Reflections upon EN 102 observation

Had the pleasure of observing Mr. Brett Spencer working with 24 reluctant to cooperative students this morning beginning about 0930, and by 1030 they were all cooperative and pleased to have useful information in their hands or emails. Brett started with an Alabama football quiz for those students who came early enough, and by the time he started explaining Scout, most of the class was awake.

I realized how one had to begin at the beginning, assuming nothing in terms of library and computer use in order to make sure we were all on the same page, and the active learning component (following along with Brett) was an important part of getting the class material across to the students.  Brett did the step by step rollup to using the basic search in Scout, got things rolling toward keywords (southern culture as a taking off point) using, and the five or six various groups in the class all followed along in learning the Scout tool.  Sooner than expected, Brett turned them loose to discuss among themselves what topics they wanted to explore, and they were busily selecting keywords as Brett waded into them waist deep, helping out where he could.

Again, the importance of beginning at the beginning was impressed upon me as I was called upon to escort a student to find books the group had selected about Southern foodways (call number guides at the elevators), and this student had never been beyond the first or second floor of Gorgas.  Another group (football, religion, politics) had found some items held in the Hoole collections and were very excited to hear that it would be a treat just to go to Hoole to use their holdings.  One student had bad experiences in high school trying to use databases, and a few limiters and a bit of encouragement pulled it all out of the ditch and put it back on the road again.  Got a chance to assist in keyword selection with one group that was interested in Southern clothing fashion (Southeastern United States; clothing/garment design; sales and marketing).  Yet another group was going to get their first experience with inter-library loan, so the diversity of requests and needs was also impressive.

Overall, a great learning experience for me, and a productive experience for the students, if I can judge by what they left the classroom with.  This flipped classroom thing seems to be quite effective, and getting productive work done in class pleases students in that they have a leg up on their projects, and their homework is on the way to getting done.  Many thanks to Brett for allowing me to observe, and I was glad to have some student contact again after years out of the classroom.  Oh yeah, the snow that started during class was only a small part of the excitement.

Further reflections upon the EN 102 instructional sessions

Had the pleasure of observing Ms. Sara Whitver teaching a group of young folks re search strings, key words, Boolean operators, and Scout.  A great deal was packed into about 50 minutes, and the one difference I noted in the session when compared to an earlier observation with Mr. Brett Spencer was that the EN 102 instructor was there.  Mr. Spencer had someone who showed up to take the EN roll, but the instructor was unavoidably out.

In Ms. Whitver’s class, the instructor was there, “driving” the process.  That is, she was there with immediate feedback and comments to direct her students, giving examples how Ms. Whitver’s material applied to things already discussed in the EN class, and brainstorming live with Ms. Whitver as to how to make the entire process more relevant and effective for the students.  Great example of team teaching, and I trust that Ms. Whitver’s examples will be further discussed in the EN class to good effect.

“Begin at the beginning” was again impressed upon me, and the class slowly awakened to taking part and contributing their answers and ideas, because it really was a brainstorming session among everyone in the room–it felt like time well spent.

All I have to say, just wanted to get it down before it got covered up in what is left of my brain.  All good things, gissteve.

Reading #2 Heart of a Teacher

Reflections upon reading #2, “Heart of a Teacher”, Chapter One, from The Courage to Teach, by Parker J. Palmer

Not a boring reading, I am glad to report.  Beginning with a bad day of teaching (students “silent as monks”) and referring to 30 years of learning the craft of teaching, Palmer finds that the “techniques I have mastered do not disappear, but neither do they suffice.”  Terrific turn of phrase and analysis, and further “good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” (p. 10)

Infusing one’s teaching with one’s personal identity and “being there” with and for students in the service of learning, teaching is not reducible to technique, but comes from the heart (“good teaching comes from good people.” p.13).  Further, student have had objectivity drummed into them, leading to their being out of touch with themselves, stilted in their speech and writing, deluded “into thinking that bad prose can turn opinions into facts” p. 18.  This is one of the most adept descriptions of stiff scholarship I have ever read.

Saddest, and perhaps truest of all, Palmer gives us “we train doctors to repair the body but hot to honor the spirit; clergy to be CEOs but not spiritual guides; teachers to master techniques but not to engage their students’ souls.” p.19  In the name of objectivity, we have lost heart and denied the value of subjective thought.  Palmer goes on to advocate for not only mentors, but explores the qualities of mentees that will/did allow them to absorb what the mentors had to offer.

This is a very person and subjective journey that Palmer guides us on, exploring the joy and pain of teaching.  Working for money and not meaning (p.30) is a common plight these days where holding the job or honoring your soul (p.30) is the real question.  Listening to your inner voice, your inner teacher is the path to identity and integrity as a teacher—and one must author their own authority as a teacher. (p.33)  The truth within your students will respond to you, and respond in kind (p.33).

This is so personal and so deep that while I appreciate Palmer’s sharing the inner workings of the inner teacher, I wonder how many readers will or can attain this depth of understanding.  Great benchmark, but quite a distant or demanding target.  Inspiring to read, perhaps impossible to reach, but there is nothing wrong with aiming high.  I think perhaps Palmer was writing for teachers in similar situations: 30 years of experience, bouts of depression, wondering if it is worth it all, sounds like burnout to me.  At the same time, Palmer rejects pursuing other vocations—the inner teacher loves the inner students.  I think THAT is what has distinguished the exceptional teachers I have known.  Not only “being there” but with love and caring for the students, and also for the disciplines they taught so well.

Reflections upon “How do they conduct class?” by Ken Bain

This is the first in our series of readings for GIS Spring 2013, and for me it was like finding a meteorite in my front yard—just sitting out there in the open, apropos of nothing.  Great job of laying out the unifying factors that MAKE good instructors good instructors, but only if you subscribe to the idea that the sum of the parts equals the whole.  For the most part, I can subscribe to this logic—except where humans are involved, and I know that every outstanding instructor I have ever had possessed something that could not be reduced to words.  That is, good instructors engender FEELINGS in their students, these feelings spark curiosity, and curiosity makes you want to know what is on the other side of the mountain.  That said, please see below re Ken Bain’s Chapter Five.

Bain admits from the get go that any teaching method (my favorite was always called guided discovery) can fail, but then goes on to dissect specific methods employed by specific instructors to inspire students.  His first point was that one should create a “natural critical learning environment” with everyone in the class working together.  This latter charge is challenging enough (professionals are supposed to work together, and class work should mirror this model), but the critical learning environment involves embedding natural activity and questions into a learning environment where everyone is reasoning from evidence.  Evidence-based (you fill in the blank) is a huge buzzword these days—I first heard of evidence-based medicine—and if physician scientists need convincing as to the utility of basing behavior or treatment upon the best evidence, how should college students react to this tactic?  Pretty well, I predict, as there is no ponderous structure (yet) limiting young students’ imaginations—what a great opportunity.

The second point was to get students’ attention and keep it (???!), and let the approach you take be student centered (point three), not discipline-oriented.  That is, you need to first care about the students, and then work toward the discipline.  The fourth point was to seek commitment from students to the class and learning class material, and (5) to help students learn out of class and then use class time to actually do work and check on their progress.  Finally, one must engage students in disciplinary thinking (learning to think like professionals in the field), and create diverse learning experiences, as the brain loves variety (harking back to the–apparently outdated–idea of different styles of learning).  All of this contributes to an environment where “What is the next question” becomes the END of any learning experience, and yet is the BEGINNING of the next learning iteration.  Sounds great.

Above all, student must learn to talk in class, and instructors who communicate well and warmly are those who will succeed in this.  From my experience, making students feel empowered to make a contribution to any class, and accepting those contributions is the key to WANTING to go to class for any student (I believe).  In short, the challenges are many, and opportunities equal the number of challenges.  No one has all the answers.  No one is beyond learning (students and teachers).  Great teachers focus on learning, both theirs and their students (p. 134).  Lots to do.  Let’s get with it.

Why do the internship with GIS, and what do I expect to learn?

I sneaked in under the door and worked in a medical library for eleven years on the strength of a Master’s in public health. This experience gave me a great foundation for studying librarianship, and my academic work has reinforced the idea that on the job training is necessary to round out any MLIS degree. Since my library work experience has been in a very narrow field, broadening my horizon is the best thing I can do and there is no better way to do that than to work with Gorgas Instructional Services.

What I expect to learn is whether I can still relate to entering freshmen, and to update my teaching and technical skills. As a public health and English as a second language instructor (once upon a time), I found it easy to get students engaged and contributing toward their own education and learning. These days, with so much competition from a 24/7/365 entertainment cycle, I wonder if I still have it in me to be able to capture the interest of students who have the entertainment universe at their fingertips. I view this as a competition for student eyeballs and attention, and any new skills I can learn toward winning this competition will be to my great advantage, now and in the future.

There are positive aspects to this competition. Students are accustomed to being engaged with electronic devices, and getting in touch with the information universe is closely related to entertainment. After all, efficient use of the information tools available can save folks time to spend as they choose, entertaining themselves. The devices used are all the same, and librarians have been tasked with saving patrons time and effort since the beginning of the profession—I am very happy to follow in this tradition.

Looking forward to it. If you see me missing something, please bring it to my attention, and thanks.