No, Generation Z does not mean Generation Zombie, although to the misinformed, watching students zone out with phones in hand might give that impression. But these students are not passively consuming media or mindlessly texting their friends. They are creators, innovators, entrepreneurs who see digital media as their way to share their thoughts with the world.
Recently, I attended a district provided professional development. The keynote speaker, Dr. Corey Seemiller, shared her research with what she sees as the latest generational shift. It seems that this generation, which she calls Generation Z, is just now entering colleges across the nation. According to Dr. Seemiller, this generation encompasses not only my own children, ages 8 and 11, but also the students that I am currently teaching in high school.
After hearing her talk, which confirmed many of my own beliefs about the young people with which I interact every day, I knew some general truths. Here are my revelations:
- Student agency is key. This generation craves the power to make their own choices, including how and when they learn.
- Be the guide, not the sage. Students still desire support from their instructors and enjoy meeting with them face to face. They want teachers to support their interests, not require them to be in lockstep with their peers.
- Connect learning to reality Learning should not be solely because “it prepares you for next year,” but have real world connections to adult life.
To implement these ideas, I am moving from a whole class approach, where everyone does everything at the same time and sits in an assigned desk chair, to flexible seating and flexible planning.
Flexible seating, lite
I wish all of my seats allowed for student agency, but this corner is where I keep my flexible seating. Pillows, a carpet, some plastic chairs, and letting my students be the ones to choose: will they read or practice online for the ACT? In addition to 16 traditional desks, I have a standing desk (created by adding bed risers to a table), a round table, and a trapezoid table.
Digital Badges & Microcredentials
LRNG is a nonprofit company that focuses on student engagement and learning. Learning is organized by playlists, which are made up of XPs, or experiences, that students must complete in order to earn badges. These badges, along with the evidence to which they are attached, are visible evidence of their learning.
In my classes, I have created several playlists in lieu of direct instruction. In this way, I hope to allow my students some flexibility in when and how they learn. In addition, I am adding some real world connections. For example, students are interviewing a professional in the field they wish to pursue, instead of interviewing a family member. LRNG has helped by connecting my students with mentors in the professional world.
As the year progresses, I hope to share more of my adventures in connecting with Generation Z.