Who are the Students of the 21st Century?

The students of today are often called the “Millennial” generation. They are well entrenched into the “digital age” and are comfortable with cell phones, iPods, i Pads, texting, downloading music, digital pictures, social networking and instant messaging. According to Howe and Strauss (2000), members of the millennial generation are optimistic, team players. They follow the rules and accept authority more easily than did their parents. Researchers say that millennials have 7 distinguishing characteristics: special, sheltered, confident, team oriented, achieving, pressured and conventional.

According to Diane Oblinger in a report called, “Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials: Understanding the New Student” Millennials, students who were born after 1982, share 7 important characteristics that make them different from previous generations. These characteristics are:

1) They gravitate toward group activity.

2) They identify with their parents’ values and feel close to their parents.

3) They spend more time doing homework and housework and less time watching tv.

4) They believe it is “cool” to be smart.

5) They are fascinated by new technologies and use them regularly.

6) They are racially and ethnically diverse.

7) At least 1 in 5 have at least one immigrant parent.

Oblinger states that Millennials learning preferences tend toward teamwork, experiential activities, structure, and the use of technology. Their strengths are: mufti-tasking, goal orientation, positive attitude and using a collaborative style.

Based on this information, classrooms need to change to capitalize on the strengths and interests of the students we serve. We can help students set focused and reasonable learning goals and encourage them to work in teams. We can help them develop social groups that support learning and help them connect their experiences in problem-solving and experimentation to the world of learning. We must also use technology to help them direct their learning such as through the use of smart-boards, iPods, i Pads, blogs and interactive technology. Text must include not just the textbook but also trade books, internet research, song lyrics, electronic simulations and “online field trips,” movies, newspapers (print and online), print from everyday life, manuals, and other types of technical print.

According to Vogt and McLaughlin (2004), people today are bombarded with large amounts of text in our daily lives. This requires us as readers to not only read, but to analyze, synthesize and respond – often with a sense of urgency and immediacy to the information with which we are presented. The jobs most of our students will do in the future most likely have not even been created yet. As a result, our teaching must leave behind the obsolete “factory model” and capture the realities of life in the 21st century and beyond. We must prepare our students to be not only strong readers, but also thinkers, questioners, and managers of text and information. Education must prepare students to meet the demands of a world as yet undefined. Like it or not – that is what being a teacher in the 21st century requires of all of us.

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