Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Approach to Teaching

Creative Commons Licensed Picture from Todd Petrie

Had an involved conversation with a libr* friend about how I teach and realized I've never discussed my pedagogical philosophy here. Sure, I've discussed how my approach to librarianship is constantly evolving, but this is even more true of my approach to teaching. That recent conversation made me realize I've actually gotten my philosophy of teaching information literacy skills so refined that I can sum it up in five points, so here they are:
  1. Be yourself. For me, that mostly means letting my nerd flag fly and using humor in every session. (Here's a joke I've told frequently: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? I don't know, but I can help you look it up.) For you, that might mean talking about music or your dog or whatever. If you aren't comfortable with yourself in the classroom, the students won't be comfortable either.
  2. I believe in a constructivist theory of knowledge, and my teaching reflects this belief. Ascribing to this approach means I teach in a way that builds on my students' existing knowledge. For instance, when I teach students how to evaluate websites, I skip all the carefully constructed and clever acronyms that my libr* brothers and sisters have devised. Instead, I go with the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, & why) since 99% of my students already have that mnemonic in their knowledge base.
  3. If it's at all possible, I make them use the skills/knowledge right away. Frequently, this can be done during the information literacy session. Here's a recent example: this semester, in our first semester FYE classes, we break the students up into small groups and have each group evaluate a website that comes up in a search for a keyword related to the class materials.
  4. Make it as real as possible. I talk about how I used the web to research the car I bought. I come up with papers I would want to write if I were in that class. When I teach web evaluation, I do a live, untested Google search. I do my best to make the context of my teaching reflect what they'll be facing when they use the skills and knowledge I'm presenting.
  5. Most importantly, I give them a path back to the new information and skills, since even the best and most attentive students will forget stuff. Although this idea shows itself in a lot of ways, the biggest thing I do to give them that path is to make them memorize my name. It helps them feel comfortable with me. Students can search for my email in a campus directory, stop by my office, or even stop me on campus to ask a question. Presenting myself as the path back has been incredibly successful.

What about you? How do you teach? (And if you work with the public at all, you teach. One on one instruction is even more important at times than classroom instruction.)


  1. Thanks for this post - very helpful. I find myself teaching the way I like to be taught which includes tactile learning and a lot of what you mention here: using the skills immediately, providing realistic examples, and using untested searches (it's more realistic if you don't have it planned out already.)

    1. Exactly! Hands-on is important if you can manage it.

  2. As a teacher, I love this post. Number one really appealed to me. When I started teaching 3rd grade I thought I needed to be some authority figure, but the kids didn't take me seriously at all. When I started being myself (breaking out into song at random moments, joking around) my relationship with the kids became real and the impact I had on them became real. All they ever really wanted was someone to tell them the truth.