I still consider myself a “newbie” at library instruction, so I make a point to set aside time following every class to reflect on what just happened. Through this, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and my teaching. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

1) Specific goals produce specific results.

For each instruction session, I create three expected learning outcomes (ELOs). I’ve found that the more specific these statement are, the easier they are to assess. I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, but because I’ve drafted my ELOs in a “smart“ way, I know exactly where and how I missed the mark. For example, instead of saying “Help students define their research paper topic,” I say “Students will have a narrow view of their proposed topic and be able to state it clearly and concisely [before the end of class].” How do I know I achieved this? By having students brainstorm ideas (mind-mapping) in class and then using those ideas to write out a thesis statement a la Wayne Booth’s The Craft of Research.

2) You learn as much after the class as you do in it.

I’ve been reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning recently and I’ve adopted her recommended practice of asking myself three questions after every session: What went well? What didn’t go well? and How can I make it better next time? For each session that I teach, I type up the responses from the surveys I give each student at the end of class (Top 3 things you learned; 2 questions or things unclear; one thing you will definitely use) and compare these to my ELOs. The entire process only takes 15-20 minutes but the benefits multiply exponentially. For example, I originally thought that having a rigidly structured class would produce the best results, i.e. student surveys would match up with ELOs. But in fact, after reviewing the last few courses I’ve taught, the classes that were more organic (more collaborative time, more Q&A, more impromptu) produced better outcomes, especially regarding student satisfaction with the course.

3) You can’t force students to ask questions.

I wanted so terribly to incorporate Poll Everywhere into my instruction. I thought it would be a way to encourage more open inquiry but in fact it did the exact opposite. It shut down the students’ desire to ask questions or give feedback. I may use PE for other purposes, but as an attempt to generate questions, it was doing more harm than good. Instead, I’ve been working to generate conversation, which inevitably seems to lead to questions. If I get the students talking, I know I’m in good shape.

4) Always have a backup plan.

I walked into a classroom yesterday only to discover that it didn’t have any whiteboard space. So my plan to have students create mind-maps on the board was crushed. Instead, I opened up Google Docs and Voila! Instant whiteboard.

5) I love Q&A time!

Even with all the planning I do for each class (2-3 hours), I still respond more articulately to unexpected questions. Yesterday, a student asked whether or not he could print off books from Google Books. This gave me the opportunity to talk about copyright and e-books. The student was crestfallen that he couldn’t print off everything he need from gBooks, but now he also knew where to go to find e-books in the library collection.

In all likelihood, it will be years before I even begin to consider myself “a good teacher,” In the meantime, I can be confident that I have a realistic (and data-supported) understanding of my abilities.