ITA 2016 Nominee: Valerie Walker Posted on October 11th, 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

Valerie Walker, Department of Education, described two teaching innovations she has utilized in her education courses. With economics being well-documented as a challenging academic topic to teach in the elementary social studies classroom, Walker developed an activity called the “Creative Toy Challenge,” in which elementary school students must design, advertise and sell a toy, with production cost, revenue, and profit calculation as a focus of the activity. In a second activity created for EDU-320: Literacy for the K-12 Teacher, Walker asked her education students to read and analyze a wordless picture book for elements that helped their own comprehension, allowing students to develop a more thorough understanding of the development of literacy and effective reading strategies.

As an educator of future teachers, Walker places a strong emphasis on developing teaching innovations as a method of improving comprehension. “I think one of the most important things a teacher can do is pay close attention to what is working for his or her students and what is not working,” said Walker, “And that is something that I continually try to focus on assessing. For me, innovation is about recognizing those moments when what you’re doing isn’t meeting the needs of your students.” She emphasizes the importance of developing a “broad repertoire” of pedagogical tools, each of which can be useful depending on the content, students, and setting. Speaking to her process for developing new elements for her curriculum, Walker states many of her ideas come from professional social studies and language arts education conferences, as well as from observation of current elementary school teachers as part of her education courses. She encourages others looking to implement new assignments and projects into their courses to look beyond Gustavus and utilize resources available, such as professional literature and the experiences of colleagues. She also advises other faculty members to go about the process carefully, “Because I teach the same courses almost every semester and have now taught them a number of times, I generally only try one or two completely new things per semester. I think I have become better at not revamping the whole course, but identifying what is most pressing in a course and revamping only that element,” said Walker, “It makes it feel manageable, and I always have something to look forward to during the semester that will still be fresh.”


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