Teaching Critical Reading

LIB 1015–the really really bad source.docx
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In my LIB 1015 class today, I had a good experience with a new in-class activity I designed that aimed to teach students how to read critically. Over the weekend, the students were to have read a chapter from The Little, Brown Handbook titled “Reading Arguments Critically.” When they got to class, I did a quick lecture to spotlight the key parts of that chapter. After my overview, I handed out an essay that I told them was my own creation. My aim, I explained, was write a really bad essay that they would illustrate what kind of bad writing to look out for as detailed in the chapter they had read.

For the activity, they broke out into groups, read the article, and then identified the passages that raised red flags. After fifteen minutes, I asked them to report back to me on what principles outlined in the book chapter had been violated and where those violations were to be found in my essay. The students really responded well to the activity and found most of the weak spots. We got a lot of good conversations going, too, that dug deeper into the ideas in the book chapter than if I had merely asked them to discuss the chapter on its own. Another way that I could do this assignment would be to require them to each write a really bad essay and identify the offending passages and what rule or principle was not followed.

The inspiration for this assignment came somewhat from Steve Lawson’s post last week, “Bizarro Bibliographic Instruction,” which I highly recommend.

Helping Students Understand Transition from Folk Culture to Mass Culture to Convergence Culture

Eureka! This summer, I had been hoping to find a short, authoritative passage that my first-year students this fall can read that will help them understand the transition in the United States from the folk culture that predominated up until the end of the 19th century to the mass media culture where copyright became increasingly focused on the needs of corporations in the 20th century and then finally to the current convergence culture where users are with greater frequency and skill appropriating the stories, songs, images, etc. created by corporations and working with it in a way that paralleled the world of folk culture.

Henry Jenkins’ 2006 book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, has a nice four-and-a-half page section (p. 139-143) that provides just the kind of thumbnail sketch I’ve been looking for. Here’s a choice quote from this section of the book:

The older American folk culture was built on borrowings from mother countries; the modern mass media builds upon borrowings from folk culture; the new convergence culture will be built on borrowings from various media conglomerates. (p. 141).

Teaching Students How to Read for Class

Last spring, when I taught LIB 1015 Information Research for Social Sciences and Humanities, I realized that many of my students weren’t exactly knocking themselves out trying to do the reading I had assigned. When they did do the reading, it seemed as though they hadn’t read it very closely. This fall, I’ll be teaching the course again with a class made up entirely of first-year students. I am thinking about spending some time giving my students ideas about how to read an article in a way that helps them recognize the main points of the article and helps them process and retain what they’ve read.

At the moment, this not-even-half-baked idea looks like this:

  1. Give them a paper copy of an article to read
  2. Require them to come to the next class with the following: an outline they’ve made of the article (paragraph by paragraph), a list of all new words and phrases in they found in the article, a list of all persons named in the article (such as a researcher who is referenced).
  3. Launch into a class discussion of the article and hope that the conversation is deeper than it might have been without this effort.
  4. The next time there is a reading, just require an outline from them.

I’m not sure if I’ll require an outline for all assigned readings or not. Although I want my class to be able to respond intelligently and thoughtfully to discussions of readings, my class is not intended to be a seminar. Instead, I like to run my class more like a laboratory where students engage in hands-on activities to learn about how to do research; the readings are meant more to provide some foundation to the activities we do.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this experiment will be worth the trouble.

Explaining to Freshman What Research Looks Like

As I gear up to teach a 3-credit course again (LIB 1015 Information Research for the Social Sciences and Humanities), I’m hoping to deepen my students’ sense of what research is. I’m wondering if there is a way I can use this clever graphic by Matt Might about what a Ph.D. is to help illustrate that in most cases research expands our knowledge in a very narrow way and minimal.

Valuing Questions in Student Research

As I gear up to teach a three-credit course again that my library offers (Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities), I’m looking for new sources that I can have my students read that introduce them to a model of doing research that is focused on inquiry (questions). To that end, I’ve just started reading the latest edition (the fourth) of Kate Turabian’s Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers. Here’s a nice quote with language that I may incorporate into my spiel to my students about what research is actually about:

New college students are often surprised to discover that just knowing the facts is not enough for most teachers. It’s not enough in our own work: more than knowing things, what energizes us is our habit of seeking out new questions, the cast of mind that drives all research. And it’s not enough in yours: more than checking that you know the facts, we want to see what you can do with the facts, what new questions, combinations, possibilities, or puzzles you discover–or invent. We value and reward good answers, but we reward good questions more. (p. 2)

Glancing ahead at chapter two of Turabian’s book, “Finding a Research Question,” I see that there may be some really good material there that will help me with one of the trickiest parts of information literacy: teaching students how to develop a good research question.

My Summer Projects

Personal Projects

  1. Port over the decade old content from my Teaching Librarian website into a new Drupal version.
  2. Finish editing of an article about McCarthyism and the central library of the New York Public Library. I’m hoping the journal editors will let me post a pre-peer reviewed draft online.
  3. Rework my syllabus for the LIB 1015 class that I taught for the first time this spring. Since my fall class will be part of the college’s learning communities program, my students (all first year students) will also be in a philosophy class (an intro to ethics course). The philosophy professor and I are looking for points of alignment between our courses.

Projects for My Co-workers and Me

  1. Expand my library’s collection of LibGuides.
  2. Work on ways to improve the answering percentage among the six CUNY libraries that share a group subscription to QuestionPoint (answering percentage is ratio that compares the number of questions your library puts into the cooperative service to the number of questions your library answers).
  3. Revise an old plagiarism tutorial.
  4. Write a proposal for a text message reference service.
  5. Rething the process of taking in requests for research consultations and for delegating them to librarians.
  6. Do usability testing of the union catalog shared by CUNY libraries.