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Reflection and practice - or, why do I keep reinventing my class?

Posted on Friday, January 27th, 2012

Lately, I've been feeling a little frustrated with myself as an instructor.  I'm always changing the game plan, never happy with what I have planned.  My co-teacher and I are constantly reinventing our lesson plans and our class.  It takes a lot of time.  And, frankly, sometimes I wonder why we haven't figured this out yet - this is the sixth time we have taught this course.  Why aren't we on auto pilot? Then, I realized that all of this reflection and reinvention is a good thing.  I remember reading The Reflective Practioner by Donald A. Schon in libary school while I was doing my field experience in library instruction at the R.B. House Undergraduate Library at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Our field experience coordinator at the time, Dr. David Carr (one of my favorite library school instructors), asked us to read it.  He encouraged us to reflect on our experiences so we would learn more from them.  Is this sounding familiar to anyone?  Isn't that what we encourage our service-learning students to do?  Reflection connects the service to the learning. And, so, I'm become more patient with myself this week.  Being a reflective practitioner and improving the course (even mid-quarter) is a good thing.  It doesn't mean I'm a terrible teacher.  It just means I'm thinking critically about what I'm doing, reflecting on what's working and what's not working for the students and trying to the make the experience more mutually beneficial for all involved - the community partner and students, especially, but also for my co-teacher and I. For example, this last week I got some advice from a faculty member who suggested that I create folders for my students so they can see how their research portfolios will be built throughout the quarter.  Include dividers for each homework assignment so they can build it physically as the quarter goes, then transfer the research they decide is the best at the end of the quarter into the formal research portfolio that will be given to the community partner.  And wouldn't you know it?  The moment I passed out the folders, one first-year student thanked us claiming that this folder would make her life easier.  My hope was that the folders would help those with different learning styles, or, quite frankly, those students that might be a little less organized than others! Going back to my field experience, I also clearly remember Dr. Carr's advice to me after I taught (and probably bombed!) my first library instruction session.  He said, "Teach for confidence, not brilliance."  Of course! It makes so much sense!  I don't have to impart every little thing I know, I just have to give them to tools to do their research.  And that was exactly the moment when teaching became much less intimidating and much more rewarding for me.