I was excited to get back into the classroom this fall after a relatively light spring of instruction sessions and a very quiet summer, but nervous too. My job in this library looks very different depending on the season, whereas other librarian jobs can stay largely the same no matter how many students are on campus. It seemed a very long time since I was in the classroom. Reality, it was only about 4 months.
Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on last year’s experience and how I was feeling at that time versus how I’m feeling these days. What a comfort it is to have some previous work to fall back on! I do all my lesson planning in Evernote. Each note with the name of the class and the name of the professor. Not only can I see a long list of possible places to start on any given class, but I also have a history of exactly what I did last time in any particular class.
Last year, I kept the instruction program largely intact. I wanted to make sure that I fully understood the campus and my approach to instruction before I started changing anything. This year I have started to really dive into planning our instruction program overall. What do our students need? Where and when do they need it? Where can library instruction fit into mid-level courses? What does an appropriate arc of library instruction from freshmen through senior year look like? What skills does it make sense to address right away and what skills can wait? What skills can be taught asynchronously through videos and what skills need guidance?
This spring I took part in a writing curriculum assessment focused on the final papers in English 101. Dork that I am, I had a great time doing this, and it was incredibly informative not only for the library instruction program but as for me as a teacher. I was gratified to discover that the things I saw in the papers were largely the same things that the more experienced professors saw. I’m on the right page.
While I’m trying to answer the big questions above, I thought I’d revisit some of the ideas I talked about around this same time last year surrounding how I plan classes. Like I mentioned above, I love Evernote for planning classes. It’s easy to see scope at a glance and to click between lesson plans. When printed from the software (not from the website) the lesson plans print automatically in larger-than-12-point font, which makes them easy to see from a podium or table. It’s easy to add a syllabus or assignment linked into the note. I recently started using the checklist feature to keep track of the professors with required library instruction. Last year, at the suggestion of Char Booth in Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning (seriously, go read that book right now), I kept an ongoing note for each semester where I recorded my reflections for each class I taught. Recording one good and one bad observation is a place to start.
In every lesson plan I try to keep in mind the “what’s in it for me” principle for the students and clearly state that at the beginning of the session. I also make sure to write 2-4 objectives or goals for each lesson, although these are not always stated to the students. I think this is something that happens more often in K-12 settings where teachers have formal teacher training than in a library setting. Writing good objectives isn’t always easy or quick but I achieve an incredible sense of peace by clarifying for myself what I think is most important for the students to do/know. The trick is stating clear objectives with action words and making sure to include the methods by which those objectives will be achieved (“Students will (action words) by (method of achievement).”). Objectives help to focus a lesson to its essential pieces. (See also the short article in the most recent ACRL News by Linda Scripps-Hoekstra titled “Eight Tips from the Trenches: How Experience Teaching High School Informs My Approach to Information Literacy Instruction.”)
I am responsible for assigning classes to other librarians, which also means providing them with materials and lesson plans. As a result, I tend to write very detailed lesson plan outlines (with objectives) so that I can easily pass them off to someone else. I include time estimates in these plans as well, to keep me and the other librarians on track in class. I also put a “prep list” at the bottom of the things needed to teach the class: websites, materials, handouts, etc.
As a general rule, I try to put as much hands-on or discussion based learning into my sessions as possible. I get bored listening to myself talk. Having the students do actual work is more interesting for them and more interesting for me. I’d prefer to structure a lesson so that, by way of class activities and discussions, they have learned as much of my objectives as possible without me standing in the front and waving my arms around. I believe this is the best way for students to learn, but it’s selfish, too. I have the most meaningful interactions with students individually and in small groups. I can increase the likelihood of this happening by, well, putting them into small groups.
What really helps you when you’re planning classes?