[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!

[photo of neon red symbols on black background] by Matthew Brodeur on Unsplash
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Language, Justice, Disability Rights, and Public Education

This morning I opened up my Twitter feed to the usual combination of animal videos, library info, friends sharing, and of course, terrible horrible awful news. The latest in said news comes from Disability Rights California, who shared that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 354, which would have required school districts to “provide a parent with a copy of a translated individualized education plan (IEP) within 30 days of the parents’ request” in one of the school district’s top eight languages. The IEP is a binding legal document for schools, children with special education needs, and their parents. It dictates the services a child receives in school; their placement in a mainstream classroom, special education classroom, resource classroom, or some combination of any of the previous three; their educational goals for the year; a behavioral plan if needed; and any education accommodations they are guaranteed within the school day.

As a parent of a child with high-functioning autism and auditory processing difficulties, I live and die by that IEP. Getting the right IEP for your child is not an easy feat, particularly within an educational system that often can’t be bothered to accommodate children with special needs. Despite the great strides disability rights and inclusion activists have made for children with special needs in public schools, the process to guarantee that your child receives a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)–which is their right under the  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is still SO SO difficult. A quick search for school districts and FAPE or IDEA in Google News will yield all kinds of lawsuits from rightfully angry parents about their child’s treatment within the public education system.

My own experience with the ARD/IEP/Special Education program and process within the Houston Independent School District was a nightmare last year. Thankfully, I had the time, education, resources, and connections to advocate for my son, and he is now in a different public school. He’s doing really well, and his wonderful teacher and special education chair are even encouraging less time in resource class (1-2x a week instead of 2x a day) and more ambitious goals! That said, it was a struggle to get an IEP that matched his ability and needs, and we’re still meeting to revise it for this academic year. My son’s IEP is in English, and I still had to have trained professionals in special education read and explain it to me LINE BY LINE. After doing so with the first draft, I pushed for drastic revision, again, in my native language, and once again, asked trained professionals to help translate the language into special education speak.

I can’t imagine going through this process in a language that was not my own. How can expect someone to sign a LEGAL, BINDING document that pretty much dictates your child’s entire educational future when that document is not in their native language or one readily understandable to them? And if you’re going to come in with learn English bullshit, please stop now because I am not here for that. One in five children in the U.S. have special education needs, ranging from students with ADHD to those with mobility issues or intellectual disabilities. This is California, one of the most diverse states in the U.S. If we can provide bilingual education we should also provide these documents in languages other than English.

Yes, I know this is not about libraries, and I recognize that I have a very personal stake in this fight. At various points in between crying and stressing about my son’s educational future last year, I’d have moments of extreme gratefulness. I was intelligent enough, able-bodied, and had the time, education, and money to push back against a system that wanted to take my bright, curious, empathetic son and put him in a non-mainstream classroom (which has proven to have been a grossly inappropriate original recommendation). I was furious for parents without those same privileges, and how beaten down they must have felt by this education system.

I write about this because language is important. To be inclusive and to promote equity is to look at all of the ways we as a society create barriers for people. Gov. Brown’s veto of SB 354 is yet another barrier put up in the road to a difficult, uphill battle for children with disabilities and their parents. Think about the ways in which a lack of language diversity can contribute to exclusion and oppression within your own work. And, if you have the time or money, consider donating it to Disability Rights California or similar advocacy groups in your state.

Fall leaves Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash
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A quick search for “rejection” on Unsplash.com yields a lot of images of sad, wistful white people. It wasn’t quite the vibe I was going for in this post, hence the photo of the fall leaves I wish I was seeing outside (alas, fall has not come to Houston).

Rejection is tricky. I sent out a lot of rejection emails last week. Joanna Gadsby and I are editing a book on the idea of service in libraries and its impact on the practice/theory of librarianship. We received so many wonderful proposals. SO MANY. We can’t publish them all, so we inevitably ended up with a pool of No’s. We tried to write a kind rejection email. Our decision didn’t really have a lot to do with the quality of the proposals so much as the scope, the number we received, and the kind of book we are trying to build. We know that many of the chapter proposals we said No to will likely find a published home in excellent journals or books. We just weren’t the right fit at the right time.

I know this, yet the same day that I sent out rejection emails, I received one, too. It was for a journal article I co-submitted that I was really excited about. To be honest, it kinda hurt. It was scholarship I stood behind and felt good writing. That said, I completely understand the tough decisions the editors had to make, having just made them myself. Their rejection email was so kind. And yet…YET…it still really stung.

Rejection is hard. Coping with rejection is harder. Getting that rejection email was a good reminder of that reality.  A week to process has taken away the sting, and I can write and discuss the experience without FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS. Rejection is a normal part of academia, and as long as it’s done in a considerate way, it’s probably healthy, and definitely a learning experience. I know that not all rejection is kind, and that sometimes it hits us at a time when we could really have used a win. I wish I had better advice than: sometimes rejection isn’t really about you. Sometimes it’s the greater publishing project, sometimes it’s the pool, sometimes it is about your writing or your research, but those things aren’t YOU. All of those things can change, and in a few weeks or months or years you’ll get a Yes instead of a No.

In the mean time, it’s ok to feel the feelings that rejection inspires. We all experience it and live through it. It might feel personal, but it’s really not. We just feel it–personally. I deal with rejection by

  1. Questioning all of my life choices.
  2. Buying a new dress or nail polish (depending on budget).
  3. Feeling generally ok about things and trying again.

It’s not everyone’s process, but it’s mine. How do you deal with rejection in academic librarianship?