DEANNA LYNN SURFUS: Enhancing Student Achievement

Some instructors prefer to lecture; others demonstrate or lead students to self-discovery; some focus on principles and others on applications; some emphasize memory and others understanding. Deanna Lynn Surfus aims to strike a balance among these instructional methods. Surfus’s goal is to vary her teaching approach, so it can better accommodate the diverse learning needs of her students. 

“Connecting with different learning styles is one of the hardest things to do in a writing class. Writing is a very personal activity, even when you’re not writing something personal,” said Surfus, the college’s Academic Skills Advancement Writing Program chair and assistant professor.

Since learning is contextual, people develop preferences as they process information. In response, Surfus incorporates numerous approaches and activities to appeal to the three primary learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

“I try to combine all three approaches and then do my one-on-one conferences to figure out how particular students understand and learn. Then I take notes to make sure I approach those students with pictures and handouts for the visual ones, clear explanations for the auditory learners and hands-on activities for the tactile ones,” Surfus said.

While tactile activities appear explored less often in composition lessons, this is not true in Surfus’s classes, as she applies her creativity to illustrate connections. In one lesson designed to demonstrate the importance of detail and critical thinking in the writing process, students create block patterns using LEGOs, and then draft instructions on how to recreate those patterns. The students’ first attempt often lacks clarity and sufficient detail, Surfus said, which requires them to rewrite their instructions after considering each step and explanation more carefully.

In an auditory-focused lesson, Surfus strums a guitar and sings while introducing rhetorical analysis. The class explores the meaning of the lyrics, why the music was written in a particular manner, what affect the songwriter was trying to achieve between the music and lyrics and how a song fits a certain music genre. The exercise encourages students to recognize patterns and describe them.

“Good teachers evaluate what they are doing constantly and determine what they’ve done well and what they need to work on,” Surfus said. “I know the day I stop caring or the day I stop wanting to get better is the day I need to step down from teaching because my students deserve my best, and so I strive to make sure I’m always improving.”