Education professor receives doctorate

PLAINVIEW – Suzanne Nesmith, assistant professor of education at Wayland Baptist University, recently completed requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in curriculum and instruction at Texas Tech University.

Nesmith, who has been on the Wayland faculty since 2003, completed her doctoral dissertation titled “The Perceptions, Beliefs and Attitudes of Elementary Educators Toward the Integration of Literature in Mathematics” in late May and will participate in Tech’s commencement on May 11.

She explained that her dissertation was based on a qualitative case study about the use of literature in the elementary classroom to build on students’ understanding of mathematics and present practical life applications for the subject matter. The case study was completed with four elementary teachers from Plainview, with participants chosen to reflect a broad scope of the teaching landscape based on factors such as age, years taught, grade taught and school location.

“The topic came about because it was something I used in my own classroom and used with my students in methods classes,” she said. “This is something I feel very passionate about because it ties math to real life. Studies have shown a positive impact on students, but I couldn’t find anything about how teachers feel about it and how they incorporate it into their classrooms.”

Nesmith conducted a series of interviews with the teachers and observed their classroom instruction to form her conclusions. She felt that teachers practiced more their training than their belief system might have determined. Though some teachers claimed to be more reformative, believing in the importance of using literature in math lessons, their actual practice tended to lean back to their more traditional training.

“Even though they felt more reformative and expressed that mindset in interviews, that’s not how it all played out in the classroom,” she said.

The integration of literature, she noted, is only limited to a teacher’s imagination, as most books can be tied to mathematics or money concepts easily. Using those stories to springboard into activities that further solidify the lesson’s concepts makes for better student understanding and application, Nesmith said. She said the study has already changed the way she teaches.

“This really impacted me in preparing students to teach because now I make a much bigger emphasis on how I share literature integration but why it’s so important,” she said.

Nesmith teaches three methods courses for future educators – math, social studies and language arts – and content area literacy. She taught at the elementary and sixth-grade level in Plainview for 20 years before coming to Wayland.

A native of Houston, she holds a bachelor’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M and her master’s degree in education from Wayland. She and husband Doug, who manages the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Halfway, have three children: Matthew of Humble and wife Chelsea; Tim of Houston; and Amy, a junior at Texas A&M.