All posts tagged “reflection

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?

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash
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Post-Class Blues

“You don’t get a do-over,” my husband said to me, after I reenacted a particularly painful class I’d bungled my way through a few years ago.  “I might have a crappy day in my Calc III class, but then I get to come back and say, ‘that last class was rough; let’s try this again.'”

It was the perfect summary of a library one-shot. There is so much pressure on usto do well in these classes. Some of it is self-imposed, especially for those of us who skew hard in the Type A direction (I want all the “great job” stickers, thank you very much). But a big piece of our emotional turmoil around these workshops and one-shots comes is a result of the precarity of teaching opportunities in academic librarianship. Some academic librarians might work for years to be “invited” to teach a class by a faculty colleague, slowly building the case for the importance of information literacy and their own teaching ability. Others might get a teaching opportunity right away, but are keenly aware that these teaching partnerships aren’t required, and are always at the discretion of the instructor of record. A professor might one day decide they no longer need to schedule a library class, which is totally their prerogative, but it often leaves a teaching librarian wondering why.

Was that last class not helpful?
Was it that activity I tried that turned out to be a dud?
Was I not good enough?

It’s the classic teaching librarian anxiety spiral. A class might not go well, an activity or discussion might fall flat, and suddenly we find ourselves lost in the weeds of self-doubt. We worry that we embarrassed ourselves in front of a colleague and students. We think we won’t get another opportunity to try this again. We fear that one less-than-stellar class will reflect poorly on the library instruction program overall. We feel dissatisfied, maybe ashamed, and definitely down on ourselves.

Worry. Sadness. Anxiety. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve felt this, and as I think about my colleagues in my own library and all of my teaching librarian friends elsewhere, I want to scream: Don’t be so hard on yourself! (That “yourself” includes me too). We all have bad days and classes. Sometimes the class isn’t vibing. Sometimes it’s just a crappy activity. Sometimes our teaching just isn’t the best. It happens. It happens to the professor in that class, too; we just aren’t there to see it.

How do we stop this post-class anxiety spiral?

I taught a class recently where I decided to try a new discussion activity. It tanked. It wasn’t appropriate for students’ experience and knowledge, and I didn’t do a great job facilitating. I could feel the anxiety start building in the pit of my stomach. I was afraid I’d lost them. I quickly moved on to the next section of the class, which included a group activity. During that time I took a minute or two to jot down a few notes about the failed discussion. I noted what didn’t work, how it could be modified in the future or replaced with something completely different. I was really surprised by how  much better that on-the-spot reflection helped me. I was able to quickly but effectively process my feelings, focus on the class rather than on myself, and even note possibilities for future classes. I was then able to jump back into the group activity and the rest of the class with renewed energy and excitement. I didn’t let a bad 10 minutes ruin the rest of the 70 minutes I had left with the students, and I was so thankful. The students were amazing, and the rest of the class was interesting and thoughtful thanks to their awesome engagement.

That small exercise is something I’ll definitely end up doing again, as it’s likely that I’ll have less-than-stellar moments in future classes. I want to think of other ways to stop the post-class blues and share those colleagues. What are some of the ways you deal with/process/move-on from classes that just don’t go well?

*This post brought to you by sad pugs and my Post-College Angst playlist on Spotify.

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The Intermediary We Don’t Need?

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Photo by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

My first experience teaching an information literacy class (10 years ago!!!) was a dud. It was a Psychology Research Methods course. I did the requisite library catalog and PsycINFO demo. I used student-supplied keywords. They didn’t “work.” I got flustered, but doubled-down and stuck to panicked typing in hopes that a demo would finally yield the “right” results. I was terrified, frustrated, and no doubt frustrating to students.

I don’t do resource demos in classes anymore. I will occasionally talk a class through a particularly sticky part of our link resolver if everyone is having the same issue, but for the most part I let students explore in groups, pairs, or alone and offer one-on-one assistance as needed. It warms my little librarian heart to see students helping one another. I am excited to facilitate discussions and listen to students’ points of view, experiences doing research, and comments on the appropriateness of different information sources to various needs. Those are the classes I love. The ones rooted in conversation and reflection, the ones where I don’t go near an instructor podium computer, the ones where my teaching tech tools are dry erase markers.

Last week one of my favorite librarians sparked this pedagogical reflection with a tweet:

That last line was telling: I never go near the library website. It made me try to think about another discipline that relied on teaching a website or web tool as central to the study of that subject. I couldn’t think of one.

Then I read a fantastic article by Kevin Seeber and Zoe Fisher, in which they, among other things, revised their lesson plan for English Composition II to focus on source evaluation rather than database selection and searching. It was uncomfortable for some of their colleagues who were used to database demos, but ultimately fit in better with the English Composition curriculum and helped students practice a more nuanced version of information evaluation.

And, because all my reading and worlds seem to be converging together these days, I just opened up my blog reader to see a wonderful post by Dani Cook on the Rule Number One blog that lists 10 ideas for making your teaching more learner-centered. Some of my favorite suggestions focus on active practice, showing an interest in students as people, and authenticity as a teacher in the classroom.

When taken together, Jo’s tweet, Zoe and Kevin’s article, and Dani’s post made me jot down a flurry of questions: How amazing would our teaching be if we didn’t have an instructor computer at all? Is our focus on databases, websites, and functionality of resources interrupting our relationships with our students? How much more effective would we be as teachers and facilitators without that tech intermediary? Do we even need it?

I spent 4 years as the web developer and administrator for my library’s website, so I’m no technophobe. I understand the value of a simple, easy-to-use interface and good information architecture. But I also don’t see the value in teaching the technical details of digital resources that are becoming to easier to use, and, let’s be honest, that students won’t be able to access after they graduate. They aren’t paying attention, I’m bored, and we could all just be at home watching Drag Race. I know that at this point in information literacy practice and teaching many of us are all about active learning and exploring deeper information literacy concepts. But I know–because I do it too–we sometimes still revert back to click here, here’s where you go to access this one thing, this is what this one error message means, etc. What if we just completely eliminated that from our teaching? We could give students a URL and let them have at it, offering help as needed individually or in small groups. Or we could just not have a class in a computer lab. No computers. None. Zero. What would that kind of information literacy class look like?

Relationships are scary, especially when you are the temporary instructor for a class that knows one another much better than they will likely ever know you. We tend to place the computer, resource, or website at the center, as the focus of our relationship with students in the classroom because it is “the information” in information literacy. It is seen as primary, as the thing that’s important. It’s a security blanket we all hide behind (myself included) because it’s easier to focus on our ability to know information and information resources than it is to emphasize our roles as teachers and facilitators of discussion with ambiguous results. But this intermediary places a roadblock in our relationship with learners. It might be an annoying pebble or a boulder, but it’s the object that can block the librarian from cultivating a relationship.

I used to hope that if students could remember one thing from class, it was that I was available to help them whenever they needed help. But my actions in the classroom were emphasizing the website, libguides, and datbases–the things–not me or our relationship. Now I hope that students remember our connection in class, and I try to structure classes (as much as they can be structured) to foster that connection. I don’t want an intermediary between my students and myself, and if that means I never turn on my instructor computer, I’m ok with that.