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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Problem With This Generation of Students

"I can't believe that one day this generation is going to be leading us"
                                               -  exact quote by many teachers I know

Over and over and over I have heard teachers complain about "this generation of students" that are currently in our schools.  Many people will be quick to tell you that:
     *  They just don't care
     *  They are irresponsible
     *  They have no work ethic
     *  They are lazy
     *  They do not realize what a great privilege their education is

After hearing this a hundred times, I decided to spend more time trying to answer this question:  "What is the problem with this generation of students"?

The first thing I did was reflect on my personal experiences with teaching these students every day for the past 12 years.  This wasn't very good evidence to support this theory, however, because the majority of students that I have met have been wonderful people with kind hearts and great abilities.  A few years ago I decided to give up some of my "power" in the classroom in an effort to provide more autonomy and purpose for my students.  I wanted to know more about them.  I wanted to know what they were passionate about.  I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they got older.  I wanted to know how they defined success.  After taking in all of this feedback, I decided to begin doing 20-time, or passion-based learning.  I allowed the students to choose whatever topic they wanted to study and then gave them 20% of their school week in my classroom to learn more about this topic.  The time was structured and intentional.  I was assessing 21st century skills such as communication, research, collaboration, creativity, self-directedness, etc....  Wow!  The students really stepped up and made me realize that I had made the best decision in my teaching career.  I saw previously disengaged students staying after school to work on their projects and later present to the class with a high degree of passion.  I saw "A" students that truly believed that the sky was the limit and took their learning to another level.

The saddest discover, however, was the fact that about 25% of students did not know what their passions were.  They were not passionate about anything that they could learn about.  Didn't they have a favorite animal?  A job they desired?  A skill?  The more I talked with these students the more it became clear that this was not their fault.  They have never been asked what they like at school.  They have never asked what they would like to learn about.  When I talked to them about autonomy and self-directedness, they seemed confused and as if I was tricking them.  I wasn't.  I really wanted to know what they cared about......and after discussing this for a while, most came up with a topic.

This got me thinking.  What if I encouraged every student to take their passion and try to make a positive contribution to the world with it?  This could involve creating an awareness campaign, doing a fundraiser, talking to young students about it, writing a book, etc....  The sky would be the limit.  Although I imagined the students groaning, because this meant more work, I was wrong.  I told students about it and they were excited.  For once, they felt as if they "mattered" and that they were empowered to make a positive impact on the world.  I found that when students were given some time, resources, and trust.....they were actually pretty inquisitive and passionate about learning and being altruistic.  This generation didn't really seem to be the problem.

So what was the problem?
  * are students sick and tired of sitting in rows, taking notes, and doing worksheets?
  * are students having a hard time seeing the relevance between their education and their life?'
  * do students lack a feeling of ownership in their education?
  * do students want to "make a difference" but feel caged-in at school.

In my opinion it is a combination of these and other factors.  I did some research and came across an article with the following fact:

When surveyed, 84% of students from this generation believed that it was their responsibility to do social good.

My advice......Let them!  Find them resources, clear obstacles from their path, let them change the world.  I have seen it happening now for a couple years and it is amazing!!!  Please do not underestimate this generation until you have truly given them a chance.

COMPASSION-BASED LEARNING.  Read about it.  At least give it a try.  

Oliver Schinkten
ComPassion Based Learning

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