Teaching Generation Me

“The students never used to be like this…”. It’s a conversation that I am sure takes place in every staff room and work room across the spectrum of institutions each year with teachers who have only been in the profession for several years agreeing with the, lets say, more experienced colleagues.  Is there a generational gap between teachers and students, and is this being magnified by the rapid changes in technology, culture and expectations of our learners? Are learners at the moment really a ‘different bread’ of students than the generations previously?

Apparently so; Twenge (2013) writes that students are significantly different from previous generations being:

… [students] are overconfident, have high expectations, report higher narcissism, are lower in creativity, are less interested in civic issues, and are less inclined to read long passages of text. They are highly confident of their abilities and received higher grades in high school despite doing fewer hours of homework than previous generations. (pg. 66)

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If this is the case, as teachers, we need to be prepared to review the strategies that we use to teach and develop techniques to help them be successful (or should we?).  Twenge recommends that teachers of todays generation should:

  • combat students believing their entitled to higher grades departments should ensure that course syllabi should be explicit about expectations for each grade boundary;
  • give frequent feedback using realistic assessments of performance and make use of peer assessment;
  • use class time for activities and collaborative learning and not using standard ‘lectures’ for long durations;

Reading this article as an A Level teacher in the UK, the suggestions are what I, and all of the ‘outstanding’ teachers that I have observed, do on a daily basis. Ensuring that lessons are centred around what the student is doing, not what the teaching is doing; making use of AFL and collaborative learning.

Of his conclusions there are some which I do subscribe to: standards for content and learning should remain the same and there should be a consistent approach to all learners. However, this article, to me, falls between giving students an excuse for poor studentship and allowing teachers to absolve some responsibility for the attitudes of learners back onto the learner rather than considering the expectations that one sets in their own classroom.

Overwhelmingly though, I find the article an insult to the learners that are in front of us each day.  Twenge concludes with:

Today’s students often need the purpose and meaning of activities spelled out for them. Previous generations had a sense of duty and would often do what they were told without asking why. Most young people no longer respond to appeals to duty; instead, they want to know exactly why they are doing something and want to know they are having a personal impact. (pg 68)

Yes, there are some students who fall into the category of what Twenge calls the ‘generation me’, but as psychologists should we not be aware of making sweeping over generalisations.

As teachers we do need to be aware of changes around us; from pedagogical advancements and specification changes to the more dynamic changes between cohorts, and even classes, responses to lessons.  What are your thoughts on the article?  Do you find it a useful commentary on students of today?


References

Twenge, J.M. (2013) Teaching Generation Me. Teaching of Psychology, 40(1), 66-69.

Jamie Davies is an occasionally brilliant, 33-year-old assistant principal, teacher, author, data scientist and educationalist from Yorkshire.

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