Instruction: November Tips, Tricks, & Techniques

Recently, my 10 year old nephew showed me his book report in the form of a board game, which made me think about how dry adult education tends to feel in comparison to some of the fun ways children learn. However, recent research indicates that creative play encourages learning, even for adults. We tend to view children as not-quite-formed adults who need coddling. Flipping this belief, Kets de Vries (2012) argues that “better and more respective teaching would follow if … [instructors] thought of adults as atrophied children” (p. 18). I am not advocating the need for a flashy song and dance to hold students’ attention, as that is both patronizing to students and often lacking in substance. Instead, I am considering how to re-conceptualize instruction to allow for more time and space for creativity.

Currently, I try to pack as much information as possible into my 50 minute library instruction sessions. I try to keep the students’ attention as well as create a light-hearted atmosphere by tossing a chocolate or a smiley-face eraser to students for any form of participation (whether a complaint, a question, a comment, or an answer – both right and wrong!) This invokes some amount of silliness since students are surprised to receive a reward if they answered incorrectly or if they simply contributed. It is also silly due to my bad aim, which requires nearby students to duck, occasionally! While fun, tossing things at students does not, by itself, evoke creativity.

One of the biggest hurdles to creative play is the limited time we typically have for library instruction. We feel we have to control each minute in order to meet all our learning objectives. How can we reconcile the need for creativity and the need to meet learning objectives? At Adler School, we are considering creating modular videos  so students can receive basic library instruction at their point-of-need, and students can then drive their own learning. We hope these videos will serve two functions for librarians. First, we can stop teaching to the average student and instead have videos aimed at different levels of inquiry. Second, by teaching the basics through a video, we will have more time and flexibility in face-to-face sessions to play creatively.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grenier, R.S. (2010). All Work and No play Makes for a Dull Museum Visitor. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, (127), 77-85.

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R. (2012) Get Back in the Sandbox: Teaching CEOs how to Play (Working Paper). Retrieved from Faculty & Research on INSEAD: The Business School for the World’s website:

Weber, B. (2011). Childhood, Philosophy and Play: Friedrich Schiller and the Interface between Reason, Passion and Sensation. Journal Of Philosophy Of Education, 45(2), 235-250.