Solid Study Skills Advice: Even in September, It’s not too soon to review!

If you’re on a semester schedule, you’ve been in law school for 4 weeks now. It’s time to start studying for exams. Trust me. Don’t want to think that far ahead? Fine. How about thinking about it as reviewing what you have learned so far this semester? Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Now is the PERFECT time to review what you have learned so far this semester. The Law School Academic Support Blog has some excellent, practical advice for how to start reviewing now.

Some highlights:

  • Arrive at each class 5-10 minutes early and review case briefs and class notes from the last class (hello, spaced study!
  • After class, review your case briefs and class notes.
  • At the end of each week, review briefs and notes and reorganize them
  • As you review each week, begin to construct your course outline for the material
  • Try to retrieve course material you have learned from your memory with out reviewing your notes and outlines, check your memory against your notes & outline
  • Review & revise your outlines, try using your outlines to do practice questions to test for gaps in your outline and your knowledge
  • Consult study aids (treatises, Examples & Explanations, Understanding Series books) to fill in gaps or clarify confusion and visit your Professor’s office hours with questions


The Handwriting v. Typing Note Taking Debate

Handwriting and idea generation go hand in hand. Researchers suggest that students may learn better when they take notes by hand, that the act of “putting it down” on paper forces the writer to focus on what is really important. According to a recent article from Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA, The Pen is Mightier Than The Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking, students learn more effectively when handwriting notes versus typing.

Many legal educators have criticized the distracting nature of computers and the negative effects of computing/multi-tasking on the decline in students’ note-taking skills. But, what if the answer is much simpler – that it is the lack of handwriting itself, not necessarily any distraction inherent in laptop usage, causing the decline.

Let’s be honest. Not every handwriter is a good note taker (just by virtue of being a handwriter).  Every student should be instructed in effective note taking – whether on paper or on screen. Every student should be instructed to listen for structure and cues, to reframe concepts, to review notes, and to restructure notes for maximum effectiveness and understanding.

Additionally, laptops aren’t only used for note taking in the classroom. For example, in my legal writing classroom, students don’t have much lecture to capture with their keyboards. Class time is spent actively, with students working on writing exercises, student samples, and where laptops are more commonly used for individual and group in-class research.

Let’s not be too hasty to blame laptops on our students’ note taking and learning short comings. Perhaps we should also examine our own teaching methods first.


Summer Book Club: Education Edition

In between catching up on your fun reading – The Fault In Our Stars, The Goldfinch, or Gone Girl (if you’re really behind) – and those writing projects you’ve been planning to start, make some time to reflect on this past semester and year and check out one of these Top 10 Books on Teaching. We’re all suffering a little “dire predictions for legal education fatigue,” right? Let’s make a commitment to read something inspiring about teaching and learning this summer.

James M. Lang’s list, published recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education, includes some oldies but goodies (What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain) as well as some newer titles to refresh our teaching goals and commitment like Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by renowned cognitive psychologists Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, along with Peter C. Brown, published this year. Make It Stick is definitely on my reading list this summer.

Academic Success-For-All Model: Improve Success for Disadvantaged Students to Improve Success For All Students

Hurdles for struggling students are usually hurdles for all students, maybe not to the same extent. A recent article entitled Help Struggling Students and You’ll Help their Classmates, too in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Mark Schneider discusses Grinnell College’s “Success for All Model” to improve success rates for disadvantaged target groups and to improve success rates for all students.

In disability accommodation, this is called the principle of universal design. For example, an automatic door is essential for someone in a wheelchair but also benefits an able-bodied person carrying a heavy load. In our success-for-all model, we used the experiences of the least successful to identify what are barriers for them but often impediments for others, too.

This “Success for All Model” would also be effective in legal education. Many law schools identify a diverse student body in their mission. Many law schools offer alternate admissions programs for students who would not otherwise qualify for entry to law school.

Making this measure the foremost indicator of an institution’s success would suddenly clarify much about its mission. It would unambiguously place learning at the forefront. It would integrate diversity issues into the college’s mission. Success of minority students … would no longer be an auxiliary goal with a charitable or even condescending flavor but rather the key indicator of success. The message of universality would communicate a clear recognition of interdependence among racial and ethnic groups, regions, religions, and socioeconomic classes.


Does reading on digital devices lead to deep reading?

Does the technology we use to read actually change the way we read and comprehend written material? Is reading on a screen a different mental process than reading on paper? Reading is such a critical component for legal education and many legal scholars have found that effective reading comprehension skills are a key differentiator between successful and struggling law students.

Researchers are trying to understand differences in comprehension between reading on digital devices versus on paper to develop the best strategies to transfer tried and true print reading strategies into digital reading environments.  To be most effective, researchers suggest readers will need a “bi-lateral brain,” a brain that is adept with technology, but also employs deep reading skills no matter the technology.

An article in Education Week, Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students, summarizes the issue:

When reading on screens, for example, people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences. Research has also found that students, when reading digitally, tend to discard familiar print-based strategies for boosting comprehension.

A similar article in Scientific American from last year, The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, summarized recent research on this issue, suggesting that while “E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages.”

When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way.