This is a second blog post in preparation for the #critlib chat next Monday 12/19. Time, questions, suggested readings, and sample questions here.
I have a sense of my last post as trying to hold a fairly open container, inviting others to think about their own forms of critical reflection without getting too specific about what has shaped my own. Of course there are also some teachings that have influenced my practices.
Growing up Quaker (the most defining part of my identity) instilled in me a long and patient sense of time. Quakers can take minutes or months or even years to reach a decision, letting it “season” until all voices have been heard and the group as a whole can agree on what feels like right action. Quakers do not have a creed, but acknowledge values (like peace, equality, and integrity) as testimonies to live up to, and use queries to reflect (in silence or out loud together) on how our lives and experiences reflect these testimonies. I’ve gotten very used to asking myself and others in that community similar kinds of questions over the years, and recognizing that the answers can be different in any moment.
Years ago, a friend introduced me to the Catholic practice of examen, taking time in the evening to look back on the day for high and low points. This is based on an “examination of conscience” from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. My first exposure to it was a short and sweet book called Sleeping with Bread. The Linns recommend using paired questions, either in writing or conversation, and their suggested wording is non-religious and loose enough to invite making up what fits for you. I have used this off and on as an evening writing practice, adapting the questions whenever something else felt more alive. Sometimes I have also written a short daily gratitude list. Both of these practices have shown me patterns in when I feel most true to myself, what I want more or less of in my life, which issues could use more attention and growth.
One of my favorite classes in library school was Transformative Learning and Technology Literacies with Michael Stephens. We used Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning as one textbook, worked in groups to design online courses for working librarians, blogged from question prompts, and developed and shared personal learning networks. The course was built around Jack Mezirow’s concept of transformative learning, and assignments built on each other to encourage metacognition about our own learning. When Char Booth spoke to the class, she described how she had used her own USER method to design the lesson she was currently presenting to us. The process of reading, applying theories to real-world projects, writing reflectively about all of this, and responding to how my fellow students were engaging with the same ideas and tasks, multiplied what I got out of the class. I would love to have more of my own learning and teaching go to that “meta” level of reflection.
My work as an academic librarian (a second career launched about three years ago) has been on very small campuses. Past teaching, presenting, content preparation, and study of learning theory give me some idea of what I want to accomplish in instruction sessions. But with very few classes to work with, once or twice a year, I want to learn as much as I can from each group session. Structured tools like Booth’s USER method and three-question reflection offer practical support for planning and improving on my teaching.
One of the tools I have found most fruitful to apply is Stephen Brookfield’s critical incident questionnaire. Beyond classroom teaching, I turn to it for my own “learning moments” after the kinds of interactions that leave me wondering what went wrong. I appreciate that it has separate questions for what happened, for the feelings that came up, for what was positive and negative, and lays out all of that for me to consider what I have learned and what I might do differently the next time. On our small campus, I will keep seeing and interacting with everyone, and the critical incident questionnaire has helped me every time to face and move through whatever is awkward. Usually there is some opportunity shortly after I’ve used it for some action that transforms what went wrong: I can reach out in a positive way, check in if that feels appropriate, even extend an apology if needed.
I wish I had a more intentional practice for reflection on what I read. On paper or in Notability on the iPad, I often mark important passages with a vertical line or my own subject headings in the margins, occasionally jotting down questions or comments. I’ve enjoyed a few opportunities for collaborative online annotation of texts in hypothes.is and of videos in Vialogues.
Any favorite tools for reflection? I would love to hear how others process and learn from what comes up in your day-to-day work or study or activism, and anything you have found that helps to focus or deepen what you are learning.