Readers' Advisory for Children and Young Adults

An Instructional Session by Tanya Rogoschewsky

Reflective Paper on the Instructional Session

Designing this instructional session was important because instruction is an essential skill for librarians. Whether we are providing it one-on-one or within a group setting, instruction forms a part of almost every position. Sometimes we will be instructing our patrons, at other times our fellow staff members. In preparing for this session, I was guided by my readings on instructional theory, by my knowledge of the subject matter and by my previous experience in both presenting and in listening to presentations.

I chose the topic readerís advisory because it has formed a large part of my experiences during my practicum placement in this term (I have been working in the childrenís department at the Whitemud Crossing Branch Library). Despite its importance in public librarianship, it is not currently taught as part of the SLIS program. I chose print materials because although we have a tendency to use electronic sources wherever possible, there are current gaps in the electronic tools available and these gaps can be bridged through the print sources. Additionally not all libraries are able to afford the same number of database subscriptions and print materials are less costly alternative.

My first articulated goal for the session was: ĎParticipants will learn to use existing readerís advisory print materials.í When I originally envisioned the session, I was very narrowly focused on the individual books that I would be introducing to the audience. However, when I considered the theoretical audience that I had chosen, I had to re-examine my focus. Knowledge of the tools would be useless if participants didnít know how to use them in context. This forced me to consider what assumptions I was making about my participants, what skills I wanted them to acquire and eventually led me to enlarge the scope of my presentation.

The ultimate goal that I developed for this session was: ĎThe participants will learn the basics of readerís advisory and the interview process, become familiar with available advisory tools and develop the skills necessary to do successful readerís advisory within their school library.í If the SLIS students had actually been school library workers, I would have wanted them to leave this session with the information they needed to choose the best readerís advisory book(s) for their needs and the confidence to use that tool to provide active readerís advisory to their students. I considered the different cognitive styles, such as convergent, diverging, serialist, holistic, adapting, etc. to try a craft a lesson that would have something to offer each of the learners.

I knew that I would be including objectives-based exercise testing materials as a conclusion to the session, but I struggled to decide what those exercises would look like. Readerís advisory is not an exact science and success is sometimes more a matter of skill, luck and circumstance coming together. Therefore I did not want to include an exercise that over-simplified readerís advisory or made it an issue of right vs. wrong answers. In deciding this, I returned to my original stated goal. I wanted students to be familiar with the tools and I wanted them to develop the skills to feel confident in using them. Therefore as my skill testing exercise, I decided to include structured practice time that would mimic the readerís advisory experience.

Designing this instructional session reinforced how much preparation time is involved in successful teaching. Although this was not a particularly long session, I still spent an enormous amount of time in preparation. This involved researching readerís advisory tips and strategies, carefully reviewing my chosen books, developing useful powerpoint slides, designing my exercises, creating my point-of-use guide and finally crafting and practicing my presentation. Each part of the preparation was equally important. Another aspect which I was familiar with from past presentations, is how much practice is required to make a presentation seem Ďnatural.í I know that as a listener it is easier to be engaged with the subject matter if the presenter speaks to me rather than reads from lecture notes. I also know how distracting Ďumsí and Ďuhsí can be during a speech. The audience wants a presenter that is confident and presents the subject matter with ease rather than effort. Of course, this does require substantial effort, but it is behind the scenes. For this presentation, I practiced out loud many times so that I could present without speaking notes and without relying on my powerpoints.

In evaluating my session, I found reviewing the video-taped copy to be very useful. During a presentation I try to remember what I want to say while still paying attention to my audience. With my mind already so occupied, it can be difficult to judge my effectiveness during the session. I was also curious as to whether I have distracting mannerisms that I am not aware of. I know that in my normal conversation, I often use the filler word Ďlikeí but I generally work hard not to have it in my presentations. Watching the videotape, I was pleased to see that I avoided using filler words, however I think that I would have preferred it if I had memorized more of the information regarding the individual source books since I still needed my notes during that segment of the presentation. Overall though, I was really pleased with my presentation when watching it. I think that the practice time I spent was well rewarded in the results. I certainly felt calmer and more confident because of my rehearsals and I think that presentation flowed smoother as a result. It also allowed me to deal with small technical glitches (such as skipping too quickly through my slides) with aplomb.

I feel that the session went well and was very effective in achieving my objectives. My feelings on this are echoed in the very positive evaluation I was given. I scored very high on almost all of the evaluation criteria.

The one major change I would make to the presentation was the amount of time provided for the exercises. I think the exercises were very important but they were not given adequate time within the session. This is also mentioned in my evaluation. Both the exercises felt rushed and participants did not have enough time to really explore the material.

I am not convinced of what changes I would make if I were redesigning the session (within the same time allotment), but I have few ideas. I might try to move through some of the initial material quicker. I could also try having more information about the individual advisory books on the handout and therefore spend a little less time on each one during the presentation. I might also decide to concentrate on only one exercise rather than having two. I think both exercises are very useful, but if I was choosing between them, I would probably choose the first exercise. The reason for this is that participants might not have another opportunity to examine these books first-hand. As an instructor, I was encouraging the participants purchase one or more of these tools for their library so it is important that they have some time with them to evaluate them based on their own needs.

Although I think role playing is a wonderful learning tool, it does only mimic the actual situation. Presumably the participants could further develop their interview skills on-site. I am still struggling with this though because one student mentioned that for her the role playing was extremely useful. She said that it was easy to feel confident in doing readerís advisory when a patronís likes and dislikes are laid out for you and there isnít the time pressure of someone waiting in front of you, but that the role playing made her consider more carefully how she would do it in a real situation. That made me concerned that in this session only one of the participants in each pair was able to practice their interviewing skills. This was something that was also mentioned by my evaluator.

In some ways a short presentation of 25 minutes offers increased challenges to the instructor because one must deliver an educational package very succinctly, but yet not simply skim the surface of the material or make it so narrowly focused that it loses any educational value. Ideally for this presentation, I would increase the total time to 35 or 40 minutes and allow between 15 and 20 minutes for practice time.

I found that designing this session was very educational experience for me and in general I am very pleased with its apparent success.

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University of Alberta   |   School of Library and Information Studies   |   E-Mail Tanya Rogoschewsky
Last Updated: March 20, 2006.