Getting Started with Instruction

This semester marks a significant step for me as I’m finally getting into doing instruction sessions on my own. Throughout last fall, I observed a lot of instruction sessions from several librarians and across a range of subjects. I also co-taught a handful of classes with a colleague, but it wasn’t until this month that I took on my own instruction sessions. I’m really glad I did some co-teaching already, because I was definitely nervous at the time and it’s good to have that out of the way now (for the most part).

In a short span of time I have done a handful of sessions, and not one of them the same. I started writing detailed reflections of all the instruction I have done so far – what I did, what worked, what didn’t work, what I would do differently next time, etc. – and while that is incredibly useful for me personally, I will refrain from posting the entire detailed accounts here! However, I will give a quick run-down:

  • So far I have done one-shots for two sections of Rhetoric, a course that’s required of all undergraduate students, but which can vary a lot depending on the instructor. For one section, their assignment was concept-mapping and researching potential careers based on their majors; the other section needed to find images to use for a visual analysis. Like I said, interesting stuff going on that was fun to work with!
  • I did a workshop in collaboration with TRiO, an organization that works with first-generation students. Part of the goal was to send them out into the stacks in a safe, no-pressure situation, so that they can avoid the “panic moment” later on when they really need to find something. Attendance was pretty low as expected, because it wasn’t required for a course, but some good discussion came out of it nonetheless.
  • Large groups of middle school students visit our library throughout the year to do primary research for the National History Day competition, and on one occasion I gave a 15-minute introduction. I kept it simple with just basic information and demonstrating SmartSearch – it was fun to switch gears for a bit for a much different audience than usual.
  • And most recently I gave an Express Workshop on how to use and make infographics. Express Workshops are weekly 30-minute workshops held in an open area in the Learning Commons, with a different topic and presenter every week.

I’m glad to have such a variety of classes to work with – for one thing, it keeps things interesting, and for another, I think it’s more challenging (in a good way) than if I were repeating basically the same session. However, the planning has been difficult at times.

A lot of the difficulties may come down to time management and figuring out my own process. I planned ahead as much as possible, but often felt like I was really getting prepared when time was down to the wire. I wanted to have lesson plans laid out a good deal ahead of time and prevent the stress of procrastination, but it was difficult for me to focus on future sessions when there were others to take place first – especially since these were my actual first instruction sessions ever. I think my planning problems stem in part from the fact that this is a much busier time of year than I expected it would be!

I can’t wait to get to the point where I’ve done enough instruction that I’m more confident with the whole process, from planning, to delivery, and assessment. When planning a session I consider many possible options and what would be most effective, and then still tend to question my decisions on what to include and how to conduct the session. I already feel a little more confident in my teaching abilities than I did even a month ago, and I know that the rest will take some more time and practice.

Does anyone else have similar concerns? Do you plan ahead, or do you work better under pressure? How much time does it take to plan a session?

4 thoughts on “Getting Started with Instruction

  1. These are good questions, Ariana. My process has definitely changed over the 7 years I’ve been an instruction librarian (and continues to change).

    Right now I think the main feature of my preparation is variability. If it’s a workshop or class I’ve never taught before, I do try to start prepping a couple of weeks in advance, and ideally will prep in a couple of focused work sessions. But the mainstay of our instruction program is our English Comp 1 research session, and for those I tend not to spend too much time prepping (though I’ll check in on the databases at the beginning of the semester to see whether anything has changed). For the English 1 sessions I’ve found it more successful to demonstrate searching for resources on the research topic somewhat on the fly in each class, sort of like a class-sized reference interaction. When searches aren’t successful, I can ask the class to help me figure out why and start playing with different strategies. That way is working best for me right now, though again I’m sure it will change in the future!

  2. Hello Ariana. I may be looking for my first job as an official librarian instructional literacy field, and I found this a nice read. By “First Year Academic Librarian” do you mean that this is your first year as a librarian or that you instruct first-year students?

  3. Hi Maura, thanks for your comments! For now I’m finding that making a pretty detailed outline really helps me in the planning process – even if I don’t really use the outline after I’ve written it out. I like the idea of thinking of it like a class-sized reference interaction!

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