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Pedagogy for Librarians Day Three: Planning learning, and radical librarians!

As my Day Two post was getting a bit long, I’ve shifted my notes on the last activity of the day to this post instead, to balance my posts out a little…

On Tuesday evening, we got together for a group discussion led by Andrew Walsh, about the definition of information literacy. Andrew got us to discuss our own ideas of what an information literate person looked like. We came up with points including:

  • Someone with an understanding of how and why information is produced, and who by – identifying and differentiating sources
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Adaptability, lifelong learning
  • On a continuum – you don’t reach a point where you are definitively information literate, any more than you can have a cut off point for when someone is literate or numerate!
  • What is meant by information literacy will vary according to context

We felt the last two points were particularly important, but as Andrew pointed out, it’s one that’s rarely considered in official frameworks for information literacy: the people who write those tend to be looking for something that is finite, standardised, and measurable!

We agreed that it is important to teach students generic IL skills that can apply to any context: i.e. don’t teach the best way to do something, teach how to find the best way for them. We discussed the need to move away from teaching mechanics (e.g. teaching how to use a specific database, that will invariably change its interface immediately after your session!) and towards teaching critical thinking, how to ask the right questions and identify what they need to know, etc.

However we all found that it was difficult to find teaching time to do this when the pressure is on us to just teach the mechanics. We also wondered if there would be push-back from students on this: it’s difficult to get past the assignment/exam-focused mentality! Many students tend to only want to be taught what they know they will be tested/assessed on. The challenge for us is to try to make a difference in students’ lives rather than just teaching how to find a few references to support one essay!

Library fireplace, Northern College

Any excuse to share the photo of the beautiful library fireplace again!

Wednesday started with a talk from the “radical librarians” at the Northern College, who are a pretty awesome bunch! They talked about their service ethos, and some of the award-wining projects they’ve run. I won’t go into detail about everything they talked about, but here’s a couple of my takeaways from their talk:

  • Important to get out and get involved in the running of the college, e.g. the librarians deliberately put themselves forward for the inspection process, which had historically paid only token attention to the library.
  • Personality is considered more important than skills when hiring new librarians. Skills can be taught!
  • Important personality traits for librarians at Northern College: sense of humour, resilience, adaptability, competitive (as in for the service, not competing with each other!), loyalty
  • Seeking extra roles can help demonstrate your skills and value, e.g. librarians at Northern College now take on personal tutor roles, as this was something they were doing informally anyway.
  • Service delivery is the key priority. Gave example of a lecturer who had broken the screen of an iPad loaned by the library: it was decided that spending the £25 to fix the broken screen and apologising to the lecturer for not providing decent transporting equipment (it had fallen off a wobbly trolley) was worth infinitely more than losing goodwill and potentially jeopardising the whole iPad programme by blaming them for the damage and chasing them for payment!
  • Reputation is key, need to be known for providing excellent service.
  • Staff at all levels are empowered to get involved in management decisions – this is key to sharing good ideas, as well as ensuring staff feel engaged and valued.

After the librarians’ talk, we went on to discuss how to plan teaching sessions. We spent some time going over how to create a scheme of work (an outline for all sessions in a course) and a session plan (a detailed outline of what will be covered in one session). I’d never used a session plan before, but having gone through them and then used one to plan my next day’s teaching (more on that later), I am a convert!

Using a session plan made it so much easier to set out what I was going to cover and (crucially) why, how I would get my points across (i.e. what learning activities to use), and set a timed schedule for the session so I’d know I could definitely fit everything in. I’m not so sure I’d use a scheme of work again, as I’m generally delivering one-off sessions rather than part of a series, but the session plan is definitely a useful tool I’ll continue to use.

We then talked about differentiation. Differentiation refers to recognition that not all learners will learn at the same pace or in the same way, and putting things in place to ensure everyone is stretched – so fast learners don’t get bored, and the slower learners don’t get left behind. It also refers to ensuring that you’re covering a range of learning preferences.

So differentiation could mean introducing extra activities for people who have finished early, or it could mean thinking of different levels of probing questions to ask people based on how well they seem to have understood so far. One of the other librarians on the course shared this really useful diagram showing levels of questions that can be used for shallower or deeper questioning, which I found quite useful in planning my next session:

Reflective questions

Finally, we talked about ways to structure a session. Jill explained that regardless of length, teaching sessions should always have four distinct components:

  • Connect – connect with prior learning (if session is part of a wider course), with previous learning (external), or with learners themselves. This stage either makes links with existing knowledge (e.g. a short introductory quiz), or finds out expectations and shares learning outcomes.
  • Activate – input of knowledge (not necessarily from teacher, could come from group work, research, etc)
  • Demonstrate – making use of knowledge, demonstrating understanding.
  • You can often move backwards and forwards between activate and demonstrate – doesn’t have to be a linear process!
  • Consolidate – hugely important, Jill warned us not to skip this step! Bring everyone back together, check and consolidate learning.

That was it for Wednesday, because the rest of the day was left to us to prepare for our Big Teach the next day! The Big Teach was the name given to our task on Thursday (to distinguish it from the Little Teach on Tuesday). For the Big Teach, we each had to prepare and deliver a 30 minute session on the topic of our choice. We were advised to make it something work-related, so we could use our plans when we returned to work. This was a pretty big piece of work for all of us, so I’ll give it its own blog post next!

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