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Cheryl Knight Wins UNC Board of Governors Teaching Award

knight.jpgBOONE–The value of the individual: that’s what Dr. Cheryl Knight says she respects in her students and the young people she’s preparing them to teach someday.

“The human being is the most important factor we deal with (as teachers),” says Knight, a professor in Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education and director of the university’s Adult Basic Skills Professional Development Project (ABSPD).

“Once we know that and understand that, we can teach the content in a way a student understands best—and that contributes to their learning.”

That means finding a style of learning that best suits a student. It may be an interactive CD-ROM versus a lecture, or a creative project students can work on at their own pace.

Knight’s dedication to nurturing her students’ potential, and helping them build an instructional repertoire to aid students of different backgrounds and interests, earned her the 2000 UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The board of governors presents the award annually to a faculty member at each of the 16 UNC campuses to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching.

Knight, who has taught in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction since 1989, received a bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize.

Appalachian students describe her as devoted to helping them achieve their full potential. “She taught me how to be more professional and caring as a teacher,” says student Jim Boone of Boone. “She wants better teachers in our schools, and she’s dedicated to that.”

“As a teacher, we must honor what students bring to the class. I don’t believe that students are an empty vessel waiting to have information poured into them. They come with experiences, and even baggage, and we must take that into consideration as we plan instruction,” Knight explains.

Although Knight only teaches one class per semester, her quiet-spoken, caring attitude influences thousands of people across North Carolina. She spends most of her professional time directing the federal grant-supported ABSPD, which enhances adult literacy instruction within the North Carolina Community College System.

She works with community colleges and the North Carolina Literacy Resource Center to plan and present effective ways instructors can better serve students returning for their GED, learning English as a second language or improving their literacy.

Knight and her staff have produced dozens of instructor manuals, videos and viewing guides, and other training materials to aid community college instructors with instruction in reading, writing, mathematics and technology.

“Community college instructors often don’t have a background in instruction. They’re eager to learn how to better reach their students and instill life-long learning skills,” she says.

The project’s on-campus summer institute serves 120 community college instructors, who then share the information and teaching techniques with their colleagues back home. “Adult Basic Skills reaches 3,884 community college instructors through the 120 who come to campus for our summer institute. In turn, we aid 136,000 adults across North Carolina,” Knight explains.

ABSPD’s training materials also are used nationwide through the National Literacy Association.

Knight attributes her student-centered teaching philosophy to two of her own teachers as a child. In the 1950s, they were considered very progressive for encouraging students to learn through active projects, she says.

“When I let my students do their own projects, set goals, keep an electronic

portfolio or write journals about their lessons, they move from being a student to being a professional. That’s how they learn.”

Knight earned her bachelor’s degree at New Mexico State University, her master’s at Appalachian and her doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill.

The UNC Board of Governors also allocates $6,500 to Appalachian to award to additional faculty for teaching excellence at the undergraduate level. First runner-up was John Janowiak of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, receiving $1,500. Receiving $1,000 each are Betty Coffey, Department of Management; Dru Henson, Department of Biology; Edelma Huntley, Department of English; Michael Mayfield, Department of Geography and Planning; and Frank Mohler, Department of Theatre and Dance.

All recipients will be officially recognized during Appalachian’s convocation ceremony in September.

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Picture Caption: Dr. Cheryl Knight leads seniors in an education course at Appalachian State University. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)