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2013 Dean’s Award: Anna Gibson

April 19, 2013
Anna Gibson

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Anna Gibson, a Ph.D. candidate in English, earned an M.A. in English from the University of Exeter, UK, and a B.A. in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. The subject of her dissertation is "Forming Person: Narrative and Psychology in the Victorian Novel."

Anna's faculty nominators commend her for her commitment to excellence in both the classroom and in her research and writing endeavors. One nominator notes that "We are blessed with many very talented teachers among our graduate students but Anna's record is as exceptional as is her commitment to using all the resources the Graduate School has to offer for those wishing to focus on developing their skills as a teacher while simultaneously pursing excellence in research and writing."

These resources include her participation in the Certificate in College Teaching program and as a Preparing Future Faculty fellow. She has also taken advantage of other resources, such as Teaching Ideas workshops, to develop and expand her own teaching practice. These experiences, says Anna, have helped her "Return to the classroom better able to identify the skills central to my discipline and better equipped to help students in the natural and social sciences develop these skills: close, interpretive reading; persuasive writing; nuanced analysis and debate." Another faculty nominator remarks that "You can see by the websites that she has constructed for her classes that she combines the best in traditional pedagogical practices with the use of technology to enhance students learning experiences." Her skills in this area have also been put to use by the department, which selected her to lead the department's pedagogy workshops in 2011 and 2012. "In this way," notes a faculty member, "she has been able to share her skills and the things she has learned about pedagogy with other graduate student teachers."

One way Anna has sought to engage her students that has met with success is the use of blogs in her classes. As she says in her teaching statement, "Each of my class sessions begins outside the classroom with reading responses posted on a collaborative course blog. Here students can write informally and collaboratively in a form that allows them much more creative freedom than a traditional paper. They post questions and share online resources; they begin to test out paper ideas; they debate each other about everything from the form of detective fiction to the racial ethics of literary vampirism; and they create and interactive record of our learning." Students appreciate the benefits of this informal method of sharing and developing ideas, as one student remarks "I like the blog posts. I have freedom to write about what I want to and can formalize thoughts. I definitely process the text much better when I write a post on the section." Another student adds "I really like the fact that the blog is informal. I think that takes off a lot of the pressure of writing a perfect post and allows us to focus more on the text." Blogs are also useful for giving students who may be less vocal in class an opportunity to have their voice heard, as another student comments, "I think that the fact that the discussion is organized around our blogs gives everyone a chance to get involved in the discussion."

Another tool that Anna uses is a formal revision requirement to help students improve their writing. According to Anna, "Writing is a key component of my classes, and I draw upon my experience as a tutor in Duke's Thompson Writing Center to help my students become articulate, organized, and persuasive writers. I believe strongly in building up assignments and in the process of revision, and I have received very positive feedback from my students on my policy of including a rewrite requirement for mid-term papers." That this is an effective tool is clearly expressed by a student evaluator, who comments that "The revisions were extremely helpful. I think it was the first time I've actually gotten a thorough revision from a teacher." Anna notes that "Revisiting the same paper allows students to learn writing skills not just by receiving but also by implementing feedback."

In her teaching statement, Anna also says that she has worked to develop a pedagogical approach "that centers around collaborative learning and that honors the very reason that most of my students take an English class: they enjoy literature." She adds that "Too often English classrooms teach students to be suspicious of literature and of their responses to it. While I want my students to question their preconceived notions and develop critical ways of reading, I have found that the most effective launch pad for learning interpretive skills stems from students' genuine and affective engagement with texts and begins with what can seem to be the simplest of questions." Students' comments, such as "Great course! Excellent readings and discussions. Amazing teacher!," and "Instructor was well prepared and very enthusiastic. Very helpful in and outside of class" attest to her students' engagement in her classes and capture not only Anna's thorough preparation but also her evident enjoyment of teaching.