PsychED: What is the source of your interest in educational psychology?
Anne C. Frenzel: Looking back, I realize I have been interested in the questions I now scientifically explore for a long time. Already when I was still at school, I was intrigued by how different many of my peers reacted towards scholastic achievement demands, what energized them to engage, or stopped them from it, and why. This is the source of my interest still today – I strive to understand the interaction between contextual and personal factors in predicting school- or more generally, achievement-related activities.
PsychED: Your research shows that teachers' enjoyment is an important factor of students' engagement--and reciprocally. In your opinion, how important are emotions in social interactions in general and in a school context in particular?
Annne C. Frenzel: I believe that emotions generally are the “background music” of any social interactions. Sometimes we feel too “cognitively occupied” to even realize that there is any music! But always, that music will contribute to our experiences and behavior. It will determine if we are open-minded, flexible, and approaching in our social behavior, or be more focused, rigid, and avoidant. In the school context in particular, I think this plays a much more important role than has been acknowledged in research so far, and than one would intuitively think. School is supposed to be a rational place, and learning and instruction are expected to be almost exclusively driven by cognition (i.e., “thinking”), right? But in fact, classrooms abound with emotions. This is because particularly for students, there is a lot at stake very often at school. And once things become personally relevant, they arouse emotions. The other reason because emotions are inherent in social interactions. And at schools, there constantly are large numbers of human beings “trapped” in spaces called classrooms, so lots of emotions, both positive and negative!
PsychED: In your view, how much does enjoyment impact student performance? Is the relation between the two always a positive one?
Anne C. Frenzel: Oh, I think enjoyment is very closely linked with performance. In part, that’s because enjoyment really is a cause of effective thinking – but also, because performing well is enjoyable (so other causal direction), and also, because yet other factors contribute both the enjoyment and to performance, which implies that they coincide. For example, an exciting discovery or problem-based learning context can be supportive both to enjoying the learning activity, and to learning, thus performance. This overall contributes to the very consistent empirical evidence to positive links between the two. And no, I wouldn’t know of any compelling evidence that this link would ever be negative. So basically, learning can never be too much fun!
PsychED: Are you aware of particular methods or techniques that would enable teachers to take advantage of the virtuous cycle described in your article? How to kick-start this positive reciprocal relationship?
Anne C. Frenzel: As this is a circle indeed, there should be many “entries” into it. One key point I like to recommend is for teachers to consider what they personally enjoy about a particular topic, or a particular instructional strategy, and design their lessons with this in mind – and not necessarily with the question in mind, “what is best for my students (even if it’s tedious or stressful for me”). Once the teacher enters the classroom thinking, “This session will be fun”, the virtuous circle may well be kick-started. I think too many teachers enter their classrooms thinking, “This session will be hard”, which is not particularly conducive to joy in the classroom.
PsychED: What other areas of educational psychology are you currently interested in?
Anne C. Frenzel: Recently, I have been quite intrigued by the question of how relationships between teachers and all the students in a class develop. Typically, relationships are considered a dyadic phenomenon – so between two individuals. Within classrooms, I think it is more than about multiple dyadic relationships between the teacher and each individual student. But it is quite a puzzle to consider the relationship between one person – the teacher – and a group of students, the class.
PsychED: Thank you so much!