Monthly Archives: October 2013

This is what I don’t know

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In spite of a stellar classes, excellent internships, and loads of time spent thinking and questioning while in my MSI degree, a few topic areas slipped through the wide net I attempted to cast over my educational experience. It is not possible to predict all the things we might need to know on any possible job we might ever have. We make the choices that seem right at the time and hope that we have learned methods to teach ourselves later. In my case, I made choices according to the life I thought I wanted to live once I graduated – a life as a music subject specialist. That life never materialized, and I am happy for it. It does mean, however, that I have a few significant holes in my knowledge base that I couldn’t have predicted.

In my current job, a stronger background in GIS, government documents, and business research would be much appreciated. Luckily, my education has provided me with the tools to identify what I don’t know, figure out how to get it, and learn on my own. This is the point of education, after all.

I just finished reading Making Sense of Business Reference by Celia Ross, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s full personality and great tips. While reading it, I made a cheat sheet (in my Evernote, naturally) according to the resources we have on hand in our library for myself and also for my colleagues. Most of my business reference questions come from the business faculty, actually. They are some of the library’s biggest supporters, and as such I would like to avoid looking like a noob as much as possible in front of them, thankyouverymuch.

The category breakdowns into general areas like industry research and business statistics are extremely helpful. A large chunk of the book is dedicated to “stumpers” or questions that have stumped less experienced librarians. These answers help to break questions down into smaller parts, and they help provide an understanding of what answers you can or cannot expect to find. I especially like the tips for starting larger than the question and drilling down and for asking “who cares about this information.” These are tips I’ve been using unconsciously for a while and they are extremely helpful. And I don’t just say this because I talked to Celia once at a conference and she was just a lovely then as she is in this book. Seriously, Celia, thanks. You’re a lifesaver. I’m well on my way, now.

Gov Docs, not so much.

Observations

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Sunrise on my way to work

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best idea to choose this week to have the work study students link-check our research pages and subject guides. With all the government websites down, I’ll have to go back through and double check everything once the legislatures gets its act together.

There is, however, this:

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I found this little gem in a study room and it made me laugh. Gosh, I love our students. I mentioned to a student today that I noticed the paper airplane had disappeared. “No problem,” he said, “Just give me a minute and I’ll get a new one up there.” I almost said, “Go for it,” and then I remembered that I’m supposed to be the adult in this situation.

In other news:

So, how’s that teaching going?

I was excited to get back into the classroom this fall after a relatively light spring of instruction sessions and a very quiet summer, but nervous too. My job in this library looks very different depending on the season, whereas other librarian jobs can stay largely the same no matter how many students are on campus. It seemed a very long time since I was in the classroom. Reality, it was only about 4 months.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on last year’s experience and how I was feeling at that time versus how I’m feeling these days. What a comfort it is to have some previous work to fall back on! I do all my lesson planning in Evernote. Each note with the name of the class and the name of the professor. Not only can I see a long list of possible places to start on any given class, but I also have a history of exactly what I did last time in any particular class.

Last year, I kept the instruction program largely intact. I wanted to make sure that I fully understood the campus and my approach to instruction before I started changing anything. This year I have started to really dive into planning our instruction program overall. What do our students need? Where and when do they need it? Where can library instruction fit into mid-level courses? What does an appropriate arc of library instruction from freshmen through senior year look like? What skills does it make sense to address right away and what skills can wait? What skills can be taught asynchronously through videos and what skills need guidance?

This spring I took part in a writing curriculum assessment focused on the final papers in English 101. Dork that I am, I had a great time doing this, and it was incredibly informative not only for the library instruction program but as for me as a teacher. I was gratified to discover that the things I saw in the papers were largely the same things that the more experienced professors saw. I’m on the right page.

While I’m trying to answer the big questions above, I thought I’d revisit some of the ideas I talked about around this same time last year surrounding how I plan classes. Like I mentioned above, I love Evernote for planning classes. It’s easy to see scope at a glance and to click between lesson plans. When printed from the software (not from the website) the lesson plans print automatically in larger-than-12-point font, which makes them easy to see from a podium or table. It’s easy to add a syllabus or assignment linked into the note. I recently started using the checklist feature to keep track of the professors with required library instruction. Last year, at the suggestion of Char Booth in Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning (seriously, go read that book right now), I kept an ongoing note for each semester where I recorded my reflections for each class I taught. Recording one good and one bad observation is a place to start.

In every lesson plan I try to keep in mind the “what’s in it for me” principle for the students and clearly state that at the beginning of the session. I also make sure to write 2-4 objectives or goals for each lesson, although these are not always stated to the students. I think this is something that happens more often in K-12 settings where teachers have formal teacher training than in a library setting. Writing good objectives isn’t always easy or quick but I achieve an incredible sense of peace by clarifying for myself what I think is most important for the students to do/know. The trick is stating clear objectives with action words and making sure to include the methods by which those objectives will be achieved (“Students will (action words) by (method of achievement).”). Objectives help to focus a lesson to its essential pieces. (See also the short article in the most recent ACRL News by Linda Scripps-Hoekstra titled “Eight Tips from the Trenches: How Experience Teaching High School Informs My Approach to Information Literacy Instruction.”)

I am responsible for assigning classes to other librarians, which also means providing them with materials and lesson plans. As a result, I tend to write very detailed lesson plan outlines (with objectives) so that I can easily pass them off to someone else. I include time estimates in these plans as well, to keep me and the other librarians on track in class. I also put a “prep list” at the bottom of the things needed to teach the class: websites, materials, handouts, etc.

As a general rule, I try to put as much hands-on or discussion based learning into my sessions as possible. I get bored listening to myself talk. Having the students do actual work is more interesting for them and more interesting for me. I’d prefer to structure a lesson so that, by way of class activities and discussions, they have learned as much of my objectives as possible without me standing in the front and waving my arms around. I believe this is the best way for students to learn, but it’s selfish, too. I have the most meaningful interactions with students individually and in small groups. I can increase the likelihood of this happening by, well, putting them into small groups.

What really helps you when you’re planning classes?