Use These 5 Ideas from the Dance Classroom To Liven Up Your Next Instruction Session

Written by Mara Frazier, Curator of Dance at the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at The Ohio State University.

 

Take a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath, filling up your belly. Let it out through your mouth. Teaching is hard. Teaching library instruction in a one-shot, during a global pandemic, is especially challenging.

Challenges in library teaching are many and include:

  • tricky instructor requests
  • library anxiety
  • limitations to the 50-minute 1-shot

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has destabilized us. Due to Covid we must learn new tech tools and teach online and hybrid instruction. Covid has put an added emotional and cognitive load on students. All of this can make it hard to convey the information that we need to get across in a one-shot.

In 20+ years of teaching dance, I found that sustainable, transformative teaching always accounts for the mind and body. As crazy as it may seem to apply dance instruction ideas in the library, I believe that it is quite sensible.

The key is the common ground of the body.

What I am about to say is both obvious and profound: We all have a body.

It is with/through/in a body that we sense, process, and navigate the environment.

This is obvious and yet we often forget its import. We might focus more on the information we need to get across in a teaching session than on the ways our students will experience it in. By changing our orientation towards learning to account for the way mind and body work together, we can improve student engagement in our classrooms.

Here, I’ve gathered a few examples of how this plays out in the dance classroom and paired the examples with thoughts about how to implement this­–in fact, how I do implement this–in library instruction.

I hope in this list of 7 things, you find something you might want to try in your next one-shot to increase the engagement of your students.

1. More listening, less talking.

Chances are, you are talking too much in your teaching. (I know I do.)

As a novice dance teacher, I used to take a lot of time to explain the correct ways to do and think about a given movement. I would talk about a movement’s history, other names, and a thousand technical pointers about how to perform a given movement correctly. Meanwhile, students were standing, waiting, with their eyes glazing over. Over the years, I learned that almost anything else worked better. I learned to structure chances to practice early and often into the class. By doing, students could observe and respond to themselves and others.

The next time you are planning library instruction, build in time for listening and doing. Think about where and when to talk less. Where can you pause and offer students the opportunity to talk or experience?

For example, when a student asks a question, instead of answering it, open the question to the class. Try, “Great question. Does anyone have an answer they can contribute?” Or, when teaching a specific search strategy, try starting with an experience before explaining anything about it. Let the students have an experience, respond to it, and go from there.

2. Be Present

Many of us have been taught to prepare, prepare, prepare. But have you ever spent hours developing a beautiful slide deck and handouts only to have to skip the last 40% of the slides and rush through the handout in the class session? Have you ever spent so much time prepping that you have developed an overwhelming assemblage of information that is too much to share, and then become too stressed to connect with students and swore never to teach again?

I have. I’ve done the equivalent in the dance classroom too. This means rushing into and through dance movements in front of students, while forgetting to relate to them as actual humans. This results in stressed students and a stressed instructor. People who are stressed don’t learn well.

I’ve learned to replace some of my prep time with mindfulness meditation or deep breathing. Instead of a detailed document outlining my class plan, sometimes I will do a simple flow chart showing the concepts and activities I intend to engage in. Therefore, I show up more present and responsive.

Figure 1. A simple flow-chart style lesson plan for a dance class. Try something like this instead of a detailed document to free up your time and attention to be present with students.

It is more powerful to be mindfully present than to cover a large batch of information. Next time you’re prepping a lesson, take a step back.  Instead of detailing activities and resources down to the word, try simply sketching your class’s flow in a simple flowchart. Then use your remaining planning time to breathe and visualize your class. How do you want students to feel during and after the lesson? How do you want to feel? This is inspired by activist Adrienne Maree Brown’s idea of “more presence, less prep”–a principle of her theory and practice, Emergent Strategy.

3. Embrace Practice

Practice is everything in dance. In dance, a student may at first be unable to accomplish even the most basic step correctly. Take the plie, a bend of both knees with a straight back. Nearly every ballet class begins with a plie. It is only through years of repeated, intentional practice that dance students achieve mastery of this simple step. In the process of repeating it over years, students grow profoundly.

Furthermore, even expert ballet dancers continue to start their daily practice with plies. As an individual returns to this basic movement over the course of a career, they gain new insight into the same movement information.

What if we approached our library teaching sessions with a practice mindset?

We know that students will not achieve mastery in a 50-minute one-off. Therefore, it makes sense to think of the student’s lifelong relationship to information. Even though we may only have one instruction session with them, they will need to access information over and over throughout the course of their lives. What foundational concepts can you give students a chance to practice in your next teaching session, even if they have practiced it before? Can you allow the possibility that students will struggle with their practice, knowing that they may achieve mastery down the road through the struggle?

4. Invite students to explicitly pay attention to their physical sensations

Dance classes often start and end with ritualized opportunities to become aware of sensations. This may include instruction to take a deep breath, to be still, or to sense one’s physical weight supports in a seated or standing position.

Applying a strategy like this doesn’t have to be anything complicated for the library classroom. It can be as simple as an invitation to observe something they see in the room, to observe the temperature, the feel of air on their skin, feel their seat underneath themselves, or take a deep breath. This can be particularly useful when trying to approach an activity or topic that you anticipate can bring up anxiety, like engaging with technology or using complex search strategies. You can offer this as simply as how this article began, by saying “Take a deep breath.”

Explicitly acknowledging the body can feel like an impossible barrier to breach as an instructor. However, in my experience, students love to be given a low-stakes opportunity to become aware of their sensations, breath, or physical location.

5. Try a “brain dance”.

Brain dance comes from creative dance instructor Anne Green Gilbert, who founded the creative dance center in Seattle. Brain dance moves reduce tension, helping students coordinate their breath, body, and focus of their eyes, becoming more ready to learn. When I see students showing tension in their muscles or becoming restless, I offer a brain dance exercise as a quick reset.

A simple, non-threatening, brain dance-inspired exercise to invite students to do during library instruction is to a cross-lateral movement. This is any movement that brings a body part across the body’s center line to the other side. For example (this is the one I use most often), invite students to bring their right fingertips across their body to touch the back surface of their left shoulder. While touching the shoulder, invite them to take a deep breath into the belly and let it out. If you phrase it right, explaining that this is an optional reset to help them focus better on the next phase of a lesson, you can avoid making anyone feel performance anxiety, and give an out to any who are determined not to participate in a movement activity.

Try it out

I hope this post gave you a few physical or mental strategies you’d like to try to increase student engagement in your classroom. Now I will turn it over to you:

How do you already engage students physically in their learning?

Which of these things would you like to try in your next one shot?

How would you tailor it to apply to your subject area?

Let me know in a comment.

 

References:

Adrienne Marie Brown, Emergent Strategy (Chico: AK Press, 2017).

Anne Green Gilbert, Brain-Compatible Dance Education. (Champaign, Human Kinetics, 2019).

Reflecting on Searching Strategy Development

By Kerry Dhakal, MAA, MLS, Assistant Professor, Research and Education Librarian at The Ohio State University’s Health Sciences Library

How concepts are developed and how they are organized, searched and mapped in databases is the crux of searching the literature for me and what initially drew me to health sciences librarianship. Since becoming an MLS health sciences librarian, I have spent hours upon hours in learning, conducting, evaluating, revising, disseminating and publishing search strategies in collaboration with clinical healthcare providers, faculty and students in academia. Librarians regularly think about search strategy development, especially when teaching others, but we often do not have a lot of time to teach deeply on critically reflecting on search strategies. In May, I attended a presentation by Jolene Miller, University of Toledo, about reflective practice in health sciences librarianship. It got me thinking about how I can incorporate reflective thinking about searching in one-shot sessions or courses I help teach. I wanted to see if having students reflect on their strategy development was valuable for them in learning about the systematic search process, particularly since the product of their searching in the future will lead to guidelines, policies or practices that directly affect the care of patients.

In a course that I help teach in the fall each year, N8460 Integrative Reviews, the professor provided class time to students, the professor and myself to dive deeper into these types of observations. Why does using a certain keyword or subject heading pull articles on this relevant concept but not others? Why do certain subject headings, particularly those concerning demographics, include specific groups and not others, when the general understanding of that concept is that it should? Why do individual research databases have the same name for a concept but a different definition? These are great questions for students to ask.

This semester the professor and I also collaborated to develop a search strategy assignment. The doctoral (PhD) students in the course developed clinical or research questions, then I taught a full class session on how to search systematically in PubMed, using keywords, subject headings, and synonym searching techniques. The students were asked to submit the search strategies they developed for their questions in PubMed and to answer three questions reflecting on the steps that they took for developing their strategy. The assignment was a great success as not only did the students make observations about their search strategies, they commented that the process of reflecting on the assignment provided them with an opportunity to have time to critically think about the process of searching. The following class session, I provided additional guidance and tips for developing their search strategies more effectively. In that same class session, several of the students asked additional critical questions about the process of searching and about how the databases find articles, particularly focusing on article recall, sensitivity and specificity aspects of searching.

Next fall semester, I would like to take a second step and ask students to complete a survey to learn what reflecting on their practice taught them, based on the findings from Miller’s study (2020) about how reflection helps one identify personal strengths and weaknesses, gaps in knowledge or skills, achieving perspective, and recognizing errors (p25).

Here are some resources about reflective practice in the health sciences:

Miller J. M. (2020). Reflective practice and health sciences librarians: engagement, benefits, and barriers. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 108(1), 17–28. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2020.777
Winkel, A. F., Yingling, S., Jones, A. A., & Nicholson, J. (2017). Reflection as a Learning Tool in Graduate Medical Education: A Systematic Review. Journal of graduate medical education, 9(4), 430–439. https://doi.org/10.4300/JGME-D-16-00500.1

Raterink, G. (2016). Reflective Journaling for Critical Thinking Development in Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Students. The Journal of nursing education, 55(2), 101–104. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20160114-08

Zori, S. (2016). Teaching Critical Thinking Using Reflective Journaling in a Nursing Fellowship Program. Journal of continuing education in nursing, 47(7), 321–329. https://doi.org/10.3928/00220124-20160616-09

Thompson, N., Pascal, J. (2012) Developing critically reflective practice, Reflective Practice, 13:2, 311-325, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2012.657795

The Undergraduate Libraries Research Fellowship: Centering Student Scholarship

Written by Jennifer Schnabel, English Librarian at The Ohio State University

On Monday, October 26 at 2:30 p.m., University Libraries will host our annual Undergraduate Library Research Symposium. This year’s event will be virtual, but the celebratory spirit will remain as we highlight research conducted by six students over the summer. This year’s projects include a digital exhibit on anti-sexual violence activism (Mia Carello, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies); an oral history archive focused on women faculty and staff at OSU Lima (Hannah Stoll, English); an analysis of the enemies to lovers trope appearing in popular novels (Katherine Watson, English); a study of female refugees’ experiences in central Ohio (Dani Wollerman, International Studies); a repository of readings of poetry written by undergraduate students (June Beavers, Creative Writing); and a literature review comparing Hellenic systems of thought and those of indigenous populations (Shawn Walls, Classics/Political Science). All are welcome to attend the symposium. To register, please click here.

The Undergraduate Research Library Fellowship (ULRF) is a partnership between OSU Libraries and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry. Students from across disciplines are invited to contact a mentor from the Libraries and discuss a potential summer research project, the proposal writing process, and their individual academic and professional goals. Submissions are reviewed by the Teaching and Learning Committee and awarded based on the project’s feasibility and funding availability.

As a subject librarian at a large research institution, it is often difficult for me to get to know individual students and encourage their research interests beyond a group instruction session or one 45-minute consultation. The fellowship program has given me the opportunity to advise an undergraduate scholar throughout the research lifecycle, from developing a research proposal to creating a presentation. I have mentored four students since I joined the OSU Libraries in 2015, and all have successfully completed projects that they have presented in the library and at research forums and festivals on campus.

As part of building my faculty dossier, I am required to report on ways I have impacted student success. However, I am the one who has benefitted the most from serving as a mentor in this program. I have been inspired and energized by the students before, during, and even after the fellowship period, when I have had the privilege of supervising an honors thesis and an independent study, write recommendation letters for graduate school, and provide references on job applications. I admire their creativity and curiosity when they propose projects, their eagerness to explore primary source material and the existing scholarship on the topic, their interest in learning new research tools and methods, and their willingness to revise original ideas as their research skills evolve and discoveries increase over the ten weeks. I often think about their enthusiasm and insightful reflections on the research process when I return to my own projects.

The 2020 fellowship students will be especially remembered for their flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several fellows had to rethink their projects to accommodate a remote working environment and adapt their timelines to changes in summer schedules. For example, Katherine Watson’s initial plan was to consult popular romance literature in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Instead, she focused on using digital research methods and tools to create a StoryMap that illustrates how Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy fell in love from a distance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Dani Wollerman planned to conduct face-to-face interviews with area refugees for her project; she quickly revised her methodology in response to limitations from the pandemic, and the results of her research are presented here. Other students made similar adjustments to their proposed projects.

The fellows were also able to meet one another and share their research experiences. Instead of having an in-person session, we hosted an informal meeting on Zoom midway through the fellowship period. They also submitted a progress report and a final report to Craig Gibson, the URLF program organizer. The symposium on October 26 is an opportunity for the fellows to showcase their projects to the public and marks the end of a successful and unusual fellowship cycle. The event will be the highlight of my semester, and I know my colleagues feel the same way.

 

Librarians, what have you learned from mentoring undergraduate students? Please write your answers below in the comment section.

How to Keep One-Shots Fresh

By Janell Verdream, Instruction Librarian at Ohio State Newark and Central Ohio Technical College

 

At the Newark campus, we’ve become familiar with a number of classes that we visit regularly: mainly introductory English, History, and Biology courses. We’ve answered countless questions about the same research projects assigned in these classes semester after semester. Essentially, we could probably teach these one-shots in our sleep, but how can we keep these sessions fresh and engaging so as to not put our students to sleep?

Make a new presentation each time

It may seem tedious, but I’ve found that making a new PowerPoint presentation for each class keeps me from going on autopilot while I’m presenting. I switch up the order of topics, the example search terms I use, and the GIFs I include (did you know you can put GIFs in a PowerPoint?! It’s a game changer!). These little changes help to keep me in the moment during each presentation.

Break up your time wisely

One-shots are never as long as we’d like them to be, so it’s important to use our time wisely. Whether I have 30 minutes or 55 minutes, I never plan on lecturing for that entire time. Personally, I try not to lecture for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. The students like to talk with their peers and play games, so I like to do partner activities and review games. In pairs or groups of three, I sometimes have the students help each other come up with search terms for their individual research questions. Another small group activity could be asking each group to find one or two articles about an assigned topic.

Use apps

Along the same lines of group activities and review games, education apps are a great way to keep students engaged. I always try to leave room at the end of my one-shots for a short Kahoot! review game that goes over topics I discussed. The students get competitive with each other, and they always come up with funny usernames!

Another app I use often is Mentimeter, where students can vote in polls, post questions during my lectures that I can address later, or submit permalinks to articles they found during group activities. There are tons of different tools on Mentimeter, so explore it and get inspired to create new one-shot activities!

Constantly learn and experiment

If you come up with a new activity for one-shots, share that idea with your colleagues! Ask them what they’ve tried during one-shots. What worked? What definitely didn’t? Talking to your peers is a great way to discover best practices.

Don’t be afraid to experiment either. I keep a spreadsheet listing each class I visit, the activities we did, what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Then, I can look back at my notes for ideas when I’m feeling stuck, or to remember why an idea I had failed.

Have fun!

If you’re not engaged and having fun, you cannot expect your students to be engaged and have fun. Like I said, I like to throw GIFs into my PowerPoints, and I’m sure there are tons of other ways to add personality to your presentations. My main goal for a one-shot is not for each student to remember every single thing I said. Instead, it’s to show each student that I’m a resource on campus (or online) that they should feel comfortable approaching for help. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is to have fun together during the one-shot.