Photo of empty school theater seats by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
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Shame is Not an Effective Teacher

Like everyone else who watched Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix, I’m obsessed with Samin Nosrat. She was recently interviewed by Sam Sanders on his podcast, It’s Been a Minute, and in it she talks about her first experience eating at a fine dining restaurant. Despite committing what she describes as fine dining newbie mistakes, she distinctly remembers the graciousness of the wait staff and floor manager, who treated her, a nineteen year old young woman who felt so very out of place, with respect and care. She notes how that care made an impact on her and changed the trajectory of her career. Nosrat states that the staff at the restaurant could have shamed her for making dining “mistakes,” but their decision to encourage her exploration of food was an important turning point for her. She makes a statement I’ve blatantly co-opted as the title of this post: “Shame is not an effective teacher,” but care is one.

I’ve written about care before, and it’s something I continue to think about and work towards incorporating in my own work. I like writing about care, but I’m not going to write about that now. Instead I’m going to focus on shame, and how easy it can be to practice (despite best intentions).

I’ve been in the midst of a teaching blitz, as I’m sure many instruction librarians and coordinators have been for the past two months. It’s been nothing but English composition class after Technical Communication class, and it was starting to feel monotonous. I like our curriculum. We’ve worked hard to incorporate different ways for students to learn from each other and share what they learn with the class. In one session, I asked students to volunteer questions they might have about their existing research topics. One student stated their topic and potential question. Great! Participation! Wanting to continue the discussion, I asked: “What kind of information might help you answer that question?” The student answered, “articles?” in a less certain voice. Thinking this was a great opportunity to talk about different kinds of articles, I asked, “What kind of articles?” The student looked down, discomfort clearly written on their face, paused, looked around, and said, “Um, I’m not sure. You’re kind of putting me on the spot here.”


I tried to save face: “It’s ok, we can come back to this and think about it again later.” Then I moved on. I felt badly. I want to encourage questioning and discussion in class, but I don’t want people to feel singled out or shamed or discouraged. Unfortunately that’s what happened. I took one student’s willingness to engage in answering a question and ran it into the ground, rather than encouraging the response they bravely, voluntarily gave.

As class progressed and students had individual time to work on their research projects, I went up to the student and apologized. They still looked a bit uncomfortable but said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s ok”–all while failing to make eye contact with me. I get it. I earned that reaction. I made them feel uncomfortable and they don’t owe it to me to make me feel better about it.

What’s the take away? Do I stop asking probing questions? Do I stop using discussion techniques in class? No. But I do need to be more aware of students’ reactions to my questions and be better about reading their body language, facial expressions, and other cues during class. I also need to think more about what I am hoping to gain from persisting in a particular line of questioning. Is this going to really contribute to what we are learning? Is there another way to get at this point? Is it time to switch focus? Can I build in more opportunities for students to facilitate discussion and ask me, and each other, these kinds of questions? Are there moments when I think I’m being interested that really come across as picky or judgey?

The last thing I intended to do was shame this student, but intent isn’t the same as perception. They felt singled out and put on the spot, and I own that. It impacted our interaction later in class and I wonder how much more helpful I could have been if I’d been more aware of how I was coming across to them. I don’t know what their previous experiences have been in that English class or in previous classes. I don’t know how other teachers have made them feel. I probably won’t ever know the full story of students in the short amount of time I see them for info lit classes, but that doesn’t absolve me from trying to set an inclusive, shame-free tone in class. I’m working on it and continuing to try and do better.

[White arrows pointing up on a wood plank background] Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash
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Tacit Knowledge and English Composition Classes

We’re in the throes of the heavy teaching period of the fall semester at my library, and based on conversations with other teaching librarians and coordinators, the same can be said just about everywhere. As soon as the breeze turns brisk we find ourselves wolfing down a granola bar/cheese stick/back of peanut m&ms in the 5 minutes we have in between classes and calling it “lunch.” (I see you teaching libs. I see you.)

It’s my first fall semester at a new school, with a new focus, and a new information literacy English composition two-shot curriculum I revised with my colleague, Emily Deal, this summer. English comp makes up the bulk of our lower-division instruction responsibilities, so we decided to try something new this year with our lesson plans. We developed a new workshop for the first course in the two course composition sequence. Typically English Comp I doesn’t have a strong research component, but students do a lot of information literacy work in the form of analyzing information sources and synthesizing ideas. In addition to a class on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing developed by our previous instruction coordinator and teaching librarian, we developed a class on analyzing multimedia/non-written texts. Students are often asked to write an analytical essay about photographs, videos, or advertisements, and we thought this workshop could be a great way to embed information literacy beyond the typical “here’s how you find stuff” classes we normally teach for lower division courses. We absorb SO MUCH visual and video content via social media so we thought this would be a great way to help students think more critically about what they see or watch on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever social media site the olds like me don’t use)

Our first few passes at this class didn’t quite go the way I thought they would. I started off with big questions. Things like:

  • What’s the purpose of this video ad?
  • Who created it?
  • Who was it created for?
  • How did it make you feel?

Which are all well and good, but they weren’t prompting a critical analysis of the ad, which is what I was trying to accomplish. Few students seemed to see these ads–which, to be fair, were more long-form Superbowl-style attention grabbers–as meant to sell anything or prompt behavior. The feels noted were all surface level (“good. confused. happy.”), and the creator was often just the name of the product company. The questions were basic rhetorical analysis approaches applied to multimedia information sources but they fell flat. At times the students wouldn’t engage with the material or did so in a way that wasn’t as critical as we had hoped.

So, we went back to the drawing board.

I realized that a big problem with our approach to this class was that I hadn’t deconstructed the process of analysis to a manageable degree. I assumed a critical approach to these questions, but that was own bias and tacit knowledge coming in to play. I’m a librarian and have lots of practice picking things apart and critically dissecting them until there is nothing left! But students are often just beginning this practice OR using other strategies of analysis that have served them well in the past. If I wanted to teach a new method of analysis, I needed to be more explicit.

For the next version of this session, I dug a little deeper. We started by students thinking about the last video they watched on social media and why they watched it. We discussed and focused on the why as a means of realizing that sometimes our decisions to watch what’s in front of us aren’t always conscious choices, but that content creators are always thinking about viewers and impact. Next I introduced our class ad for analysis, the AirBnB #WeAccept video. I made it clear that we were going to watch it again and again and again, because that’s what we do when we deconstruct and analyze something. Before each viewing came a different prompt, with discussion in between each viewing:

  1. How does this ad make you feel? Write down 2-3 details that make you feel this way.
  2. How do you think the ad creators want you to feel? What do they want you to think? To do? Write down 2-3 details that make you think this way.
  3. For this last viewing, write down 2-3 details you haven’t already noticed/noted. Why do you think they are included in this video? How do they add to what the creators want you to think, feel, or do?

We talked. A lot.

The students noticed amazing details about the ad that completely slipped past my repeated viewings. They had time to think, process, write, and share, and their responses were detailed, critical, and interesting. Focusing on the details and allowing for multiple viewings gave us all time to dig deep into the creation of the ad.

Then, I asked students to do a little research in pairs. Each pair was asked to Google “AirBnB discrimination” and “AirBnB regulation.” Students discussed their findings, but more importantly, discussed their findings in relation to the ad we just viewed and the details they just noticed.

This whole process took the act of analysis step by step. I worried it would be a little formulaic or basic, but it actually prompted great discussion and student engagement. It made me think about my own response to activities, group work and discussion. Having parameters, details, and clear instructions is so important to me, and students need that too! The rest of the class was devoted to students going through the same analysis process in pairs with ads they were analyzing for an upcoming paper, and it was awesome to see them applying the same strategies to their own work.

If you’re interested in replicating this activity/class, I’ve shared the lesson plan, worksheets, and slides below!

teaching intention cards
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Setting Teaching Intentions for the Spring

The semester is done and my time at work before the winter break is winding down, but I’m trying to start a Teaching Community of Practice at my library. We had our first meeting in November, and for December I thought we could do something crafty and low stress. 

I go to yoga class when I can, and one thing I always appreciate about certain instructors is the way they ask us to set an intention for class. Be thankful for what your body can do. Be kind to yourself. Focus on your breathing. It’s a way to reflect on what you do and be present in the moment. I thought for our Teaching CoP December meeting, we could get together to set our teaching intentions for the spring semester and create intention cards. 

We had a fun time oohing and aahing over stickers and paper, and it was really nice for me to see things I want to practice in some kind of tangible form. My intentions for teaching this spring include:

  1. Relax (it’s just one class).
  2. Be ok with silence and individual activity (not everything has to be group or pair work).
  3. Be proud of what you do (teaching is important and meaningful).

What are your teaching intentions for the new year?

title slide from the presentation "a practice of connection" [image of a cat and dog cuddling]
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CLAPS Presentation Slides & Notes

I just returned from the Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium at the University of Arizona and feel so lucky to have spent time with such thoughtful, intelligent, engaging friends and colleagues. In the frantic lead up to the conference I neglected to share the slides and notes from the discussion I helped co-facilitate and the research panel I co-led.

First up was A Practice of Connection: Applying Relational-Cultural Theory to Librarianship, with Anastasia Chiu, Joanna Gadsby, Alana Kumbier & Lalitha Nataraj.

As per usual, the slides have relatively limited text, but if you select the gear icon on the slide show you can see our speaker notes. Our guiding questions for this facilitated discussion included:

  • Based on what we’ve introduced and what you already know / have experienced, what are some ways you could incorporate RCT into your work?
  • What opportunities for mutuality are there in this work?
  • How can you create connection within this work?
  • Where are you finding connection and support in your work?
  • What relationships do you value and nurture in your work? What relationships would you nurture more if you felt you had more capacity to do so?
  • What are opportunities for empowerment / empowering others (alongside yourself) in your work?
  • Do you have any examples/ experiences of growthful conflict?

Then, Joanna Gadsby, Sian Evans, and I shared some initial research findings in Peers, Guest Lecturers, or Babysitters: Constructions of Power in the Library Classroom.

I’m always happy to talk about our presentations, and welcome questions! Also, I was asked about our slides a few times at the conference, so I’ll share my invaluable slide deck resources below: