Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Millennial Students Need to Know…Before They Get to College

(Today’s post is by guest writer, Elizabeth O’Neill. She is a contributing writer for She holds an MFA in creative writing, and has taught several college courses. ) students

The world is evolving at a breakneck pace. Teachers are working hard to keep up, and they’re making admirable headway. At the same time, certain shifts in our society have prompted new issues in higher education. Middle school teachers and high school teachers can help their students, by addressing these issues before graduation rolls around.

Beyond Grades

Grade-obsessed parents have created grade-obsessed kids. Good grades used to be part and parcel of dedicated scholarship. These days, especially in high school, GPA is everything. Students view their assignments as the means to a final grade, without much regard for the developmental “through line” – a.k.a. learning.

When students arrive at college unconcerned with their own learning outcomes (beyond grades), they’re more likely to choose an arbitrary major, to coast through easier course offerings, or to practice academic dishonesty when classes become difficult. By the time they reach college (especially given what it costs today), students should have the maturity to actively care about what, why and how they are learning. For their own benefit, they should aim to fuse connections between their studies and the outside world. They should be anticipating their careers, and building their competencies accordingly.

Middle school teachers and high school teachers can help students take ownership of their education by offering praise for “through line” thinking. Try to teach beyond the next test. Encourage kids to talk about their ambitions and individual goals. Integrate more class discussion with textbook chapters. And remember that some of your students will become poets, some will become accountants, some will become veterinary technicians. Regardless of the subject you teach, you should find ways to make your lessons speak to all of them.


A lot of people criticize millennial students for their misuse of grammar and punctuation. Texts, tweets, and nonstop status updates have indeed affected students’ communication habits. But be careful not to squelch all your students’ texting talents and idioms. In the business world, executives are scrambling to teach themselves the e-parlance and netiquette that most of your students have mastered and popularized.

The real concern should be whether or not students are learning to shift gears between online and offline communication strategies. Because even though the Internet can be used as an educational tool and medium (quality online colleges and online universities are proving this point every day), it’s dangerous to assume that students will be able to draw their own distinctions.

Students need to recognize how screen reading differs from book reading, how emails differ from essays, and how Wikipedia differs from the Wall Street Journal. Middle school and high school teachers can help by combining online and offline assignments, which highlight key differences in accessibility and strategy. Teachers should also acknowledge the value of online literacy, for all the skim reading and acronym decoding it requires, because this kind of fluency will generate more and more applications in higher education and the working world.

Original image: 'School Room' by: Rob Shenk

1 comment:

Heather Mason said...

I love that you include middle school in your discussion.

I also appreciate you pointing out that "text speak" might be a valuable tool to them. I teach Language Arts, and while I try to make students understand that type of language is only appropriate with certain audiences, I guess I assumed those audiences would only be each other. Thank you for making me rethink that notion.