Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reaching a New Generation of Learners

One of my biggest pet peeves at meetings is when people begin talking about "this generation of learners" and how "difficult" they are to reach. 

The truth is students are a product of what they have been surrounded with and though, as with any generation, they have their flaws-- it is important to know that your generation had its flaws as well and I'm sure teachers were saying the same thing then. 

Wikipedia defines Generation Y as anyone born from the early-late eighties to the 2000's, which would mean I am currently in the "same generation" as my students. I'd like to briefly address the problems people have with the current generation: laziness, distractors, apathy, self-obsession, entitlement, and so many more. Though I feel like teachers have been saying this... for fifty years. 

So lets look at some good things of this generation:

1) They are willing to try new technology if you introduce it to them. I am a big fan of finding apps my students can use and asking them to download it. I tell my students all the time that as long as you tell someone an app is addictive-- no one will think anything of it (so don't worry about it being nerdy). 

One of my favorites is "Geomaster" we ask that our students learn the location of the states and this app for the iPhone/iPad/iPod is amazing! My students can time how quickly they name the states then post it on a poster in my classroom. My students come in with stories about how their families play on the apps together and race each other. How great is that???


2) They have more resources for success at their fingertips than any other generation before. They can have information at their fingertips at a moments notice and if you cater assignments to that and encourage them to seek that out that information they will do amazing things! 

Below is an example of what kids can do with information. Before every exam my eighth graders use some form of this document as a review. They use their current knowledge and the knowledge they can acquire at their fingertips to: list what they know (for the Know section), prove using historical evidence (for the Understand section) and analyze with a four to six sentence paragraph or a diagram of some kind (for the Do section). My students turn in pages of incredibly hard work and they are coming to know and understand information MUCH better.  

3) This is a generation of readers. You still have your token "I hate reading" kids but reading has honestly never been cooler than it is now. The Millenials have been a part of a Young Adult Publishing FRENZY since the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. I remember watching the Young Adult section at my local Barnes and Noble go from one book shelf, to an entire row, and last I checked the front and back of a row and then some in the Young Readers section. 

This generation has created Fandoms unlike the world has ever seen. From Harry Potter, came Twilight, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Divergent and so many more to count. There are online forums of fanfiction with Harry Potter lending 670K stories which is 455K more than the second most stories written for Twilight. Superfandoms like these create passionate students who understand what it means to be a hero and seek adventure. Making references to these fandoms will help your students interact with your content in new and interesting ways.

4) They still respond to high expectations-- WITH PURPOSE. I tell my students that I will do everything I can to help them succeed. I tell them that expect I expect a lot of them because I think they are intelligent. I tell them that if my class was simple, they wouldn't try, and it would be an insult to their intelligence. 

5) They are still kids. They may be different than past generations but they are still just kids. They still desire to be loved. They still desire that you listen and care, they still want you to laugh with them, and they still want to learn from you.

People like to use "Kids Today" as an excuse as to why their students aren't achieving or why kids "can't" learn. Don't be a part of the negativity and the problem, be a part of improving education, be a part of the solution but most importantly:

Don't get caught up in saying "Kids Today" because yesterday someone was saying the same thing about you.