Thursday, August 21, 2014

Praise Students for Effort, Not for Participation

Dr. Mark L. Taylor came to our campus to teach our faculty and staff about generational differences, and teaching to generation NeXt. Our current generation on campuses all around the United States has been characterized in many different ways, from Digital Natives, to Generation Y, to Generation Me to Generation neXt. Dr. Taylor discussed traditionals, boomers, generation X, and then, of course, Generation neXt. 

One key idea that I found interesting in all of this is the level of selfishness among generations. Whereas traditionals (who experienced the depression and world war 2) were characterized by sacrifice and duty, generation neXt is characterized by entitlement and narcissism. We have certainly moved toward increased entitlement on a large scale, and experts indicate that with modern parenting techniques, this entitlement among generations is likely to continue. 

A personal experience with my own kids relates quite well. My daughter played on a 5 year old soccer team where we lived in Georgia. During the season, her team won a few games, and lost quite a few. In Georgia there was the expectation that all soccer players at this level receive a trophy at the end of the season. Not just the winning team, not the hard workers, but ALL players got a trophy at the end of the season. I am also ashamed to say that the next year when I was the soccer coach, I collected money from parents, bought trophies, and distributed them to our 6 year olds after a mediocre season. I learned that this approach is not uncommon among this generation. Through this experience, kids learn that they get a reward not for effort, but just for showing up. 

The bottom line for a college professor like myself, is that my students from generation neXt (and yours, if you teach) will expect a reward or praise for just showing up to class, or just handing in an assignment. I have seen this phenomenon in my classes before and frankly, I'm not willing to lavishly praise my students for just showing up. I don't think this is the answer. Instead, I am much more interested in changing the expectations for my students. Overall, I think praise in our society must focus back toward effort and quality of work, not on participation or talent. So think twice before you offer too much praise to your kids/students! 

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