The Sound of Great Teaching

The Sound of Great Teaching

"What a great sound! Listen to that—isn't it a great sound?"

Professor Anita Houck gestures to the open window in the back of her classroom. Her students turn and listen as a breeze rustles the leaves of tall maples that stand just outside the window. For a few moments, the entire class is silent. Students focus on the fall breeze sifting through the leaves and into the classroom.

Moments like this are not uncommon in Houck's classroom. They are the way she transforms simple lectures into satisfying learning experiences. In May 2004, Houck, an assistant professor of religious studies, received Saint Mary's Maria Pieta Award, the annual award given to a professor who shows outstanding commitment to teaching.

A specialist in religion, literature, and systematic theology, Professor Houck joined the Department of Religious Studies in 2000 with a Master's degree in education from Harvard University and a PhD in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She teaches both general education courses and courses for religious studies majors.

Though her subjects are serious, dealing with a range of topics from Hinduism and reincarnation to heaven and hell, humor plays an important role in Houck's classes. She says that laughter is a way for students to bond or to overcome difficulty in the classroom, and she also uses humor to help her students succeed in their studies.

"I'm really trying to incorporate humor, not just because it builds community, but also because research shows that it helps students process and retain information," she said. "I want to do everything I can to help their brains to work."

To keep things fresh, Houck has taught occasional classes on the lawn of Madeleva Hall, showed her students how to wrap Hindu sarees, and hosted mini-classroom parties in celebration of completing tough assignments.

For students, Professor Houck's teaching style makes all the difference. "Professor Houck's non-traditional methods of teaching bring depth and dimension to her classes," says Christy Dietz, who took Religious Studies 101 with Professor Houck. "Whether she is standing on top of a desk to illustrate a point or intently explaining a complex concept, she manages to fully engage her students in the learning process."

—Lauren Lavelle '07