Watching the Classes

On Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, I was able to observe my first two instruction sessions as an intern. They were very different subjects, very different class dynamics, and very different instruction topics, but some of the reactions and responses were the same. I enjoyed the experiences of watching Sara teach keywords through ads to freshman, and seeing some of the contrast when Brett went into some advanced search techniques for a 400 European History seminar. This first session helped me realize one of weaknesses and the second gave me a chance to use one of my strengths.

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My first session was the freshman session taught by Sara. Farren Stanley’s EN 102 was not a completely normal instruction session due to the nature of their assignment, which involved visual sources, including the photo above, which was one of examples during class. Here are some of the things I learned from Sara during class:

  • Sometimes getting freshman to volunteer answers seems much like pulling teeth, even when the English Instructor helps.
  • Activities are good! …Start with one.
  • Movement helps keep the freshman involved and, I believe, mildly frightened of you seeing were they are not supposed to be on the internet.
  • Eye contact with the group also helps with the above statement.
  • Treat the lesson like a one-on-one conversation with a group, not a presentation or performance.
  • The “No More Than Four” rule, which was something I had never known before Wednesday.
  • Let the students choose their own path and examples.

Of these lessons, the one that I think was hardest and most important for me was the last. Silence is not always my strongest suit, and in this session, it was particularly hard for me to not to try to help the students with their keyword examples. Part of it was the awkward silences waiting for the students to answer, and part it was prior knowledge of important literary stereotypes. I desperately wanted to inform the group, “She’s a hag!”, but I came to realize that the right answer is not always the right answer, and that me sharing my “right answer” with them wasn’t what they needed: They needed what Sara gave them–a chance to develop their search on the their own. I feel like this might be one of my greatest instruction weakness, and I’m going to learn not to mother them along their path, but allow them to find it, as slow as they want, on their own.

The second session, Brett’s advanced session for a History seminar class on the long 19th century in Europe, was a joy to watch and help with consulting. The class subject was one of my favorites as an undergraduate, and being able to sit in on this reminded me of why I wanted to go into library instruction in the first place–to be able to listen to a whole new generation of topics on the subjects I love. Some of things I learned from Brett’s session are included below:

  • Sometimes getting upperclassmen to volunteer answers seems much like pulling teeth, even when the History Instructor helps.
  • It easier to get students to respond and ask questions when they’re not in a group, but working on their own.
  • That some instances of primary and secondary are hard even for a masters student, so they’ve got to be hard for an undergraduate (That was a hard handout, Brett!)
  • Some students don’t need your help with topics and keywords, and some do. Ask anyway.
  • The moment when you help turn a topic and a search around and you get to help a student understand is one the best moments a reference librarian can have.

It was a joy to be able to help consult with the students. One of my favorite moments is when I was able to help one of the women in the class go from this nebulous idea of Britain and High Society and maybe Colonial India to a few more specific topics, and then to have her ask me a question on how to search one of the topics I had helped suggest (19th Century British Travel Writings on the Colonies, especially Colonial India) was so much fun to me. It made me feel like I had an active role on affecting a student.

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