“These kids are so different from…”
I can’t tell you the number of conversations that I have had that included some version of that quote above. If we pause and watch the students who walk into our classroom, I’m pretty sure that we would all agree that they are different than our past students. I know they’re different than when I was in school, they’re definitely different than the students I had in my first fifth grade class, they’re even different than the students that were in my building when I made the shift from classroom teacher to assistant principal.
In my conversations with teachers, parents, and others about why students are different, there are a few reasons that seem to come up quite often (this list is not intended to be all inclusive, but does highlight some of the most common opinions I hear):
- Parenting – In conversations about kids being different, this one comes up a lot. I’ve heard statements from adults in our building that say “I never would have gotten away with that with my parents” or “When my kids were this age, they never would have done that.”
- The last school (or grade) – This one’s tough for me to even put in writing, but I’ve heard people telling me that the expectations for students at earlier levels have fallen off, and as a result, kids are different. I’ve heard this from teachers I know at all levels – elementary through high school.
- Technology – When every student has a device of some kind in their hand, and they use it to communicate, to access information and videos they are interested in, and to create things of their own, it seems to lead to an expectation of immediacy that doesn’t always square with what we’re doing in our typical classroom.
- Availability of stuff – This one ties into technology, but that’s not all there is to it. We live in a culture of YouTube, Google, Netflix, and Instagram just for a few examples. Whatever you want to see or know, you can find with your laptop, iPad, or phone. But it’s more than just that… As a kid for me, there were just a few options for extra-curriculars before you got to high school. The big one’s were baseball, basketball, and soccer, and each one had a specific season. A few kids in my elementary school played hockey or football, but that was about it until you hit junior high school. Kids in my school now are playing all the ones I remember, but now there’s also lacrosse, track/cross country, rugby, and volleyball just to name a few. And then we add in other extra-curriculars such as drama, music, art, etc. There are so many options available to draw our students interests and attention. Many of these activities can happen year-round for the kids who want to participate.
Ok, so we agree that kids are changing, we have a few answers to the question of why, but as educators who work with these students every day, how do we meet their needs, and help them to be successful?
If we all agree that kids are changing, the only answer that I can see is that we have to change with them.
Today I had a student walk up to me to tell me about her experience last night on the iNaturalist app. It’s an app that her class has been using to document various living things they find on the property of our school. Last night at home she found some prints in the mud next to the river behind her house. She took a picture, uploaded it to iNaturalist, and labeled it as racoon prints, because that is what it appeared to be to her. Later, she received a response in the app. Someone looked at the picture she posted and let her know that the tracks were not actually from a racoon, but rather from a river otter. On Google images, the student pulled up a picture of river otter tracks and realized that she was incorrect in her initial assessment, and that there had been a river otter in her backyard.
Talk about a transfer of learning. Because of an innovative activity that happened in this student’s classroom, she took the activity home with her, put her thoughts out to the world, and then learned from someone with more experience than her. I bet she will be able to identify river otter tracks in her back yard for the rest of her life!
If we continue to teach students in the ways that may have worked for students when we were still in school, or in ways that mirror what was successful in our first year of teaching, we are going to miss the needs of today’s students. They are changing. We have to change with them.
I say that knowing that change can be hard. But for many teachers, the place to look for ideas may be as close as the teacher down the hall that’s “always trying something new” or a colleague who works in a different grade level or subject area in your building that you’re always hearing cool stuff about. And if you don’t have innovative people near you that you can learn from, Twitter is one of the great equalizers for us all. Search the hashtag of the topic you are interested in. You’ll be amazed at the things you will find!
In my district, last night was the first ever HSEvening of Innovation. I was only able to attend for a short period of time, but the excitement in learning that I saw from the students and families that were there was spectacular (if you want to see some highlights, follow this link to go to a Twitter search of the event’s hashtag: #HSEveningOfInnovation). Seeing the excitement from students, teachers, and families that were there last night gives me hope that even though today’s students are changing, we can find a way to reach them all!
What are your thoughts? What successes have you had in reaching kids in new and innovative ways? What are some of your old practices that you are choosing to eliminate to meet the needs of the kids in your class? Share your thoughts in the comments below!