Taking Advantage of Generational Diversity

Taking Advantage of Generational Diversity in the Classroom

Community colleges have a large diversity of students based on age. Forty-three percent of our students are traditional, ages seventeen to twenty-one, but almost as large a cohort, forty-two percent, are between the ages of twenty-two and forty (“Community College Stats”). Facilitating students talking to one another increases their retention in college (Tinto) and thereby increases their habits of lifelong learning, since they have been successful learning in a new environment.

The college itself can encourage intergenerational teaching and learning. Flexibility of time and type of offerings allows students with work and family responsibilities to attend. Active focused clubs, which meet in the evenings, supports cross-generational communication. Innovative teaching awards, on-campus conference days, and continuing education offerings facilitate intergenerational learning and teaching among the faculty.

Within the freshman composition classroom, often “the only place where involvement may arise” (Tinto 601), I have found three successful strategies for encouraging generational diversity and lifelong learning.

Strategy 1: Peer Editing
An activity which encourages transgenerational communication is peer editing of the narrative paper, the first major writing assignment in the course. The narrative paper acts as a bridge from personal and high school writing to college writing which helps the students through the entry stage in college (Christie and Dinham). This section of the peer editing has often led to conversations between the writer and the reader over their very different experiences.

Strategy 2: Blogging
Since community college students thrive when they feel like they belong (Schuetz), creating an ongoing classroom blog, where students post and comment regularly, is an effective activity. Through the blog, students connect with one another. This encourages intergenerational discussions and relationship-building, which contributes to the students’ retention (Astin).

The blog is a very useful classroom tool. WebCT and Blackboard can be used in very similar and non-public ways. I prefer using a blog because students from different classes can “meet” and get to know one another, sometimes we get comments from the general reading population, or from other students at other colleges. That is fun for the students.

Also the fact that there are more students on the blog means it is more likely that they will find someone who is “like them,” which solidifies the sense of belonging.

Strategy 3: Interviewing
A third activity that encourages cross-generation conversations is an interview assignment. Since students often pick a major without a thorough understanding of what is required by it, and a poor fit is a reason for student attrition (Tinto), I have them interview a practitioner in their chosen major. Usually those people are in a different age cohort than the students. Many of the students have learned unexpected information in their interview, some of which has led them to change their plans.

A New Strategy: Cohort classes
In addition, this fall I will be adding another dimension to my attempts to encourage intergenerational learning in the composition classroom. Starting in August 2009, Lone Star will offer a Freshman Composition for Health Science Majors, where the entire class is made up of students who plan to get a degree and work in the health sciences. This will increase the likelihood of their retention (Tinto) and encourage them in their adoption of lifelong learning.

Thought to ponder: Traditional = nontraditional
Since even traditional students in the community college have dual lives, lack of separation from their high school friends creates a second life when coupled with their college lives, they are similar to nontraditional students (Christie and Dinham) in trying to maintain a balance between life and school. Encouraging social integration in the classroom will help students across the generations become lifelong learners.

This was an abstract (with some additions) for a CFP. I have no idea if it will be accepted, but I would be very interested in developing this line of thought regardless. I have made a lot of choices in my classroom very specifically because of Tinto’s work and it would be exciting to share those pedagogical choices with others.

I don’t know if it will be accepted though. It certainly isn’t terribly sexy. I mean, who doesn’t do peer editing? But… those are three of the activities in my classroom that work.

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