We classify our “generations” to try to begin understanding their characteristics so we can better serve them as educators. Our current students are the “Generation Z” while the kindergarteners coming in begin “Generation Alpha.”
Why does this matter you ask? Students are changing and as educators we must change with them to maximize our effectiveness. What characteristics do these students possess?
Generation Z students are the children of the millennial generation. They are digital natives who have the world and endless information at their fingertips. Spending on average more than three hours a day on screen time. The written word (books) no longer have the value that something posted on the internet has to these children. These students are confident in technology and how to navigate but their ability to communicate in written and spoken word is lacking. Thanks to text message, Twitter and other quick social media sites that encourage quick thoughts, our students often struggle to spell, use punctuation and to see the need for formal written tasks.
Traditional schools provide a structured environment that many students do not have at home. Families are diverse and have complex relationships and situations which are often less bound to routine and structure of years past. This plays a strong role in a child’s ability to adapt in the classroom environment with rules, routines and procedures.
Some of the qualities that our young people possess are:
- Less focused (they reach for a smart device every 7 minutes)
- Absorb information in burst
- Visual learners
- Multitask (or try) across five or more screens where their parents used 2 or 3
Think of the implications of these! As a teacher–can you see the need for engagement strategies and to allow student movement and collaboration?
One of the most interesting characteristics of our students is they are much more realistic than generations past. They do not know the world before 9/11, access to 24 hour news and the internet to confirm the details of violent acts. With this understanding that “government, systems and people fail, they have developed a harsh reality of the world. Adding video games to the mix increases the visual stimulation to violence and understanding that distress that can happen. This increases the need for our students to feel safe. Despite this, they have a willingness to do “good things”and be helpful.
Our kindergarteners coming in are the start of the next generation who have been sitting in front of technology since birth. They are children of more diverse parents who have faced more struggles financially or on the flip side have had more wealth. There will be a stronger divide of those who have and do not. Their parents are a bit older and more extended than ever. The future changes are unknown but we will need to continue evolving our practices and ideals.
So What Do We Do?
A few strategies to begin:
- Break up assignments and lessons to allow for short attention spans
- MUST teach stamina and how to stick with hard tasks because they are used to quitting when it is hard
- Use LOTS of visuals
- Teach strategy to get through long texts without graphics because they do not know how to break up a text into manageable pieces
- Use instant feedback which they thrive on due to texting/social media
- Start with WHY to show relevance (task oriented)
- Must teach about work quality vs. completion
As educators, knowing WHO we are teaching–helps us know HOW we need to teach them. For me, I see the need for a safe school environment that is welcoming to all students. One that reminds students of the good things happening and how to make a difference. Teaching students that small acts of kindness do matter and that they are special. Communication both written and verbal are so important for students to gain a strong sense of themselves and where they belong. Most importantly, to use technology as a tool to make their lives better but not to be controlled by it or hide behind it.
Articles read to inspire article:
New York Times online: Meet Alpha: The Next “Next Generation” by Alex Williams on September 19, 2015
Caylor Solutions online article: 5 Major Characteristics of Generation Z for Education Marketers by Bart Caylor on February 26, 2018.