December 2020 Spotlight, Jingjing Sun, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Jingjing Sun ( as our member in the spotlight. Jingjing is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at the Department of Teaching & Learning, Phyllis J. Washington College of Education, at University of Montana. Her research has centered on the processes of learning and development, with a current focus on youth’s socioemotional development and school engagement, specifically working with the Native American community in Montana. Surrounding this topic, she is currently working with colleagues from school psychology and counseling education programs, as well as school, tribal, and community representatives from the Flathead Nation, in establishing a social-emotional learning (SEL) program for Native American and Alaska Native youth. Her earlier research examined children’s social and cognitive development in collaborative learning, and the impact of classroom participant structures on children’s engagement and affect. She has worked with teachers from Montana in design-based research to examine how educators can be effectively supported to scaffold students’ collaborative discussions.

1)What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

My research has centered on the social and affective processes in learning, with a focus on learning through collaboration. I am interested in children’s social development as I realized early on that it sets up an important foundation for academic learning. Since arriving at the University of Montana, I have expanded this research to examine teacher learning, particularly when they engage in extended professional development through group reflections. In addition, the unique opportunities to work with Native American communities and schools on the Flathead Reservation have profoundly shaped my research agenda to consider the impact of broader ecological systems, such as culture and community, on classroom learning and students’ social and emotional wellbeing.

I’ve been fortunate to have several important mentors in my research pursuit, including Drs. Richard Anderson, Dorothy Espelage, Michelle Perry, and Emma Mercier. They have inspired me to pursue research that has both theoretical contributions and impact on the community that engages in the research. I’m grateful for their mentorship and generous support over the years.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it. 

Although my research does not focus on Asians or Asian American children and youth in particular, I have done several studies in China, examining how to incorporate collaborative discussions in Chinese elementary classrooms. In one recent publication, I found that, when given opportunities to experience peer-led discussions, Chinese children actively observed, practiced, and internalized social skills related to leadership that they later transferred in solving a cooperative spatial-reasoning puzzle, as well as produced better problem solutions (Sun, Anderson, Perry, & Lin, 2017). In addition, they had much more positive emotional experiences. In another study, using data collected by colleagues from Beijing Normal University in China, I examined the learning trajectories of two Chinese elementary school teachers, documenting how they learned to teach with an emphasis on students’ ownership of classroom discussions. This study found common challenges and successes that the teachers experienced, and shed light on how university researchers can support teachers of different professional backgrounds to employ collaborative discussions (Sun, Zhang, & Hong, 2020).

3) Any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus?

I love reading the spotlight of Asian Caucus members and learning about the broad range of research that members are involved in. I look forward to more networking and collaborative opportunities with the Asian Caucus.

4) Any upcoming presentations?

My doctoral student and I will present at American Educational Research Association (AERA) in spring:

Datu, E., & Sun, J. (April, 2021). Learning through Sharing and Practicing: Teachers’ Group Reflective Experience in Implementing Collaborative Discussions [Roundtable discussion]. Virtual Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, United States. 

5)  A preferred weblink

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