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Celebrating Achievements

Each year the University of Alberta and the Alumni Association recognizes the accomplishments of members of the University community — students, staff and alumni — with various awards and honors. New Trail is pleased to salute the winners of some of the major University and Alumni Association prizes as a way of celebrating the achievements of not only these individuals but a great many others who, through their commitment and attainments, have brought honor to our alma mater.

Moira Juliebö

Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Moira Juliebö does not want her elementary education students to be just like her.

One undergraduate found that out when he wrote her a note telling her that he had found in her the missing link in his teaching education: a role model he could emulate in the classroom. Juliebö immediately called him into her office and sternly told him not to copy her — but to be himself.

"I believe very strongly in human potential," says Juliebö, who is also the director of the Reading/Language Centre at Clinical Services in the Faculty of Education. "As an educator, I see myself as pulling people up to their potential. Education is more about personal contact than it is about books and papers. I am myself, and I give of myself."

Her reluctance to be a role model has nothing to do with the quality of her teaching - quite the opposite, in fact. The Rutherford Award-winning professor regularly receives rave evaluations from her students, a critical audience because they plan to become teachers themselves. "Students in this program scrutinize their professors, seeking models of the 'ideal teacher' they aspire to become. Dr. Juliebö is a model who not only meets, but surpasses our ideal standards of teaching excellence," commented one undergraduate.

Other students appreciate Juliebö's high expectations for them to achieve their potential. Her assignments are "by no means easy," says one student, who characterizes them as "meaningful and practical — something we will look back on in the future." Juliebö's explains that she expects students to go beyond "memorizing and regurgitating" facts, by developing and demonstrating their learning through problem solving.

For instance, last year Juliebö's assigned a series of short papers of only 250 words to one of her classes — the catch was, instead of essay format they could use different genres of writing to express their thoughts on language and learning. "I find that students are afraid of genres like poetry," explains Juliebö. "I want to help them like their mother tongue, to say to them 'you can do it and love it, now help the children to learn and enjoy it."' By the end of the course, students responded with creative submissions which included a Shakespearean-style play, a recorded song, a prayer, and numerous letters and poems.

Juliebö, who is the author of the Read MORE series of books for beginning readers, is devoted to both teaching and research. Juliebö says, "I adore language. I've become passionately concerned about very little children who have trouble reading and writing."

But it was by a serindipitous route over two continents that she arrived at her current specialization.

She first studied elementary education in her native Scotland and immediately after graduation was accepted into the pretigious Froebel diploma program. Juliebö calls her year in this progressive early childhood education program the most formative experience in her career, where she "began to really think instead of just being 'fed' education theory and methodology."

After completing the Froebel diploma, she taught in, among other places, an orphanage before being selected for the Thouron Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused on educational psychology. Returning from America, she began her academic career in 1969 as a lecturer at Clifton College, Nottingham. Only after arriving at the U of A in 1986 did she concentrate on language and learning.

"What actually has transpired is that it all fits together," Juliebö marvels. "Lo and behold, much of the exciting stuff in language is happening in cognitive science. All of this is a beautiful mix — I've come right back around in a circle."

While Juliebö is known around the world for her research on the development of literacy, she doesn't expect students to parrot her theories. Far more important, she says, is that students learn to question and to keep an open mind.

True to what she teaches, Juliebö is a model of open-mindedness. While on sabbatical this past spring in Great Britain, at Oxford she discovered a new theory on language learning. It has completely changed her way of thinking. "I'm switching over, and it's marvellous," she says with a gleam in her eye. "I can't wait to get in front of all my students and tell them I've changed my mind."

Published Autumn 1995.

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