Abigail Mathison spent her 2021 Winterim in a unique way: she worked on an honors contract that gave her career-related experience, skills, and something fun to do over break.
As an education major with a Spanish emphasis, Abigail has used honors contracts to explore topics she is interested in beyond the scope of a particular course, and to pursue research that will help her in her future career. Contracts also gave her a flexible way to earn honors credit even when she didn’t have space for a full honors course—for example, she completed one contract while she was studying abroad in Mexico.
The idea for her most recent contract emerged when the director of a nearby private school asked if Abigail would teach Spanish there. This school’s structure is unusual: the students in a single classroom span a wide age range, and their education is significantly individualized. Students pick the times they complete worksheets in each day, and instead of teachers there are supervisors. Between her Spanish and speech lessons, Abigail was intrigued by how motivated these students were to get schoolwork done each day. This inspired her to contact a spring 2021 professor, Dr. Jerry Worley, to set up an honors contract project to investigate student motivation in independent learning.
During her typical January day at the school, Abigail recorded her observations related to student motivation. She also created a survey that students took at the start and end of the month relating to this topic. Abigail learned a lot about the students and what motivated them, as she researched why some students preferred teacher-driven lessons while others preferred to go at their own pace.
Throughout her contract work, Abigail enjoyed the joys and challenges of meeting new students, working with faculty, and adding her own teaching materials to support the Spanish curriculum. This honors contract gave her valuable insight into issues around student motivation and independent learning, insight that will help to make her a better teacher. Abigail will also be able to use this independent research experience in the future to show her dedication to continuous improvement in teaching, her intellectual curiosity about her field, and her drive to design and complete her own supplemental project.
Abigail has been cultivating her desire to teach for a long time. In 5th grade a student moved into her class who could not speak English. She recalls, “It was hard to see how frustrated he was. It blew my mind that there was no one to help him.” Later, a student transferred into her high school who had little English knowledge, and she was able to tutor him through an English class. At the same time, Abigail herself became a language learner: she began to study Spanish to fulfill language requirements, but quickly fell in love with the language. These experiences guided her towards her current goal of being an inclusive educator.
Now that Abigail’s research is done, she is beginning to write her final essay, which will connect what she learned with her future goals. The advice Abigail gives to students who want to pursue an honors contract is simple yet effective. First, she suggests students set up an appointment with an honors staff member. Abigail and many other students attest to the fact that talking to Pam Golden can be particularly helpful. Next, she tells us, “it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds.” Dr. Worley advised her that “you don’t have to find the cure for COVID or peace on earth.” Your course instructor and the honors staff will help you frame a project that will be interesting, meaningful, and manageable.
Learn more about Abigail’s work at UW-Eau Claire in this Center for International Education video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oiGBH4wfv8&feature=youtu.be