Taking Advantage of Generational Diversity in the Composition 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 (â€œCommunity College Statsâ€). 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 â€œthe only place where involvement may ariseâ€ (Tinto 601), I have found three successful strategies for encouraging generational diversity and lifelong learning.
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.
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 studentsâ€™ retention (Astin).
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.
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.
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.