Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2015

Faculty Award winner

Mary Tripp

 College of Sciences


In school, I believed that good writing was a “gift” for a chosen few, and I wasn’t one of the chosen. After many years, I realized that becoming a good writer is a struggle for everyone. Like learning to write, learning to teach is also a struggle for everyone. Good teaching is not a “gift” for a chosen few—good teaching requires dedication, thoughtful reflection, and continual refinement of teaching practices. Years of teaching forced me to think about how students learn, and I began to understand that teachers should help students build a belief that agency for learning is the most important factor in student learning. As a teacher, I aim to help students build agency for learning through (1) self-reflection, (2) knowledge creation, (3) and writing for real audiences.

Active self-reflection is one way to support students in a writing classroom. In Composition I, for example, I ask students to analyze their own writing processes and imitate effective models. When my students systematically analyze their own writing or imitate the academic research they read, they begin to see themselves as empowered writers. We investigate the authors, their language choices, the constraints that shape the development of the text, as well as the exigencies, kairos, culture, and ideologies that develop context and shape the performance of those texts.  But reflecting and imitating isn’t enough to build agency for learning.

Students, who in my classroom are addressed as “scholars,” also participate in knowledge creation. In Composition II, students engage in a semester long research assignment to investigate the writing and rhetoric that surround a local or personal interest. Students conduct primary and secondary research, analyzing how particular language appeals to particular audiences, considering the rhetorical choices made by the participants in that community. One of my students analyzed the language on a local pet rescue website and contacted the owner to suggest improvements for fundraising, based on her own research and analysis. Another student experimented with three rhetorical strategies at her Cupcakes for Cancer fundraiser on campus. Both these students effectively contributed knowledge and engaged with real audiences in our community.

I also ask students to apply the knowledge gained from their own research to publish and benefit audiences outside the classroom. In my upper level Digital Writing class, for example, students analyze and use concepts about the interactive, social, ephemeral, and multi-faceted nature of digital environments to build personal websites or ePortfolios that will help them find jobs or meet clients. These “real audiences” help students see meaning in their work. When students see themselves as agents for creating meaningful writing, they learn more about the concepts and themselves, and that’s my ultimate goal as a classroom teacher.