St John’s LLM Summer Pre-Bar Prep Program

This summer we are excited to roll out our first-ever Summer LLM Pre-Bar Prep Program. This is a self-study program for St. John’s LLM students who are planning to take the bar exam in 2019, and it focuses on helping those students continue to improve language fluency as well as general and specific knowledge over the summer months.

The self-study curriculum will consist of:

1. An extensive reading program to build vocabulary, reading speed and fluency, and background knowledge.

  • Time is perhaps the biggest challenge for LLM students on the bar exam. It takes LLM students longer to read the questions and process the information. Additionally, vocabulary and background knowledge can be significant impediments to comprehension. e.g., A fact pattern that references American football. And the best way to “tackle” all three of these aspects is extensive reading, i.e., 1) reading a lot; 2) of texts that are easy to read (90% of vocabulary is familiar); and 3) and of texts that are enjoyable to read (because if it’s not enjoyable, then students don’t read a lot).
  • For our extensive reading program, we rely in a large part on Newsela, which contains a very large and constantly growing library of actual news articles and other texts, all re-written at 4 additional (and easier) levels. In other words, if an article is too difficult, you can simply choose an easier version to read. Or viewed from another perspective, there are tons of very easy-to-read and genuinely interesting texts which is fantastic for building reading speed and vocabulary. Additionally, Newsela has a trove of articles on law and American legal history and culture–all written at 5 different levels–including the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Brown v. Board of Ed, and Plessy v. Ferguson. All of this content, including the non-legal content, is great for building the kind of cultural and background knowledge that American students learn growing up and that professors and test makers assume students possess.
  • Additionally, each article (and each level of each article) has a 4-question quiz that can be used to check and see how well the student understood the article.
  • Drawing on this resource, we put together a collection of law-relevant content that students can choose articles from each week.
  • Using the tools provided via our Newsela account, we can easily track the students’ reading and quiz scores over the summer.

Continue reading

Teaching summarizing to LLM students: Some recent thoughts

i-love-to-summarizeAs I’ve discussed in a previous post, teaching LLM students to summarize can be deceivingly difficult. Summarizing requires control of language as well as an intuitive understanding of what is expected the relevant audience in a summary. Additionally, it’s difficult to explain to others how we learned to summarize–somehow we just learned it–and that, in turn, tends to further inhibits our ability to teach summarizing to others.

And now I have one more layer of complexity to add that I hadn’t previously considered: The category of “summary” actually consists of a number of different kinds of summaries, each with their own purposes, contexts, structures, styles, and expectations.

The source of this new thought (for me) was a presentation I recently watched (viewable on YouTube) titled “Teaching Effective and Varied Summarizing” by Ann M. Johns, Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. In the presentation, Professor Johns makes a point of listing some common summary forms in the academic community such as a functional summary detailing the structure of a written or spoken text, the one-sentence summary of content (often of a paragraph or paragraphs which can lead to a full summary of the text), an abstract, a problem/solution summary, an argument summary, a plot/story summary, a summary + critique, and synthesis, among other types.

As I contemplated this list of summary types, I started to think and wonder about Continue reading

Perspectives on Graduate Writing and Bar Preparation

cgc-logoI just returned from a unique and excellent conference–the Consortium on Graduate Communication’s Summer Institute, which was held at Yale University this past Thursday, June 9 through Saturday, June 11.

Yale_University_LogoIt brought together the community of writing support professionals and community of English language support professionals to discuss and share ideas relating to the increased need for graduate level writing support. And it was a wonderful opportunity to think about law school in the greater context of graduate level programs and to get to know and chat with with ESL program directors and professors, writing program directors, and writing center directors.

One aspect that made the conference uniquely productive was the emphasis on discussion and working groups. Each attendee was requested to “bring” a writing curriculum or course project that we would have time to discuss and work on with members of our assigned working groups.

In my case, I focused on the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course that I recently developed and have been teaching with my colleague Kathryn Piper since late May. One of my takeaways from the first three weeks of the course has been that Continue reading

New: Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) Course

bar-examMy colleague Katy Piper and I have the opportunity to try something new and exciting for our Summer 2016 semester: a course focused on language support for non-native English speaking students who will be taking the New York bar exam in July 2016–the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course. We’re not aware of any similar type of course or program at a U.S. law school. (If you know of one, please let us know. We’d love to hear about it.)

While most of our interaction to date has been with the Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) and American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) LLM Programs, we’ve also had some opportunities to work with some students from the U.S. Legal Studies (USLS) LLM Program. All USLS LLM students are foreign-trained lawyers focused on passing the bar exam. Some are international students and others are immigrants living in the New York area. Given our location in Queens (the most ethnically diverse urban place in the world), this group often includes speakers of Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic (among other languages) as well as speakers of various World Englishes.

The idea sprung from a conversation earlier this semester with beloved St. John’s Professor Continue reading