All posts by Molly Miller

Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning

Booth, Char. Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. Chicago: American Library Association, 2011. Print.

Hello there–I hope everyone is having a happy October! This is the month where school often takes off at full speed. Projects and papers are beginning to be due, midterms are just around the corner, and of course, you can’t forget the fall festivities and fabulous amounts of candy just waiting to be consumed!

Despite the fact that I will be caught up in all of this (as I am a graduate student as well), I am trying to take the time to “reflect” on my teaching practices in library instruction as I begin to observe and co-teach more classes this fall. In order to do this, I have begun reading Char Booth’s excellent book Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning. This is an ALA publication that (already, even though I have not finished reading it) I think everyone who is involved with library instruction should read or at least glance at from time to time. Booth, a former UT iSchool student, gives a very practical and customizable model for framing the life-cycle of successful library classes: from inception to assessment (xviii).

However, I’d like to focus on something that Booth states in the beginning of the book. This statement really struck a chord with me, and has made me think more about my interactions with students while teaching and observing in library classes. Booth asserts that “As librarians, we are nerds for knowledge. By making information more findable, usable, and interpretable, we help others in their quest for specialization. This makes us nerd enablers–and therefore more accurately described as uber- or meta-nerds” (4). I have always identified with “nerd” culture and as someone who has wanted to work either in education or higher education for a long time, I would even describe myself as someone who has a passion for sharing knowledge, indeed: a “knowledge nerd.” Booth recognizes that many librarians feel this way–this passion for sharing knowledge resources is why libraries exist in the first place (4). But as librarians, we must be careful to realize that library users and students don’t necessarily think the same way that we do. We want to enable someone with a passion to learn about what inspires them–but sometimes people (especially new students), haven’t figured out what that passion is and so have not reached an expert status or the “self-directed learner” (4) status that the library has been built to serve. If we reflect on this fact that libraries have really been designed for “knowledge nerds” as we are, I think we can see just how important library instruction is for our users and our students. It’s not just a way we can communicate our knowledge, it is also a way that users and students can engage with our resources for the first (or maybe the zillionth) time without feeling lost or hopeless if they haven’t achieved the level of self-directed learner.

I sincerely hope that everyone who is a library instructor or has some part in library instruction will take a look at Reflective Teaching. So far it has been very helpful to me as a new instructor–and I haven’t even completed the book!

The Courage To Teach by Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, 1998. Print.

Hello everyone! My name is Molly and I am the Graduate Research Assistant for Library Instruction Services. As a GRA I aid the librarians in LIS with co-teaching courses designed to enhance information literacy skills or introduce research tools such as Zotero, edit instructional content, assist in library outreach events, and speak with students who have questions. Also, I will now be a contributor to our Instruction blog!

As someone who is new to teaching in the library (well, actually, in any setting), I found a number of articles and books that were on my GRA to-read list very helpful in overcoming my beginner’s anxiety. Though I have experience in presenting and public speaking, I knew that teaching was going to be different. It’s one thing to stand up in front of an audience and speak about a subject or a project that’s exciting to you, but another thing entirely to actually try to engage a group of human beings (any age) in the learning process.

One book, however, stood out as being particularly helpful to curb this fear. That would be Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. True to its title, this book discusses how to rediscover or find the passion that you have within you and how to use that passion to get students to focus their attention on your subject.

Palmer writes about how there is a high volume of fear in academia and in education at large: fear of covering controversial topics in the classroom, fear of setting standards too high or too low, fear of not having a traditionally structured classroom, and even the fears that students themselves bring to the classroom. About this, Palmer states “the roots of education are sunk deep in fearful ground. The ground I have in mind is one we rarely name: it is our dominant mode of knowing, a mode promoted with such arrogance that it is hard to see the fear behind it—until one remembers that arrogance often masks fear” (50). This arrogance comes from the desire to have control—to manipulate and change what we can in the objective world. However, it is only through giving up this control, working through this arrogance and fear, that a teacher can “enter a partnership with the otherness of the world” (Palmer 56) and therefore have a true connection with students and the subject they are teaching.

Palmer spends quite some time on the dangers of privileging objectivism over subjectivism and how it has done damage to the teaching profession. He also discusses using the classroom as a learning community and the structure of a possible reformation in the institution of education. Palmer expresses several times throughout the text that this reformation must come primarily from the teachers themselves: by choosing to move past the fears that inhibit us and students and to honor the inner world that informs our teaching style as well as the original passion we had for our subject.

For anyone interested in a great overview of the philosophy behind teaching and learning, as well as a fearless discussion of that inner world which our conventional or institutional view of objectivism has often overlooked or even disparaged, but which is essential for a teacher to examine, I wholeheartedly recommend The Courage to Teach.