COHS teacher discussion: “The Global Achievement Gap”

global achievement

This is a guest entry by COHS teacher Nathalie Bellitti

The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—

and What We Can Do About It (2008) by Tony Wagner

CHAPTER 5

Motivating Today’s Students

– And Tomorrow’s Workers 

            The author starts the chapter by stating that both business leaders and educators agree on one thing: they worry “about the decline of work ethic among young Americans.”   Teachers do not know anymore how to motivate students to do basic things such as completing their required work and memorizing their lessons. They do not feel that students care about the quality of their work, if they do their work at all.  The lack of respect for authority is one of the chief complaints as well.  Employers have also noticed a increase in job hopping mainly due to attendance issues and a lack of work ethic.

            However, some educator and well as business leaders have identified some key elements that may have been misread, such as “They don’t have less of a work ethic. They have a different work ethic”.  Many people believe that students and young workers are just motivated in a way that is unique to their generation, and that we need to understand them in order to educate them efficiently and to prepare them to become productive in their future workplace.

            So, what does it mean to grow up digital?  The internet has radically changed the way that this new generation, the way that electricity changed people’s daily life at the beginning of the 19th century. The author goes on to give staggering numbers of how much time teenagers and college students spend on the internet every week.  From all of this, some new patterns are already emerging quite clearly:

·         Young people are good at multi-tasking and are constantly connected: they actually call it “continuous partial attention”, and only doing one task at a time is extremely boring to them!!  Sites like MySpace and Facebook have become “the ultimate mall where teens can meet and chat”.

·         Instant Gratification and the Speed of Light: young people want the answers right away and they want to know if it is right or wrong.

Based on all of the above, some new learning styles are emerging at school and at work, and they must be taken into consideration: “the use of the Internet and other digital technology has transformed both what young people learn today and how they learn.”

1.      Learning Through Multimedia and Connection to Others: the Net generation prefers to do research online, and to have access to a wide variety of media in the classroom as well to keep them engaged

2.      Learning as Discovery: young people constantly discover new things as they research on the internet and need to become “their own librarian”

3.      Learning by Creating: the internet is not for researching anymore, it encourages creating from blogs to photo album to uploading videos…..

4.      Cautions:  there are some important concerns that we need to take into account, such as:

          multi-tasking comes at a cost: a stressful life-style where it is more difficult to reflect, make decisions or even think creatively

          we rely so much on cell phones and text messaging that we forget to interact directly with other people

          “this generation has been entertained to death” and avoids all type of learning that is not considered “fun”

          there are some things that cannot be discovered, such as time tables and things that you need to memorize

          how do you recognize art and differentiate between what people spontaneously put on the web vs. a proven work of art?

          Researchers do not agree on what long-term consequences may be, but all of them agree that the internet is changing people’s lives and behavior

The author believes that “they have to be interactive producers, not isolated consumers”, and that key idea needs to transfer at school and at work.  There is too much of a gap between what students really like to do after school and what they are forced to do in the classroom: “if you tap into the kids’ interests, they are motivated.” The author also acknowledges the importance of the relationship between teenagers and their teachers as well as their parents. He stresses how students expect and need support and trust from both, instead of the pressure of just getting good grades.  Some of the recurring themes are that young adults crave having sense of dignity associated with their work, and that the more responsibility you give them, the more they will produce. These were exemplified by young adults working for either Google (management level) or Toyota (factory level).

Finally, the author goes over the difference between Overachiever and Unengaged students by showing a real-life example of each one.  Through these stories, he shows how important for teachers to understand what each group’s needs are and to address them differently.  This is a much more important process than worrying about how to improve test scores!  Adult mentoring is also key to motivating students and working young adults. Michael Jung also concludes that there are only three reasons why people work: Push (need, threat or risk), Transfer of Habits (habits based on social norms and habits), and Pull (interest, desire and passion).  Previous generations were motivated by Push and Transfer of Habits, but it is not enough any more for the Net Generation.  This generation is motivated by Pull, and if they can find it in school and the workplace, they can be very productive.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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