Just appearing in the Fall 2013 edition of the Clinical Law Review is an astute and riveting article by Emily Benfer and Colleen Shanahan, “Educating the Invincibles: Strategies for Teaching the Millennial Generation in Law School” that should give us all pause, especially those of us now teaching our second and third generation of law student.
After describing specific types of nurturing that this generation experienced during their formative years, the article provides detailed and specific strategies for teaching these students, who were born between 1981 and 1999. It is assumed that, because of the particular formative experiences these students experienced as children, they have distinct needs, as learners, than did those of other generations, and that, if we want to “reach” them most effectively, we need to understand first who they are, so that we will be able tailor our teaching to them, in both the traditional and clinical types of classrooms.
The authors see these students as “confident and optimistic,” “service and cause-oriented and want to contribute to the greater good.” Yet they are also described as pressured, impatient, sheltered, and privileged. Because they have been told they are special, they can seem to have a sense of entitlement. Their assumption that short-term achievement equals long-term success causes them to focus on grades and not on the processes by which their grades are achieved. They do not expect failure, so are often surprised when their performance does not result in high praise. Again, because they were taught that they are “winners” simply for participating, they are accustomed to receiving awards for just that. They can become uncomfortable with criticism and “aggressive and even caustic when criticized.”
Further, according to Benfer and Shanahan, being inseparable from the internet, these students are able to take in massive amounts of information simultaneously and consider themselves to be efficient multi-taskers. Yet, because they are accustomed to instantaneous answers that do not require deliberation or examination, they may not have developed the tools to extract the depth of information necessary to develop critical thinking.
The types of learning environments preferred by Millennialists are made-to-order for clinical professors. According to the authors, these students thrive in learning environments that are self-directed, interactive, collaborative, team-based, and hands-on; and that employ frequent and multiple forms of feedback, multi-media, and stress simulations and real life opportunities for learning.
On the other hand, because of their common experiences with teamwork, the authors caution that these students may be uncomfortable working independently, perhaps due to the higher risk of personal failure.
Especially if you’re engaged in clinical teaching, do you recognize any of these traits in your recent students? Have they chafed at independent work? Been so over-confident that they have prepared insufficiently for court or other case responsibilities? Pushed back at any meaningful critique? Seem to feel they are entitled to that “A,” regardless of the difficulties they had with their class and/or case responsibilities? Expected results to come not from hours of work but from an initial impression gained while reading a couple of pages? If so, you will both enjoy and find helpful “Educating the Invincibles.”