I went to Northern College in Yorkshire in December of 2016 to take a short, intensive course on pedagogy for librarians and learn practical tips, get ideas for activities, and also get a better sense of myself as a teacher. This course was heavily subsidised by CILIP at the time and I think they have discontinued it due to the cost, which is a shame, given how useful it was for the participants. (You can find another student’s 2015 take on the course here). Northern College provide a model of education which is founded on social purpose which gives extra meaning to the teaching methods that they foster there. My reason for attending the course was that the opportunity to learn practical skills in teaching amongst a warm and supportive group of like-minded librarians was too good to pass up. I’m now doubly grateful to have gone as it’s no longer being run – so the need to share is even greater! Most of us hadn’t realised there would be a large amount of follow-up work in completing a portfolio to obtain the cert in teaching. Having said that, the online portfolio (in Google sites) allowed me to reflect on my personal approach to teaching and what I learned from the course. It also served as a repository for my reflections which I can now use towards future teaching and learning goals.
I hoped to understand which things I do well (such as being supportive and respectful of students, and understanding many aspects of the research process and information use in academic contexts) while learning newer skills such as how to make my classes more meaningful and adapt them to each group and each learner. Our teacher (Jill Wilkens) was wonderful at introducing us to many practical tips and techniques for teaching in an interactive and engaging way. I came away from the course feeling more confident and more flexible in my teaching style. I haven’t had a chance to practice many of the methods we covered (there were a lot in a very short space of time!) but I felt after the course that I have a much better awareness of the range of resources and types of activities which can support my students and my-self as a teacher. It was also a rare gift to be able to reflect on my teaching in the company of fellow-librarians who encountered many of the same hiccups that I do in my role.
Understanding Assessment in Education & Training
The two things that gave me light-bulb moments during the Pedagogy for Librarians course that are still reverberating for me in my work were differentiation and assessment. Differentiation and assessment for me both revolve around using your empathy, flexibility and responsiveness to engage with those that you teach – even if you only meet them once. I have come to realise how important assessment is for teaching, and more importantly how important it is for learning. Being introduced to the work of Dylan Williams and Geoff Petty has really clarified how good teaching is not just related to assessment but is one and the same with it, and finding ways to foster that in your classroom, regardless of the limitations of your environment is a long-term goal to aim for. Having strategies and techniques to apply to the various situations that I find myself designing learning activities and content for makes me feel armed with supplies instead of vulnerable and under-prepared. While I imagine that it will take me a long time and much more experience to become expert at utilising this new knowledge, I am now consciously trying to incorporate strategies from the Assessment for Learning approach into my work: clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success; engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and tasks that elicit evidence of learning; providing feedback that moves learners forward; activating students as instructional resources for each other, and activating students as owners of their own learning. Some of these seem so common-sense that it’s hard to imagine teaching without them, but in my case (and I think for others too) it will take application, forethought, planning, confidence and articulation to bring them to life in your interactions with learners. Sometimes the simplest seeming objectives are the most beguiling or difficult to achieve!
While I had read quite a lot of academic literature about pedagogy, these grounding core principles spelled out and summed up for me what I learned on the course. In my experience, explicitly naming them in the stages of your planning encourages you to keep them front and centre of your intended learning outcomes and teaching methods. While in the past I have been somewhat negligent in terms of asking for feedback I have committed myself to asking participants in my workshops and classes to fill out evaluative feedback forms which not only tell me where I can improve the content and delivery of my sessions to benefit learners, as well as satisfying my curiosity about what the learners are taking away from the sessions I teach; but doing so also makes teaching immeasurably more satisfying.
I know I have much to learn about teaching but I have a genuine interest in other people and I think that’s a good foundation to start with. I now generally try to think about how I can design activities and formative assessment in which we (myself and whoever I’m teaching) can learn from each-other and adjust the pace of sessions accordingly. I’m also trying to think of ways that I can use initial or diagnostic assessment to find out about learners needs before I take a class on – this can be hard to do in my context but it’s not impossible – it just takes a bit of early planning and collaboration with others who may have access to information that I don’t have.
The teaching terminology describing different types of assessment, which before sounded quite daunting to me, now make sense and seem more approachable. I’ve always liked facilitating a good group-brainstorm and have no problem with taking the lead and public speaking in other situations (such as in professional committees and situations) but now I understand that people are not arriving at my sessions with the sole purpose of judging my teaching skills (!). For the most part they want to learn and they want to be engaged – it’s just about finding ways to tap into what motivates them and what they find interesting and using those motivations to formulate and design a learning experience around. Much about formative assessment involves the skill and patience to listen, learn and act upon your insights – which are all things that I believe I’m capable of – especially when I’ve got something that I believe in that I want to share with other people. I now have the beginnings of a toolkit full of strategies and insights with which to approach future teaching sessions and the confidence to imagine designing a longer sequence of learning sessions such as a module. I also understand better the context that I’m working in – the pressures and challenges that student teachers and academics are working with, and the pleasure that comes from developing a successful learning event/environment.