that that blank piece of paper or computer screen can just as easily be a threat as a blessing. Under the stress of self-doubt, or of novelty, or of high ambition, or future consequences -- sometimes of all of these at once -- the amiably clean page can transform into an incandescent hazard. Repetition and feedback are important not just to help our students improve their use of the more advanced strategies they need, but also to make them comfortable and familiar enough to be able to use those strategies at all.

[Bill MacDonald]

April 2, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Outside Expert

Several years back, our school's Career Development Office brought in Kimm Walton (of Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams fame) as a guest speaker.  I vividly remember the reaction after her talk. As students filed out, they were buzzing excitedly. "It's nice to know I can get a job even though I'm nowhere near the top of the class." "I'm going to try talking with people I meet like she suggests." "I think I'll join a section of the bar after all: it seems a good way to connect with lawyers." "I'm not going to worry about on-campus interviews: it seems like I can find a firm that's more in line with what I want to do." Walton's presentation could be boiled down to a simple message: law students could create their own employment opportunities by figuring out their own interests, looking for positions to fulfill their interests, and talking to people. That was it -- know yourself, do your homework, and connect (dare I say "network"?). It will come as no surprise that our career development office constantly conveyed the same message through presentations, written materials, career counseling meetings, and informal interactions. But it took bringing in an outside expert to make that message convincing and compelling.

While informally chatting in the hallway with some 3Ls last week, I inadvertently became an outside expert for our school's bar prep course. One student fretted, "I wish I had known the doctrinal law subjects we would cover in advance so I could have reviewed them during winter break. I did really poorly on the first few tests because I didn't understand Sales well enough." "How well do you understand it now?" I asked. "I've got it nailed. After I got those questions wrong, I went back and worked my way through the outlines and did more problems, and now I'm on top of it." When I explained the concept of using testing as a mechanism that increases engagement and learning, the student "got it" and felt more positive about the course. I knew the instructors explained this repeatedly to the bar prep class but somehow their explanations washed over the student without making an impression. My position as an "outsider" made it easier for the student to understand s/he was learning through the process of writing and reviewing exam answers.

More often than I care to think, students will happily report that they have changed their approach to law school based on something they learned by visiting a web site or talking with a lawyer. When we're lucky, what they have discovered is a differently-worded repeat of messages we work hard to convey throughout law school -- typically practices such as starting to outline early in the semester, reviewing notes after class, talking with their professors after class, getting regular exercise, or setting aside personal time each week for rejuvenation. When we're unlucky, the outside expert will transform their law school experience for the worse by suggesting they stop briefing, stop reading cases, or study "efficiently" by limiting their review of each subject to a three-day clump before the final exam (yes, I've heard a very vocal, passionate speaker espouse this approach to 1Ls). 

It's a constant challenge to figure out how to manage the "outside expert" phenomenon to our students' advantage, especially since the outside experts with the greatest influence seem to be those the students find on their own. Ideally, we'd all have budgets that would allow us to bring in dynamic outside speakers to inspire and enthuse our students with positive messages. Certainly it's important to ally with doctrinal and legal writing instructors, law librarians, and upper-division students so our messages will complement and not contradict each other. At my law school, I'm considering a few modest steps: conveying pithy academic messages (perhaps credited to an outsider?) to our law school's digital signage board to take advantage of a more visual medium; and using a discussion board or other sharing mechanism in our Skills Lab for 1Ls to share what they've learned from the web so that their discoveries can benefit from open discussion. Perhaps the most important lesson for me personally is to set aside my ego. While I may be bemused by a student who credits the web for the discovery that it's helpful to practice writing answers to hypotheticals throughout the semester, what ultimately matters is what the student learns and practices, not who the student perceives as the expert.

(Nancy Luebbert)

March 27, 2019 in Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Too Much Theory?

Researchers using advanced technology discover more about how we learn all the time, and non-stop communication disseminates the information almost immediately.  ASP conferences are rich with presentations of new understandings of how to study.  The new research and the ability for all of us to access it invites integration to our programs and communication to our students.  Is it possible to over rely on new theories to our students’ detriment?

I wrote a blog post last year within the first couple months of contributing discussing how I conveyed learning theories to my students and my thoughts on how the communication would help them learn.  The feedback from students and my experience teaching the course a few times demonstrated to me the message may not be sinking in.

Understanding and communicating learning theory to our students shouldn’t be detrimental, but I encourage everyone to use moderation.  Just like most things in life (carbs, chocolate, Netflix, Facebook), too much can cause problems, except the chocolate of course.  I more than doubled my understanding of how we learn in the last couple years, and I probably overshared the information to students.  I thought students wanted to understand why I recommended certain actions, so I assigned articles about the different concepts.  The response was almost universal disdain, which was a little surprising.  To be fair, a few articles were extremely long, but most of them were only a few pages.

I experienced a phenomenon we already knew, and I should have approached the solution slightly different.  In general, people believe they know how to study and learn.  Students believe if they were successful in the past, what he/she did was correct.  Trying to tell law students in their first semester prior to grades coming out that what they did in the past to achieve A’s wouldn’t work did not cause students to follow my advice.  Providing the research to back up my recommendations only frustrated students because they didn’t want additional reading because they already believed they knew the best way to study for them.

If students are resisting, then is communicating the information a waste of time or even detrimental?  I believe the answer is still a clear no.  My class probably moved too far away from the practical into the justification and theory discussion.  Students want what will help them now.  Study techniques won’t impact grades tomorrow, but we can integrate interleaving, spaced repetition, testing effect, self-regulated learning, and any other research without over-emphasizing the theory behind the recommendation.  We can also integrate activities into our classes using those theories without explicitly justifying the activity.  Our approach will make the difference.

In academic support and education in general, many discussions revolve around outcomes.  What do we want our students to know or do when they leave the classroom?  I would argue we want our students to use proper study habits based on the theories throughout law school, not just understand the concepts.  Demonstrating how to study and walking students through the process will most likely produce that outcome more than students merely understanding the why behind the study technique.  When students start to question recommendations, then we can refer students to resources or provide supplemental material.  I found a handful of really short youtube videos that explain concepts much better than long articles.  Even those are still too much if students don’t need the additional information.  We can also focus on fewer techniques.  Instead of trying to make our students perfect learners, we can strive to make them better learners.  Small incremental changes for them can have a lasting impact.

Students in our classrooms are faced with information overload.  They have access to more information than ever before, and they encounter new legal information daily.  Adding to the deluge of information may not be our best approach.  Practical application is what I plan to strive for going forward.


(Steven Foster)

March 25, 2019 in Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Have You Ever Thought About . . . ? Suggestions for Faculty Advising

A wide range of advising formats satisfy ABA Standard 309 requirements that a law school provide academic advising that "communicates effectively the school’s academic standards and graduation requirements, and [] provides guidance on course selection." In some schools every faculty member has assigned advisees and guides them through all their choices for three years, minutely checking that they have met degree requirements and are prepared for the bar exam and their chosen area of practice. Other schools have a more laissez-faire system: after a few informational meetings students are given the tools they need to meet degree requirements and set loose on their own to seek guidance. Student Services or Academic Support offices sometimes handle the degree requirements portion of advising, drawing in clinical, writing, and doctrinal faculty primarily in a mentoring role. As a person who has coordinated a relatively formal 1L advising program for the past few years, I've heard considerable angst about advising. "I don't know what to do!" is a common refrain from senior and junior faculty alike. These suggestions are applicable to faculty performing the wide range of advising functions.

Understand your advising function. Ask the person who gave you the advising assignment and insist on clarity. Some advisors assigned at Orientation are meant primarily to be a human face and contact for new, bewildered 1Ls. Advisors assigned midway through 1L year may serve mostly as mentors for advisees who have expressed an interest in a particular area of law. Do you advise students only during 1L year, or throughout their three or four years of law school? Are you expected to lift registration holds? To advise students holistically about careers, bar passage, courses, and degree requirements? To focus on your areas of experience and subject-matter expertise? Are there unspoken expectations such as inviting advisees to your home for dinner? Once you know the expectations, you can work more effectively with your advisees.

Do your homework. Your advisees are expected to be familiar with a wide variety of materials such as graduation worksheets, catalogs, course selection guides, and student handbooks. You should be, too, even if your advising role is limited to mentorship. At least once a year, review the print and web materials relevant to your school's requirements and curriculum. For instance, while you need not know the details of all the certificate programs your school offers, you should have some knowledge of what programs exist and where to find more information. Likewise, familiarize yourself with key people within your school and their areas of expertise. The expert on the bar admissions process, for example, might be the registrar at one school and the academic support director at another. It goes without saying, but don't overlook the expertise of staff as well as faculty and administration.

Start by connecting to your advisee as a person, not by plunging into course offerings, doctrinal law, or career goals. Ask about what's important to them. Many students think they must immediately express an interest in a particular area of law, and they may be embarrassed if they haven't settled on one. Reassure them that they don't have to make those choices immediately. Some students already have a good idea of the practice they want after law school (prosecutor? family firm? general counsel?); when they do, advising is admittedly easier. But if not, ask questions to unearth what is most meaningful for them. For example, some students might want to focus their law school experience on ways they can help immigrant communities. Others may be looking for any position with enough flexibility that they can always attend their kid's soccer games. Others may be place-bound, whether from desire or necessity.

Encourage students to focus on intrinsic motivations. As Lawrence Krieger writes in The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress,

[A] primary focus on external rewards and results, including affluence, fame, and power, is unfulfilling. These values are seductive -- they create a nice picture of life but they are actually correlated with relative unhappiness. Instead, people who have a more "intrinsic," personal/interpersonal focus -- on personal growth, close relationships, helping others, or improving their community -- turn out to be significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives.

Suggesting possibilities and alternatives, while tying these possibilities to their values and goals, is the single most important service you can provide as an advisor.  A good phrase is "Have you ever thought about . . . ?"

For example, the student who is place-bound in a small-town area might lean towards a typical small firm practice specializing in a few areas like family law and estate planning. But with the great strides in technology, a boutique practice might be in order, or acting as a contract attorney, or half a dozen other alternatives. Students whose impetus is to help immigrant communities may initially think only of practicing immigration law; you can broaden their horizons by suggesting that small business practice, bankruptcy, criminal law, or elder law could be equally valuable practices in helping these communities. Once students understand the multiplicity of options, they are more receptive to suggestions about the variety of courses, externships, clinics, and other experiences that can help them flourish.

When you discuss academic and practice alternatives (such as certificate programs, externships, clinics, moot court, and law journals), do so in the context of possibilities and alternatives. Be enthusiastic and informative, certainly, about your own courses and field -- if not you, who? -- but your primary advising purpose is not to be a shill for your own interests, but a mentor helping the student start the practice of law on a solid foundation.

Emphasize the long view. Extraordinary opportunities often carry short-term costs: a life-changing externship might require separating from loved ones for some weeks; an apposite course by a demanding professor could carry the risk of a dip in GPA. Here's where the credibility you have built with advisees can really pay off. Acknowledge their concerns, but point out what will have the greatest payoff over the long term.

Never undermine students' choices. Students value your opinions, so it hits them hard if your explicit and implicit messages that "real lawyers" follow a particular path (judicial clerkships, BigLaw, litigation, etc.) suggest that their own choices are second-best or even illegitimate. No field of law and no career path is beneath even the most talented student. While top students have a wealth of opportunities, they should not be browbeat into thinking certain fields are beneath them.

Connect. You have a valuable web of connections inside and outside the law school. Help your advisees tap into this network by referring them to others with knowledge and experience. As a practical matter, don't count on memory -- before advisees leave your office, make sure either you or they have written down not only the names of your referrals but also why you are referring them.

Respect the validity of other advising viewpoints. Students will discuss their future plans with many lawyers, both in and out of the law school. Because we as lawyers have different backgrounds, experiences, values, and areas of expertise, we as advisors will have different viewpoints, and inevitably some of these will clash. Students will notice the areas of disagreement, so it's vital for us to acknowledge the validity of other viewpoints even as we advocate our own. This is a great way to model the professionalism and civility we espouse.  

(Nancy Luebbert)

March 20, 2019 in Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Wise Interventions": Improving Performance by Altering Subjective Meanings

One of the most stimulating -- though, at times, overwhelming -- aspects of working in Academic Success is the necessity of performing in all the rings under the law school circus tent. In the same day, we can be teaching substantive law, providing feedback to help improve a student's writing and legal analysis, coaching another student on skills like time management or effective study, and counseling other students who are anxious, unmotivated, discouraged, or overconfident. To me, the counseling portion seems to be the most draining. Even when it is not taking up the greater part of my week -- and that is not always the case -- working with students' emotions, their self-awareness, their conceptions of what they are capable of, and their unrecognized assumptions requires high levels of energy and attentiveness. Anything that might make that part of the job easier without shortchanging my students would be gratefully welcomed.

To that end, I've been reading an interesting article called Wise Interventions: Psychological Remedies for Social and Personal Problems, written by the psychologists Gregory M. Walton and Timothy D. Wilson (Psychological Review (2018), 125(5), pp. 617-655). The authors explain that much of what either restrains or enhances our achievements does so because of how we perceive it, ourselves, and/or our place in the world. For example, a student who perceives her professor's probing Socratic questioning as demonstrating confidence in the student may learn more, and feel more confident about what they have retained, than another student who perceives the professor's intense questioning as disdain or ridicule.  Much depends on the subjective meaning that a person has assigned to himself ("I am clever/I am stupid/I am not good at math"), to his environment ("The professor doesn't like me/This subject is useless in the real world/That law firm only hires students in the top 5%" ), and to the interactions between the two ("I always screw up on multiple-choice questions/There's nobody in this class who would be willing to share notes with me/If I go to office hours the professor will think I can't handle the material.") The article points out that many of the techniques that have been demonstrated to produce lasting behavioral change with comparatively little effort on the part of coaches or intervenors do so because they help to change ineffective subjective meanings that the student had used previously into meanings that are naturally more likely to produce good results. For example, incoming African American college students participated in a one-hour discussion section at the start of the school year, in which stories told by former students were used to convey the idea that it is normal to feel, at first, that you "don't belong" in college, and that after a while that feeling goes away. Participating students had higher grades over the next three years than did similar students who did not join the discussion session. Walton and Wilson call these techniques "wise interventions" because those who used them are aware of ("wise to") the maladaptive meanings that some subjects have adopted, and therefore can more successfully change those meanings.

This is a dense and rich article, one I will have to return to a few times here, but today I wanted to point out three of the five general principles the authors suggest characterize a "wise intervention".  These three principles are all about how to effectively change maladaptive assigned meanings, and I think they can help us in Academic Support as we try to find new ways to help our students make the most of themselves and their environments.

The first principle is that in order to effectively alter ineffective perceptions, the explanations we offer in exchange have to be detailed and specific.  It was not enough, for example, to say to incoming college students, "College is tough on everyone.  You'll get over it." Instead, researchers used the detailed stories of former students to illustrate the specific feelings that incoming students often experience, and the journey that those students went through, so that the incoming students could more clearly relate to and remember those stories when they encountered similar feelings.  Similarly, in law school, it may not be enough just to tell 1L students that law school is going to be harder than any educational experience they've had in the past. Instead, we need to tell our own stories, and the stories of other law students and alumni, to better illustrate some of the specific obstacles that were faced and then overcome. Having those details to recall can help insure that 1L students will interpret their setbacks and difficulties as part of the usual law student experience.

Another principle is that, once we help students to generate more useful interpretations of themselves and their environments, these interpretations can lead to further recursive change in the future. A student introduced to the concept of the "growth mindset", for instance, may at first only accept its existence in a certain context, like the ability to memorize content.  However, as the student experiences success in that context, it becomes more likely that she will start to apply the growth mindset concept in other realms, such as making oral presentations or writing effectively under time pressure.  This is one of the chief benefits of a wise intervention: because of the possibility of recursive change, a comparatively small effort on the part of a counselor or coach can produce a lifetime of benefits.

However, the possibility of such recursion depends in part on a recognition of a third principle: the fact that the meanings that people assign to themselves and to their worlds all operate within complex systems of past experiences, present conditions, and future expectations.  In practical terms, this means that merely changing a student's meaning-making is not likely, by itself, to take root and produce extensive future benefits; there must also be some kind of change to the system in which the student operates.  It is not enough, for example, to get students to see that they have the analytical tools they need to respond properly to multiple-choice questions, and that such questions are not simply an opaque collection of "tricks", unless we also provide those students will access to practice questions upon which to apply their new view of the genre, along with answer explanations so the students will be able to confirm that the analytical approach is indeed the most effective. Changing your students' interpretation of themselves or of the law school environment should always be either in response to, or accompanied by, some kind of practical change to the rest of the system in which they operate, in order to give the students the opportunity to test and cultivate their new understandings.

This last bit is the part I want to incorporate more into my own teaching and advising. Whenever something seems to click for a student and they seem to recognize a possible new way of interpreting the world, that's a spark. Academic success depends not just upon generating such sparks, but also upon providing kindling so that the spark doesn't go out.

[Bill MacDonald]

March 19, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Program Evaluation, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Thank You St. Mary's for Hosting SWCASP

St. Mary's did an excellent job hosting SWCASP and the UBE conference last week.  Zoe Niesel and Mike Barry put together a great slate of presenters and provided awesome Texas food staples.  I wasn't able to make the UBE portion, but I will pass along a synopsis of the SWCASP presentations in case you missed it.

The theme this year was collaboration, and the presenters showcased a range of collaboration ideas.  I personally liked the theme and ideas because I take on more classes, projects, etc. than reasonably possible.  The ideas were great for trying to get others to also use academic support to help students.

Zoe and Mike started the workshop with a discussion of how they integrated ASP with the 1L LRW class.  Instead of having a LRW class and a separate ASP skills class, they combined the two into one class.  They created consistent dialogue and terminology for students.  The collaboration also influenced more of the 1L curriculum.  

Halle Hara described a great way to get different departments discussing student needs.  She created a committee consisting of everyone with individual student interactions.  The committee meets once a month to discuss specific student needs.  I saw 2 big takeaways from this presentation.  The first was the committee created communication channels to provide context to everyone helping students in his/her office.  The second takeaway was how to make referrals more efficient.  I send students to other people throughout campus for financial aid help, discussions with Associate Dean, etc.  However, following up with every other administrator is difficult.  The committee is able to quickly determine if students followed up with the referral.

Jacquelyn Rogers uses outside professionals to help her students more effectively.  She brings in performance coaches to help with attention training and mindsets.  Listening to her, I immediately thought about issues we see in millennial students and how an outside professional could help our students thrive.  I also liked that her mental health professional was setup in a suite type setting with other offices so students could not tell who other students were visiting.

Wendy Scott, Mindy Cyr, Charles Splawn, and Jenny Lane discussed Elon's program for inter-department interaction.  Their bar mentorship program is much better than the mentor programs I tried in the past.  Faculty, alumni, and career services are paired with students to help them throughout bar prep.  Students can send essays or ask general questions throughout the summer.  Faculty hold in-person or call in office hours for specific subjects.  The substance paired with the general checking in seems to generate more participation.  I definitely want to use a few of these ideas to get more individual student interaction with faculty during the summer.

Preyal Shah and Meijken Westenskow demonstrated a great self-assessment exercise.  Their exercise used different colored highlighters for the different sections of an essay answer (pink for rule, blue for conclusion, etc.).  Students would highlight each sentence of both their work and a model answer.  The visual differences help students see where they need to improve.  UNT uses this exercise 1L year and returns to it during the 3L bar prep class to help self-assessment during summer months.

Cassie Christopher presented her upcoming article titled "Normalizing Struggle."  Her presentation and subsequent paper describes how students should struggle through the learning process and how we can help approach teaching to help students understand struggle is normal.  She referenced an article I will definitely read titled "Unskilled and Unaware of it."  That article describes the challenges and deficiencies of current education, which is now our incoming students.

The next session included a panel moderated by Sara Berman.  Sara asked Jennifer Carr and Staci Rucker questions about how academic support could team with student affairs.  They discussed the need to help students with issues beyond academics.  Working with student affairs, ASPers could focus on academics while still helping with other issues that affect academics.  Student affairs professionals can use their contacts with financial aid and other departments to help with all aspects of students' experience.

The last panel finished the collaboration theme with Marsha Griggs, Goldie Pritchard, Toni Miceli, and Cassie Christopher discussing their victories and mistakes working with faculty, commercial vendors, and students.  It is always good to see that others have similar struggles with different constituencies within the law school.  They had great ideas for getting faculty involved from small efforts of holding office hours during the summer to providing short lectures.  Toni's commercial vendor guidelines are great if you are looking to create new guidelines for vendors on campus.

Just like every year, SWCASP was a blast.  I have a list of ideas to consider for the summer and next year.  If any of the programs sound interesting, definitely contact the presenter.  They are all open to discussing their programs further.  As many of us know, don't reinvent the wheel each year.  Use others successes (and failures) to help your students.

(Steven Foster)

 

 

 

March 11, 2019 in Meetings, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Nominations Wanted - ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar

Here's a great opportunity for academic support professionals interested in serving on the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.  Per the ABA announcement, there are both at-large positions and leadership positions. https://www.americanbar.org/councilnominationinfo.  If interested, here's the link to nominate yourself or others: https://americanbar.qualtrics.com/.  Nominations are due by Monday, April 1, 2019.  (Scott Johns).

March 7, 2019 in Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Teaching and Learning Podcasts and Other Information

The weekly teaching newsletter from The Chronicle of Higher Education included information on a list of podcasts on teaching on the Agile Learning Blog written by Derek Bruff, the Director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching. The podcasts and other resources on the blog are focused on higher education in general. However, a number of topics are pertinent to any learners and any teachers. You can check out the podcast list and blog at Agile Learner List of Podcasts. (Amy Jarmon)

March 2, 2019 in Learning Styles, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 1, 2019

Good News about Learning to Learn

All of us in academic support spend a large portion of our time helping law students learn how to learn. We offer orientation sessions, workshops, and entire courses to help students. Students confide regularly that they received A and B grades in prior education without having to study. For many of them cramming and memorization were the main staples of those study hours. So, it is good news that some colleges and universities are beginning to focus on the science of learning and making sure their students learn how to learn. The post on  Inside Higher Ed is Teaching the Skill of Learning to Learn.

March 1, 2019 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Multi-Tasking in Online Courses

Students using their electronics to multitask in the classroom has been discussed regularly. Everyone has stories about students surfing the Web, instant messaging, and more during class. Many professors have banned laptops because of the distractions to individual learning and to others.

With the move for more online law courses, multitasking may reach new frontiers. Inside Higher Ed posted this week regarding a recent study on multi-tasking during undergraduate online courses. As we often see, there is dispute as to the methodology of the study and comparability of the groups studied. The post is Online Students Multitask. 

February 22, 2019 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Modeling Successful Behaviors

We all dream of new projects that could progress our programs, improve studying, or change our lives.  I think about the article I want to finish, but find allocating time to research difficult.  Adding more practice questions or additional study time is difficult.  Many people look to others lives and wonder how successful people achieved success.  We can model some of our behaviors from successful people to maximize our own potential.

I read an article last week from success.com titled “8 Things Successful People Never Waste Time Doing.”  Cynthia Bazin said successful people don’t:

  1. Get Sucked Into Social Media
  2. Go Through the Day Without a Plan
  3. Do Emotionally Draining Activities
  4. Worry About Things They Can’t Control
  5. Hang Out With Negative People
  6. Dwell on Past Mistakes
  7. Focus on What Other People are Doing
  8. Put Themselves Last in Priority

She proceeds to quickly discuss how each of these activities can waste time and derail progress towards our goals.

Professors, law students, and attorneys could take this advice to improve productivity.  The majority of us probably spend too much time on social media.  While those apps have some advantages, the downfall is the amount of time spent using them.  30 minutes less on an app could be another article about a research topic, a practice question, or a response to client concerns.  30 minutes at night could be reading an inspiring book or quality time with family.  Consider limiting social media, screen time, or both to improve productivity.

Creating a good plan for the day is something I need to do more.  I fall into the trap of trying to solve every problem immediately and divert my attention constantly.  A better plan could ensure I get through my research. 

Check out the article.  Pick one area to save time and the one task to insert into the saved time.  Efficiency makes a huge difference in what we accomplish.

(Steven Foster)

February 18, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Listening to Learners

This may not be true in every law school, but at my school, things are a little quiet right now.  Some students and professors are on campus for the brief winter term, but the entire community will not return until the spring term begins in February.  The students are just now getting their fall grades, so the students who are around and have come looking for me have all wanted to talk about them -- whether they were surprised or disappointed or content, and what their grades might mean for the future.

I cannot help but be reminded by this combination of relative quiet and conversationally-motivated students of the importance of listening.  Like many teachers -- and many lawyers -- I revel in talking.  I like explaining things to people; I enjoy the performative aspects of a well-delivered lecture; I am fond of delivering spontaneous oracular pronouncements to my advisees.  And, aiming to communicate complex information in a useful way, I spend a fair amount of time fretting about the content of what I say and the manner in which I say it.  This is entirely appropriate: our students' expectations are high, their goals are ambitious, and their needs are great.  They deserve to hear wise and engaging words coming out of our mouths.

Still, nobody wants to be nothing but a bunch of talk.  If that's all you've got, you might as well just throw books at your students.  Listening is the complementary skill that helps to make sure that what we say possesses the value that our students need.  It's how we determine precisely which beautiful insights we choose to articulate.

As with many skills, people are not always good at judging how well they listen.  Those to whom it comes naturally may underestimate how talented they actually are.  Others may mistake mere silence for listening, or may assume that they are listening well because they are quickly assessing and generating responses to what they are hearing.  One way to more accurately judge -- and, if necessary, improve upon -- one's listening skills is to consider whether you are achieving any or all of these three outcomes:

  1. Determining what is troubling the speaker.  In many or even most cases, this is ostensibly the reason we are talking with our students in the first place.  They come to us with an issue or a concern, and we introduce conversational probes to figure out what the source of the problem is.  Ironically, though, the better and more experienced we get at our jobs, the easier it may become to jump to quick conclusions.  This speed, borne of experience, can be valuable, but we must take care not to confuse our satisfaction at having identified a likely issue with the student's confidence that they have actually conveyed the concerns they had.  Watch their facial expressions and body language.  Do they appear relieved, as if they have gotten something off of their chest, or are they still holding on to some tension?  Listen to the tone of their voice -- do they sound unsure?  Do they seem to want to interject more into the discussion?  Try not to judge how well you have listened for their concerns by how you feel about the conversation, but by how they appear to feel.  When in doubt, before making any definitive declarations of diagnosis, reflect the conversation back to them.  Statements like "It sounds like you feel you do not understand the law correctly" can be non-threatening ways to offer the speaker a chance to clarify what they mean to say, and you may find that there are more or different issues from what you had first suspected.
  2. Encouraging the speaker to dig deeper.  Sometimes students do not come to us entirely of their own free will; they are advised or even required to meet with us, and they just want to get it over with.  Other students may come anxiously to us, fearing complicated bad news and hoping instead to hear a quick fix.  Students like these might be content to give a brief synopsis of what they assume is the problem, in hopes that we will take over the conversation and get to the end as quickly as possible.  Such situations provide great opportunities to use your listening skills as active conversational tools.  Simply maintaining eye contact and keeping silent will prompt a speaker to continue to speak, sometimes revealing additional information in their stream-of-consciousness monologue.  If silence is not enough, a brief reflective question, based on what you have already heard, may help.  Even non-reluctant students can benefit from this kind of prompting.  If a student makes an assertion that sounds too pat or incomplete, attentive listening can encourage them to keep pressing on to try to get to the critical facts or to their real emotions.  Personally, I think every student conversation of more than just a few minutes should include at least one instance of focused, silent attention on the student, to give them the opportunity to elaborate on a point or to bring up a new one.
  3. Developing the speaker's trust.  Trust is valuable currency in our job, and like Bitcoin, it can take some time to generate.  It is great to be trusted for our sound advice, but that is not the only way to build trust.  Listening is another great way, and this illustrates why good listening is not mere passive silence but is actually active participation in the conversation.  A good listener demonstrates that they are hearing the information being conveyed by reflecting back some of what they've heard and by following up with questions that build off of that information.  What is also just as important, and in some cases is even more so, is that we attend to our student's affect as well -- not just the information, but the emotion.  Students can bring to Academic Success some intense feelings -- excitement and hope, when things are going well, or anxiety, sadness, and anger when they are not.  Acknowledging these sometimes uncomfortable feelings in a non-judgmental way, through our own facial expressions and responses, can help a student feel not only that are you listening to all they are saying, but also that your office is a safe place to experience and express those feelings.  This is a sure way to develop the trust that is often needed to get students to buy into your plans for their success.

These outcomes are noteworthy not just because they are the effects of good listening, but because they are specifically effects that are valuable to our work in Academic Success.  Even when things get hectic and tiring over the next few months, try to make a point of asking yourself, after every student encounter, if you are seeing any of these outcomes arising from your conversations.

[Bill MacDonald]

January 15, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Month of the Janitor

January is the gateway between the old year and the new.  The name “January” derives (either directly or indirectly, depending on which source you ascribe to) from the name of the Roman god “Janus”, who was the god of beginnings and endings, of passages and transitions.  He’s the god that is usually portrayed with two faces: one looking to the future and one to the past.  From “Janus” also came the Latin word “ianua”, or “door”, and thence the Latin word for “gatekeeper” – “ianitor”, or, as we now spell it in English, “janitor”.  While today people often associate janitors with menial missions like mopping and maintenance, the original meaning of the word is closer to “guardian” or “caretaker” – a person who helps to ensure safe passage.

I often describe my role in academic and bar support as consisting in large part of helping law students through the two biggest transitions they face: learning to “think like a lawyer” upon entering law school, and preparing to take the bar examination after graduation.  But perhaps that is too limited.  Any learning process can be seen as a series of transitions, and our job is to help our students pass through them all.  We are their janitors – the old-school kind, the caretakers and custodians.  True, sometimes we have to help clean up some unforeseen messes.  But our best work is really about helping our students to take the lessons they need to from what they have been through, and to prepare for the tasks they lie ahead of them.

January itself is a time of transition for law students, particularly 1L students, as they wrap up one semester and move forward into the next.  As Steven pointed out yesterday, the new year is a natural time for looking ahead, setting goals, and developing processes.  And it is also a natural time for taking stock, assessing successes and stumbles, and cultivating a clear sense of what has been accomplished and what remains.  Some students might wrestle with this in different ways, calling for flexible strategies from us.  We might help students who have not yet come to recognize the value of retrospection, or who avoid looking back out of shame or disappointment, by helping them to focus on specific, actionable lessons they can take from their past experiences.  We might help other students, perhaps those devastated by disappointing performance or those made complacent by success, by reminding them that the past may not guarantee the future, and that next semester they are starting with a clean slate.

January really is Law School Academic Success Month.  After all, we help students get through what might at first seem like a long, cold, dark time, and get them to see that it is really just the start of a brand new chapter of their lives.  We are tutelaries of beginning, endings, and transitions, all year round.

January 8, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Maintaining High Expectations

Norman Vincent Peale said “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  I try to follow that philosophy, which many times leads to unrealistic expectations.  However, my thought is if I get close, then I did a great job.  Many times, I am correct.  Unfortunately, that philosophy crept into my classes in a way that may have decreased expectations instead of helping students thrive.

The top complaint on my teaching evaluations is I assign too much work.  My classes are usually either 1 or 2 credit hours, but students say the classes assign 3 to 4 credit-hours worth of work.  My homework is more difficult because students must actively do something (ie – rewrite answers) as opposed to passive reading.  The complaint isn’t far off though.  I tend to assign a ton of work with the thought that getting close will produce improvement.  However, my setup may not be working as intended.

I experienced a few unintended consequences from my assignments.  The first problem is the effort applied to homework.  Many of us complain about students only wanting to do the minimum to get through.  I experience the same phenomenon, and my classes probably exacerbate the problem.  The work load is high.  Students want to get through it as fast as possible or need to get through it fast because they waited to the last minute.  The quality isn’t maximizing student potential because they are trying to get more done.  Too many times, the re-written essay answers are only slightly better than the original.  The classes may unintentionally communicate quantity over quality work. 

Late work is the next issue.  I believe doing the exercises is what improves skills.  I don’t want to let someone off the hook from doing the work.  They should still complete the assignment for its inherent value.  You all know where this is headed.  Unfortunately, the class culture becomes doing the work on their timetable and not the deadlines, which is a terrible habit for bar prep.  Students are receiving the message everything can be crammed in at the last minute, which is a recipe for disaster.

Lastly, I may be setting students up to continue to not do enough work.  The example I set is not getting everything complete can still lead to success.  I believe that is true when “shoot(ing) for the moon.”  Students may not understand my expectations are set extremely high.  All they see is missing the expectations and being ok.  When they set their own goals or expectations, they may not set them high, but they learned missing the mark is still ok.  Whether this is the exact phenomenon in bar prep is debatable, but I have students every summer complete significantly less than assigned.  If they completed less in my class and passed, I may have taught them completing less in bar prep can still lead to success.  We all know less work in bar prep can be catastrophic.

Change for me starts next semester.  My classes will contain significant work because I believe the bar exam requires hard work.  However, I plan to create explicit scoring expectations so students can’t submit a quiz at the last minute by guessing through the questions.  The online system I use allows me to return the quiz to students if they don’t meet a minimum score.  I will require significant completion of the work with no late acceptance.  I know everyone has an off day, so I won’t require perfect completion for credit.  My syllabus will clearly communicate students can’t drift too far from completing everything.  Lastly, I will communicate all of that information to the students.  Communicating expectations early is critical to coaching them up to a higher standard.

I believe the vast majority of us have students’ best interest at heart.  In my effort to try to get students to reach higher and do more work, I may be sending contradictory messages.  I hope to change that message next semester.  I am sure I will make some mistakes while doing it.  Like I tell my students, the process of improvement is what matters.  Hopefully, I can continue through the process.

(Steven Foster)

December 10, 2018 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Use Finals Period to Reflect on Courses

Finals are starting, and if your office is like mine, most students only come around for emergencies.  I may have a few students asking doctrinal questions or for a few more tips, but in general, my office is quieter during finals weeks.  I use that time to finish grading and reflect on my classes to try to improve them for the next iteration.

I tell students about self-regulated learning at orientation.  I implore them to constantly evaluate their progress and make improvements.  Studying isn’t the only area where the steps of self-regulated learning is applicable.  We can use those steps when developing and improving our classes.

Finals weeks and the week before Christmas break is a good time for reflection.  With a little quieter office, analyzing courses is easier than when attending to constant emergencies.  Finals time is also good because classes just ended.  You may remember a little better what worked and what didn’t work.  I find it difficult to remember what I didn’t like if I don’t teach the course again until the following year.  Right now is much better for evaluating courses.

I suggest analyzing the course structure, in-class exercises, and the homework.  Categorize each activity or course choice as works great, decent, and failed miserably.  I know variations among those categories exist, but the idea is to identify what you must keep, what must go, and what could be better but not necessary to change now.  I provided a few considerations below when looking at the 3 categories.  Make sure to specifically write down the assessment and note the changes now before forgetting them.

Course structure is the big picture of the class.  Some considerations are:

  • Did the course achieve its objectives?
  • Did the course flow logically through the semester?
  • Should the topics be in a different order?
  • Do students need context or other knowledge to better prepare for the topics?

In-class exercises are great when they work well, but sometimes exercises fail miserably.  Think about each exercise and consider:

  • Did the exercise achieve its purpose?
  • Did the exercise further the lesson/topic of the day?
  • Did the exercise need additional instructions to run smoother?
  • Did the setup take too long?
  • Did it take too long to get the class back on task after completing the exercise?
  • How many students completed the exercise poorly or failed to complete the exercise?
  • Was there ample time to achieve the goal of the exercise?
  • In a perfect world, what would I change about the exercise?

Many professors, including myself, spend significant time preparing for class instruction but don’t think as much about homework.  Sometimes homework is reading cases or rewriting essays.  Homework should further our goals within the class.  Being deliberate with each homework assignment can help support learning in the classroom.  Analyze:

  • Does the homework flow with the class discussion?
  • Is there good formative assessment in the homework?
  • Did the homework integrate spaced repetition?
  • Did the homework further the class discussion or improve skills?
  • Did the course assign too much writing homework so the instructor couldn’t reasonably provide feedback on the work?
  • Was the instructor able to provide any feedback using homework?
  • Did students understand the homework’s purpose?

Now is the time to evaluate our courses and write down what we should change.  I forget the changes I want to make until I see the problem again the next year, so I start making notes and changes earlier.  My suggestions are not a comprehensive list.  The goal is continued evaluation to make courses better.  We can all do that.

(Steven Foster)

December 3, 2018 in Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are Model Answers Providing Effective Feedback?

Thank you to Sandra L. Simpson, Co-Director of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning at Gonzaga, for her email about a post written by Lindsey Gustafson of University of Arkansas Little Rock on the ILTL pages reviewing a 2016 article by Elizabeth Ruiz Frost entitled "Feedback Distortion: The Shortcomings of Model Answers as Formative Feedback." The review can be found here: Article Review. (Amy Jarmon)

December 2, 2018 in Exams - Theory, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Threats and Challenges in Law School

Final exams.  Olympic competition.  Oral argument.  Job interviews.  The bar examination.  These are all high-stakes experiences, often competitive, in which successful outcomes depend on strong performance.  As discussed last week, in such situations the human brain can adopt different chemical and behavioral states, depending on whether the situation is perceived as a threat or as a challenge.  In a threat situation, the brain becomes hyper-alert to danger and error, processes information more deliberately, and shies away from risk.  In a challenge situation, the brain pays less attention to detail, processes information in a more relaxed and automatic way, and is open to taking risks that have sufficient promise of reward.  How can we use our knowledge of these two mental states, not just to understand our students better, but also to help them do better?

Let's start by noting that the brain can enter these different states at different times even if it is undertaking the exact same activity.  A baseball player might step up to the plate in the third inning and see his task -- to try to get a hit -- as a challenge, and the same player could step to the same plate, even holding the same baseball bat, in the ninth inning and see it as a threat.  So it's not the task itself that determines our mental state.  It's the surrounding circumstances.  Early in the game, when the outcome is still up in the air, a player may be "gain-oriented", focusing on accruing advantages (in this case, runs), and his brain will be in challenge mode.  In the last inning, though, if his team has a slim lead, that same player could shift his focus and become "prevention-oriented", focusing on maintaining his team's lead by not making mistakes of which the other team might take advantage.  In that case, his brain will be in threat mode.

In the same way, our students can undertake the same activity -- issue spotting, say, or answering multiple-choice questions -- at different times, and might find themselves in either challenge mode or threat mode.  This is a good thing, a useful thing.  After all, human brains evolved to be capable of these two modes, so each mode ought to have some beneficial qualities.

As Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman point out in Top Dog, in an academic setting there can be an optimal sequencing to these modes.  Students perform best if they start their semester working in challenge mode and end it working in threat mode. 

This makes sense in a general way.  At the beginning of a course, students don't know much about the subject, and their goal should be to try to gain knowledge and skill as quickly as possible.  A gain orientation is associated with challenge mode -- the brain plays hunches and takes educated guesses, because the risk (primarily, to grades) is low but the potential reward (flashes of insight) is high.  Towards the end of the course, though, risk increases, as the student faces more heavily weighted final exams.  At the same time, rewards are lessened, since (ideally) the student has already internalized most of the material and is not likely to learn a great deal more.  On a final exam, a student is more likely to be in threat mode -- pondering the answer more slowly and cautiously, less inclined to make risky arguments, perhaps even debating word choice as he tries to recall the exact wording of a rule.

If a student is well-prepared for the final exam, proceeding cautiously with their mind in threat mode may be quite favorable.  It can encourage methodical analysis, and help the student avoid unnecessary errors.  However, there are two potential issues to consider.

First, as alluded to above, there are two sources of risk and reward in law school.  One is the knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, and the other is the final grade in the class.  A student who downplays either source is at a disadvantage.  Reminding students to pay attention to learning the rules and how to use them, and to developing their test-taking skills at the same time, is part of what Academic Success is about.  Being able to describe these abilities as complementary sources of risk and reward may provide us with another way of doing that.

Second, while being in threat mode may help a student avoid errors, they still may not perform well if they only enter threat mode for the first time in the final exam.  Since threat mode slows analysis and limits the options the brain is willing to consider, it can change the way people behave during exams.  We have doubtless all had students who felt confident in a subject all semester and then did poorly on their final, later explaining that they thought of some of the correct responses but abandoned them because they were afraid they might be wrong, and that they spent so much time working on the first half of the exam that they didn't have time to complete the second half.  While there are several plausible explanations for such mistakes, one possibility for them to consider is that they had never practiced answering questions in that course in threat mode.  If all of their practice was under the speedier, more relaxed challenge mode, then they had never really practiced under exam conditions.

Ideally, humans would have a switch we could activate to shift from challenge mode to threat mode and back.  But, while we don't, it is nevertheless possible for professors to influence students and help shift them into threat mode.  As Bronson and Merryman explain, teachers can affect their students' brains just by changing the way they present their examinations.  If students are given a test and told that they will receive a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on the idea of gaining points, which encourages a gain orientation and thus a challenge mode.  If, on the other hand, students are given a test and told that their scores start at 100 and that they will lose a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on not losing points, which encourages a prevention orientation and a threat mode.  Even though mathematically the two scoring systems were identical, the differences in presentation caused measurable differences in performance.

Thus, one way to encourage our students to practice for final exams (and oral arguments, bar exams, etc.) in threat mode is to explain, in advance, that you will be scoring their practice work by subtracting points from a pre-determined maximum score.  Conversely, students who fall into threat mode too early in the semester, perhaps because they are disproportionately worried about grade risk, might be coaxed towards challenge mode by being given exercises for which they will receive a certain number of points for every plausible point or argument.  Even though the tasks the students are undertaking remain the same, we can help their brains approach them differently.

October 16, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Updated Report on Learning

The National Academies recently released an update to their previous book How People Learn.  The original book from 1999 provided critical findings on what factors affect learning in the classroom.  Many of the new ideas in law schools have parallels in the book.  New research since 1999 necessitated an update, so they produced a new report.

The update expands on a few ideas from the first book.  The report still encourages “student centered learning,” and it discusses the cultural contexts to learning.  However, the recent technology invasion changed our current students.  The new book addresses some of the technology issues when teaching. 

Chapter 6 focuses on student motivation.  The book addresses student self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, goals, and the influence of teachers on those factors.  Culture and influence also have effects on motivation.  Motivation is a huge problem with some law students.  Many of us believe our students would perform better with just a little more hard work.  The key is figuring out how to get them to do more work.  This information could be helpful for encouraging more work.

I haven’t read the new report yet, but the information looks promising.  I encounter problems with technology and motivation every bar prep period.  Similar to many of you, we have many students right around the cut score every exam period.  Any information that can help us gain a few points could make a huge impact.

The one glaring problem is the report isn’t specific to law school.  It is largely for primary and secondary education.  As Rebecca Flanagan discussed at SWCASP last year, learning theories based on research on children may not have the same effects on adults.  Adult learning may require changes to our techniques.  The report is probably still a good resource for new ideas, but the ideas may not work the same with adults.

The Education Week article referencing the report is hereYou can get a free copy of the new report here.  While long, I hope to pull good information from the report throughout the semester.  Even our smallest ideas can help students.

(Steven Foster)

October 15, 2018 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Japanese Math Teachers Could Be a Model for Improving Legal Education

Sputnik changed teaching forever.  Falling behind the Soviet Union in the race to space caused people throughout the US to evaluate how we were teaching science and math.  Numerous theories ignited thought, and many individuals wanted the US to be the world leader in technology.  Unfortunately, we never fully realized our potential.  The US continually lags behind on the international math exams, and we are at fault.

Japan is widely seen as the technology innovator.  They continually score higher than all the other counties on the international math exam.  They use a unique form of teaching focusing on one problem, but the hardest aspect to swallow is Japan’s success is primarily built on the US theories developed after Sputnik.  The US failed to deploy the new theories throughout the country.  Japan capitalized on Americans’ work to produce a technologically advanced society.  Sputnik changed teaching, but unfortunately, the changes happened in Japan.  Now, we need to look to them to train our teachers.

Elizabeth Green describes the American failure and Japanese success in an article in the New York Times Magazine.  The Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu, translated lesson study, could help law schools improve.  Jugyokenkyu is when “[a] teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked.”  Jugyokenkyu approaches teaching as a collaborative effort with feedback.

Obviously, law schools don’t need specifics for teaching math.  However, numerous reports, recommendations, and standards haven’t changed legal education.  Maybe it is time for law schools to embrace jugyokenkyu.

The foundation for jugyokenkyu is deliberate preparation with goals; performance for students and colleagues; and feedback from experts.  In ASP, we know that process works.  We tell students to take practice exams, seek feedback, and make changes for the next exam.  In LRW, professors tell students to put down papers for a few days because individuals tend to read over errors in his/her own work.  If those are true for our students, then those statements are true for us.  We need feedback from someone who understands teaching law students to know whether our methods are working.  We will miss our own mistakes just like reading over an error in a brief.  We need deliberate practice with feedback as much as students.

The amazing transformation of Japanese math teaching is the anomaly, but we should attempt to follow that trend in legal education.  Theories, ideas, and published articles didn’t change America after Sputnik, so continuing that failed practice won’t change legal education.  I know I am saying this in a blog.  However, let’s consider how we can take steps to make lasting improvements to help our students.

My first suggestion is work within our own law schools.  Find a group of individual professors who are determined to help students learn better.  Start small with each person in the group deliberately planning a lesson.  The rest of the group observes the lesson, or someone can record the class for observation.  Everyone should then meet and talk about the lesson.  If each person in the group does that twice during a semester, the evaluation and critiques would help everyone. 

My next suggestion is to work with ASPers at other schools.  I know the quickest response to the last suggestion is “no one at my school would do that.”  While I believe there are at least a couple professors who want to improve teaching at every school, inter-school feedback can work.  We could create a TWEN page or page on the AASE site where we post videos of our teaching.  Others within the community could then watch and provide feedback.

ASPers posting lectures would provide an additional benefit for the annual conference.  We could see others’ lectures we hear about at AASE.  Some of the presentations always talk about how he/she teaches students a particular concept.  If that lecture was already posted, we could watch the lecture prior to the presentation and have a deeper discussion of teaching.  We could also have round table feedback sessions on teaching from lectures posted.  As we change our area, we could talk about it in our law schools to get other professors on board.  We can spread jugyokenkyu throughout law schools.

We continually hear that legal education needs to change.  Similar to k-12 education, entities demand we use better practices.  Demands generally don’t lead to widespread change.  Feedback from experts, who are our colleagues, is how Japan became the best country for math in the world.  We should try a model that works instead of continually following the same failed practice.

(Steven Foster)

October 8, 2018 in Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)