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age differences and expectations

In some task oriented classes, like computer skills, older students are reluctant to try new things on their own. Would pairing older students with younger students help get them involved or reinforce their feeling of being too old to learn new things?

-Hi Joseph,
In certain classes the pairing of older students with younger students works well with one major consideration. Experience has shown me that I need to, when creating the pairing. allow some form of expression on the part of the older student to illustrate expertise that they have acquired through maturity of life. My point is that they have to have the opportunity to establish creditability with their younger partner. Example, I have my older student share some form of content with the younger student and then the younger student can use some form to technology to enter the information. The point is that the class is keyboarding, or Microsoft Word that the class is learning, but I want my older student to bring something to the learning station that they can share and not be overwhelmed by the younger student.
These pairings can serve to create some very strong teams as long as there is mutual respect for each other. That is the key for success.

pair sharing is a great way to get older students to feel comfortable with trying new things. I myself was a student at 29 and was really worried about what i could not do. Once isaw that the younger students had difficulty too I felt way !!! better .

Hi Carmen,
You are on the right track in trying to make your students feel comfortable with being in class especially if they are considered to be non-traditional students. What ever combination of student sharing and paring you come up with try to give all of your students early success at the start of your class phase. Experience has shown that with early success the retention and completion rate for students is greatly increased.
What are some ways you could offer class success for non-traditional students?

gary,like I told you, I was a non trad student. some of the things that really helped me out was a few instructors told me to hang in there, they also said that the salon world was a lot different from the school world which sparked my curiosity to succeed to see what those differences were carmen

Dr. Meers,

One of the things I do is have a first day assignment (no matter the class) where my students tell my why they are sitting in my class and how this will help them achieve their goals and reach their dreams.

This allows a non-traditional student to do two things (1) have an early success and (2) have a chance to share their experiences. I want my students to know that my classroom is a safe forum for the discussion of ideas and for personal growth.

By the way, I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on this first day assignment.


Hi Josefer,
You are on the right track with your assignment. It is non-threatening and allows every student to contribute. Non-traditional students need to feel that they are bringing something to the class based upon their previous experiences. You are giving them that opportunity.
As you know it is important to build rapport with your students. By setting them at ease and letting them know you are interested in them and their experiences you are creating a strong base for both respect (both directions-instructor and student) and rapport.
The idea of having them tell you why this class will help them achieve their career goals is a good one. Their answers will help you to understand whether they see how the courses they are taking fit into the larger picture of career preparation. If they don't see it then you can help them over the course phase to see the sequence of training that will enable them to enter and succeed in their career field.

Older students definitely feel at a disadvantage. Often they will say, "I don't know if I can do this; I haven't been in schoolf or 20 years."

I always use examples of older students who expressed the same concerns upon entering school who later received awards at graduation for the outstanding students in their programs.

I think if we can get them through the first term and let them see they can do well, maybe they will hang in there for the rest of their programs.

Hi LaVerne,
Right you are about reassuring older students that they in fact can succeed in a career college setting. They are often in need of some support from the instructor that they do have the skills necessary for acquiring the course content. Granted these skills may be a bit rusty but they are there. By using some content supports, like guided notes or graphic organizers instructors can help older students to see how they can learn the material. In addition, they may need some remediation in the areas of reading and notetaking.
If they know you have an understanding of their needs they will continue to stay with you. You are right about the first phase. If they complete it they seem to rev up and turn into learning machines because they know they can do it, plus they have all of their life experiences to fall back on.

Dr. Meers, I usually teach the first module of our one year program and consequently I usually am the first instructor all of our students are exposed to.

To help bridge the gap between the older students and the younger students, many times I use myself as an example to help my older students get over some of their fears.

I went back to school when I was 30 years old and I was a non traditional student because of my own background. I try to let my students know that they can succeed know matter what their background is.

I know that I must maintain a student instructor line but I have found that many times they can relate better knowing that the instructor standing in front of them has been there and done that.

What are your thoughts on this?

Hi Jim,
You are on the right track with your comments. Non-traditional students I have found need some form of connection between themselves and their instructor. This connection is so important because they have a strong experience base, but often lack in classroom skills due to the time lab between their last school experience and the current setting. In using your own experiences you are creating a connection as well as rapport with these learners. This connection will help them to clam down and focus on the current demands being place upon them. Give them opportunties for success right at the very beginning of the new class and you will have created a solid base from which they can operate throughout the cours.

I believe that pairing students up younger to older or with any difference will make for a better classroom setting. Just as we should understand were our student are coming from in order to educate them better. Working together and getting to know one another are will benifit each student socially as well as educationally.

Hi Karin,
Pairing students up to work on projects is always a challenge to insure that everyone contributes equally to the work being required. I complement you on your pairing of diverse differences. I have as have you that such pairings require both parties to depend upon each other. The more non-traditional students have life experiences upon which to draw and the younger students have the current perspectives upon which they can draw. This creates a great balance and opportunity for learning.

I would like to believe that in a class setting both parties might have valuable information that could help the other. As far as pairing young and old students together I definitely
agree with your first scenario. Older students usaully feel like this is their last chance at being successful and give total participation.


I would also agree with some previous comments that older students would give total participation. Being a non traditional student myself I felt I have alot to offer in the form of real life experiences. When I am teaching my students, who vary in age, I feel this helps to facilitate the learning in the classroom. It also helps the students to open up and want to participate in discussions.

Hi Dr. Meers,
I was curious if you allowed your students to create their own working teams or "pairs" and if you do, before you allow students to choose groups do add limitations to their choices. If you have a few older students in one group it would seem natural for them to want to form a group of their own. Would you discourage such a decision from a particular group of this type?
You could also substitute age for a variety of different attributes and come up with similiar results i.e. ethnic background, past experiences, interests, etc. I find that the ship will tend to sail a little smoother when I allow students to make their own choices and own up to their obliogation to keep each person in the group pulling their own weight. Should lessons in working well with anyone/everyone take a 2nd place compared to learning the skills the student has sought after and paid for?

Hi Anthony,
Great question and one that challenges instructors all the time. "How to put students into learning groups?" Based upon my experience I focus on the outcomes desired from the work groups and then I put the students into the groups according to how I want to mix their experience, personalities, and age. I go for a mix of all the three above. I have found that if the students select their own groups they do group according to just what you mentioned. This greatly reduces exposure to other's thinking and experience. It is amazing how these groups jell and get down to the project that has been assigned to the group.
I do let groups form when I have a fun activity such as a pretest review where we play Jeopardy and the teams compete. This is always fun because the different ages and experience individuals get together and try to best the others.
In a recent Harris Interactive survey of 3,500 employers and managers (2008) they found that different generations rarely interact, even though they need to to accomplish the work mission. The outcome of the study was that employers should "help close the knowledge gap by instituting ways for each generation to recognize the strengths and value to all colleagues." This study supports why I believe that we need to form and mix the groups according to the group's mission.
Any questions let me know.

That's great feedback Dr. Meers. I have tried personally putting groups together in the past but shyed away from it after having to deal with personality conflicts that in a couple of cases nearly came to blows. When you're training people to work on machines that can cause severe injury or death I find it's challenging enough to keep students out of harm's way even when they are on their best behavior. I will try building groups myself again and see if I can improve from my previous experiences. Thanks again.

I think older students may have more patience and are usually better at problem resolution because they can draw from experiences that younger students can not, also if you as a teacher can parallel what a student has for experience you may be able to deliver the info or theory in a manner that they can comprehend

I was a student at 30 years old and felt out of place but once we started group projects. I was able to give some insite from life experence.

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