on messed up library lessons…

Sometimes, when I plan and execute information literacy lessons and things go well, I feel like the…


I pat myself on the back and write about it in the AISL blog and I’m all, “Yay! School libraries rock! I rock! Look at us saving the the world from information illiteracy one child at a time! I deserve a raise!”

Then… A week later, I plan a lesson and I’m ready to save another class of souls from the pit of information illiteracy despair and…


When this happens, it feels like, “OMG… How will I ever again manage to make it to work with pants on, clean underwear, socks that match, and with all of the buttons on my shirt placed in the appropriate corresponding button holes?!?!”

In the scope of an entire school year, I feel like I get very few opportunities to work with students on information literacy lessons so I HATE going home at the end of a day feeling like I squandered a precious block of face-to-face contact time with students on a bad lesson. I think about these failures. I think about these failures a LOT!

My first instinct when this happens is to preserve my self-image and my self-worth. “That group of kids are pills.” “That group of kids is SO immature.” “That group of kids…”

If I stick to it long enough to get over my ego, sometimes I can get honest enough with myself to get to, “I think that lesson went wobbly because…”

Last week I had three cohorts of frosh come through to do background research on Papua New Guinea. They are cohorts in our cross-disciplinary, project-based learning program. It was a rather tough experience for all involved. Students ended up frustrated, lost, and excited to get away from the library as soon as possible; Mr. Wee ended up frustrated, sweaty, grumpy, and saying counter productive things to frosh; and two different social studies teachers new to our school ended up shell shocked by a negative experience in our library. “Welcome to the Mid-Pacific Library, gentlemen!” Ugh!

What else is there to say, but… #Sad

Here at Mid-Pacific, though, we try, in various ways to understand that, “FAiL is a First Attempt in Learning” so when we FAiL we need to reflect on the experience, pick ourselves up, and set out to do it better the next time.

I’ve finally come to realize that most of my FAiLed information literacy lessons FAiL when I attempt to present TOO MUCH and to do TOO MUCH in my lessons. The perception of the scarcity of face-to-face instructional time makes me feel a little desperate so I attempt to teach students too much. In this case:

  • NoodleTools set-up
  • Database searching (in FOUR different databases)
  • Database citation in a shared NoodleTools project with 4 student collaborators
  • Notetaking
  • How to notate which notes came from each source in the collaborative note taking document.

Our classes are 85-minute block periods, but when you see the desired outcomes for the lesson bullet pointed out like this, you get the picture.

That’s just STUPID instructional design!

So what do I do?

I apologized and explained things to my newly shell shocked, new colleagues who were, of course, incredibly forgiving (teachers are really kind people).

I resolved to dial back my obsession to make EVERY SINGLE information literacy lesson about EVERY SINGLE information literacy skill that my students will need to know before they go to college.  It’s a long game. We don’t need to go for a touch down EVERY TIME we touch the ball so EVERY SINGLE LESSON doesn’t have to be about formal academic citation. There are lots of ways to build information literacy that moves students toward being skilled, thoughtful, effective users of information that don’t, ultimately, end in a formal works cited lists so I’ve got to get over my obsessive compulsive desire to see a works cited list for everything my kids ever do…

Finally, I resolved to work on repairing my relationships with my some of my frosh students that got hurt by my words and actions that were not helpful or productive to their growth as learners. They weren’t perfect in their behavior by any means, but the truth is that I set them up to fail and I have to own that.

If I had a do over, given the parameters of the project and the research at this point in the unit, I’d probably have students brainstorm their research questions as a group in a collaborative document, research in ONE database, have them take notes in their collaborative shared document, and model locating the preformatted citation in the database.


Repeat with a second database as time allowed.

We would, of course, work on incorporating NoodleTools and formal citations in subsequent projects, but we’d have exited this particular project with a lot more trust in our relationships than was the case this time out. I think the trust that got lost is, perhaps, the thing over which I’m agonizing most.

The silver lining in the black cloud here, is that I have 3.5 more years with these frosh so there’s time to make a come back. There are silver linings in black clouds when we look for them hard enough.

I messed up. Now my plan is to forgive myself, dust myself off, and to show up tomorrow prepared to do better.

This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning…

12 thoughts on “on messed up library lessons…

  1. The fact that you’re thinking about instructional design and constantly improving your lessons shows that you are a good librarian. This happens to teachers too, but they get to practice their lessons 5 periods a day and thus don’t have to cram everything into one shot lesson plans. It’s important to share the normalcy of this since people are so much more likely to share their “king of the world” experiences than their “kicked in the dirt” ones. (That’s an information literacy lesson in and of itself. Think social media…)
    Your kids are lucky to have you, and, as you say, you have 3.5 years to teach them all the information literacy skills they need.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your humanity. I feel this way some days, for sure, and it’s SO PAINFUL. I can teach the same lesson three times. For two of the classes I’m all Leonardo & Kate and the third (usually the middle one), I can’t even talk. It’s usually when the department head, who rarely utilizes the librarians, has asked for a lesson and is watching me crash & burn. I ask the kids for an impromptu topic to search and I get 0 hits. I misspell “Napoleon” (and still get 17 hits?!?!).
    On those days, you hope your deo doesn’t fail you. You count on having forgiving colleagues (and forgiving kids!). You own your FAiL and you revise and do better the next time. Love the analysis you did and justification for why you planned it in the way that you did. Love your simplified modification for next time. Thank you. I needed this.

  3. David, I love to read your blogs. You’re a great librarian and I’ve gotten several useful ideas from you. And the lesson in today’s blog is just as useful. Thank you for being real. And welcome to my world.

  4. David–would you just go ahead and write a book?! Seriously, my fine friend, there is much of David Sedaris in your writing, but with softer edges and gentle humility that is uniquely you and such a pleasure to read. Thank you, as ever, for sharing.

  5. Hahaha, I love this. I am so happy I am not the only one who plans too much sometimes. I hear you. Research projects require time and patience. Teaching content in courses require the same. So when we as librarians want class time, it can sometimes be hard to get “enough” to satisfy the “great wealth of information” we have to share. A little voice inside me says, “Teach one database. Only one. Show them how to use that one really well…” And I tell that voice to pipe down because I have 5 databases that fit this project perfectly… and disaster ensues… I need to listen to that voice more.

  6. Hi, Dave, like everyone else, I’m so glad that you
    shared this, mostly because you get to feel the
    support of all who respect and admire you.
    And I hope that you’re feeling a lot better about your day.
    And, of course, it helps all of us fellow humans
    to know that even the best have rough times. I had to chuckle
    at Katie’s mention of one lesson that you feel so wonderful about one day and
    And the next time… ! Keep sharing… I always love your posts, too!!

  7. Thanks for sharing! I think we can all relate to it! Another tricky part is that things can go haywire when the lesson goes fast and not enough is planned. Sometimes it’s tricky to predict how quickly things will go.

  8. “I’ve finally come to realize that most of my FAiLed information literacy lessons FAiL when I attempt to present TOO MUCH and to do TOO MUCH in my lessons.”
    Two years ago I gave myself permission to cover less rather than more during library instructional time. What I difference that has made. No rushing. More time for questions and support. A greater sense of accomplishment in both the students and the teacher. And for the quick study kids, more time to use the library for personal growth.
    So glad we don’t have state standards testing to control our schedule. We can go deep rather than wide, and we’re all the better for it.

  9. I always love your posts, Dave. As much as I love to get lesson ideas from everyone, there is nothing better than being embraced by the reminder that others out there have similar experiences to me. And I agree — Dave write that book!

  10. Thank you for mentioning the crash & burn sweats!

    Seriously though, I relate to the urge to teach the entire research process to a 7th grade class in a 45-minute period and the confusion over why that wasn’t effective…

    I’ve scaled back, and I know there are other places for me to “refine.” Having permission from great librarians to teach only the most essential skills for that project and then build on that in future lessons is so helpful.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  11. Thank you, all, for the kind words and encouragement. I am truly blessed to work with administrators that really do believe in and embrace growth mind set not only for our students, but for our faculty as well. I feel fortunate to work in a school culture that allows us to share not only about our program’s successes, but also about my challenges and the process of learning “how to librarian.” All of you that share your ideas via AISL blogging, commenting, the listserv, at conferences, in webinars, have had an impact on the work that I try to do that is far greater than you’ll ever know. Thank you! You are an amazing group!

  12. David, thank you so much for this post. I have certainly experienced similar feelings with “messing up a class” and going home that day very disappointed and sad. Reading your post is a great reminder that this happens to all of us. As you mentioned, many of us try to include too much information in a class because we do not have enough instruction time with the students. It has taken me some time to learn that I can only get across so much in a 45-55 minute class if I want the students to learn (and come back for more). When I put a lesson together I plan for more than what I will most likely get to teach but I focus on a smaller portion of the lesson that I know the students should do well with. Today I am going to feel like a “queen of the library world” while working with my students!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *