Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mick Jagger, Rock Star Librarian

This snark originally appeared in a post by Travis Jonker here:

Ask the Masses: Organizing Lesson Materials

A reader asks:

I’m having issues staying organized with my lesson plans and class presentation materials. On top of that, we don’t get much space to save our documents, presentations, images, and videos. Do you have any recommendations for staying organized and saving materials off the campus server?

Share your answers/observations/experiences in the comments section below!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Overcoming Teaching Stage Fright

I recently read a blog post from Hack Library School about overcoming teaching stage fright.  Many of us have been in teaching situations that we may not have necessarily been entirely comfortable with. Perhaps it is because you’re not as comfortable with the subject area as you would like to be; maybe it is because you’re using someone else’s lesson plan; maybe  it is because you haven’t had adequate time to prepare the lesson; or maybe it is simply because you haven’t had a lot of library instruction experience.  Whatever the reason, there are ways to become more comfortable teaching.  In the Hack Library School post, they mention the following:

  • Observe other instructors. 
  • Keep it simple. 
  • Make sure you have plenty of water.  
  • Find a mentor. 
  • Focus on successes. 

While I agree with their tips, I have a few others to add to the list.

Before you teach: 

  • Meet with the professor beforehand (in person if possible, otherwise email can work too) to clarify what you are expected to teach, what the students need, and how it connects to an upcoming assignment. Having this perspective will help you as you prepare your lesson. Get your lesson plan done early and share it with the class professor--they might be able to point out important things to cover or notice things that you’re including that the students might not need. This sharing also helps me review the lesson and get to know it and the session objectives even better.
  • Create an outline that works for you. Everyone’s style is different. Write a lesson plan outline that works for your style.  It’s important to remember that you’re not writing a script, however. Work to include enough detail that you feel confident with the content, but not so much that you just wind up reading it word for word to the class. Also, having too much on the page can make it more difficult to find your place after you've gotten off track.  
  • Plan more than you think you’ll need. Have a few extra examples up your sleeve to help reinforce the concepts if the students seem like they need the extra practice or if you somehow wind up with extra time at the end of your lesson.
  • But also know you won’t be able to cover everything under the sun (and the students won’t be able to absorb much of anything if you throw too much at them in one sitting). It’s okay (and important) to limit your session content to teaching just what students need for the project/assignment. 
  • Practice. This is one of the most important things you can do to become more comfortable leading a class. Don’t just practice by walking through a lesson in your head. Find yourself a willing audience (friends, colleagues, strangers you met on the street, whomever) and ask them for their honest feedback after they've observed you run through your lesson. You might have to promise them chocolate, but it’ll be worth it.  If at all possible, practice in the space you’ll be using so you can get used to the technology in the room, the acoustics, having to project your voice, moving around the space, etc. 
  • Work on timing. Timing is one of the hardest things for me when lesson planning. Estimate how long you think each task will take, walk through the tasks yourself (realizing it will take students more time than it takes you because they aren't as familiar with the resources and the process as you are), and ask friends to do a little trial run of an activity to get a better idea of the timing (again, promises of chocolate come in really handy). 
  • Do teaching warm-ups.  This wasn't something I had even thought of until I got to grad school and the head of Teaching and Learning talked about it during my Education of Information Users class. You warm up to sing; you warm up to get your body ready to play an instrument; you warm up to exercise; why wouldn't you warm up to teach? Teaching is very physical. Doing vocal warm-ups will help prevent voice fatigue; stretching will get the blood flowing and get your body ready to stand for an extended period of time (depending on the structure of your class); and taking the time to warm up and stretch will help you find your focus and mentally prepare to be leading a class. 
  • Write a basic lesson plan outline up on the board. It will help keep you on track and help the students know what to expect as you go along.

As you teach:

  • Find a teaching style that works for you. No two people teach exactly alike. It is great to have a mentor, it is wonderful to observe others teaching, but in the end you have to teach in a way that connects the students to what they need--Trying to be someone else gets in the way. You wind up thinking more about yourself rather than the students and their needs. It’s helpful to observe others teaching and borrow ideas, but you also need to modify them and make them your own. 
  • Record yourself as you practice your lesson and when you’re actually teaching. Along with practice, this is another one of the most important things you can do. Recording yourself will help you see how you teach, notice any verbal or physical nervous ticks, see how you work under pressure, and observe how you think on your feet when students ask questions or when the unexpected happens.
  • Be flexible. It’s okay to change things up as you go. Being flexible means you’re doing a good job being responsive to the needs of the class. Maybe you got off track in one area because a student asked a great question or because you could see the students weren't able to follow along. That’s perfectly fine! It’s authentic learning, trial and error, but don’t let that completely throw you off your game. You can jump back into your lesson plan to cover the rest of the content they need to be successful. 

These tips aren't all-inclusive, but hopefully you've found at least one thing that will help you feel more confident and comfortable in the classroom.

Is there something I missed? Comment below to share what you do to feel more comfortable in the classroom.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ask the Masses: LibGuides

Anne Marie asks: 

I'm wondering how librarians include LibGuides in instruction. We got them just this year & the feedback is GREAT, but I'm struggling with how to effectively incorporate them into my teaching. Do I teach off that AND the library website? I've tried that & students are left going "how did you get there again?" At the same time, I don't want to just skip the website alltogether because I want them to be able to navigate the library website even though we might put the catalog or database search boxes on the LibGuides. Help?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unique instruction tool: hanging file folders

I could not decide what to call this post. Do I name it after the technique? Do I name it after the instructional strategy or content I'm trying to cover? And then I realized, no you need to name it after the unique part of it: the tool you use.

I am a queen of cheap. Chances are this won't be the last "Unique instruction tool" post I pen.Why pay for something fancy when you can use a free tool or repurpose something you've got lying around?. Enter the lowly hanging file folder. You know you have some extras in that file cabinet in the corner. Why not take them and re-envision them as a teaching tool?

This idea originated as a way to help students put a bunch of events from European history in chronological order. The inspiration? Those "Price Is Right" pricing games I watched as a kid! I printed out the events on pieces of paper and then stapled them to the front of the folder with the metal bar at the top. On the inside I stapled a piece of paper that had the event, the year it occurred, and the correct number it was in the sequence. I finished off the project by binder clipping the folders shut.

A simple activity, but the benefits were many. It got the students up out of their seats and moving around the classroom. It required the students to work together to figure out the sequence. It introduced quite a few different events (as possible paper topics). And it had the added element of being something the students hadn't seen before. Plus I paid absolutely nothing for it. Paper, a stapler, binder clips and hanging folders--that's it.
Since the initial introduction, I've used this technique to talk about characteristics of different regions of the world, and most recently to reinforce what students have already learned about the parts and purpose of a scholarly journal article. We teach this concept in a few intro level classes, but it's something a little reinforcement can't hurt. When I ask the students about this in class I usually get one student that answers all the questions, but with the folder activity I get at least 8 students involved usually leaving the traditionally quiet students in the "audience" to move the volunteers up front into the correct sequence.

What ways could use use this technique? It works well for sequencing and reinforcement of ideas already presented.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Real-time feedback

Using in-class polls, quizzes, and questions to shape instruction

I admit it: I have assessment on the brain lately.  While much of what has been rattling around in my head has had to do with summative assessment—in the form of rubrics, artifacts, and standardized tests such as SAILS and TRAILS (and automobiles?)—what I'm especially interested in investigating this semester is strategies for formative assessment.  At the library I work for, most of our instruction is limited to one-shot 50- or 80-minute class sessions, which means that taking time for assessment within class, to say nothing of ongoing assessment, can be challenging.  That's not to say that we're not pursuing other models of library instruction, but for right now, it's what we've got to work with.

Perhaps it is because we frequently only have this one-shot opportunity to connect with students and may not have the ability to follow up, that formative assessment—assessment that happens during the learning process—makes the most sense in terms of providing feedback on our teaching and guiding our instruction during that class period.  So, what if we were able to get quick and timely feedback that could shape our instruction in a more dynamic way?

Last spring, at the 2012 IPAL conference at Wartburg College, I attended a presentation by Carrie Dunham-LaGree from Drake University, in which she described how she had used Google Forms to assess her students' prior information literacy knowledge (see images below) at the beginning of library instruction sessions.  (Note: these forms have since been moved to Qualtrics.)

Asking students short, applied questions about using, finding, and evaluating sources, she was able to ascertain through the use of this form a baseline level of information literacy, which she then used to inform her instruction.
What was most interesting to me, was the way in which she then shared the results with students to create buy-in for what she was going to teach during that class session.  She used the results as a guide to shift the amount of time and emphasis she devoted to different portions of the lesson.  For example, results such as those below might mean she would spend more time showing students how to read citations, or move this section of the class to the beginning.

The combination of a flexible, modular lesson and real-time feedback was, in my opinion, brilliant! Carrie's presentation got me thinking about means and tools for informal and real-time assessment that we could use at my own library, and what role technology might play in all of this.

Especially as more and more students are using smartphones, I think the time is right to harness their use for quick and meaningful feedback during class.  This may be old news for some of my fellow instruction librarians (if so, please share your ideas below!), but it's something I'm just beginning to explore.  Tools that I have been experimenting with include Google Forms, Poll Everywhere, and interactive polls in LibGuides.  Whenever possible, I usually advocate for 'technology' that doesn't distract from learning objectives (think: whiteboards over SMART Boards), but I'm really intrigued by the possibilities that apps and interactive polls might afford.

These ideas are still developing in my own head, so I would be curious to hear what others have done with regard to informal assessment and customized instruction based on in-class feedback.  How do you incorporate informal, formative assessment into library instruction?  Are there any tools (digital or analog) you would recommend?  Have you experienced any fabulous successes (or failures)?