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.

How Do They Conduct Class

I have always considered interal and external reflection to be an important part of my growth and development as a person. The tools that prompt this self reflection have throughout my life have been quite varied so I should not have been surprised when this article became such a tool. The truth was, however, that surprise was mild in comparsion to the reflection that this article created within me. It was more on the level of eye-opening that had me reassessing some of my core ideas about teaching as well as reflecting back to my earlier academic influences.

My academic background has been heavily influenced by lecture based classes and in my heart of hearts I always believed that this would be the way I would conduct my own classroom. However, eight years have passed since I was a freshman and since that time some my ideas have evolved as I have grown as a student. I thought about ways I would change this or tweak that, but it was all centered around a lecture and discussion type format. Upon entering into the MLIS program, I realized that teaching pedogogy had shifted somewhat in a new direction with learning outcomes and some teachers calling for moving away from lecture based classes. This put me into somewhat of a tailspin about my original ideas on teaching. I was intrigued by the new shift and eager to learn more, but the more I learned the more muddled my internal ideas became. It was upon reading this article that a cord was struck with me and I felt that I began to gain some clarity.

The clarity I derived from this article came in two parts. The first part that I was focused upon was that teachers all had various teaching styles and one particular method was not better than another. This revelation was like light shining for me into a dark room. I knew on a certain level that this was true but when I looked back some of my best teachers almost all of them used the lecture based approach. Upon entering into my MLIS program, many of my professors had wonderful but varying teaching styles. This is where the waters got muddled in my mind because I was not sure which path I should follow. Reading this article however made my realize that I was not alone in this confusion.

The second part that I derived from the article was the concept of balance and this point right here cleaned up my internal traffic jam. The article gave examples of some of the best practices of teachers using various methods in a hybrid fashion. From this, I realized that I did not have to fore go my plans of using lecture but I also did not have to just be restricted by it either. The knowledge that I could have a hybrid teaching method not only thrilled me but made me realize once again that not everyone learns in the same way. Knowing now that when I go into a classroom I could possibly have a teaching method that could reach students on various levels is thrilling to my internal core.

Measuring Success in the Instructional Classroom

I have now been observing EN 102 classes for three weeks and have found the act of observing as a beneficial way to critically assess and explore teaching strategies. I have observed both in-active and active classrooms, responsive and non-responsive students, and a variety of teaching methods used by instructors. These three weeks of observing have allowed me critical insight into what makes the instructional classroom successful. Although it may feel arbitrary to measure success through technical and responsive elements, I think it is important to take stock of what parts of the instruction students are responding to and what aspects of the class they are questioning and struggling to understand. Therefore, finding a way to measure success through observation will allow me to more effectively refine and shape my teaching into something that is meaningful, innovative, and rewarding to students.

It is difficult to identify what exactly makes an instructional class successful as students from all areas with different perspectives and backgrounds bring something unique to the instructional classroom; therefore, it is not productive nor necessary to find one strategy that universally works in the instructional classroom as it does not exist. Instead, it is productive and absolutely imperative to find and tune several strategies that can be adapted and individualized to each classroom setting. For example, although all instructional librarians follow a general lesson plan for several teaching options, each librarian individualizes the lesson plan to their teaching style and customizes the material in a way that allows them to engage students and offer better instruction in every classroom environment. This personalization of the lesson plan produces a great learning environment. I have begun asking myself these assessment questions while observing:

  • Why are students engaged/disengaged in this particular moment?
  • How can this subject be alternatively explained?
  • Is the instructor engaging the students in a critical, academic discussion? If so, how? If not, why?
  • What are the elements of library instruction that the instructor is successfully exploring?
  • Would an additional element (visual, audio, etc.) further define this point?

The most successful instructional class I have observed thus far was successful in terms of participation, excitement, understanding, questioning, active learning, and energy. I would argue this was due mainly to the excellent lesson plan the instructional librarian followed. When students were not responding, the instructor approached the material differently by re-phrasing a question or providing a more relevant example that resonated with the class. When students responded well to an example, the librarian would continue exploring different areas of that example which allowed students to engage in critical thinking towards something they found interesting. The instructor, above all, treated the students as intellectuals who had something important to say.

This was the first class that a different lesson plan was used for the instructional session. Instead of having each student come up with a topic on their own and form a specific research question around that topic, the instructor had students break into six groups and assigned them an “unusual topic.” Before topics were even given out, the student’s body language showcased interest in the term “unusual.” These topics included the Masque of Red Death, Salem Witch Trials, werewolves, Elizabeth Bathory, cults, and cannibalism. At first I questioned whether students would be invested in a topic they did not pick or knew very little about; however, assigning an unusual topic allowed students to more narrowly focus in on the topic and quickly explore aspects of the topic they wanted to know more about. Not knowing anything about the topic prove to be a great teaching tool as students became invested in learning about the unusual topic. When students reported their research questions, they overwhelming reported great, intriguing, and narrow research questions. The instructor processed to ask questions such as:

  • Now that you have this topic, how are you going to approach it?
  • What do you/have you found interesting about this?
  • Could you narrow your focus anymore?
  • How did you get to this question?
  • What more could you say about this?
  • Would you say you’ve synthesized a good, solid topic?
  • So you found… can you tell me more?
  • What about this interests you?
  • What about this makes a strong research question?
  • In what ways would you move forward with researching this?

The professor of the class did jump in to encourage students not to simply create a question that could be answered simply by yes or no; instead, he encouraged them to keep the question narrow enough for an in-depth textual analysis that fits the page/word requirement of their upcoming assignment. This was the only time a professor worked with the instructor in responding to students work during the session, which gave great insight into what the professor wanted as the instructor leant his expertise. In this way, the students received a really great instructional period on what the professor expects, as well as the technical knowledge the librarian provided.

What’s important to me as an instructor is to relay information to students in an engaging manner, while also assuming the role of a non-judgmental and non-condescending facilitator. The librarians I have observed did a great job of balancing this by listening to students concerns and relating the material back to their academic and social lives. This communication creates an authentic and productive instructional classroom. When developing my lesson plans, I am making it a priority to focus on facilitating active response through critical conversations as my three weeks of observation have taught me that this focus has the potential to lead to a successful instructional classroom.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends. (1 of 3)

Credit to the Great Willy Shakespeare who never could spell his own name right/the same from play to play for the title. (Henry V)

Last week was the longest week of my graduate school career. Here, in my instructional internship, is where I shall begin. I will probably post something I wrote about a while ago about another one of the weeks of this internship, but for now I’ll settle with only looking a week into the past. This post will be dedicated to all the awesome instructors I’ve observed (looking at you Sara, Karlie, Kayla, Erica, Alex, and James).

I feel like I learn as much, if not more, by watching these ladies and gents teach. They all have different approaches when it comes to applying the learning objectives, even if they are using the same activities. They also have different ways to create rapport between themselves and the students as well as dissuade them from creating too many distractions from the actual material. They are constantly updating sources and creating new ways of thinking about the learning objectives. They take what they’ve observed work in the classroom and work to perfect the material by asking increasing amounts of questions.

I watched 6 EN102 Session 2’s last week. I feel like I have been completely immersed in learning objectives and active learning activities since the beginning of observing for Sara’s research study. I’m incredibly grateful to that study, because it has given me the time to really look at the various pedagogical distinctions between the instructors and how the students react to those different methods.

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.

Qualitative Research

By way of introduction, much of the first half of my curriculum mapping internship with GIS has involved some data collection and a good bit of data transformation. The data transformation process involves creating a structure for what will become a visual tree, and transferring much of the data collected by various instruction librarians into Excel in such a way that it can be visualized. Seeing what these trees look like has helped structure some of the more complex academic departments.

The second half of the summer will largely be focused on using NVivo to do qualitative data analysis of syllabi. This is a project to which I am looking forward. I believe that NVivo will be a valuable software to learn. And qualitative research is the type of research I am most interested in performing during my library career. Some of the aspects of qualitative research I enjoy are: the group nature of the research, the inductive approach, the open ended aspects of the research, the more flexible nature of the research process, and the iterative approach, among others. I am looking forward to learning how NVivo works, and seeing what we will find in our qualitative analysis.

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.

Reflection on How do they Conduct Class?

The main thing I took from the article “How do they conduct class?” is the importance of getting students actively involved in class. There isn’t necessarily one right way of encouraging active learning; the teacher could use a “traditional” lecture style, moderate discussions, assign group work, etc. The main thing seems to be to encourage students to think critically, whether that is as part of a lecture, group discussion, or class project. To do so the instructor needs to quickly get the attention of the students and keep them involved.

The question then is how do we try to make sure that we get the students’ attention and keep it? How do we make sure that the students are actively involved? The article talks about how many professors try to quickly get their students attention by starting class with a “provocative” question. I personally am struggling at the moment to think of what might be called a provocative question related to one of my presentations, but regardless there seem to be some fairly clear ways of keeping the class actively involved in the session. We can frequently ask questions of the group, get them involved in coming up with keywords or search terms, have them work in groups in order to build searches, etc.

The last thing I took from this article was how even experienced teachers practice at being an instructor in order to get better at what they’re doing. Some videotape their own sessions, some practice in front of a mirror, and some simply spend a few minutes before class going over what they want to get across to their students. I was a bit surprised by that in some ways; I’ve had some teachers that seemed so relaxed and at ease as instructors that I have a hard time imagining them practicing their enunciation before class. But it does make sense, there are inevitably going to be people that are more naturally gifted teachers than you, but you can always work at improving the way you do things in class.

Reflection on The Courage to Teach

This was a splendid and inspirational article.  It jives very well with my personal interpretations of Taoist philosophy, particularly in its emphasis on the value of integrity as an intersection of authentic, realized relationships.  This point is particularly salient in bringing together the ideals of courage born of compassion and vulnerability with techniques that thereby “reveal rather than conceal” our character as instructors.

What captured my attention most was the section on mentoring.  It got me to thinking about my own mentors and how they (as the reading says) appeared at crucial times in my life and changed my personal and professional trajectories in ways I could not have imagined at the time.  I spent some time remembering my first mentor, a third grade English teacher Claudia Isaacs.  I was shy and easily embarrassed then, and when we had to give our book reports in class I remember being petrified.  I was also sure that the other kids would see my terror and make fun of me.  But I got through it, and afterward she complimented me.  Again, after class she called me to her desk to discuss my reading choices (I had given a report on The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis) and she encouraged me, saying I had a gift for writing.  No one had ever told me so before, but she seemed so wise and spoke sincerely to me, and then gave me an “extra credit” assignment to write about another book I loved.  Rather than seeing the extra work as a punishment or a burden, suddenly it became an opportunity as well as a compliment.  I do not remember much of the content that was covered in that class (well, hopefully I remember the content but I don’t recall the occasion of it being taught).  But her kindness and enthusiasm became a part of me that day, and I probably did pay closer attention in all my classes because of it.  I have been blessed with several other great mentors since that time, some of whom dazzle me with their intellect, others who impressed me with their sheer delight in teaching and learning.  It is humbling and fills me with a deep sense of respect and responsibility in my interactions with others as I try to learn the techniques of teaching.  It reminds me of another old Taoist analogy:  That a voice coach can teach all the exercises to overcome impediments and imbue the voice with discipline, but in the end each singer has to sing his or her own song.

Reflection on The Courage to Teach

While I was reading this article I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting it to the “How do they Conduct Class” article. While that article didn’t definitively claim that one method of teaching (lectures, group discussions, etc.) was the right way of doing things, it was more specifically concerned with methods and techniques. This article is more about what it means to be a teacher than it is about how to teach; the central premise of it is that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”

I took a number of different things from both of these articles. I wouldn’t say that teaching methods and techniques are unimportant, or that working on improving your instruction style is unnecessary (and I don’t think that’s what the author of this article is trying to say). I’ve had some teachers that seemed to love what they were doing and were very enthusiastic about teaching that, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t consider to be especially great instructors. On the other hand, I agreed with the general premise of this article. To be a good teacher it seems like you would have to have a strong sense of identity as an instructor, a willingness to put yourself out there so to speak (the article spends a good bit of time discussing a teacher’s vulnerability in class), and an interest in working with students to help them develop intellectually (instead of simply trying to show them how knowledgeable you are).