Understanding Learning


Once a high school English teacher, Rebekah Benjamin, Ph.D., this fall achieved a goal she set for herself as an undergraduate when she became the newest faculty member in MCLA's psychology department.

As a college student at Indiana Wesleyan University, Benjamin was unsure of which teaching discipline she should focus on, and decided upon English because of her love for classic literature.

"While teaching, I became very interested in factors that impacted students' learning - their reading ability in particular," Benjamin explained. "So, studying educational psychology was a natural transition for me, based on my teaching experience."

Nothing, said Benjamin, is more fascinating to her than how the human mind works.

"The only reason I didn't study psychology in college was because I thought the only thing you could do with a psychology degree was to be a therapist," she said. "By the time I was ready for graduate school, I understood the field of psychology to be much more complex that I originally thought, and it seemed a perfect field to study how people learn."

An educational psychologist, Benjamin recently completed her doctorate at the University of Georgia-Athens, where she also taught undergraduate psychology courses.

When she learned of an opening at MCLA, the College seemed like a perfect fit.

"Once I came on campus for an interview, I could tell that the faculty in the psychology department were professional, caring and dedicated individuals," she said. "MCLA seemed to be a place where people help one another and desire the best for one another, rather than a place where professors were constantly forced to compete with one another for prestige and job security. And, I like the idea of being able to do research with undergraduate students."

As a high school English teacher, Benjamin realized that many of her students faced challenges she knew little about. Finding it difficult to filter out the best teaching methods to help them, she determined to learn how to equip teachers, researchers, parents, non-profit workers and others to find some answers.

"I didn't want to spend my life just doing research, though, or working with graduate students," Benjamin explained. "I like the enthusiasm of college students and the broad potential they still have in making career choices. I'm a teacher at heart and simply have to be in a classroom."

Benjamin - whose research focuses on reading, and in particular on the development and assessment of reading fluency in elementary school children and the analysis of text difficulty - is in the process of publishing a study she developed, that tests a new assessment for measuring children's reading fluency.

She will continue to develop the skills necessary to effectively facilitate student learning.

"I think that's a lifelong process," Benjamin said. "In addition to that goal ... I hope to develop a positive relationship with administrators and teachers in some [local] schools, and engage interested MCLA students in research projects with them."