July 12, 2007

Engaging Teaching Ideas

Engaging Ideas, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways....

Been reading John Bean's book Engaging Ideas, which is designed to help teachers create writing assignments which will better help students learn. It's CHOCK full of great ideas that I plan to incorporate into both of my Simmons GSLIS classes. It's so, well, engaging, that it's taken me months to read it, and the book is stuffed with notes and papers sticking out with scribbles and pages are turned down and there's highlighting throughout ... you get the picture. In order to help me synthesize what I've read, I'm going to group my ideas together here. (potential study for the cognitive psychologists: does blogging help learn? ... but I digress).

Funny to be writing this and trying to figure out how to organize it, as Bean talks a lot about how to organize writing and how teachers can help students organize their own thoughts & writing. For one thing, traditional outlines often don't work because they are too linear, have bad connotations, AND people often don't think that linearly when writing. Plus, he suggests that many folks don't know what they're going to write about until they write it. Finally ... he suggests that teachers explain to their students how THEY write to give students confidence in what can seem like a shaky business, at least in the early stages. So here I am at the start, modeling one of Bean's major points. Ha!

For the record, I'm going to write out all the ideas I have scribbled down in margins & yellow scrap paper, and then I'm going to organize them in some fashion. Probably -- hopefully! -- by class (407 = basic reference; 454 = advanced reference), and then by assignment / date. I'm going to break this into several posts over the next few weeks, all of which will be tagged with "engaging ideas" if you want to follow along.

Today, we'll start with 407, which is the introductory reference class. If you teach, you can probably relate these ideas to whatever you teach -- library instruction classes, philosophy, cognitive science. At least, I hope so.

* For the source evaluation, have students write a brief summary in the form of an exam question (i.e., "Largest one-volume encyclopedia in English.")
* Offer more sample exam questions; offer some kind of quick review of topics covered in each class. Solution? Provide 3 quick sample exam questions at the end of each class. Good for source review, good for exam prep -- and, most important, good for learning sources, which is the point of the class. (one of them, anyway).

* Study group suggestion: have them compare lecture notes: what sources I mentioned in class, what people said about sources we reviewed, tips I gave about assignments, etc. Especially useful in preparing to work on homework (questions & papers).

* For teaching the reference interview, think about a time when they had to ask a question that was hard to articulate. For me, this is asking for wine I like in a liquor store. How can I explain what I like in a wine? I don't have the words, I feel stupid for not knowing what I like, and so I often don't ask but buy the same old wine all the time. Good way for students to put themselves in the patron's shoes.
* After teaching a service, like instruction or reference interview, ask them to write "minute paper": what is the most significant thing you learned about service today? what question is uppermost in your mind about this service? what do you agree / disagree with & why? And either submit to me at end of class or post to blog / WebCT.

Ideas to better incorporate Readings into class / assignments
* Ask them to write a paragraph about the Bradford reading for the 2d class. Consider ... what is confusing? what surprised you? what do you want to know more about? what do you disagree with? What would you like to ask author? And then have them reread for the final class & discuss.
* Tell them how I read articles -- sometimes carefully, with lots of notes (Engaging Ideas, for example) + when reading articles I will blog here; sometimes skimming quickly (LJ articles that are mildly interesting but not related to work or class). If reading for class, I ask myself these kind of questions: "how will this contribute to their knowledge of topic? How is it different from what I've already assigned? Is it better than (more current, clearer, different perspective) something I've already assigned? Does it focus on something I don't have experience with (i.e., school libraries, public libraries)?
* Note that reading for 407 is different than reading articles for Evaluation of Information Services (fka "Role of Research"). In 407 & 454, they're reading for ideas -- focus on introduction, literature review, and "discussion." If they've taken 403, of course, they can address some of the research problems if they've found any, but focus here is on content as it applies to reference.
* Tell them why I'm having them read articles / textbook.
---- Expose them to ideas not discussed in class.
---- Expose them to journals / magazines / blogs / podcasts they should know about as library professionals.
---- Start them early in the habit of reading professional literature.
---- Expose them to libraries besides where they think they want to work (i.e., all kinds of libraries -- school, academic, public, special).

Until next time ...

For More Information
* Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas : The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. Jossey Bass, 1996.
* Bradford, Jane T., Barbara Costello, et al. Reference Service in the Digital Age: An Analysis of Sources Used to Answer Reference Questions. Journal of Academic Librarianship. 31, no. 3 (2005): 263-272 (full-text available in Wilson Library Literature)

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