Instruction Instruction Part 2: Become a Better Instructor

Author’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the state of library instruction training in LIS programs. Part one discussed why such training matters. In part two, we will discuss how library students can create or supplement opportunities to become better library instructors.

Happy Feet Friday! by Khánh Hmoong | CC by 2.0

…but the view is pretty great.
  Khanh Hmoong | CC by 2.0

As I mentioned in my last post, courses on instruction have yet to become a priority in most LIS programs despite the growing demand in the library profession for competent and comfortable instructors. Beyond its bearing on hirability, becoming well-versed in impactful instruction can make you a better librarian regardless of your position. Whatever your motivation to find out more about instruction theory and methods may be, it can be frustrating to want to learn about something but not be given the opportunity to do so. So sometimes you just have to take and make opportunities yourself. The following are just a few ways you can ramp up your instruction skills on your own terms.

Just Do It

Physically going out and instructing is probably the best way to cultivate teaching skills, develop a voice, and observe first-hand how instruction methods impact learning. Obviously getting paid for this experience is the dream, but paid library positions are limited, especially in areas saturated with library students. Some LIS programs provide opportunities for students to serve the community through instruction while gaining valuable teaching experience. My program, for instance, partners with public libraries in the area to host a Community Workshop Series that’s led and organized entirely by LIS students. New volunteers can serve as helpers while observing the teaching methods of more experienced instructors until they feel ready to lead a session themselves. It’s a pretty great tradeoff between our local libraries and LIS students. Don’t have a program like CWS? Band together with some like-minded individuals and see if you can form one yourself. Or ask around in your area to see if any libraries would be interested in having you come in and host some sort of class yourself.

If you are fortunate enough to work in a library, ask your supervisor about potential teaching opportunities. Maybe your library already has a workshop series in place—ask if you can observe a couple of sessions with the goal of eventually leading one of your own. If you can, talk with the instructor(s) after each session about their teaching methods and the decisions they made when creating their lesson plans. Their responses can give you some things to think about in your own instruction as well as some terminology for you to research further. If there isn’t an existing class that you can lead, think about a course your patrons could benefit from, and pitch that to your supervisor. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of a class in the traditional teacher-lecturing-students sense! Some of my most challenging teaching opportunities have come out of leading storytime/craft sessions in a public library. You can really wow your supervisor by proposing something that meets your patrons’ needs in a completely new and innovative way.

Learn-it-yourself

Even if you are able to get more comfortable with the practical side of teaching by taking on some classes yourself, you might still be missing out on the theory that underscores how learning happens and the circumstances under which instruction can be most effective. By familiarizing yourself with some basic theories of learning, you can inject purpose into your teaching rather than merely going through the motions. Most importantly, if you’re aware of how learning works, you can focus on your lesson’s effectiveness in facilitating said learning instead of obsessing over the content of your lesson and your performance as a teacher. And as someone who doesn’t have even an iota of Beyonce-like stage presence, let me tell you, knowing that students’ learning doesn’t hinge solely on your ability to convey an idea just right is liberating.

So what can you do to learn about this stuff on your own?

First of all, there are books. Some library-specific instruction books I’ve enjoyed/heard good things about include:

It’s also not a bad idea to check out some educational psychology books. You can pretty easily find ones that are straightforward and that complement your current notions of education. Honestly, if you ask me, there’s no need to stress too much about which ones you read. I recently read a pretty unconventional take on education and lesson planning entitled Understanding by Design, but I still got so much out of it that I can apply to virtually any teaching situation, conventional or not. If you’re starting from scratch, anything you learn is bound to improve your knowledge exponentially. So just pick something that sounds good. Apart from Understanding by Design, I’ve also been recommended a book called Telling Ain’t Training, but there are tons of options out there for you.

If you prefer a more structured self-learning environment, ALA and its affiliates offer online classes on instruction fairly regularly. RUSA is hosting one on learner-centered reference and instruction this spring and ALA will offer an eCourse on instructional design essentials in May. Unfortunately, however, these courses aren’t free—but I have heard some good things about past instruction courses held online. If you’re interested in the cheap/free route, Kara wrote a post a little while back that’s full of resources you can use to supplement your LIS education. And if you’re enrolled in grad school, explore your options for taking classes outside of your program—a course from your school’s education department might be just what you need.

Of course, these are just my personal suggestions. If none of these options appeal to you, talk to a mentor, advisor, or your professors or peers to see what they can recommend. It can be rough having to go above and beyond just to do a little bit of learning, but often it’s the struggle that makes the end result all the more sweet.

Tell us: What are you doing to become a better instructor? Are there any articles or books you’ve read that have been especially enlightening? What has been your most rewarding instruction experience?

5 replies

  1. Thanks, Courtney! That means a lot. I feel like the “she doesn’t even go here” girl from Mean Girls–I just have a lot of feelings on this subject! Finally figured writing about it was probably more productive than subjecting my friends/boyfriend/coworkers/bosses to yet another rant on the topic.
    I hope others find my POV/suggestions useful–I’d love nothing more than for the series to spark some dialogue among LIS students.

    Like

  2. Great series of posts, Liz. Just thought of another resource: teaching & learning centers and programs at universities. I know UMD’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center does workshops, a reading group on competency-based education, a seminar series, and more. Programs like this probably aren’t going to be specific to library instruction but could be really useful in academic libraries and beyond.

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