How to Teach Emotionally Demanding Millennials

By Kristie Chua — October 01, 2014 2 min read
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To enhance millennial students’ learning, teachers may need to pay closer attention to their emotional needs, concludes a recent study published in Communication Education.

The Millennial generation, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, are usually described as a generation constantly requiring positive reinforcement and attention, which may lead its members to assume that they will receive emotional confirmation in the classroom.

Teachers can accommodate such mindsets and help boost learning by adapting their teaching styles to create emotionally supportive classrooms, the new research says.

Associate professor of communications studies Alan K. Goodboy and doctoral student Zachary W. Goldman of West Virginia University, the co-authors of the study, focused on students’ emotional reactions to teacher behaviors and how their emotions affected learning. The study was executed as a self-reported questionnaire among 159 undergraduate students, but despite its small sample and focus on college students, there could be takeaways for K-12 teachers.

“Emotions play a significant role in our everyday life, and the classroom is no exception,” co-author Alan K. Goodboy told Science Daily. “When teachers communicate with students in a way that confirms their performance in class, it helps students feel better about their learning experiences and, ultimately, challenges them to continue improving.”

Students in a semester-long class were asked to complete a questionnaire at the beginning and the end of the semester evaluating their teacher’s confirming behavior and their emotional interest in class.

The study found that students reaped emotional benefits from professors who “responded to questions, demonstrated interest in students’ learning experiences, and employed an interactive teaching style in the classroom.” Students valued classroom time and had a stronger interest in a subject when they felt that their instructors were available to provide emotional support, both in and out of class.

When students were emotionally supported, they were less likely to engage in “emotional labor.” Students who felt that their teachers lacked interest in them were more likely to spend time and energy trying to hide their negative emotions, diverting cognitive ability to masking emotions and making it harder for them to focus and absorb the learning material.

Photo by www.audio-luci-store.it/Flickr Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.