by Linnea Lyding, ACU Education Department Chair
Millennials, it turns out, are on track to becoming “the most educated generation in American history” (Pew Research Center, 2010, p. 2). As the ACU Education Department Chair, I decided it was time to learn as much as I could about this unique and passionate group of students that fill our university classrooms.
Using a quick, informal survey of friends and family, I came up with six key words that relate to the activities of a Millennial. The words are: selfies, snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, emojis, and hashtags. At first glance, these words can give the impression of self-absorption. However, I work with Millennials, and because of this, I see something deeper. I see connections. By staying connected in real time, they are able to share whom they are with, what they are doing, and how they are feeling with the world around them. Always curious and ready to act, Millennials enjoy reaching out with hashtags to find people to connect with on similar topics of interest.
Millennials are often referred to as the “connected” generation, implying that they are constantly connected to technology. I agree that they are “connected;” however, I would say their connections are much more personal than technological.
According to the Pew Research Center (2010), Millennials “get along well with others, especially their elders” (p. 8). Millennials are not only connected to their peers, but they also connect with and care about non-profit causes. This is evidenced by the fact that “84% of Millennial employees made a charitable donation in 2014” (Achieve, 2015, p. 9), and they volunteered as well. The data is clear: Millennials value the connections they make, and we would be wise to follow their lead.
So, how can all of this knowledge be used in teaching Millennials? I believe the key is to embrace their desire for connections. In planning your lessons think about “more of them, less of you” (Almarode, J. & Miller, A. M., 2013, p. 47). I have streamlined extensive educational research into three categories that can be used to strengthen students’ connections and increase their learning significantly.
Keeping with the Millennial theme, I fondly refer to these categories as #objectives, #hook, and #engagement.
Begin with the end in mind. Stating your objectives at the beginning of the class helps the students connect with the content sooner. As John Medina illustrates in this Brain Rules video, letting your students know the topic (i.e. the objectives) at the beginning of class means they will not need to waste valuable time trying to figure out what you are talking about. The learning will start almost immediately.
Objectives also help instructors stay on track. As professors, we have a lot of knowledge and passion for our subjects. However, it is easy to get sidetracked when talking passionately about our content, so we must guard the initial connection carefully. Written objectives will help our lessons proceed in a precise and sequential fashion.
In writing strong objectives for your class, you should:
- Evaluate what you want your students to know and be able to do when they leave your class that day. This helps you focus on how the students will receive and connect with the information being presented.
- Determine how they will master your objectives. This may include lectures, readings, discussions, videos, or hands-on simulations.
- Decide how you will assess whether they have reached mastery of the objectives. Sample assessments may include debates, mind maps or concept maps, collaboration notes, flip ups (when students respond on the back of a paper and flip it for the instructor to see,) quizzes, exit questions, or the creation of visuals such as infographics, lists, or metaphors.
Here are some examples of college class #objectives:
- (Business class) Given readings from homework and a short lecture, the student will create a list of marketing strategies and indicators for success.
- (Counseling class) After watching a video clip, the student will identity the techniques the therapist used and explain the effectiveness of the technique.
- (Political Science class) Given information regarding both sides of the issue, the student will create a list of pros and cons in preparation for the debate.
- (Special Education class) After listening to an interview with a parent who has a child with a disability, the student will identify and explain the “additional” roles a parent may have.
- (Education class) Given information regarding a fictional student, the group of students will create and present a mock parent teacher conference keeping in mind the key points in communicating with families.
Students come to class with a great deal on their minds. While we may be passionate about our subject matter, our students do not always share the same passion or enthusiasm. They may be thinking about the snapchat they just saw or what they will be doing over the weekend. If we want them to connect with the material we will be presenting, then we need to “hook” them with a fun, thoughtful, or powerful activity that instantly forms a bond between them and the content.
Some ideas for a #hook include:
- Quizzes – These can be given to measure past learning or simply to arouse curiosity for future learning. I try to do the latter once or twice a semester. The announcement of a surprise quiz stirs a little angst until students find out that the quiz will not count towards their grade. Make the quiz simple to answer; I recommend using a true/false or multiple-choice format. Then re-ask the questions throughout the class to help students retrieve and connect specific information they have learned.
- Activities or games – These are short events that get students thinking about the topic in a fun way. For example, in one of my classes we were talking about methods of communicating with parents. I started the class by having four students (called “Models”) stand in the front of class and pronounce the letter “o.” The rest of the class had to evaluate the type of feeling the Model had, based on his or her vocal tone.
- Model 1 said “o” like, “Oh, now I get it!”
- Model 2 said “o” like, “Oh no – that’s terrible!”
- Model 3 said “o” like, “Oh yay! I’m excited!”
- Model 4 said “o” like, “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light.
At times, the Models used body language; other times they did not (Portland State University, 2001, June 18). This opening activity quickly engaged the students, and it revealed how to improve their own communication styles in parent/teacher interviews.
- Vocabulary/concept review – This quick opening review develops a working understanding of vocabulary and concepts, which is a goal in most college courses.
One activity that I often use to review content concepts before presenting new material is a “Vocabulary Visual.” I give each group of students index cards or pieces of paper with previously learned content concepts or vocabulary written on them. (For larger classes, you can supply the index cards and have them write the words.) Then give each group a few minutes to organize the cards. There is no right or wrong answer for this. The words can be grouped in whatever format the students agree upon. As the groups are organizing, take the time to walk around and listen. It is a beautiful experience to hear your students make connections with course concepts!
Depending on the size of the class, students may share the results of this #hook activity with other groups or with the whole class. Here’s an important point to remember when sharing results: hold everyone accountable. Do not let the students know who is going to share until it is time to share, and remember to change the sharing criteria for every group. For example, you can have the person who lives closest to this classroom, or the person who has the shortest middle name, share first. Just be careful not to use physical features that might be embarrassing (e.g. shortest person, person with the biggest shoe size) as your criteria of choice.
In the book Engaged Instruction (2014), John Almarode states “engagement is multidimensional – emotional, behavioral, and cognitive – with each dimension playing an important role in maintaining overall student engagement within our classrooms” (p. 44). I’ve created three questions that I ask about my lessons to evaluate these three types of engagement. Our education department affectionately calls this our “Secret Sauce:”
- Is it fun? – This question targets emotional engagement. When students enjoy what they are learning, it is not only a strong attention-getter (Jensen, 2004; Sprenger, 1999; Wolfe, 2001), but learning also becomes more memorable (Jensen, 2004). This is relevant as Millennials “want to have fun, even at work and school” (Tapscott, 2009, p. 7).
- How many students are involved? – This question targets behavioral engagement. If you ask a close-ended question and one student answers it, what are the other students doing while that student is talking? What if all of the students were to turn and discuss the question with their neighbor instead? Then everyone would be involved, and you could walk around to assess the students’ answers. Afterwards, you could randomly call on a group to share. Increasing the number of people speaking during class is very much appealing to Millennials, who are “natural collaborators who enjoy conversation not lecture” (Tapscott, 2009, pp. 6-7). They “gravitate toward group activity” (Howe & Strauss, 2000, p. 8), so cooperative learning structures are a great fit for them.
- What is the level of Blooms Taxonomy or DOK? – This question targets cognitive engagement. When writing your objectives, it’s important to stay away from verbs that call for simple recall rather than higher-level thinking. While there are times for basic recall at the college level, we want to make sure that students are deeply engaging with the material in every class in order to maximize cognitive and emotional benefits.
Activities to promote high student engagement include:
- Jigsaw – This is a great way to get all students to deeply engage with the material. To accomplish this, have groups of students read different articles. The initial reading can happen before or during class. Next, new groups are formed so that a person who read each article is represented in each group. Then, each student teaches the rest of the group about his/her article.
After everyone has had a chance to share, there are a number of ways students can demonstrate their understanding. Some ideas include writing a summary, answering open-ended questions, creating an infographic, or drawing a mind map of the material. I love to use this strategy when I have a great deal of material to cover.
For more information on the original Jigsaw strategy developed by Dr. Elliot Aronson in 1971, visit jigsaw.org.
- Save the Last Word – While receiving content through lecture, reading, video, or pictures, the students write down three to five statements that are of interest to them. Then, they get together in groups. One student reads a statement but does not disclose why he or she found that statement interesting. Around the group, members take turns discussing the statement presented. When the discussion returns to the original speaker, that person has the “last word” regarding its significance.
- Gallery Walk – In a Gallery Walk, statements or questions can be written on white boards or large sticky notes around the room. Then, have the students walk around the room and respond to the statements through discussions or by writing questions about the statements. This helps me identify what knowledge and questions the students already have about the topic.
- Vote with Your Feet – After the Gallery Walk, I often have the students Vote with their Feet and stand by their favorite statement or question. I then have them deepen their cognitive engagement by explaining their choice. This activity is a fun and easy way to gauge student understanding.
- Silent Debate – I love the thinking that goes into debates, but when you have live debates, only one person speaks at a time. With a silent debate, all students are engaged all of the time. To start, put the students into groups of four. Have each student take out a piece of notebook paper and divide it into four parts.
- When you are ready to start, have each student take a side in the debate and write their reasoning in the top left square.
- Then, after a few minutes, have the students stop writing and pass their paper to the person next to them. That person has to read the first person’s response and then argue against it in the top right square.
- The third person in line writes in support of the second person in the bottom left square.
- The fourth person writes his/her opinion using points from the other three writers in the final square.
Each time will take a little longer because each writer must respond to the previous writers’ remarks. This activity can be varied by giving the students specific questions about the material, or by having them respond to specific statements.
Why are Millennials on course to becoming the most educated generation in American history? I think it is part of their thirst for connection. They want to learn, understand, and connect. Let’s embrace connection and plan #objectives, #hooks, and #engagement!
Achieve (2015). Cause, influence & the next generation workforce: The 2015 Millennial impact report. Retrieved from http://www.themillennialimpact.com/research/
Almarode, J. T. & Miller, A. M. (2013). Captivate, activate, and invigorate the student brain in science and math: Grades 6-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Aronson, E. (2000-2016). Jigsaw Classroom: overview of the technique. Retrieved 2016, November 13, from http://www.jigsaw.org/overview.htm
Hierck, T., Syria, R., Almarode, J., Peery, A., Cebelak, L., Cook, L., Howard, L., Pijanowski, L. Rose, A., Rshaid, G., Ventura, S., Nagel, D., & Delesbore, S. (2014). Engaged instruction: Thriving classrooms in the age of the common core. Lead and Learn Press.
Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next generation. New York: Vintage Books.
Jensen, E. (2004). Brain compatible strategies. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store.
Medina, J. (2008, February 5). Schema (Video File). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzbRpMlEHzM&t=3s
Pew Research Center (2010, February). Millennials: A portrait of generation next confident connected open to change. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf
Portland State University (2001, June 18). Lesson plan non-verbal communication: Recognition & significance. Retrieved from http://web.pdx.edu/~singlem/deptsite/resource/csd/moduleproject/NEWMODULEWEB/NVCOMM.HTML
Sprenger, M. (1999). Learning and memory; The brain in action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tapscott, D. (2009). Grown up digital. New York: McGraw-Hill Books.
Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development