The Changing Classroom: How Do We Coach and Teach Millennials

This is week one of a three-week series on the opportunities and challenges that come with teaching students who have grown up surrounded by technology. We’ll begin with Google: The Google Effect: Millennials’ are programmed to do research.

“Google” was declared a verb in 2006 (I looked that up, coincidentally, on Google). I’ve had a phone since before I could drive and most students today have never experienced life without a “smart device.” Admittedly, there are downsides to compulsive phone-checking and limitless interconnectedness. However, one positive outcome of everyone having a search engine in their pocket is that all of us not only expect to have all of our questions answered within minutes, we expect to do it ourselves.

Smart phones have molded the millennial generation and those that come after to expect to find answers for themselves. When I was in school, my teachers dedicated one day each school year to teach us how to do research. We’d traipse to the library, get a refresher on the Dewey Decimal System, fight over encyclopedias of with the most common letters, and check out books that we inevitably returned late.

Children now come into schools with self-taught habits of research that are continually reinforced by Google. Now that search engines have taken care of the lowest rung on the Research Hierarchy of Needs, teachers can dedicate more class time to complex skills like selecting reliable sources and challenging students to understand the difference between Googling and learning.

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How do instructional leaders play into all of this?

  • Letting students use their smart phones in class requires very strategic classroom management. While it’s lovely to think of a Utopian classroom where students a) actually use their phones for research when told to do so and b) only do research using credible sources, the reality is that 30 teenagers rarely do what you ask the first time. Teacher coaches can support teachers in creating routines to keep students on task, observing these “research sessions” to identify the circumstances that lead to students opening non-research apps or texting, and work with the teacher to practice various interventions that allow the teacher to monitor student work without hovering.
  • There is a hugely important difference between Googling and Learning. It’s critical that teachers continually challenge their students to internalize the difference, and a teacher coach can be a thought partner in helping teachers help students use smart phones as a means of uncovering their own learning, and not simply an answer-finding tool.
  • In addition to operational and instructional support, instructional leaders should be learning from teachers in order to share best content and practices across classrooms. Incorporating smart phones into lesson plans requires a mindset shift across a school. If students can use their phones in Teacher A’s classroom but not Teacher B’s classroom, everybody is set up for failure. Plus, teachers are the ones continually iterating and figuring out what works when experimenting with new ideas or practices in the classrooms, and it’s a tragedy to confine this expertise to four walls. Instructional leaders are responsible for mindset shifts across faculty, and should be observing classrooms with a keen eye toward identifying exemplar instruction and sharing it across the school.

Tell us what you think! How else might teachers leverage students’ mobile devices in the classroom? How else might teacher coaches learn from the teachers they’re supporting to help strengthen the greater school community?