Category Archives: Graduate Research Assistants

TLS TIPS: Invite a GRA to Observe Your Teaching

As the TLS GRA, I’ve spent the fall semester co-teaching UGS courses with everyone in the TLS department. The insight I’ve gained from observing and practicing different teaching styles and techniques has been invaluable. For this TLS Tip, I suggest that librarians who teach offer observational opportunities to other GRAs working in the libraries. Having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit both the GRA and yourself.

Most library jobs in Research and Instruction Services require a certain amount of teaching, but it’s difficult for new grads to make the leap from instruction theories learned in class to practical application. As one new librarian phrased it, “understanding pedagogical principles is one thing, applying them in front of thirty intimidating freshmen is quite another.”[1] For students in library school, opportunities to actively observe library instruction sessions are difficult to come by.

When approached using PROT methodology, having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit you as an instructor. Peer Review of Teaching involves having a short meeting before the classroom observation to communicate your learning outcomes, and then having a debrief meeting after the classroom observation to discuss how those learning outcomes were reached.[2] Having these dialogues with a GRA during planning and assessment can provide you with a fresh perspective and insight on your tried-and-true teaching methods.

To ensure that the GRA takes an active role in this observational process, I recommend providing your GRA with some points for him or her to focus on during observation that you can later discuss during your post-teaching meeting. Examples from Mentoring in Librarianship include:

  • A recounting of what took place, a simple observation
  • Which teaching proficiencies is the librarian is adept or excels at?
  • How is the teaching reflective of your beliefs about librarianship and teaching, and where, if at all, does it conflict?
  • Where in the session did students seem engaged, and to what does the GRA attribute their interest?
  • Did the GRA observe any activities he or she would like to recreate in his or her own teaching? Why?[3]

Remember that the purpose isn’t to evaluate your teaching, but to have a formative discussion about how and why you teach the way you do. My mentors and I have had many beneficial post-teaching discussions and it would be great for more GRAs to have that experience.

Enjoy the new semester!

[1] Aldridge, Emily Rae. “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that my colleagues would be my biggest asset.” from “What They Didn’t Tell Me (or what I didn’t hear) in Library School: Perspectives from New Library Instruction Professionals.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 52, no. 1 (2012) 28-29.
[2] Alabi, Jaena, and Weare, William H. “The Power of Observation: How Librarians can Benefit from the Peer Review of Teaching Even Without a Formal PROT Program” (presentation, Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy, Savannah, 23 Aug 2013).
[3] Smallwood, Carol and Tolley-Stokes, Rebecca.Mentoring in Librarianship: Essays on Working with Adults and Students to Further the Profession (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011) 210.

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.