In our times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual or the family do not ask themselves—what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?
-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter Three, “Of Individuality, as One of the Components of Well-Being,” 1859
Category Archives: Education
The Importance of Librarian “Congruence” for Learner-Centered Reference & Information Literacy Instruction
In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. It does not help to act calm and pleasant when actually I am angry and critical. It does not help to act as though I know the answers when I do not. It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at the moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if actually I am frightened and unsure. even on a very simple level I have found that this statement seems to hold. It does not help for me to act as though I were well when I feel ill.
What I am saying here, to put in another way, is that I have not found it to be helpful or effective in my relationships with other people to try to maintain a facade; to act in one way on the surface when I am experiencing something quite different underneath. It does not, I believe, make me helpful in my attempts to build up constructive relationships with other individuals. I would want to make clear that while I have learned this to be true, I have by no means adequately profited from it. In fact, it seems to me that most of the mistakes I make in personal relationships, most of the times in which I fail to be of help to other individuals, can be accounted for in terms of the fact that I have, for some defensive reason, behaved in one way at a surface level, while in reality my feelings run in a contrary direction.
-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me” in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, pp. 16-17. Full chapter available here.
The third core condition of humanistic counseling is called congruence, which we understand as being authentic and genuine in our relationships with learners. In the psychological literature, this state is often described as when what individuals are experiencing on the inside is in harmony with their outer expressions. For example, you would be congruent if you expressed joy over a Dodgers victory when you were really excited, but not if you pretended to be happy that the Dodgers lost because you were trying to impress a Yankee fan. When individuals are congruent in their relationship with another person, there is a sense of emotional realness present in the relationship, which is lacking in relationships where individuals act on either an internal or external pressure to put on a facade […]
The revolutionary American photographer Walker Evans spoke about his time teaching at Yale University, saying that his attitude toward students was, “I don’t really know a hell of a lot more than you do except I’ve been around longer and I do have experience and if I can articulate it some of it will rub off and do you some good.” Evans was straightforward with his students about his role as a facilitator of learning rather than a “sage on the stage,” positioning himself as a partner rather than an all-knowing expert. This congruence of feeling and action requires a certain amount of vulnerability, which Rogers locates as integral to learner-centered pedagogy. In “Questions I Would Ask Myself if I Were a Teacher,” Rogers states that one of the central applications of humanistic counseling to education leads him to ask himself if he has the courage to risk himself emotionally in his relationships with his students: “Do I dare to let myself deal with this boy or girl as a person, as someone I respect? Do I dare reveal myself to him and let him reveal himself to me?”Though Rogers recognizes that this may be difficult – it requires courage to reveal your true self in any interaction with another person – he nevertheless concludes that “if the relationship between myself and my students was truly a relationship between persons, much would be gained […] I could step off the pedestal of ‘teacher’ and become a facilitative learner among learners.”
Indeed, often the best learning tools we have at our disposal are simply our own experiences. The challenge [for the librarian] is to take a risk and share them in a productive way that might be helpful to another person. For instance, a few years ago Kevin met a student who had been invited to work on a psychology research project with a faculty member while still a junior. It was a huge honor for the student but also came with pressure, so the student asked to set up a time to meet with Kevin for some research help. Kevin and the student met over coffee, and as is often his tendency, he engaged the student in a discussion about his life before getting into the nitty gritty of the research project. It turned out that the student was really struggling with feelings of fraudulence. Most of the kids in his research methods class were white students who he felt “really fit in,” so of course they’d be asked to do research! But why had this professor asked him – the student described himself as just a Mexican kid from the middle of nowhere – to be a research collaborator?
It was a true moment of rapport, not only because the student felt free to share a deeply vulnerable piece of himself, but also because Kevin had felt the exact same way so many times in his life. He too had felt like school was not a place for “someone like him”: a “bad” kid who never seemed to fit in. These feelings of fraudulence continued, and even increased, the further he progressed in his education. Kevin not only expressed that he related to how the student felt, but also shared some of his own experiences. He talked about his high school experiences of being told to drop out of school, his feelings attending schools where the vast majority of students were wealthier, and having grown up with a single mother who worked as a waitress while attending graduate school herself.
In this case, sharing certain elements of personal experience led to congruence of emotion for both of them and helped the learner feel unconditional positive regard from the librarian after sharing challenging feelings. They discussed how they didn’t have to change their innermost selves just because they were working on research in a college setting and that their backgrounds could even be an asset in imagining interesting research projects. In this way, revealing certain personal experiences helped to facilitate a significant learning interaction […]
We hope to make clear that being vulnerable with a student in a learning context does not require sharing either things you deem inappropriate to share (things that would be too personal, which are hard to articulate but, like with the test for pornography, you know it when you see it), or things you feel emotionally vulnerable with sharing (for whatever reason). In the above example, Kevin was comfortable sharing the facts about his educational life with the student, both because he felt no shame or embarrassment nor any questions about the appropriateness of the content, and also because it seemed to be, in that context, of pedagogical value to do so.
Addressing a similar point about congruence within the context of psychotherapy, Schneider and Krug set a litmus test for self-revelations based on the following principle: “The guiding therapeutic question is, To what extent does encounter build the therapeutic relationship … or, on the other hand, to what extent does [it] do the opposite, and defeat or stifle facilitative process?” Similarly, in the information literacy context, we can ask ourselves, To what extent would revealing oneself facilitate the process of significant learning? To what extent would it hurt it?
There are certainly cases where Kevin sharing how much he hated school when he was younger could have negative pedagogical consequences. For example, if Kevin had told the eleventh-grade English student [discussed in Chapter Two], “Look, I hated all my English class assignments and thought my teachers didn’t ‘get it’ when I was your age too,” it could have further undermined her teacher’s authority without making any gains toward significant learning in return. For this reason, Kevin didn’t abandon being congruent, he just found a more pedagogically productive way to be real in the relationship with that student [by helping her do research that she did personally connect with].
Sharing our stories and narratives with learners is not only an effective way to encourage authenticity in students’ own research, as we saw with the narrative modeling approach discussed in chapter three, but it is also an effective way to build rapport by presenting as real, individual people. The contributions this can make to learning may often be subtle but have the potential to be profound.
-experts from Chapter Four: “Relationships: The Heart of Learner-Centered Pedagogy,” from Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook.
It is an intriguing comment on our educational system that it is assumed that only under the most dire circumstances would a professor reveal himself in any personal way […]
I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others.
-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me,” in On Becoming a Person. (pp. 3 and 26, respectively).
This chapter is a great read – full PDF available free online.
Came across this Mind/Shift article via twitter and though it’s a couple years old it’s worth sharing. Nice to see thinking about our education system catching up with the extensive research in this area.
I think if many of the innovators I see working in the sector today are successful, we’ll see a school experience that looks significantly different in 2020 than it does today. Technology will play a role, but the key changes will have been in educational approach not technology.
Interest-driven learning, with a focus on projects that are relevant to individual students, will be key.
Is a question we’ve been thinking about over here at Rule Number One for a real long time now, so we’re pleased that the press release for the UK edition of our book Learner-Centered Pedagogy touches on these issues. An excerpt:
More than ever, librarians are required to possess pedagogical expertise and are being called upon to design, implement, and assess robust evidence-based reference and instructional practices that contribute to student success. In order to achieve this, librarians must know how to teach information literacy skills that go far beyond one particular library context to facilitate lifelong learning. In addition to the traditional information expertise of the library professional, today’s librarian must also master evidence-based pedagogical practices that can help make learning stick.
Learner-centred Pedagogy offers librarians concrete strategies to connect with learners at all levels. The book covers cognitive principles for organizing information literacy instruction, how to establish rapport and build learners’ motivation, questions to keep in mind for inspiring autonomous learning, the science behind information overload, and a balanced framework for evaluating specific educational technology tools.
Klipfel and Cook said, “Our goal in this book is to introduce readers to a practical, evidence-based vision of learner-centred pedagogy that helps learners develop the skills required to use information to think well about what matters to them. We hope that librarians, after reading Learner-centred Pedagogy, will feel more prepared for the changing job market’s increased focus on evidence-based instruction, have more confidence in adapting their skills to the robust teaching and learning environments of today’s libraries, and be well-prepared to facilitate learning environments that result in lifelong learning.”
We don’t have any autographed copies, but if you want to send me yours, we’re happy to personalize it for you, as I’m sure my cat would love to chew on the corner of your copy like he already did on mine.
This piece is cross-posted on the Facet Publishing blog, our UK publisher for Learner-Centred Pedagogy: Principles and Practice. Many thanks to Sinead Murphy for asking us to write this piece and publish it on our blog as well.
If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. – Seymour: An Introduction, J.D. Salinger
Four years ago last month, we walked across the stage in the Great Hall of the Carolina Union at UNC-Chapel HIll, freshly minted librarians, both about to move to California to start our first professional jobs, ready to lay some information literacy knowledge down on our future undergraduates. Those two years in library school were incredibly formative for us, as we tried to absorb everything we could about teaching, reference librarianship, and the profession as a whole. We became friends working together at UNC’s Undergraduate Library reference desk, chatting about how we could get students engaged in our instruction sessions and make sure they actually, like, you know, learned things.
The more we talked and read and taught, the more it felt like there was something missing from the information literacy literature we were reading: A focus on the individual learner, as a unique person with individual experiences, interests, and needs. While there are certainly exceptions to this statement, so much of what we read was about specific strategies for teaching specific content, while what we felt we needed was a step before that: What are the underlying principles that can make people invested in learning and able to learn, whether at the reference desk, in a one-on-one consultation, or an instruction classroom? Our experience as readers largely echoed that of librarian David Maxfield, who wrote in an article in College & Research Libraries in 1954 (!) that claimed that “conventional reference work does not always place so much emphasis upon the library patron as an individual person as it does upon library materials and bibliographic techniques.”
A year after graduation, we attended a LOEX conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Terry Doyle began his keynote presentation with the assertion that, as educators, it is our professional responsibility to understand how students learn and then apply this understanding to our work. This idea of focusing on the learner, and not the content, is known as “learner-centredness.” Doyle’s position that being learner-centred was not optional, but instead a kind of professional obligation, struck us as exactly right (see “Education Training for Librarians”). And we wanted to read something that was framed this way for librarians, focused on the individual learner, so badly that we…wrote a book like that.
Our central question in writing a book on learner-centred pedagogy for librarians was: How can we teach information literacy to real learners – embodied existential beings with passions, loves, hates, and sources of life meaning that extend beyond understanding Boolean operators – so that they are engaged with information literacy outcomes in an authentic way? How can we make information literacy really matter to learners?
We turned to literature in education, counseling, psychology, and (yes) library science where others grappled with similar questions, and ultimately concluded that the core aspect of learner-centredness is a practice of empathy: the question what is it like to be a person learning something? is central to our learner-centered approach. That also led us to redefine information literacy in a learner-centred way as involving learners using information to think well about questions that matter to them.
So, practically, how do we go about this? In our book, we point to five main aspects:
- Engaging people’s curiosity, interests, and personal experiences in an autonomy supportive rather than controlling learning environment
- Applying ideas about how people learn from evidence-based literature in learning science
- Developing meaningful relationships with our users (even in the briefest of interactions!)
- Providing learning experiences that help to develop a growth mindset about the research process
- Using technology wisely as a potentially useful tool to help learners use information think well about things that matter to them
…with empathy as the overarching framework that connects them all. This central idea, that who we are as people matters as both learners and educators, is both based in the current scientific literature, but also has a timeless quality that we believe will make it relevant for library practitioners for years to come.
Indeed, we believe that this view of learner-centeredness is not a trend, but a way of approaching librarianship that can change over time, as our scientific and psychological understanding of what it means to be a person learning something evolves. While the specific answers to the central question of this book may not always be the same, as long as librarians continue to monitor and engage with the current literature on motivation and the science of learning and follow where the evidence takes us, the basic framework that we present here will continue to apply. As we strive toward a fully learner-centered practice of librarianship, we would consider a practical success to be expressing these interests and views to others, both within and without the library. Building community around this approach is a powerful way to transform our work and to practice an existential form of librarianship: we are learner-centered educators because we decide that is what we are. As you go forward and adapt these ideas for your own contexts, we hope that you will share your ideas and continue to enrich and expand the profession’s understanding that who we are as people matters for how we teach, how we learn, and how we engage with information and each other.