The Art of Questioning …

Well, I can now add “conference attendance” to my professional resume: I just got back from attending the LOEX Conference in Oak Brook, IL. Not that this is my first conference; I did attend the 2006 ALA Annual in New Orleans and the Louisiana Library Association Conference while in grad school. But as some of you might agree, I found it to be a quite difference experience now that I’m a librarian. As a student, I had trouble focusing in on which sessions would be the most beneficial. Now that I have a job, it’s a little easier; I can go to the sessions that correspond with my position and/or professional interests (which are, admittedly, somewhat varied). This was easy at LOEX, as everything had to do with library instruction and information literacy!

This conference came at a perfect time for me. Since there aren’t many summer classes offered at my university, I will get a break from teaching and have time to focus my energies on various projects that I’ve been adding to a list throughout the year. Among other things, I would like to find ways of improving our instruction program, and more specifically, how we can better engage students.

The theme of this year’s LOEX was “Librarian as Architect: Planning, Building, & Renewing,” which fits in quite nicely with my goals for the upcoming academic year. While I was very pleased with all of the sessions I attended (and believe me, it was hard to narrow it down!), I think my favorite was one entitled “The Art of Questioning in Instruction.” The presenter, Michelle Dubaj, from SUNY Fredonia, had attendees complete various activities designed to have us examine our current instructional styles. We brainstormed ways of passively/actively engaging with students prior to classes, took a quiz to see how often we recognize which students fall under different different categories (i.e. “are conversation hogs,” “are lost on their assignment,” or “will kill the mojo of group work”), and drew diagrams of our instructional spaces to see where our “active zones” and “blind spots” are. She also had the entire group come up with a list of possible questions to ask during instruction sessions, which she graciously offered to compile and send to us.

I will definitely be using Michelle’s suggestions and techniques when my next instruction sessions roll around. However, I don’t think the “art of questioning” has to be limited to instruction. Many of us engage students all day long, whether it’s in a reference transaction, at the circulation desk, or just walking around the library. And, going back to the title of the session, I do believe that questioning is an art, not a science. It can be hard and cumbersome to engage students, but this doesn’t mean it should be neglected. It may take a few questions and some gentle probing to get an answer, but in the end, I think the act of questioning makes our interactions with students much more worthwhile (on both sides).

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