Grand Narratives and the Information Cycle in the Library Instruction Classroom: Reading 3

Grand Narratives and the Information Cycle in the Library Instruction Classroom by Sara Franks

The overall primary issue within Grand Narratives is the fact that despite whether or not the grand narrative is an effective teaching method it will be my job as a librarian to help patrons find their resources as well as how to critically think about the resources that they might find. It was the second part of this statement that caught most of my attention while reading the rest of the article. I am very interested in evaluation of sources

When I first began to read Grand Narratives, I realized that I was a product of both teaching styles and I found this to be somewhat enlightening. It shed light on some of the whys of my own teaching styles like “Why I am loathing to move away from strict lecture base classes sometimes?”  The answer that I came to as I reflected on this article was that as a student I had been exposed to both.  My educational background lies in history and many of my survey classes were based on the grand narratives model that Franks describes in her chapter. As I moved into my upper level history classes, I began to be exposed to the other side of Franks’ argument which looked at disciplines like history through individual or fragmented types of lens. Now that I am pursuing my MLIS degree, I have realized that I am now on the other side of the debate as a teacher who is trying to figure out the best way to help my patrons evaluate their chosen sources.

What Do First-Year Students Know About Information Research? And What Can We Teach Them: Reading 5

What Do First-Year Students Know About Information Research? And What Can We Teach Them? by Kate Manuel

I feel that every time I read a new article each week my thoughts and perceptions about teaching are always challenged. This leaves me in a place where I find myself reevaluating my beliefs. The article for this week is no different. The primary focus of the article looks at first year college students in basic level English classes and their information literacy level before and after library instruction. The study also focuses in on some of the perceptions that librarians commonly may hold about incoming new students and whether the perceptions that they hold are valid. The article made me realize that many of the perceptions that I have about students are many of the same described within the study.

I have always tried to keep in mind when I am preparing to teach to not assume any perceptions about the knowledge base of my class that is about to walk in. I have discovered that when I do that my classes tend to feel like (in my opinion) a lot of unnecessary explanation and hand holding. I feel that this creates an environment that is very difficult for students to learn in; however, this article made me realize that, like a lot librarians, I do believe in the assumption that my students are coming in with next to no knowledge about the library at all. This makes me think that I have to cover everything so that my students will have a thorough knowledge of the library. I realize in reality that it is next to impossible for me to cover every aspect of library instruction in detail in under an hour in a one shot session.

This study however has shown me that I should have more faith in my students’ base knowledge and not assume that almost all of my students are going to be information illiterate. This study just reinforced the idea that as a teacher I should assume nothing and instead try to gauge the experience of my class throughout the instruction session in order to best meet the students’ needs. I was also reminded that I need to be cognizant that my students are bringing their own experiences to the table and that this is how they are going to perceive, interrupt, and measure the information that I give out. To disregard such an important aspect would be, in my opinion, detrimental to not only the ability of the student to learn but also for me as a teacher in finding the best method in which to rely the needed information.

Becoming Critically Reflective: A Process of Learning and Change: Reading 4

Becoming Critically Reflective: A Process of Learning and Change

This article was a fascinating and thought provoking read. It primarily explored ways in which teachers could view their practice by standing outside of themselves and observing how they act in the classroom. The author discussed four “distinct lenses” in which teachers can use to reflect upon different areas of their practice. It was two of these lenses that really struck a chord with me.

The first of the two is the Our Autobiographies as Learners and Teachers. This particular lens really hit home for me personally because I have always believed that understanding your past or rather the experiences and memories that guide your decisions helps you grow as a person. I feel that self- reflection as a teacher is one of the most crucial steps in creating a welcoming environment for our students as well as helping establish good communication. From self-reflection, I believe as teachers we gain understanding as to why we prescribe to a particular method or tradition. Reading this article made me realize one of the reasons why I like to have lectures in my classes. Lectures were a primary mode of learning for me, but I also love good storytelling. I had fantastic teachers that could weave facts into a beautiful narrative and while I, as a teacher, may think that this is wonderful my future students may not. This is where the second lens comes in.

The second lens that inspired me is Our Students’ Eyes.  I felt that, after reading this article, this second lens was a good balancer for me in regards to Our Autobiographies. The article made a good point that this particular lens is somewhat cloistered in the fact that it is a personal and internal self-evaluation. Memories and experiences can become altered in our minds as we reflect back. I think that lecturing is a wonderful way to learn because it was so successful in my memory but from a student’s eyes it may be a very dull and painful way to learn.  I feel that getting to know my students and trying to understand their learning perceptive will only make me a better teacher because the environment that I am trying to create is a rewarding balance for them and me.

Looking to Session 2

This week’s challenge is to create active learning activities to use in Session 2.

Here at The University of Alabama, our instructional program for First Year Writing Students is separated into two sessions. The first is Finding and Using Search Terms and the second is Evaluating Sources. Louise, Alex and Karlie have been challenged each week to design activities to use in the sessions, with a narrow focus on one aspect of these topics.

Our sessions focus on narrow learning outcomes. We try to limit the learning outcomes to 3 for each session. Our departmental outcomes for session 2 are:

  • Distinguish difference types of resources in order to select relevant and reliable sources
  • Locate articles and books in print and electronic format in order to retrieve diverse types of sources.

When we talk to students about evaluating sources, there are two conversations that we have with them.

We talk about setting standards- what are the standards that a source has to meet in order to be included in your body of research? What caliber source do you need in order to support your argument? Will you need to use scholarly articles? Primary sources? Or are popular sources good enough?

The other conversation is about a source itself- how do you critique or measure the value of a source? How do you review your source? Who is the author? Do you need to do some background research on them to make sure they know what they’re talking about? What gives them ground to talk about this topic? And what is the source origin? Is it peer reviewed? Did it have publication and editorial standards? What kind of reputation does it have?

So far, we’ve been seeing a lot of creative activities. Anything from small group work to game show style games. I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of this challenge, and I hope the activities will be blogged about afterwards!

The Courage to Teach

This week’s reading came from chapter one in the book The Courage to Teach. The chapter was entitled “The Heart of the Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching.” The chapter’s primary focus was on the fact that technique alone does not make a good teacher. Factors like integrity and the identity of the teacher help to promote good teachers. For the author those two factors appear to be some of the most important.

In reading this chapter, I found myself once again looking at myself internally. The chapter touched on one of my biggest fears about teaching: Teaching is all based on technique and if you do not have that foundation then you will be doomed in the classroom. This idea formed throughout my K-12 school years as I watched my former teachers use various techniques that they had learned to teach us the information we needed to know. Upon entering college, my eyes were opened when I meet many professors who had no formalized training in teaching but bravely went into the classroom each day. In those early days, as I sat in these classes my fears were reconfirmed that good teachers were only those who were trained in the techniques. Luckily, this perception changed as a moved into my upper level major classes. I began to see that years of experience, the level of comfort in the subject area, and a natural affinity to teaching also factored into the formula, along with technique, to make a good teacher. My fear however remained. I realized that I could attained the first two points, but the third was very elusive and something that was very personally internal.

Today I have been put in many situations where I have had to over come my fear of not being a good teacher. I have conducted classes where I have been very well paired, not prepared at all, and gone into classrooms on a wing and a prayer hoping for the best. In reading this chapter, I found myself confronting that old fear that I thought I had mastered. The premise of the argument I had encountered before listening to other teachers, however; the chapter had a profound effect on me especially the section that talked about learning to listen to ourselves internally. This was something that I had never truly done and I began to equate that with the realization that I did not trust myself in the classroom. I realized that I believed that without a formal technique to guide me that I would not be a good and effective teacher. This internal reflection also made me reevaluate my past teaching moments in a new light as well and I came to realize that what the author was arguing for was in many ways absolutely true. I began to remember classes where I was the student and the class was strictly driven by technique. I also remembered classes where all three aspects of technique, content, and the identity were balanced. These were my favorite and most effective classes.

From all this internal reflection, I came to the conclusion that I have many times before when I have thought about teaching: it is a balancing game! A balance of technique, knowledge, and personality rolled into a consumable form for students to digest makes, what I believe to be, one of the best teaching environments for students to learn.

Being the GTA in the Classroom

On September 12th, I had my first co-teaching session with Brett for one of my instruction classes and I must say that I loved it! I will be honest and say that I did not expect this to be my first reaction. I am the type of person to plan for the worst and hope for the best. This was my strategy for this first class. I mentally began to prepare for a whole class of scenarios that never came to life while hoping that this session was an effective learning time for the students. I had fully expected to be nervous in front of the class because I always get nervous for public speaking but for me, something strange occurred as I saw that students wonder into the classroom. I felt a sense of calm fall over me and as I got ready to start the class I felt a wave of excitement wash over as well. These two experiences have never really come hand in hand to me before and pushed many of my fears aside. This moment made my realize just how much I enjoy teaching! It also made my realize that I want to do my best always so this caused me reflect closely upon the instruction class.

I decided to look for one thing that I feel that I did really well on and one area that I need to improve upon. I felt that the area I was best for this first session was getting the classes attention right at the beginning of class and keeping it for the duration. To do this I used the whiteboard and used active learning by asking questions to get the class thinking and moving. I found this to be one of the best parts because of the interactivity as well as it was just fun.

It was also in this same area that I found where I need some improvement. As the students were defining their search terms on the board, their search terms where not necessarily matching up with some of the examples that I prepared and so I found myself guiding them in the direction that I thought we should go. I realized later that might not have been the best way and that I need to listen more and pay attention the mood of the class. I also need to not be afraid to move away from my script and improvise a little more because as I have learned each class has its own mind and personality and like anything that complex it can change on a moments notice. As the teacher, I have to roll with the punches! I fully expect that time and experience will help me in my endeavor.

Reflection on “Grand Narratives”

Reflection on “Grand Narratives and the Information Cycle in the Library Instruction Classroom.”

Sara Franks, “Grand Narratives and the Information Cycle in the Library Instruction Classroom,” in Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, edited by Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier, 43-54. Duluth: Library Juice Press, 2010.

This article discussed the role of information professionals in developing critical thinking skills and moving away from the trend of emphasizing “grand narratives” in higher education. I don’t think there’s any doubt that librarians should encourage students to take a more active role in their education, to find their own sources of information, and to think critically about them. I’m not sure that as librarians we need to explicitly encourage students to move away from grand narratives (we only have so much time with students anyway) as long as we can help them to find their own sources of information and think critically about them. I do believe, as the article points out, that higher education is already moving away from the concept of grand narratives. Coming from a history background, I never really had a teacher that taught a certain way only (a Marxist view of history, for example). You would be assigned a number of different works with varying themes (some that might stress economic determinism, the importance of “great men” or big ideas, etc.) and you could develop your own critical thinking by deciding which themes you felt were most important.

I do think the author is right in emphasizing the fact that scholarly sources are not infallible by any means. We do need to describe the differences between popular sources and scholarly sources, but at the same time recognize that scholarly sources are full of opinions and biases. Again coming from a history background, when you’re in high school and even 100 level classes you mostly read textbooks, and a lot of times it’s just assumed that they can be taken completely on face value, even if that’s not always correct. But as you start taking higher level classes you realize how specialized and opinionated most history is, because historians have to be opinionated; they have to stake out a position and opinion on a topic, person, or concept because any major event has almost certainly been covered in detail by previous authors. But at the same time, I think that gives students a chance to develop their critical thinking skills. If a student is assigned a research paper and finds a number of sources on some event that have distinct themes, biases, opinions, etc., then he or she can try to compare and contrast these views and develop opinions of their own. The article also cautions library professionals to not portray reference sources as authoritative or complete, and that also seems reasonable. I do think there can be a bit of a fine line here though; we should encourage students to think critically, we should tell students not to always take things on face value, but we also don’t need to scare them off, so to speak, by constantly emphasizing how fallible all their sources are.

Our Second Scout Module

We had our second scout module on Thursday, and overall I thought mine was kind of a mixed bag. A few things worked out well. For one I thought showing how using natural language (in this case just using a question instead of keywords) doesn’t really work well on scout. For the first scout module I had a question in mind that I knew brought back a first result that wasn’t relevant, but for some reason when I used that search during the presentation it didn’t retrieve that exact article (I must have just worded the question slightly different on accident). This time I asked scout a question about cultural life in the antebellum south and the first return was an article about soil science and geology, so I thought that was helpful in showing some of the differences between how you search on scout and how you search on Google. I also thought the keyword searches that I did after that worked fine, and that also showed some of the differences between scout and other search engines. Freshmen presumably understand Google and are comfortable using it, so I think comparing and contrasting the two is one way to help them start to understand scout.

I did think my second presentation was a bit too similar to my first. I don’t know if that really matters since it was just practice, but I intended to do something kind of similar but with an emphasis on just finding books, and I’m not sure that really came off as the point of it. I had the same problems with getting in too much of a hurry and forgetting some parts of the presentation. I’ve tried not to have too much of a script for these things because I thought it would seem too scripted and mechanical, but the next time I do something similar to this I’ll at least have some sort of outline. I think I was better at not spending so much time behind the podium for this module, and I feel like I do better when I’m out in front of the class. At the podium I always feel like I’m slouching down, like it would feel a bit more natural if I was a couple inches shorter. Overall though I thought it went better than the first module.

Game Changing

Having given some thought to the way my first “dry run” went, I decided to make some adjustments.  I also had a gratifying and validating discussion about these changes with one of our fearless Jedi leaders, Sara.  I determined that I had allowed my natural, convivial manner to overrun the lesson plan I had chosen, and that I needed to concentrate on what was lacking (steering the direction of the exchange) my being more didactic in my approach and lend more of a lecture style to my instruction.  While not abandoning my “authentic self” as I so lauded in my response to “The Courage to Teach” article to which we responded, I wanted to challenge myself to  distance myself somewhat from the conversation in order to meet the goals of my lesson plan.  Also taking a suggestion from our meeting that followed the initial session, I decided to make a rigorously organized lesson plan (even if it does only cover ten minutes).   I had also determined that the practice of technique would require narrowing my focus as closely as possible, so I chose to focus on a lecture based format that would only cover a small facet of what we will actually be attempting to convey.  I also resolved (this time) to go entirely low-tech.  Using Scout and speaking at the same time was more of a challenge than I had previously anticipated.  This is certainly a balance I want to address, but first I prefer to move out of my comfort zone on a more personal basis. I realize that I enjoy technology not only as a useful tool, but am also tempted to use it a buffer, and tend to get bogged down in technical rabbit holes.  This is fine for exploratory sessions, but for the purposes of our experimentation, I think it is most important for me to get ahold of time management and sticking to the subject intended for the session.

As a side note I greatly enjoyed today’s  observation of Karlie and Brett’s wonderful co-teaching session.  They set the bar high.

Full Swing

Library Instruction season is in full swing at The University of Alabama! All of us are scurrying around, meeting with class instructors, planning lessons, and meeting with students in classrooms and one on one. There is a lot of energy in the air! Karlie, Louise and Alex presented some very narrowly focused and informative searching modules this morning, and without any prior discussion, each of them highlighted a different aspect of the searching process. Karlie has had her first co-teaching experience as of yesterday, and the other two will begin next week. I think they’re ready. They’re doing so well.

This afternoon, I’ve been prepping something a little different from our normal EN102 classes. I am going to a EN101 class to talk to them about their Informative Synthesis paper, which will be on film reviews of The Avengers, Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games, or A Separation. The movies are pre-selected, and the students will actually be finding 4 reviews of one movie, and synthesizing those reviews for their paper. It’s a really fun assignment. But the question becomes how to teach them to find the specific sources that they need? They don’t need to learn how to do general searches, and I only have 20 minutes to present to them.

This is what I’ve decided to do. I have outlined a search formula for them to follow, and in my LibGuide I’ve linked to several databases that they can use this formula in to find the reviews that they need. I think this will give them a fail-safe way to search for the specific information that they need without steering them towards any of the greater conceptual issues that we will be addressing with them in the future. This assignment’s important objective is for students to learn to synthesis multiple sources, and this activity will facilitate that objetive nicely!