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Molly Barnes Nowlan Wins
Distinguished Master's Thesis Competition

RELEASED: Nov. 8, 2007

Molly Barnes Nowlan
Molly Barnes Nowlan

EAU CLAIRE — Molly Barnes Nowlan, Eau Claire, was recently awarded first place in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Distinguished Master's Thesis Competition for her thesis titled "Using Performance to Teach Literature in the Constructivist English Classroom." Nowlan received her master's degree in English in May 2007.

Each year, faculty members at UW-Eau Claire are invited to nominate exceptional quality theses, with judging provided by a Graduate Council faculty committee. Associate professor of English Dr. Theresa Kemp, Nowlan's thesis adviser, submitted her paper to the competition, describing it as "well researched" and significantly informed by Nowlan's own practice "as an experienced and talented teacher at Chippewa Falls High School." Kemp went on to call the paper "a fine example of what can be gained through a symbiotic relationship between scholarship and teaching."

Nowlan earned her bachelor's degree in theatre from Loyola University in Chicago and said she has used performance techniques with her students from the beginning of her teaching career in a myriad of ways. Constructivist theory emphasizes putting the responsibility for learning in the hands of students and making them active participants in the process, rather than passive receivers of knowledge, and Nowlan said her students have performed works they've written in response to literature, written and performed adaptations of pieces they've read, and performed poems and scenes from larger works.

"All of these experiences get the students directly involved with the literature's characters, themes and language," Nowlan said.

The idea for Nowlan's thesis grew out of a project she did with Kemp in spring 2006. Working in collaboration with four of Kemp's UW-Eau Claire English students, Nowlan organized her ninth grade English students to perform an abridged performance of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." They repeated the performance three times at Chi Hi, at Lake Shore Elementary and at UW-Eau Claire as part of the university's annual English festival.

"I really saw the benefits that performance had on their deeper understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's work," said Nowlan. 'Their performance created a stage for more meaningful class discussion, and it strengthened the community of my classroom, making it a place that harbored richer learning experiences."

Nowlan said she was honored to win the Distinguished Master's Thesis competition, especially since finishing her thesis was a challenge with a full-time teaching job and two children in tow, one of whom was born just two months before she finished.

"I did my final writing and editing with Theo in a sling, while I sat at the computer," Nowlan said, adding that she hopes her thesis encourages other teachers and future teachers to use constructivist practice and performance in their classrooms.

The Distinguished Master's Thesis award includes a $200 cash prize, as well as submission to the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools thesis competition for next spring.

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NW

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