If at first you don’t succeed…

…there’s always another library class to be taught?  Last week I taught two of the same instructor’s English 101 classes.  It was a tricky situation to begin with: they hadn’t seen the assignment or picked topics, the due date was relatively far-off, and the topic was food politics, which of course ruffles some feathers (no pun intended).  Oh, and the first one was at 8 am.  It wasn’t a complete disaster, or really even a disaster at all–which I think means I’ve learned something about library instruction this semester!  Yea!  But, it wasn’t the greatest.

What I really liked about this experience was that I had an immediate chance for a re-do.  There was an hour before the next class, so I sipped some coffee, woke up a little, and thought about what might make it better.  The assignment was to write a cause and effect analysis based on some aspect of food politics–so, the example we were working with was “The increase in fast food companies marketing to children has led to rising levels of obesity in America.”

One of the first things I did in the first class was to build keywords from this thesis, since it’s a pretty complicated one.  I knew that most of the students probably wouldn’t start with this coherent of an argument, though–they would scan down the list of issues provided by the instructor, pick one, and then try to figure out what they could argue about it.  But since the students hadn’t even seen the assignment, I thought it would be good to do the keyword-building excercise first, since it would at least give them an idea of what the assignment was asking them to do.  And, as I said earlier, it wasn’t a complete disaster.  They contributed ideas and I think that excercise can be really helpful.  But it seemed like putting the cart before the horse.

Before the second class I asked the instructor if he would like me to do anything differently, and he mentioned I might do that activity later.  We also decided that it would be helpful for him to give a brief intro to the assignment at the beginning of the class, which eliminated the need to start with the cause-effect example anyway.  Just those two little changes improved the class a lot.  We started out just getting background info on the fast food industry, and then built up to what their argument would eventually look like and did the keyword example, and then used those keywords in the library databases.  At the end of the class when I gave them time to search on their own I could tell that this class was actually using the resources we had discussed and starting to think about their topics.

I think having experiences like this one can help prepare for improving similar classes in the future.  For instance, in this case I probably should have just asked the instructor to intro the assigment at the beginning for both classes.  In some cases when the students don’t have topic in mind it’s simply because there’s no assignment, but in this case it was just a matter of timing.  The assignment had just come into existence and the instructor hadn’t had time to discuss it yet.  All he needed was three minutes of the library session, which I was happy to give.  I think it helps to try to think through any possible “quick fix” scenarios like that while planning classes, especially if it’s looking like there are several negative factors.

Last week I also helped Jenny with a 300-level English class.  I did an assessment at the beginning where they could use those fancy clicker things (I think it’s called Turning Point?) to respond to questions about what kind of library instruction they’d had in the past and what they already knew about research.  There was a bit of technical difficulty, but it’s a cool idea to get them to interact during assessment.