What is Excellent Teaching?

January 12, 2011

Two faculty members and ?ve graduate students in the College of Education showcased the strategies and sensitivities that make them outstanding educators when they received the college’s 2010 Excellence in Teaching Awards, now in the sixth year. Recipients receive cash awards, recognition at a special dinner and the opportunity to share their work during a showcase event.

Literacy expert and Professor Nell K. Duke is motivated to prepare students to be high-quality educational researchers and to introduce them to the inner workings of academe. During her rigorous courses, Dr. Duke “. . . makes her expertise visible and accessible to her students” in a way that shows her willingness to be vulnerable and available for the sake of learning. She also is an extremely generous mentor whose advice extends beyond the scholarly development of students to include skills that will help them navigate ‘real life’ in a university.

Assistant professor of social studies education Anne-Lise Halvorsen is highly skilled at using effective pedagogical strategies in multiple settings—from negotiating work with students in class, to choosing ambitious conversation topics with signi?cant subject matter focus. An active scholar of her teaching, Dr. Halvorsen collaborates with graduate students planning methods courses, helps undergraduates foster effective discussions, and applies techniques such as lesson study to help teacher candidates develop their instructional practices. She has a long history of excellence, having begun her career as a successful kindergarten teacher.

Students and peers value Carlin Borsheim’s commitment to engaging questions of diversity and multiculturalism, and her innovative integration of technology, in preparing the next generation of English teachers. Borsheim, a teacher education Ph.D. student, conceptualizes new media technologies as tools that serve curricular goals; she initiated what has become a program-wide use of wikispaces. But she also pushes students to consider how technologies impact the nature of reading and writing. Her scholarship is complemented by a skill for building relationships, particularly a capacity for being “in-touch with students’ needs and strengths.”

Kinesiology doctoral student Megan Holmes devises unique activities to ensure her students master concepts in anatomy and physiology. In one instance, she choreographed a dance, or “human study guide,” for students to learn the concept of Einthoven’s Triangle. Holmes also provides signi?cant leadership in the Anatomy Cadaver Laboratory, where she developed learning aids to standardize the quality of instruction and increased service opportunities for previous students. A caring instructor, Holmes actually charts the performance of students struggling in her courses and seeks them out to determine troubling issues.

Doctoral student Sarah Little is clear that she wants to in?uence teacher candidates, but also that she wants to respond to students and their concerns. She notes, “. . . the more I provided opportunities for my students to think, talk and write about their experiences in the ?eld, the more they started to apply the concepts from the readings to real world contexts.” Through a wiki and other pedagogical tools, Little builds an inclusive learning community and models how that can be done with k–8 students. She also has used inquiry into her teaching to in?uence the practices of fellow literacy instructors.

Adriane Slaton focuses on developing future urban educators who will be prepared to counter the negative images that often characterize urban communities. The teacher education Ph.D. candidate creates a space in her teaching where students openly and critically examine their beliefs and gain deeper understanding of power, privilege and oppression and the ways they impact teaching. Slaton draws upon solid research and even makes her own assumptions transparent to model the self-re?ection she expects. It is not enough to discuss these ideas, however; Slaton also helps students move closer to creating classrooms that enact the ideas they espouse.

Doctoral candidate Shannon Sweeny shares good news with the parents of her master’s students in teacher education, modeling teacher-parent communication and helping them feel what that’s like for families. One parent wrote to Sweeny: “You seem to have been able to grasp her attention, keep her thinking and, overall, earn her respect.” The rigor of Sweeny’s class is evident in her carefully assembled lessons and her devotion to the teaching of mathematics—stressing that students know why numbers behave the way they do, not just that they do.

Excerpted from recipients’ encomiums