New MSU Grisham Master Teacher encourages diverse voices

During her first formal presentation as a John Grisham Master Teacher this week, Mississippi State Associate Professor of English Kelly A. Marsh emphasized the importance of ensuring that all students’ voices are validated in class discussions. Marsh provided audience members in Mitchell Memorial Library’s John Grisham Room with an overview of strategies she feels validates guided discussion as a foundational aspect of students’ education.  (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Acknowledgement of all voices and viewpoints is the key to successfully engaging students in academic discourse, according to a distinguished faculty member in Mississippi State’s Department of English.

 “Our students will enter and leave numerous discourse communities over the course of their careers. They need to get good at it,” Associate Professor Kelly A. Marsh said earlier this week during her first presentation as the university’s newest John Grisham Master Teacher.

Named in 1993 for the MSU alumnus and internationally recognized author, the master teacher honor is bestowed on a highly select group recognized for excellence in classroom instruction. Each honoree agrees to serve as a role model and mentor for campus colleagues. 

“To become fluent in the language of academe, as in any other language, students will need to use it. And, as they will learn this language only incrementally, they’ll need teachers who can hear their voices in the languages they bring to us, as well as in the language we’re helping them to acquire,” Marsh told audience members in Mitchell Memorial Library’s John Grisham Room.

Throughout her lecture titled “Reading Students and Teaching the Language of the Academy,” Marsh provided an overview of strategies she feels validates guided discussion as a foundational aspect of students’ education.

What might appear to be a spontaneous class discussion is actually, at its most productive, relying on some carefully laid groundwork, Marsh explained. For her, preparation for classroom discussion begins with a thoughtfully-crafted syllabus.

“I try to design my reading lists, so they are inclusive of diverse voices. This is a sign to students right from the start that a variety of viewpoints will be valued,” she said. “I get the students talking on the first day and in every class period. Break the ice early and keep it broken.”

In her classes, Marsh said she works diligently to guide the discussion by asking a series of questions that are designed to lead the students through specific examples and arrive at a series of points.

“As we move from my question through their examples to our conclusion, I guide the students’ analysis,” she said. “Often, they provide additional interpretations I have not thought of, which keeps things exciting.”

“It’s real-time analysis,” she continued. “The same process I lead the students through every day is the same process I expect them to go through independently to write their own original papers, so every day is practice.”

One of Marsh’s most important tasks is signposting a discussion. Her goal, she said, is to validate and categorize responses to help students track the discussion.

“I organize the many comments that have been made during the class period, so that all of the students understand how they fit into the ongoing discussion,” Marsh said. “I do my best to continually attribute ideas to students who express them, so they can see how ideas are related to each other and feel that they are being heard.”

Marsh said she appreciates the time and energy involved in making each class period “not only a lesson in new concepts and a practice session for students’ analytical skills, but also an opportunity for students to speak and be heard.”

“Employing these strategies is a challenge for me every day, but they keep my interaction with my students lively and productive, and they keep my engagement with my own discipline dynamic and intense,” she said.

An MSU faculty member since 1998, Marsh is a faculty associate with MSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning. She has taught courses on contemporary literature, British and Irish literature since 1900s, women and literature, and narrative theory.

Marsh holds a bachelor’s in English from Dartmouth College, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees from Pennsylvania State University.

In addition to multiple scholarly articles, she is the author of “The Submerged Plot and the Mother’s Pleasure from Janes Austen to Arundhati Roy” (The Ohio State University Press, 2016).

In 2005, Marsh was honored with the MSU Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College’s Outstanding Faculty Award, as well as the South Atlantic Review’s Essay Prize. She received the Mississippi Humanities Council Humanities Teacher Award in 2006.

Additional information about Marsh and the Department of English may be found at

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