Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash; toddler hand moving blocks along a wire toy.
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Teach to Dismantle?

I’m putting together a professional development workshop for my teaching librarian colleagues on creating learning outcomes. It’s part of a larger summer prof dev series on teaching and learning in libraries that really focuses on foundational aspects of teaching IL. We’re essentially walking through the process of initiating, prepping, implementing, and following up on a class. It’s really just me externalizing my internal instructional planning process, which is why I think I am struggling with learning outcomes.

I write learning outcomes when I teach. They help shape and offer a scope to my classes. That said, sometimes those learning outcomes fly out the window when I actually get to class. I write outcomes with the best information I have at the time: assignment details, course syllabus, comments from the course instructor, previous experience working with students in this course, etc. But sometimes even the best planned class doesn’t turn out as planned, and I’ve learned to just go with it. Sometimes my written outcomes become obsolete or silly once I actually meet the students I’m going to be teaching for the next 1 to 2 hours. I’ll admit that in my early teaching years I just powered through my lesson plan, not wanting to deviate from my carefully crafted script. It would have been too scary, too messy, and too out of my control.

Now, I still put a lot of effort into crafting outcomes and lesson plans, but I tend to start every class by asking students if there are things they really want to learn today, questions they want answered, or things they want to get out of our time together. I’ve been reading Learner-Centered Pedagogy by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook and am loving their emphasis on learner motivation, narrative, connection, and meaning making in information literacy education. Their central question is “What is it like to be a person learning something?” which I just want to have printed on a giant poster and up on my office wall. That should be first and foremost on our minds as teachers. One of the first answers that came to mind when I read that question was that as a person learning something, I want to care about what I am learning, and I want my teacher to care about what I want to learn. Yes, I know that’s a terribly constructed sentence, but you get the sentiment. I want to care about what my students want to learn, and sometimes that means my predetermined learning outcomes don’t have a place in my classroom. And that’s ok.

So where does that leave me as I plan this workshop? I’m teaching the standard Zald and Gilchrist model of learning outcome construction, while acknowledging that it’s not the only way to write an outcome. I’m introducing affective outcomes, not just cognitive and behavioral ones. I’m acknowledging that sometimes classes don’t follow our carefully crafted learning outcomes and lesson plans. In short, I’m teaching learning outcomes so that people feel free to disregard, reimagine, remix, or dismantle them later. But should I teach them at all? I know they are an important framework within higher education and our culture of assessment and value. I acknowledge their connection to learner-centered teaching and their ability to help provide structure for new instructors. But I also have first hand experience with their rigidity and constraints. Does bringing this up in a workshop try to do too much? Or does it bring up conversations we should be having as teaching librarians?

Feel free to discuss as I revise my workshop lesson plan yet again…(but do I even need to do so?)

3 Comments

  1. Chinedu

    Hello Veronica Arellano Douglas,
    In response to your post, which was by the way excellent to say the least. I believe teaching lesson plans in way that best suites your outcome and the students outcome. Yes, teach the needed knowledge, which is pre-scripted methods of learning. However, deviate not from being present within learning environments. I think too often as modern-day educators we tend to stick to pre-planned ideas on how we think learning environments should be administered. However, we often forget that in presence of learning, therein exist an element of being present. Like most Jazz players have said, you learn all of the fundamental ideologies of playing Jazz, but there’s a point where you forget the rules and just play.

    Being present allows for free-flowing ideas to become manifested. Being present centers oneself to embody the moment of learning that best suites all in the classroom. Learning isn’t limited to textbook knowledge. Learning surpasses written knowledge, and thus becomes enhance knowledge, which potentially allows for a greater learning environment. Less indoctrination, and more education. And, education/learning is greater than what a book has to offer. In fact, if being present allow you to become more centered, you’d then offer the best that’s yet to be brought forth from students.

    Books are meant to be referenced, not relied upon, which stifles mental growth and forward progressive thinking to produce unforeseen scholarship contemporary academia has yet to witness.

  2. Miranda Bennett

    Lots of great food for thought here, Veronica! One thing you might consider is how some of these themes connect with emotional intelligence. If the workshop is for your UH colleagues, they’re very familiar with that vocabulary, and I see a lot of overlap between EI and affective dimensions of learning.

    A few other ideas percolating in my head relate to the challenge of supporting affective learning in the constrained space of the one-shot library session. I enjoyed the Cahoy and Schroeder article you cited, and I see so much potential for their suggestions about helping students develop positive behaviors to manage anxiety and encourage learning, but that kind of change doesn’t happen overnight–or in fifty minutes. Certainly an opportunity to work with sympathetic colleagues outside the library.

    Thanks so much for sharing the provocative question β€œWhat is it like to be a person learning something?” Now that I don’t do much formal teaching, much of my thinking about learning is in the context of parenting, and this question articulates something I wonder about all the time. I’m coming more and more to believe that reflection/metacognition is key to becoming a good learner, and that, to bring it back to emotion, good learners are well equipped to find meaning and happiness in their lives.

    Proposed learning outcome: After completing this class, students will find meaning and happiness in their lives. Nothing wrong with a little ambition, right? πŸ™‚

    -Miranda

    • Thanks, Miranda! I can definitely see the connection between affective dimensions of learning and EI. It really helps to have that common language that you and Christina helped build in the department. And I agree with the application of that question to parenting. Liam has a few learning differences, and I’ve found the site Understood.org really helps me understand how he learns. πŸ™‚

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