I sit there listening to them, some of them shy, some of them daring, but all of them reaching into their heart to tell the class about what they care about.
Each time I teach this course, I always find out something I would never have if I didn’t have the trial presentations. The trials are supposed to help them prepare for the final graded presentation, but they are more than that. The three-minute presentation about ‘whatever they like’ is really a window to their soul – what they are, what they stand for.
My students, when they first find out they have to do the trial presentation, groan, shudder, fake a heart attack and the like. But when they go through the prep, stand in front of the class and receive feedback on how they have done, I dare say it’s better than any textbook, video or self-help book.
Some of them can’t wait to share with their friends their favorite sport, hobby, singer; some of them want to but are fearful and nervous. There have a few who don’t bother but thankfully they are too few to count.
Whether they are springing onto stage, or carefully pondering every move, or trying not to shake too much, I relish each student’s presentation, both content and style. For that brief moment, I find out more about their personality, what makes them tick, what fills their thoughts, what is their passion.
When I see their eyes light up, some time for the first time in my class, I’m content to know that they had the opportunity to connect with others, to share a part of themselves. When I see them shy away from their friends’ gaze, I know I have to encourage them to take that risk.
When I hear about their stories, why the love something, their aspirations, I’m reminded of the time I was their age – 17 years old – full of ideals and energy, exploring each passion one by one.
I am, of course, no longer 17, and regrettably in some way, do not have the passions I once had at 17. But I seem to re-live my passions through my students, vicariously, yes, but I think slowly I’m beginning to realize I could rekindle that passion, re-imagine it and make it real for me this moment. At least I have one passion I am sure of – my students.
I had the privilege of being in the audience of Dr Tim Elmore’s presentation on Generation iY when he visited my school yesterday. Tim’s work (with Growing Leaders) is about instilling values in youth who will be leaders of future generations.
I was informed, moved and challenged to view the Generation iY with different lenses and help them develop values to be leaders, not in the sense of being heads of organizations, but having a leadership perspective, i.e. being personally accountable and having a significant influence on others.
According to Tim, Generation iY are those born in the 90s, a group he categorizes as confident, social, tech savvy, family oriented and influential. With a life paradigm ,”life is a cafeteria”, their life is a buffet and the sum of their life is picking and choosing what they like. This generation is markedly different from my generation (Gen X) and even the earlier Gen Yers who were born in the 80s.
While this group sounds like they have everything going for them, Tim also pointed out that Generation iY are generally self-absorbed, display low empathy and ambiguous about the future at best. Of the seven reasons that Tim listed for this unique Gen iY personality, I strongly identified with two of them: parenting style and media & technology.
Media & Technology – Made for Them
My students are Gen iY and as a whole, their life seems to be always in the here and now. They are particularly emotional (or emo as they call it), taking admonishments badly and making the trivial the highlight of their day. You could call it adolescence, you could call it one generation lamenting about the next, but as Tim pointed out, the Gen iY is the first generation that doesn’t need to ask adults to get information. In fact, with the Internet so firmly entrenched in our daily lives, it has become a part of their living environment, especially since they were born into a world that already had it.
These kids are “always on”, wired up, and they learn lessons from what they consider the wonderful world of the internet. A student of mine said that she learns about life through Tumblr, though inspirational quotations blogged by people she doesn’t know. These catchy observations of life seem to shape her emotional response, never mind that those emotions will surface at some other point in time. By then, there will be another blog post or twitter update to fix that problem. Please tell me I’m not the only one disturbed that the values and attitudes of this Gen iY (or whatever name you want to give them) are guided and molded by anonymous strangers, distant acquaintances and friends whom have been influenced by the anonymous themselves!
Parents, where are you?
I think parents have a part to play in this unreal world of character building. Or to be precise, the absent parent is at least partly responsible for this state of affairs. At least in Singapore, the idea of a stay-home parent or grandparent is becoming rarer and so the kid has no human being, let alone a parent, to connect with at home. Or maybe parents are too tired after a day’s or work to connect with their child who may not be in the mood for connecting with his parents. I personally know of friends with teenage kids who struggle with not being there for their kids, or when they are, their kids aren’t. In fact, I think I’m connecting more with my friends’ teenage kids on Facebook then they are with their own kids at home! But let’s make it clear, I’m not their mum and I can’t parent them. (Anyway, I have my own post Gen iYers to parent!)
Be Intentional & Purposeful
I don’t think we can confiscate media & technology and ground kids on a permanent basis. You’ll be screaming for your iPhone if it happened to you. So whether you’re a parent or a teacher, we need to focus on the what we can deal with – the young lives of Gen iY – and do so intentionally and purposefully.
It’s not a 3 minute answer and it’s not something you can buy online. It’s about making use of the teachable moments, modeling positive behaviors and responses and making every effort to have a real (not cyber) dialogue with them. I like what Tim said about being responsive and demanding. We need to be sensitive to their needs but we also need to exercise our judgment and have high expectations of them so that they can grow into “the best versions of themselves.”
It’s a challenge I’m taking up. Shall we do this together?
I could go on and on about how teenagers nowadays don’t know basic courtesy: how they let out expletives within earshot in a crowded lift, how they talk when the teacher is talking as if she didn’t exist; basically how they walk the road like they own it. But I really shouldn’t because one, there’s no end to that list, and two, I will start to moralize about who’s to blame.
So let me talk about what I can do as a teacher, standing in front of a class of youngsters who can’t get enough of their phones, talk when you’re talking, and seem to do something else even when you’ve set them a different task?
Enough with your phone already!
What do I do when they can’t keep still for 10 minutes without reaching for their iPhone? I tried ignoring it as long as I thought they were more or less paying attention to the lesson but the more I let it happen, the more I was convinced that their mind was on some mindless gossip on twitter. So I made it clear at the beginning of the lesson: put away your phones or I will put them away for you. I’ve confiscated a couple before by placing them at the teacher’s desk but returned it to the student after the lesson. I think they weren’t too cheesed off since I didn’t spot any black faces. I had been generally tolerant of their behavior before and maybe they were just used to me already.
However, I wouldn’t necessarily try it in a large class, like a lecture hall of 80 plus students. First, I would have to spend more time confiscating phones than teaching. Second, I they will hate my guts. Third, one and two make a really bad class.
I think the best defense against a tech distracted crowd is to win them over with your superior tech display, e.g. great eye-catching photos during presentation, a couple of well-timed videos, and having interactive activities like getting individuals and groups to come to the front to do something. And don’t forget the M&Ms to encourage participation!
Chatting like there’s no tomorrow
Most of my students tend to talk a lot more when I’m not the one asking them to do the talking. For example, when they’ve just come in to the classroom and they’re settling down, when they’ve finished an activity and the others are still working on theirs, or when I disappear from the classroom to get something.
I have nothing against students talking in class – except when I’m talking and that usually means I’m trying to say something I think it’s important to them.
Usually they do it because they are engrossed in an ongoing discussion, and can’t snap out of it until they get both physical and verbal cues, i.e. the teacher standing in front of them and saying, “Are we ready for class?”
What if they don’t get the cues? What if they get it one moment and forget the next? Well, I keep on reminding them until my cues are reduced to a glance, a stare or a glare. I don’t aim for total silence and I don’t want them to end up fearful of not keeping quiet. But I think through consistent reinforcement of the expected behavior in class, they will get the message.
One of these kids is doing his own thing
Texting on the phone and being a chatterbox are actually less disturbing behaviors than not following specific instructions in the larger scheme of things. I’ve had students who seem to insist on doing something contrary to what I’ve set the class to do. Thankfully this doesn’t occur often but when it does, it could mean the student is suffering from a behavioral disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. It could also mean that the student cannot bring himself to complete the task because he finds no meaning in it.
While I have not experienced the former, I have come across students who exhibit the second type of behavior. Usually, they find the work un-challenging or they already know the topic. So far from being rude, they just can’t bring themselves to do something which doesn’t help them learn anything new. What I do to help this student is to give him a more challenging task or point out aspects of the activity that he can still benefit from. To date, I’ve not had a resistant student.
Not rude, well, not all the time
So in my encounters with less desirable classroom behavior, I conclude that the students don’t mean to be rude or challenging; they are just behaving in a way that’s most natural to them. I think it’s our job as teachers to remind them what’s appropriate and what’s not in class – and be consistent in setting our boundaries and ground rules. The last thing we want to do is to ignore them and let them continue with behavior that will not help them learn any better, or anything at all!
P/S I teach in an Asian context where students are largely respectful of authority figures.
I just finished a 2-day conference (8 – 9 June 2011), the eLearning Forum Asia 2011, held at the National Technological University (Singapore). While there was a variety of topics, my main interests were on e-learning and using social media for teaching. For e-learning, my takeaway was that we need to focus on the design of the e-learning activities. For social media, my takeaway was that we need to engage the students where they were. Ultimately, it was about the learners – what they were like, what they were doing, and how we could cater to their needs.
The following paragraphs, if they can be called that at all, are lists of ideas, jotting them down before this conference becomes a vague memory. I don’t want to end up with post-conference inertia and I hope this post reminds me of what I need to do.
My actual experience with e-learning has been largely i) me uploading stuff and students downloading stuff and ii) students posting superficially on forum threads.
What I would like my experience to be:
i) Students and I do stuff together on something;
ii) Students care about this stuff we do together;
iii) I actually have fun getting all this done!
What I could do in the immediate future:
i) Use Google Docs for group writing for collaboration;
ii) Set specific instructions for students so they don’t get lost in the activities;
iii) Model the actions and behaviors I expect from them.
I have recently started to connect with my students via Facebook but not for specific teaching or learning purposes. I use it to make announcements for some of my subjects, encourage students, send reminders and wish them Happy Birthday!
I’m not entirely sure how I could use it for teaching although the Facebook Group Page comes to mind. I’ve just finished a Social Media workshop by the folks from UWM and it was awesome! Some things I’ve learnt:
i) Social Media is here – don’t fight it, join it, manage it!
ii) Twitter is powerful! I’m now officially on Twitter (@orangecanton)
iii) Facebook Fanpages are a great resource for putting up information for courses.
iv) Some challenges include privacy and convincing people who don’t care much for social media but control the approvals and money for using it in education!
v) Students will appreciate it that you are reaching out to them through the very means they live 24/7!