Welcome to our Teaching 101 series, through which we will examine library instruction & teaching, highlighting best practices from multiple instructional lenses. This month, Anna Boutin-Cooper will discuss pedagogy, and why it matters for the teaching librarian.

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What an educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy is a critical component of teaching, arguably as important as knowing how to manage a classroom or effectively convey subject material. In this blog post, we’ll attempt to define pedagogy, and discuss why it matters to the teaching librarian. I’ll also talk briefly about my own approach to pedagogy, and how it’s benefitted my instructional practices.

Pedagogy Defined

Pedagogy can mean many things to different people, so we’ll start by landing on a common, shared definition. At its core, pedagogy is the study of teaching, often practiced in an academic setting, focusing on what makes a successful teaching and learning experience. When talking about pedagogy, some folks also use the term “scholarship of teaching and learning.” This term refers more specifically to the academic study of effective student learning, and can at times be used interchangeably with pedagogy. A key component of SoTL, as those in the field refer to it, is sharing one’s findings publicly.

Why Pedagogy Matters

Many folks I’ve encountered shy away from pedagogy, stating their preference for the practical when it comes to teaching. I’m certainly not here to say that practical, hands-on teaching experience and texts aren’t useful – I have relied on them heavily as a new teacher. Pedagogy matters because it is a critical companion to the hands-on. Pedagogy is more theoretical, sure, but it is grounded in thinking critically about one’s teaching practice. Engaging with pedagogy helps improve one’s teaching thoughtfully, and hopefully provides a bit more color and texture to the practical, through an understanding of “why.” Why one activity is more effective than another, why certain characteristics make for an excellent teacher, and why we teach at all.

Photo by Paul Schafer on Unsplash.

My Approach to Pedagogy

When I was in library school, we had one requisite class that focused on library instruction-and while we talked somewhat about basic learning theories, from what I remember, the class was largely practical. We focused on techniques to engage students, practical applications of instruction, and writing basic lesson plans, though I honestly can’t say if we were taught how. I left the class more unsure about teaching than when I went in, knowing that while I loved working with students, I wasn’t confident that I would be an effective teacher.

Happily, my instructional abilities have grown since graduate school, and I’ve found so far that a mix between on the ground instructional experience and a consistent engagement with pedagogical theory has worked for me. I challenge myself to consistently read texts about teaching, and to participate in online coursework and ongoing professional development as it makes sense with funding and my schedule. Recent favorites include bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom and Maria T. Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction. I’m currently working my way through the more practical Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning by Char Booth, focusing on expanding my own reflective practice.

Based on a combination of readings and personal learning experiences, I’ve defined my own pedagogical style in a teaching statement. My statement is a living document, one that changes as I learn and grow as a teacher, and I’m including it as an attachment below if you’re curious to read it. My own style is feminist and student-centered, focusing on guiding students to develop their own skills in critical engagement with sources, images, and their own worlds.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash.

How can I incorporate pedagogy into my own teaching?

There are lots of different ways to start, and none of them are better than another. I’d recommend thinking about how you’d like to improve your own teaching. Are you stuck with active learning exercises? Struggling with teaching anxiety? Narrow down a few points of focus, and let those be your foci for some literature searches. Some good journals in the area of the scholarship of teaching and learning include International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Peruse through these titles or take a look through Art Documentation for articles focusing on teaching. There are also multiple books to work your way through when it comes to pedagogy–a great place to start would be with any of the texts I’ve mentioned in this post. But of course, texts that you’ll find engaging may differ!

Teaching statements are another way to engage more fully with pedagogy, through a critical reflection of your own teaching practice. If you’re interested in writing a teaching statement, like I have above, I’d recommend starting off by thinking about your teaching practice, and attempting to define it. How do you prefer to teach when you’re responsible for a class session? Are there any pedagogical theories or schools of thought that you particularly subscribe to? How do these influence your teaching? And keep on going from there – I hope you’ll find it to be a helpful experience. I know that writing mine was incredibly helpful in my effort to more consciously shape my teaching practice, from informing how I start a class (by having everyone introduce themselves with pronouns, why they’re there, and a fun fact), down to selecting the activities that I use (more active learning, group work activities that decenter my presence as an authority figure).

What do you think? How do you engage with pedagogy? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

If you have questions about pedagogy, my teaching statement, or anything else mentioned here, I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me at aboutinc (at) fandm (dot) com.

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