Instruction Exercise for International Students

In this post, I thought I would share some of my experiments with creative instruction. I am a very green librarian (just one and a half years in the profession) and I’ve been practicing what I like to call “fearless creativity” with my outreach and instruction. I thought this blog would be a good place to share those ideas with other ADSL professionals and hopefully spur some dialogue and maybe even collaboration on other helpful approaches to instruction and outreach.

Since the article published in Urban Library Journal was written, I expanded on the button idea for an instructional project.

The Project

Every summer I teach four (one each day of the week) library instruction sessions to a group of students who are part of a program called SOPIS (Summer Orientation for Parsons International Students). SOPIS is an intensive summer program for international students that combines English language skills with a design project. Students who successfully complete this program will be accepted as full-time Parsons students in the Fall. Therefore, these students have a short amount of time to be successful: they work hard and ask a lot of questions.
This was my second summer to teach these students, and I decided to up the ante on the hands-on project I planned for them. My first summer with this program was much more challenging since I had been on the job for just about two months. I use this group of students as my test group for innovative projects for a couple of reasons: the time of year (summer) affords me a little more time to spend preparing new and often time consuming projects, and the four classes allows me to conduct a small case-study for the project.
After I showed the students how to use the online resources including our OPAC, I wanted an exercise that required them to use written and oral skills, in order for them to work on their English. Since I was only allotted an hour for the instruction session, I knew I needed the create a project that was simple, useful and quick. Each class received a button card that looked like this:
The image used to make the button came from the book mentioned in the middle of the card. In the lower right-hand corner of the card are a list of possible keywords to use when searching this book in the OPAC. The students were given a piece of paper with these instructions:

What To Do With Your Button Card?

  • Your card has information about a book. Your card also has a list of Keywords that relate to that book.
  • Using one or more of the Keywords in the list, find another book in BobCat.
  • After you find another book in BobCat, write down the Title, Author and Call Number of that book on the back of your card.
  • Now locate the new book in the stacks and bring it back to the group.
  • Be prepared to say something about your book. (Why did you choose it? Was it easy/difficult to find? Were there other books nearby that looked interesting?)
  • Now you have information for two books that relate to your class projects!

I also verbally explained the exercise to the class.

The Result:

Unfortunately, time only permitted one class to actually participate in this exercise. The exercise only takes about 10 minutes, but miscommunication meant I was not informed until after the fact that I only had 50 minutes with the students. At any rate, the section that allowed time for the exercise was the section with the lowest English speaking ability. Most of the students tried to find the book on the card, rather than search for a different book using the given search terms.

What I Learned:

If I did this exercise again, I would read the instructions to the students rather than just explain in my own words. Despite my efforts, many students still seemed confused about what to do. Since English is not their first language, reading the instructions to them would allow them to read and follow along. I also may just have them search for the one book and not have them use keywords. That seemed to be where most of the confusion happened.

If anyone has thoughts for next summer’s project, I’d love to hear them!