Standing in front of her class of graduate students recently, Augusta University professor Rebecca G. Harper gave them an unusual assignment.
“OK, let’s do ‘pearls on a string,’ ” Harper told her class of teachers. “This is a great way to get students out of their seats.”
For Harper, the purpose of the assignment wasn’t to necessarily get them out of their seats. In fact, it was a tip for the graduate class to bring to their own classrooms.
The goal of the assignment was simple: create a living paragraph. So one by one, members of Harper’s class rose from their seat, walked to the board, and stated a sentence from The Three Little Pigs. The first student said, “There’s a big, bad wolf.” The next said, “There was a house made out of straw.”
As each sentence was read, the students realigned to match how the story should read. And eventually, the story was complete.
“This helps so much with sequencing,” Harper said of the assignment. “But it also stresses the importance of revision, retelling and pertinent details.”
The ‘pearls on a string’ project was Harper’s latest unique strategy to engage a classroom. Her tactics have been recognized by Augusta University officials, earning Harper the Individual Teaching Excellence Award.
The award honors an Augusta University faculty member who demonstrates a strong commitment to teaching, uses effective teaching strategies and has a strong commitment to fostering student academic success.
Judi Wilson, associate dean of the college of education, stated in a news release that Harper “is a natural teacher and communicator” who has “creativity, passion and strong instructional and interpersonal skills.”
Throughout her class – which was the last of the semester – Harper spent time sitting on tables and desks, while sharing personal stories of her fifth-grade child. However, as unique as her teaching approach is, it’s matched only by her appearance.
The left side of Harper’s head is shaved in a buzz cut and the right is parted sharply in crimson with a streak of blond.
“I’ve always been an outlier,” she said. “My whole life – that’s just how I am. To be honest, I’ve never really fit in anywhere.”
Her ability to be different is not going unnoticed. According to Dr. Zach Kelehear, the dean of the college of education, “I have come to recognize that the true measure of high quality, high-impact teaching is the degree to which students are engaged in their learning. In her classes, Dr. Harper intentionally engages her students in the learning and because of this active stance, their learning is deeper and more persistent than might otherwise be the case in a passive learning approach.”
Reach Doug Stutsman at (706) 823-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.