Every year, Beloit College releases a “Mindset List” to help faculty understand the perspective of incoming freshmen and, perhaps, to horrify some of us with thoughts like “Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents” or “the Communist Party has never been the official political party of Russia.” Professor Laura Gabrion touches upon a similar change of mindset when she says that teachers should understand their students have had continual exposure to technology. Regardless of age, technology isn’t an additional tool for today’s learners; it’s an integral part of life.
That is one of the topics that Gabrion addresses in the professional development course A Millennial Approach to Teaching Writing, offered through Oakland University’s Professional and Continuing Education department. The format of the course is itself millennial: it is held online over a four-week period, with no set meeting times and a discussion forum that is available 24/7. This allows the course to fit into the busiest summer schedule, yet its asynchronous nature doesn’t diminish the richness of engagement.
The course is open to teachers of all grades. Gabrion says, “I love the concept of conversations we can have as teachers at different levels, sharing best practices and ideas.” She feels there should be shared communication between teachers from K-college, identifying where the gaps are and how to bridge them.
Gabrion mentions that today’s students have a strong concept of voice, though it can be a challenge for them to shift out of a conversational, idiomatic style. Sometimes they need to be reminded that creative writing isn’t the only kind. While there is a segment of students that only write if they absolutely have to, young people today write more than Americans ever did before. In the Stanford Study of Writing, Dr. Andrea Lunsford discovered that 38% of college student writing was not related to academics. She referred to that segment as “life writing”, including email, social media, online chats, and text messages.
One victim of the social media and texting era may be the revision process. Students are accustomed to spontaneous composition and instant publishing. For longer projects, helping students choose a topic and utilize an appropriate tone are crucial elements of teaching writing today.