ITA 2016 Nominee: Debra Pitton and Amy Vizenor Posted on September 20th, 2017 by

This is one of a few interviews conducted by Lili Rothschild ‘17 with winners and previous nominees for the Gustavus Innovative Teaching Award. Nominations for this year’s awards should be emailed to by November, 10th.  More details can be found at

Debra Pitton and Amy Vizenor, Department of Education, submitted an application for the Innovative Teach Award for their work incorporating the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID; program into EDU-368, a course allowing secondary education majors to interact with teenagers in an educational setting. In the AVID program, Gustavus students serve as a tutor and lead tutoring sessions 2 hours per week for high school students. The tutor position provides an ideal setting for Gustavus students to learn to ask questions that lead high-schoolers to critical thinking, as well as to practice keeping students on-task in a learning environment. “Students are not telling high-schoolers the answers, but learning themselves how to ask questions to elicit answers from students,” said Pitton. Vizenor and Pitton noted that an important element of the process of developing new components for a course or curriculum is to remember to look outside of Gustavus. “It’s about finding a real-world learning and teaching opportunity,” said Pitton, “The program also allows us to meet a real need in the community by saving the district from hiring tutors.” The AVID program has been included in the EDU-368 curriculum at the high school level for the past 3 years, with Pitton and Vizenor hoping to be involved as the AVID program is implemented with 7th and 8th graders in the future. As a result of participating in the AVID tutoring, both Pitton and Vizenor have seen students improve in both professional skills required to communicate with students, as well as in their self-confidence when engaging in later teaching experiences. “Students overwhelming invest in the school, invest in the process, and build relationships,” said Vizenor, “And we see them carrying over skills to their student teaching with the idea of allowing their students to discover answers for themselves.”


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