Peer Instruction in the Library

So, last time, I started talking about what peer instruction is, how it works, and why it is beneficial. Now that we know what it is, we can talk about how peer instruction can be used in the library.

Peer instruction was initially designed for, and has mostly been used in, the university setting; however, I think it would still be a useful technique in elementary or secondary schools, though some modifications may be necessary.  What would peer instruction look like in an elementary setting?

In the library, the skills being taught aren’t content area skills, but rather information literacy and inquiry skills. After the librarian teaches a mini-lesson on, for example, using the library catalog, she could ask students questions, such as how to find a particular book in the catalog, or why a particular search was unsuccessful. Students can answer individually (perhaps by using clickers, or another tool like Socrative or PollEverywhere, depending on the available technology). Students must then defend their answers to a partner or small group.  Finally, the librarian has all students answer again, and is able to see if the percentage of students who understand has improved.

While the questions asked in the library might not have the same concrete answers as those in the content area classes, the process of students explaining to one another how they figured something out, and helping others to understand a concept or idea, is very beneficial, despite the different setting. The librarian is teaching students the basics of the skill or concept, but the students must describe their thought process, present an argument for their answer, and, at times, teach other students why and how to do a certain thing.  Students are sometimes better able to explain things to other students than the teacher, so this technique can be a useful one for teachers and librarians.


Peer Instruction

So for the second half of IST 663, we’re shifting from discussing educational theorists to discussing effective teaching and learning techniques.  For the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about peer instruction and how it can be used in lessons in the library.

So what is peer instruction?  It might not be what you’re thinking.  Peer instruction moves away from the traditional lecture method to help students get more involved in their own learning.  Developed by Professor Eric Mazur at Harvard University during the 1990s, peer instruction makes learning more interactive and helps students to become more engaged in what is going on. [1]

In a class using peer instruction, there will usually still be a short lecture.  Then, students will be given a question or problem to work on, and will report their answer to the professor (either electronically, for example via clickers, or just on a piece of paper).  After this, students will work in pairs and try to convince their partners that they have the correct answer.  Following this, they will report their answers again to the professor. [2]

Using peer instruction helps students to really understand the underlying concepts of the material they are learning, it makes learning more interactive and engaging, and helps students develop oral communication skills.  Students, in effect, become the teachers, and in some cases are able to fill this role more effectively than their actual teachers, because they so recently figured out the concepts themselves, and better understand what might be troublesome to their classmates. [3]

While peer instruction was developed at Harvard and has been used frequently in college classes, I think there is also a place for peer instruction in the library.  More on that in future posts.


1. Redish, E.F. (2006). Peer instruction problems: Introduction to the method. Retrieved from

2. The George Washington University Teaching & Learning Collaborative. (n.d.) Peer Instruction: Eric Mazur’s Techniques. Retrieved from

3. Lambert, C. (2012). Twilight of the lecture. Retrieved from

Multiple Intelligences and the Classroom

So, we already know that Howard Gardner theorized that there are different types, or modalities, of intelligence.  People have varying levels of the different types of intelligence, and as a result, have different preferences for how they learn and show what they’ve learned.

We know from this theory that it is important to present information to students in different ways, so that students have a greater chance for success in learning that information.  But it is also important to give students a choice in showing what they know. [1]  Therefore, when students are completing assignments and projects, whether in the library or in a classroom, giving them options for how they would like to share their work will allow more students to be successful in that assignment.

Perhaps, for example, students have been studying animals in science class.  They have developed research questions about their chosen animals, and have come to the library to use a database to search for more information on those animals.  After they finish their research, the teacher would like them to share what they’ve learned with the class.  This is an opportunity to give students choice.  Students with higher linguistic intelligence may want to write a traditional report, or use an online tool such as Voki that allows them to orally present their information.  Students with higher spatial intelligence, on the other hand, may want to do something more visual, like a PowerPoint or Glogster.  Students who have higher musical intelligence might choose to write a poem or song, while students with bodily/kinesthetic intelligence may want to build a model, or create a game to show what they have learned.

Students learn differently, based on the areas in which they have higher intelligence, and allowing them to choose how to show what they have learned gives them more opportunity for success in the classroom.


1. Big thinkers: Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. (1997). Retrieved from

Review: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

betterofffriendsFor Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

-synopsis via Goodreads

You guys, I have a confession: I am a HUGE Elizabeth Eulberg fangirl.  A few years ago, I requested Take a Bow from the library on a whim.  Well, I blew through it in a matter of hours and have since read everything else she’s written.  Without fail, I love, love, LOVE everything she writes.  So this is not exactly an impartial review.

While I don’t think anything will ever compare to the love I have for Take a Bow, Better Off Friends was a great book.  I loved meeting Levi and Macallan as awkward middle schoolers, and watching their personalities develop over the course of several years.  I think Eulberg has an incredible talent for creating rich, three-dimensional characters, and for crafting believable, authentic relationships, particularly boy-girl friendships.

I thought the story moved very fluidly, despite the large chunk of time it covered; I felt like I had enough information to really see their friendship unfold, without any large gaps missing or tiny details that made the story lag.  Despite the commentary from present-day Levi and Macallan at the end of each chapter, I wasn’t confused at all; the plot flowed in a logical manner.  I also really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints, because I liked being able to see things from both characters’ perspectives.

While I definitely loved Levi and Macallan’s friendship, I think my favorite relationship may have been between Macallan and Levi’s mother.  One of my pet peeves in YA is that parents are either really bad or not present at all, and I think Eulberg did a great job of creating positive parental figures, and not only that, but someone who could serve as a surrogate mother for Macallan during a time when she really needed someone.

As much as I’ve raved about the book, there were times when Levi drove me CRAZY.  When he complained about Macallan manipulating him into spending time with her, or went on about how important and great it was for him to have the guys and a team and a girlfriend, I just wanted to smack him.  I’m sure Macallan made mistakes also, but for some reason, the way Levi treated her at these moments really bothered me.  While this behavior seems typical of teenagers, I just felt like with him, it went on for too long with no growth.

Really, though, that’s my only objection, and it’s a small one.  I truly loved Better Off Friends.  The writing is smart and funny, the characters are loveable, and I devoured it in one sitting.  I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever had a crush on their best friend, as well as fans of Sarah Dessen, Jennifer E. Smith, and other queens of YA romance.

Copy received from Scholastic via NetGalley.  Better Off Friends will be published on February 25, 2014.

Review: Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

brightbeforeWhen Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother’s first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real… until she breaks up with him.

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she’s really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She’s determined to change his mind, and when they’re stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.?

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

-synopsis via Goodreads

Well, on the surface, this book seems like it would be a winner: boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy and girl spend 12 hours together, judgment and anger and hilarity and romance ensue, boy and girl have a bright future together.

And there were definitely elements that I really liked.  I think both Brighton and Jonah suffer from issues that are typical of the teenage experience-Brighton feels pressure to be nice to everyone and liked by everyone, and basically do it all, while Jonah moves to a new school and feels like he really doesn’t fit in anywhere.  I think readers will really be able to relate to both Brighton and Jonah.

I also have to say that I was definitely able to get wrapped up in the plot-the story moved along quickly, and I enjoyed the interactions between many of the characters.  I loved Jonah’s relationship with Carly’s siblings, and Brighton’s conversation with Jonah’s Hamilton friends at the pizza place.  I thought Jonah’s tenderness with his baby sister and, eventually, with Brighton, showed us a softer side of him.

I guess my main issue with this book is that Jonah and Brighton went from dislike to infatuation in such an abrupt manner.  I really think that over time, they would have been able to see past their differences, get to know one another better, and gradually become more than friends.  But to me, it seemed like Jonah went from abject hatred to love with hardly any transition time-that part of the story seemed a little unrealistic to me, especially considering he had JUST ended another relationship.

While this wasn’t my favorite book ever, it was an easy, light read with a fun romantic element and a few heartwarming moments.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to get swept up in a whirlwind romance, or who loves to root for a happy ending.

Copy received from Bloomsbury via NetGalley.  Bright Before Sunrise will be published on February 18, 2014.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Education

So, as previously discussed, the theory of Multiple Intelligences, proposed by Howard Gardner in the 1980s, suggests that rather than intelligence being one single ability, there are different types, or modalities, of intelligence.  People can be smart in different ways, whether they have strong verbal intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, or any of the other types of intelligence proposed by Gardner (currently, there are nine).  But how can this theory be applied to education?

While everyone has some level of intelligence in each of the different categories, students are certainly stronger in some areas, and teachers have taken this knowledge and used it to both individualize and pluralize their instruction. [1]  Teachers can use their knowledge of their students, and how they best learn, to create more individualized instruction, or, at the very least, come up with a number of different choice for students when it comes to completing assignments or projects.  Additionally, teachers can teach a topic in a number of different ways, such as showing a video, teaching students a song, having students create a model, and having students take notes; this pluralization allows a larger number of students to grasp the concept being taught. [2]

It is important, though, before diving into individualized instruction and using strategies that correspond to certain intelligences, to give students the opportunity to explore a variety of experiences in order for them to figure out their preferences. [3] This could be done by creating learning centers and having students participate in each of them; in addition to allowing them to explore how they learn best, it also allows for reinforcement of a skill or concept in multiple ways.

The theory of Multiple Intelligences helps teachers diversity instruction, but it also helps students understand themselves and others, develop study skills that work for them, and validates their natural talents.  It definitely has value when applied to education, including the library.  Stay tuned for more on that.


1. Gardner, H. (2013). Frequently asked questions-Multiple intelligences and related educational topics. Retrieved from

2. Christodoulou, J.A. (2009). Applying multiple intelligences: How it matters for schools today, 25 years after its introduction by Howard Gardner. The School Administrator, 66(2). Retrieved from

3. Scholastic. (2014). Adapting instruction to multiple intelligences. Retrieved from


Mnemonics are interesting devices that help us to remember things.  Whether in the form of a song or rhyme, acronym, or visualization, mnemonics can be very beneficial tools when learning and memorizing important information.  These are particularly great for students-when I was teaching, I used to use songs to help students remember how to find perimeter and area in math, or learn a list of all helping verbs in English.

They can definitely be used in the library as well.  At my school, we no longer have a basic computer skills class for students, so I’ve noticed that a lot of kids come into the library without any basic typing or computer literacy skills.  Doing a project using a web 2.0 tool takes longer than you would expect because students aren’t that familiar with a keyboard and don’t have basic typing skills.

I noticed a few of the main things students were having problems with, and I came up with this mnemonic to help them remember a few basic typing skills.  This definitely isn’t comprehensive, but it does include a few basic things that would be important for word processing or typing for an online project.  So here is the HANDY mnemonic:

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 1.00.17 PMI would go over these items before we began work on a project, and then have it hanging up as a reminder, as well as referring to it for review before other projects down the line.  Although I came up with it for third graders, I think it could be used with 4th and 5th grade students who need the reminder as well.

What mnemonics have you used with your students?  Is there anything in particular that has worked well?