College classrooms are mostly traditional students.
Angie Mayfield, professor of English at Vincennes University, explores how changing up the age group can be a positive change.
Angie J. Mayfield, PhD is a Professor of English and Department Chair of Humanities at Vincennes University in Jasper, Indiana, where she has taught English Composition I & II, Developmental Writing, and Creative Writing for 12 years. She is the author of three books and a columnist for Boomer, Growing in the Heartland, and Mules and More magazines. Mayfield presented her research at the National Peer Mentoring Conference in October. In her spare time she enjoys trail riding and has ridden in all 50 states and 6 countries and from rim to rim of the Grand Canyon and back across in four days on her mule, Sonny.
Mixed Age Students
Do you consider non-traditional students a help or hinder in the classroom? Actually, classroom dynamics often improve when there are mixed-aged groups of students. Sharing their stories, their experiences, and their lessons learned, mature learners spark discussions, provide context to curriculum, and mentor younger students who lack confidence or skills.
However, little research is available about the interactions between mixed-age groups of students. Therefore, my PhD dissertation explored the academic and social influences of non-traditional students on their traditional peers in the community college classroom. The study was conducted at a large, Midwestern 2-year college. Interactionalist theory framed the qualitative collective case study, and purposeful sampling was used to select 30 participants to interview, including 13 traditional students, 13 non-traditional students, and 4 instructors, who represented the college population in terms of gender and racial and ethnic diversity. For the purpose of the study, non-traditional students were defined as students age 25 and older and/or students with family and employment responsibilities.
My research findings indicated that non-traditional students do play a positive role in community college classrooms. They serve as mentors to their traditional classmates, building relationships and sharing life and work experiences, as well as positive behaviors that contribute to traditional students’ overall success. The positive influences the data revealed from interactions between students included improvement in learning, retention, engagement, and confidence.
Research concurs that a lack of academic preparedness and environmental and socioeconomic factors contribute to high failure rates of community college students. Therefore, these findings regarding mixed age groups of students could serve as a catalyst for practices that will benefit students.