Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University


“I never got a C before,” Nicole said, the quaver in her voice audible through the phone line.*


I avoided blurting out to my Millennial student, “How did you ever get anything better than a C?” When I started teaching, this tongue biting was so routine that my anger became boring, even to me.


I knew students would have a range of ability. But the bar for the least experienced was lower than I expected. But I discovered that fixating on their earlier schooling and what I thought they should students in classroom.jpgknow is wasting energy on the immutable past.


I also wearied of cross-generational posturing and speculation about the root causes of student attitudes, attention spans, and skills. I needed to do something different.


So I’ve been trying ways to encourage my protégés to improve their work quality and professionalism, wherever they are academically. I don’t have the keys to the kingdom. But through closely monitoring student progress during the semester and via their Yelp-like course evaluations, the classroom has served as a continuous feedback loop for everyone. Through trial and error—sometimes it feels like more of the latter—I’ve learned a few things I wished I’d known Day One.


  1. Identify early. I ask students to submit a profile and a course-related anecdote on the first day (with a selfie to help me remember their names). They also do an in-class writing in the opening session based on their homework. These small tasks provide big insights about student capacity and adherence to extracurricular tasks. Based on this work, I often send support-service referrals or notes about the necessity of doing homework. Not everyone takes my advice. Some drop the class instantly after my communiqué. But all are given immediate exposure to my vigilance and expectations.
  2. Parlez-vous student? I’ve realized my Millennials and I are speaking different languages vis-à-vis grading. Shortly after I started teaching, I had an hour-long meeting with a student whose project garnered a B. What seemed like a good grade to me filled her “with rage.” She didn’t say so outright, but presumably she assumed she was getting an A. Consequently, I now assign low-point-value writing and oral communication tasks in the first few weeks to impress upon the class my version of grading. Though articulated in my syllabus and rubrics, I want students to experience my policies.
  3. Question reactions. It’s primal to be irritated with Nicole’s inability to uphold standards. But her inability to assess her own work is a cumulative, team effort. The Dunning-Kruger Effect, or tendency for the less skilled to overestimate their abilities, doesn’t mix well with the delusion fostered by a history of A and B laden report cards.

    Remaining neutral about my students’ skills is an exercise in accepting life on life’s terms. It’s a test I sometimes fail. But as I tell my classes, I look for “progress not perfection”—in them and me.
  4. Teach the subject and... If you want better work from your Millennials, you may have to provide instruction beyond your subject matter. Writing exercises divert attention from my primary themes, but my alternatives are limited. I can ignore underdeveloped skills, hope they’ll receive instruction elsewhere, or get annoyed. Instead, I fit in a few lessons about the evils of excessive passive voice and the indiscriminate use of Google search results as “evidence.”
  5. Re-assess entitlement. I’ve heard “entitled” thrown around more times since I’ve started teaching than in all of my previous years combined. Do young people really have an inflated self-worth? Those who’ve taught longer than I have may be in a better position to comment on this subject. Given my own puffy ego, I’m not the best judge. So without a definitive measure, I avoid the skirmish. Even if a metric existed, what could I do other than to learn how to manage it?
  6. Provide clarity / take suggestions. At first I assumed students could figure out how to do tasks on their own. I offered broad-brush instructions to allow for creativity and individual expression. But my Millennials are uncomfortable with ambiguity. At first, I questioned if this was a characteristic of the Nannystate I read about. Now I wonder if it’s a symptom of information overload. There’s so much coming in, it’s ever more critical to clear a path through life’s morass. I review each assignment—including readings and where they’re located—the week before it’s due to confirm understanding. For complex tasks, I divide the class into small groups so they can explore the instructions as a team. In this way, students help each other fill in the gaps and I get ideas for crafting clearer guidelines.
  7. Brace yourself. I gave Nicole her first disappointing grade. But it’s not easy to be number one. Her tearful reaction was manageable. Others are furious at me for identifying poor performance. So when possible I now give marks by phone or in person. Students are less likely to express rage without the protection of an email shield. The alternative is to post the grades and wait for the livid e-missives from those imagining they’d do better, despite ample feedback indicating otherwise during the semester. Then there’s the shockingly personal anonymous evaluations. I can sometimes glean a few gems if I’m able to sort through them. When I waver and question why I’m adhering to this exhausting truth-telling path, I seek guidance from supportive colleagues.**
  8. Buy a mirror. It’s difficult to actualize the superficially simple idea that I am not my students. There’s only a slight veneer of civilization separating my passion for teaching and my subject from a “my way or the highway” stance. I believe my class is imperative and the assignments easily managed with a bit of effort. But there’s no known cure for the horse, water, and drink dilemma. When my belief turns into certainty about my “rightness,” students who can’t or won’t keep up are “wrong.”


This is a growth area for me. I’ve committed to reminding myself often that black and white thinking is a disservice, and appreciating how difficult it is to adhere to this ideal.


Yet, while recognizing the need to separate myself from my students, I’ve also discovered that in each Millennial I see myself, trying to make sense of the world, believing that my opinion is fact, and standing in my own way.


Sometimes, all’s well that ends well. One student who cried after learning he earned an F, happily shared his story of transformation a few months later. He listed the steps he was taking to avoid a similar fate in the future, like going to the university’s tutoring center regularly.


No matter how imperfectly I implement my own ideas, having a set of principles as a touchstone and classroom experience has allowed me to put distance between my feelings and the facts.


* I used pseudonyms for stories involving students.

** I deeply appreciate the support and wisdom of Anne Ward, Bob Noltenmeier, Craig Mills, Ruth Danon, and especially Jesse Scinto.


Diane Rubino is an activist, an adjunct instructor at New York University, and an applied communications professional who seeks to make the world more healthy and humane.


How are you currently working with Millennials in your classroom? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Image credit: Fuse/Getty Images

    Laura Goldsberry
Laura Goldsberry
Marketing Manager, Wiley

Champion educators are strategic in how they manage their interactions with individual students. Using the Threshold technique outlined in the graphic below can help you foster a winning classroom environment.




Learn more from Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov.


    Laura Goldsberry
Laura Goldsberry
Marketing Manager, Wiley

Nearly 50 percent of all new teachers quit within just five years. The resulting losses, both financial and in student performance, are staggering. Find out how professional development can help curb teacher attrition and improve student learning! This infographic was created in collaboration with KDS.


160607-infographic-teacherattritionkds-final-151119212140-lva1-app6891-page-001 (1).jpg


Learn more about teacher training resources here.


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

What Is Inclusive Access?

Institutions of higher education and textbook publishers have united to significantly reduce the cost of textbooks through an innovative purchasing model called inclusive access.  (Other names,cash in bookstore.jpg such as digital direct, and digital direct access are used interchangeably with inclusive access.) The inclusive access model includes the cost of textbooks as part of a student's tuition or course fee. As a result, students gain immediate digital access to their required textbook(s). If you think that such programs will hide the cost of textbooks and cause tuition and fees to increase, let's look at how
inclusive access purchasing programs originated and how they work


Why Now?

Presidential candidates, legislators, parents, and students all agree that the cost of a college education is too high. Student debt now equals 1.4 trillion dollars, and the resultant drag on the US economy affects everything from home purchases to retirement savings. Textbook publishers have been actively listening and working with stakeholders to develop a viable student purchasing solution that accomplishes not just the financial issue, but other teaching and learning concerns as well. An admixture of regulatory change, publishing technology, and extensive collaboration has combined to produce the inclusive access purchasing model.


Regulatory Changes

The United States Department of Education paved the way for the publishing industry and its partners to introduce inclusive access programs by altering the rules used to govern the items colleges and universities can incorporate within their tuition and fee structure. The rules now allow for the inclusion of course materials within tuition and fees if an institution has an
arrangement that makes supplies available at discount rates, provides a way for students to obtain supplies by the seventh day of the payment period, and offers a way for students to opt-out of the program.


Publishing Industry Changes

The global economy and the Internet have had a profound impact on how textbook publishers operate. A student's ability to source course materials either for free or at a steep discount has increased exponentially and has reinforced the need for publishers to provide less-expensive digital versions of their texts. The industry movement toward digital has been well underway for over a decade, but varying degrees of student and instructor receptiveness have kept publishers living in two worlds--one traditional and print-based, the other modern, digital and mobile. As publishers expanded their digital delivery options, prices fell, but only modestly. The reality and cost of producing dueling formats, and the lack of a model by which publishers could
offer steep discounts directly to students, hampered attempts to develop better purchasing options.


Does It Work?

The necessary changes in regulations, and publisher capabilities have occurred; the promise of inclusive access stands ready to be fulfilled.  The question now is: are
schools willing to give it a shot? The answer is yes. Here are examples of schools that have piloted inclusive access models with staggering results:



The number of colleges and universities that are piloting, and embracing inclusive access continues to grow at a rapid pace. The model is scalable and thus empowers any professor, dean, or provost to ease their students' financial stress and debt.


Educational Lagniappe

In the linguistically and culturally rich city of New Orleans there’s an oft-used term denoting generosity and the giving of “a little something extra.” The word is lagniappe.(Pronounced: /LAN-yap/.) Inclusive access comes with powerful educational lagniappe--an important consideration to factor in when contemplating adoption of the model. Studies have proven that students are more likely to succeed in a course if they have the correct materials starting on the first day of class. As professors, you know that the current “first day of class” climate is not optimal for teaching or learning
due to the variance of students’ accessibility to the required texts. Some students have the right text, others have the right text but a different edition, and others still, an international edition. Some use library copies, some share, some download pirated editions: the list of possibilities go on and ends in chaos for you and underperformance by your most vulnerable students. With inclusive access, it no longer has to be this way. A second bit of lagniappe is one that benefits students, particularly students with limited financial resources. The current purchasing models force them to make a choice—to purchase books or not. Many students—traditional and non-traditional—often need to decide between spending money on course materials and spending money on essential living expenses. No one should be placed in such a position while striving to improve his or her life through education. The inclusive access model eliminates these high stakes decisions and enables students to focus on their education. Imagine stepping into your classroom on the first day of class and instructing students to open their digital text to a specific page. No hands are raised to inform you that they do not have their text, no complaints are leveled against bookstores regarding out of stock situations, no queries about which edition is genuinely needed—just a room full of students ready and able to learn, happy that a major stressor has been lifted from their shoulders. That’s some good lagniappe.


Image credit: webphotographeer/Getty Images

    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

With more and more students showing a preference for eTextbooks, we wanted to understand the reasons behind this trend. Take a look at the slides below to find out what students told us.


Are you finding a similar trend among your students? Let us know in the comments below.

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