I’m so excited to introduce the latest Sunny Star, my Psychology of Education Professor, Karen Givvin. As I prepare to graduate in June, taking her class has been one of the highlights of my academic career thus far. After being a student for the past 17 years or so, it has been so interesting learning about learning. We’ve covered how our teachers instruct most effectively, how students retain knowledge best, and how the classroom culture can help us foster a love for learning or a love for merely earning the best grades. This class has been a perfect reminder about how class is not meant to be a competition or a rat race, but rather, an opportunity to learn valuable information for the sheer sake of knowledge.
Thank you so much to Professor Givvin for this interview! I hope you enjoy reading what she has to say and I hope it brings back fond memories of your days in school!
1. You are an Education Psychology Professor at UCLA. You are especially interested in looking at the different teaching styles in America and other countries. What inspired you to pursue this research?
Each of the members in my small family was born on a different continent and we traveled a lot when I was a kid. I think I’ve had a sense for a long time that different cultures have different ways of doing things. It’s interesting when you take that approach toward education. After all, every culture educates its children in some way — most even in some formal way. To fail to learn from what people are doing elsewhere is a tremendous (inexcusable) loss.
2. Many American students don’t particularly love school. For example, they often wish their time away by saying, “I can’t wait for the weekend,” or “I can’t wait for the school year to end.” What do you think is the reason for this?
I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to be eager for the weekend or for summer break. I always am! Learning is hard work and it’s natural to look forward to time off and the freedom that brings. Dreading school is something else, and there are too many students for whom that’s the case. For those students who hate hard work, there’s little way around it, either in school or in life thereafter. For those who hate school because they don’t feel cared about or don’t feel safe, we need to make sure we offer a place in which they feel supported to learn.
3. How do you think we can make the classroom environment a happier experience for students?
I believe firmly that the best motivator is an interesting task. We know from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study that American teachers often make their classrooms fun at the expense of learning. Challenge can be fun and deeply rewarding. If we all wanted to engage in tasks that are easy, the developers of Sudoku puzzles wouldn’t offer varied levels of difficulty. In fact, there probably wouldn’t be Sudoku developers at all! Struggling with a task and experiencing success as a result makes us feel competent and happy.
4. What do you think we can learn from other countries so that American students are not only learning more, but enjoying the process of learning as well?
Some other countries value students’ thinking more than we do. I’m particularly drawn to that. It has the potential to lead individual students to value their OWN thinking more. That can result not only in a greater willingness to DO more thinking, but also to put more ideas “out there” for discussion. We’re all better off when there are more voices in the mix.
5. What is your hope for the state of education in our country in the next 20 years?
Education is an enormous undertaking. Anything with that kind of mass has a great deal of inertia. It’s difficult to change. I hope that there will be some resignation to the fact that there aren’t any easy fixes. We can’t expect to be on top of world rankings in a short period of time (if, indeed, that’s our goal). I hope that our K-12 education finds a way to settle on small, continuous, and sustainable improvements. With respect to higher education, I hope that states increase their support for public universities. Students shouldn’t be expected to carry the amount of debt they currently do.
The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook