Category Archives: teaching

In which I return to my lists

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The sun is perfect and you woke this morning. You have enough language in your mouth to be understood. You have a name, and someone wants to call it. Five fingers on your hand and someone wants to hold it. If we just start there, every beautiful thing that has and will ever exist is possible. If we start there, everything, for a moment, is right in the world.

~ Warsan Shire

It’s been a whirlwind semester. Remember how in Cinderella, the clock struck twelve before she had a chance to fully comprehend everything that was going on? I can identify a little bit with Cinderella.

I had a lot of good intentions for this semester. I was going to reflect each Friday on my instruction for the week; I was going to keep up with my blog; I was going to be on top of all the things….in case you haven’t guessed, none of that happened. I scheduled, planned, and taught classes and then scheduled, planned, and taught some more. The lightning spark reflections happened only in my head. But even if I never got to write any of it down, I did learn some things from my first semester of permanent-track employment.

Each year, I make a long list of things I want to accomplish or focus on throughout the year. I check in with myself periodically over the months; sometimes I add things to the list. I let other things go. At the end of the year, in December, I check in for the final time and celebrate my accomplishments and create a new list for the next year. I’m in the process of writing my 2017 list, but I wanted to share some of my  work-related list items that were either formal or informal “wants” for 2016:

Apply for jobs in the fall – I think I can safely cross this one off the list. I was offered and accepted a permanent track position at Towson University in July, so I get to continue to work with wonderful people in a supportive, creative environment. Excited to see what happens in the next few years.

Learn a new skill or brush up on an old skill – This semester, I’ve taught sessions for incoming freshman, seasoned upperclass-ers & grad students. I’ve worked with a lot of different faculty members and had to adjust my instruction to stress different skill sets in different classrooms. I also guest lectured in a few sections of a School Library Media course. What a cool way to be involved in the future of education and library practitioners! I was also a mentor for our student leadership program at the library and served on a hiring committee or two.

Cultivate new experiences (#NoRegrets) – In Spring 2016, I taught an undergrad course as an adjunct at one of our sister institutions. This semester (Fall 2016), I’m co-facilitating a course-integrated intergroup dialogue group. It’s been challenging and rewarding at the same time and I’ve learned a lot about myself as an educator, learner, and individual. Pretty neat experience. For next semester, I’m planning a student symposium with a theme of activism and resistance in the 1960s, which has also allowed me to get out and connect with others on campus with whom I might not ordinarily cross paths.

Get published (article, book, whatever) – I’m really excited about having a book chapter proposal accepted. It won’t actually be published for a few years, but I’m crossing it off my list nonetheless.

Be smart, keep learning – I’ve discovered so many new authors, talked to new people, and been exposed to many new things this year. I presented at some conferences and listened to people present at others. It all makes my learner’s soul very, very happy. Regardless of formal education, I believe everyone should be learning always (and we often are, even when we don’t realize it). Formally speaking, I also went ahead and applied for a Ph.D. program, to start in Fall 2017. We’ll see what happens. *fingers crossed*

How Much Is Too Much?

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In considering instruction, one of the things I’ve been thinking over is managing student engagement and achievement. In terms of balancing expectations with reality, what does being a good teacher look like/sound like?

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Image via flickr

When it comes to reaching students who may not be responding to traditional lecture-style presentation, sometimes it’s tempting to go the “70 x 7” route: how far do I have to reach to say I did my part, attempted due diligence? I think it’s important to go beyond that question and instead ask, Who are my students? How do they learn? What do they need to succeed? How can I at least try to provide that?

The quiet student, the disengaged student, the struggling student. I’ve been all of these, so I can relate.

Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I think back on my experiences as a student and also my experiences teaching younger grades. While there’s a vast difference in terms of learning ability and emotional development between elementary students and college students, some of the pedagogical values and strategies remain the same. For example, the Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the difference between what a student can do alone versus with help. Through the scaffolding process, students receive the support and assistance they need to master a concept and move on to autonomy. It’s kind of related to the bottleneck concept, in which large numbers of students get stuck at certain areas. One could posture that with scaffolding, students would be able to grasp threshold concepts and move from the bottleneck into a position of achievement or mastery. Because students both learn differently and come from diverse academic and personal backgrounds, the ZPD will be different from person to person. But the threshold concepts are those areas of learning that will enable students to get past the “stuck” point. For students who are not information literate, a threshold concept that may lead to bottle-necking (is that a word?) could be using certain types of information technology. So the ZPD could be the difference between being able to browse the internet and maybe search Google alone, but then being unable to employ specific search strategies in a database without assistance. Through scaffolding, modeling, and reinforcement, students’ skills are strengthened and they become better equipped to locate scholarly articles for an academic paper (end goal).

Thinking of strategies…in the classroom, if you wait for volunteers, typically you’ll end up with the same students always doing all of the talking. Mixing it up by either calling on students randomly (if they’ve had time to prepare) or promoting buddy or group discussion before doing a share-out increases the likelihood of quieter students’ voices being heard. (Personally, I myself don’t like surprise calling, because if I haven’t had time to formulate my thoughts, I have nothing to say to you.) I tend to lean heavily on buddy and group work in my own instruction. Some of the strategies for younger students, such as manipulatives or use of personal white boards can be adapted for use with college students. There are technological tools that allow for a more active role. And then there’s always good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.

Additionally, to combat student disengagement, crafting lessons that incorporate active learning through problem solving and inquiry is invaluable. David Cutler mentions allowing for student choice decreases the likelihood of disengagement. I’m experimenting this semester with allowing students to choose their final project, with some perimeters. The research topic is entirely up to them, with the caveat that it has to be related to their major on at least an interdisciplinary level. They can opt to use a traditional research paper or a blog (featuring critical article reviews) as their deliverable.

Cutler also noted that it’s important for teachers to remember that struggling students can recover and still succeed, if they receive the support(s) they need. It’s also important to realize that student struggles can be overlooked by focusing on behavioral aspects as an indication of understanding. Just because they show up to class doesn’t mean they’re doing well.

As an instructor, the solution may not always be apparent, but remaining cognizant of students who seem to be struggling and being mindful of both their personal situations and learning styles goes a long way. Because students are also not likely to say, I’m struggling with this, being preemptive about asking students what supports they may need, should you notice a student struggling, inviting them to ask questions, as well as being approachable and available, goes a long way.  Also, crafting assignments in such a way that students have the flexibility and time they need to do their best.

I’m dissatisfied with the assessment model I used this semester, but didn’t have time to do something different. In the future, I would like to play around with different ways for students to demonstrate learning. I’m also interested in incorporating more of the Universal Design for Learning practices into my approach to teaching. Like many other pedagogical approaches, UDL came from K-12 education. Because K-12 is where it’s at. 🙂

Those are all the thoughts I have on student engagement and achievement right now, but I’m sure I’ll think of more in the future.

TL;DR – Know your students. Know yourself. Do the best you can. Never give up.

 

 

 

The Collective: from improv to instruction (and everything in between)

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Last month, I attended The Collective 2016, an innovative library conference centered on library practice. (It only took me over thirty days to write a summary!) The conference was highly interactive and aimed at fostering collaborative idea development and networking through hands-on, workshop-style sessions. It was great!

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Table games, anyone? Me, upper left. (Image courtesy of @Anitalifedotcom)

The conference started with an icebreaker session. You know, one of those activities that starts with “get up and move to a table of people you don’t know.” (I didn’t, by the way…) But instead of just making small talk or even having to talk about anything specific at all, we played board games. Who doesn’t like board games? My table played jumbo Jenga. Our tower was very tall and it never fell! Yay us!

Improv as professional practice

The first session I attended was about using improv as a tool for professional practice, both in the classroom and out. My wonderful colleague, Christina, introduced me to improv a few years ago, at an in-house library event, so I was familiar with the concept. I’d also taken an improv workshop, due to the influence of said wonderful colleague. I was interested, though, in seeing how it could be used as a professional tool.

We started by doing an exercise on “Yes, and” in which the main speaker provided a statement and the participants replied enthusiastically with, “Yes, and?!” Jill Markgraf, the session presenter, made the correlation to providing front-facing library services and being mindful of approaches to the research facilitation process. Recognizing students’ place in the research process, rather than looking down on or criticizing them for either getting a false start or not knowing where to start is important. Even seeking help is worth affirming, because we’re all learners and have to start somewhere. So the “yes” is affirming and the “and” builds on that by offering suggestions, guidance, or redirection.

The other activity that stood out to me was Good, Bad, and Ugly. It is a role-play scenario in which three individuals take on the parts of experts in field and provide feedback on, well, the good, the bad, and the ugly. A statement or situation is provided by the facilitator. The “good” persona talks about all the positive elements; the “bad” persona talks about negatives; and the “ugly” persona gives extreme worst case examples of everything. This being a library conference, somehow everything kept coming back to alcohol. I felt kinda sorry for the good persona when someone in the room asked about diversity in librarianship and she couldn’t think of anything to say off the top of her head. Being that I’ve always got my nose in some article or book on the topic, I was mentally squirming in my seat, thinking, “Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

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Librarians improvising. (Image from Library Improv)

Jill suggested using this activity as an ice breaker for departmental meetings. Librarians, in my experience, can be people of strong opinions. Get a bunch of people in one room to discuss changing things and it could take a while, so I could see how it could be a useful way to acknowledge feelings and worst case scenarios while keeping things light.

After the session, I went to Jill’s Library Improv website and found the Keyword Taboo activity, which I used later in a class. It went swimmingly, so I will keep her site in mind for future instruction brainstorming.

 

Instructional design and teaching strategies

I went to a lot of sessions that dealt with designing and improving instruction. Because I am currently teaching a three-credit, semester length course, I felt I could use some help with brainstorming for effective teaching, particularly because, at the time, I was still working on shaping the final project. Sessions I attended covered problem-based learning, creative planning and problem solving, instructional design, and designing one-shot instruction with an eye towards the framework. Like I said, it was a lot of instruction stuff.

The instruction process in academic librarianship involves a lot of complicated pieces. Being faculty, there is that expectation of instruction and research, but most librarians don’t teach semester length courses. Instructional support often happens in conjunction with teaching faculty in various departments, most often the ones affiliated with liaison areas. One of the sessions I attended involved planning one-shot instruction sessions under different circumstances. Such as, you talked to the teaching faculty, made all your plans, and then arrived at the classroom to find you only have twenty minutes to talk. Or, a professor asks you to come speak to their class, but the instruction isn’t tied to any project or assignment. There were also optimal scenarios, such as, you have a three session series in which to cover basic IL concepts related to X discipline and your students are freshmen.

One of the things I appreciated most about the conference was the opportunity to gain hands-on practice in instructional and curricular design. Too, the reason it was valuable was because of the opportunity for collaborative planning and feedback from the session facilitators. Chatting with one of the facilitators during the  “Make it Beautiful, Make it Usable: Improving Instructional Materials for Today’s Learners” session gave me ideas for developing the final project(s) for my adjunct course. Also, seeing how different libraries in different academic communities have developed and used lessons to address student learning outcomes.

Most of the assessment programming I attended was focused on a programmic level. I’m also interested in assessing student learning in single-shot, series, and semester length courses. What does assessment look like on an informal vs. formal basis? How are these measures used to improve student learning, instruction, and match (curriculum mapping)?

As a side note, one of the sessions I attended was facilitated by a librarian and a professor from my alma mater. I couldn’t resist going up to them later and saying, Hey! I used to be a student here, but now I’m a librarian too! I think I was more tickled about that than they were.

More Info

If you’re interested in learning more about the programming, you can view community notes, handouts, and PPT slides via Sched. You can also find archived live tweeting of the conference here or via #libcol16.

A week of instruction

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The Class #1

On Monday, I assisted my colleague (who is the librarian for Early Childhood, Elementary,

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Image via pixabay.com

Middle, and Secondary Education) with instructing a library session for a social studies methods class for middle and secondary education majors. This was the same class I taught the previous week, as a solo instruction session. Previously, I taught on finding and using primary source materials for inquiry based learning. This week’s session was on teaching social studies with trade books. We’d collaboratively planned a lesson and activities ahead of time, but when we got to the class Read the rest of this entry

#AdjunctLife

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I’m currently listening to Jessye Norman sing Habanera, because my friend reminded me that I do like opera. And I especially enjoy sopranos, her voice texture in particular, because of all the things I wish I could do with my voice. Oh, and I’m grading papers again.

*We now take a break from our regularly scheduled librarianship to talk about teaching as an adjunct.* It’s almost halfway through the semester. As a matter of fact, midterm grades are due this week, a fact that escaped my notice until fairly recently. So I figured now would be a good time to look back and think about all the things I’ve learned so far. Read the rest of this entry

The joys of assessment

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If you don’t know where you are headed, you’ll probably end up someplace else.

~Douglas J. Eder, Ph.D

Assessment is important. It informs teaching and supports learning.  You should do it. No, you must do it. That’s the sum of what I gleaned in my training as an educator, so when my colleague turned to the professor and I to define summative assessment versus formative assessment, I had to think for a second. Luckily, the professor answered first…and then turned to me to make sure she got it right. Apparently, I look like I know things. Read the rest of this entry

Bearded in the studio mirror: exploring masculinity through dance (an observation)

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The dancers stood in a circle, listening to the instructions. About thirty-five. It was a large circle. Some barefoot, some in socks. A few in hats. A few with beards. In departure from the typical dance class, it was composed entirely of male students.

Think of a word that embodies you. Create a movement to give life to this word. Repeat the movement with your eyes closed. Hold that movement. Eyes closed, allow your body to carry your word. They stood motionless in thought Read the rest of this entry