February 6, 2013

Some brief thoughts on classroom management, techniques, and future lesson plans

I started off writing this post reflecting on the negatives of a difficult instruction session that I had and although it's really helpful to examine failure, I think it's even better to look at what has gone well and what does work. The difficult class I taught was a student success course for (mostly) athletes in their freshman year. It's extremely remedial to ensure they get the right footing before entering into more advanced classes. On one hand, from what I observed, it seems like it is a necessary thing for some students, and at the same time, it seemed like they were frustrated and perhaps felt the class was beneath their skill level. So, with that situation (and numerous classroom management issues) and a last minute request for instruction, it was an uphill battle.

The ERIAL Project has highlighted the issue of students with the lowest skill level in library research being the most confident about their abilities. I definitely notice this in the classes I teach, and particularly in this student success course. They seemed to feel very confident and like they didn't need me to show them anything (not the whole class, but the majority). In contrast, the students who were excelling and were doing more advanced research were the only ones asking questions and putting effort into the activity. I think an effective method in this case is to set them up for some struggle first and then show them that they could really use instruction. For example, have them search the database without direction, and then when they see they haven't found very useful results or too many results, demonstrating tactics and tricks can better capture their attention. That way when we say knowing how to do research effectively will actually save them time in the long run, they will believe it.

On the flipside, I went back to teach another session to freshmen football during their study table hours (this is part of my work in student retention), and it went amazingly well. The lead tutor who oversees their study table hours said my colleague and I are great at engaging a very difficult population (hooray!) and asked me to come back next month even though now we've covered all the sessions we agreed upon for the academic year (orientation, basic searching, evaluating sources, and citing/avoiding plagiarism).

With this group, I have been planning game-like activities to engage their competitive nature. Anytime they can go up against one another, they seem to get really into it. We planned a BINGO-style orientation session for them over the summer and they were hardcore about enforcing no answer sharing or explaining answers until the competition is over because they all wanted to win. At this latest session, we did plagiarism court and offered candy for answering correctly. I'm already plotting out our next session and think now that they have the basics, I'd love to teach them "research as conversation," and framing it that way should really help them understand the process better. I'm working on developing some things to illustrate this in a fun way and will share what I create along with the results. This is an exciting group to work with because I can try out a lot of different things and can make it fun.