The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence held a workshop facilitated by Kathy Jackson and Crystal Ramsay on Thursday, 1/19/12. Characteristics of the millennial generation, classroom challenges, and teaching strategies were discussed. They organized the discussion around four topics: Environment: Classroom climate, Students: Mindset about learning, Instructor: Scaffold student learning, and Tasks: Student work. We began by collectively taking a quiz from the Pew Research Center – How Millennial Are You? (Also see This quiz is helpful to become familiar with characteristics of the millennial generation, and also to discover which characteristics you might share with them.

Seven Characteristics of Millennials (Debard, 2004; Ramsey, 2008):

  1. internalize they’re special (1st generation w/”Baby on Board” signs)
  2. live sheltered lives
  3. self-confident (sometimes misguided thanks to helicopter parents)
  4. team-oriented (but don’t necessarily like working on teams)
  5. conventional (like to have everyone get along with each other)
  6. feel pressured (over-programmed)
  7. high-achieving (not necessarily realistic)

Environment: Classroom climate
Issue: Defining “Disruptive”

Resource: Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (2000). All in a day’s work. Chemical Engineering Education, 34(1), 66-67.

Disruptive was defined as a behavior that “distracts the class’s attention from your teaching.”
To set a classroom climate conducive to learning, be clear in the syllabus about your expectations and how they relate to learning – offer your rationale, and discuss this in class.
When a disruptive incident occurs, ask 2 questions:

  1. Is the behavior disruptive or non-disruptive?
  2. Is it the 1st offense or is it a recurring behavior?

If the behavior is disruptive, deal with it assertively. If it’s not disruptive to the class, ignore it. If it is the 1st offense, don’t make too much of it. If it is recurring, try to learn why it is occurring.

Strategies shared:

  • Get student input on what they consider disruptive behavior
  • Set classroom guidelines together
  • Use “proximity control” (walking around the room so your presence is closer to each student)
  • Learn what behaviors don’t bother you and giving it away (e.g., allowing texting but not phone calls)

Students: Mindset about learning
An Issue: Performance vs. learning

Resource: Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

What is the student’s motivation for engaging in an achievement activity?
Consider the differences between a fixed mindset and a learning mindset. With a fixed mindset, students don’t pursue challenge because they feel it won’t get them ahead.

Strategies shared:

  • Teach disciplinary ways of thinking.
  • Include an exam wrapper, which is a handout returned with exams/homework asking students about their preparation and understanding (Google “exam wrapper” to learn more and find examples).
  • Attribute success or failure to effort and strategy (or lack thereof).

Instructor: Scaffold student learning
An Issue: Commodity Thinking

Resource: Crone, I., & MacKay, K. (2007). Motivating today’s college students. Peer Review, Winter, AAC&U. (See

Millennials view a college education more as a commodity to be acquired than a process and experience in which to engage.

Strategies shared:

  • Be explicit with expectations, directions, instructions
  • Teach them to plan, execute, and evaluate their learning
  • Parse projects and assignments into pieces
  • Give credit for planning
  • Use exam wrappers
  • Consider Consumer vs. Creator dilemma for students
    • Teach what plagiarism is in your discipline
    • Teach how to carefully vet sources
  • Avoid straight lectures – provide opportunities for interaction with others, engagement with content, and feedback about their understanding (formative assessment)

Tasks: Student work
An Issue: Reading Compliance

Resources: Armbruster, B.B. (1984). The problem of “inconsiderate texts.” In G.G. Duffy, L.R. Roehler, & J. Mason (Eds.), Theoretical issues in reading comprehension (pp. 202-217). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: Integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strategies shared:

  • Try to select a “considerate text” (see for a quick explanation)
  • Make sure the purpose for reading is clear and explicit – e.g., we’re going to do a group activity with it tomorrow
  • Teach disciplinary ways of reading
  • Select interesting, relevant texts (even if supplementary) – are the readings tied directly to the course, or are they just a chapter to chapter list?
  • Make assignments that encourage deep reading
  • Don’t use quizzes to motivate reading (doing so tends to encourage surface reading)
  • Tell students if they can expect the reading to be difficult (i.e., research articles were not written with an undergraduate audience in mind, so they might be difficult to read)
  • Model note-taking from the text
  • Arouse interest before reading
  • Create reading guides
  • Use informal writing assignments (marginal notes, reading logs, graphic organizers)
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