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Your students are not like you. Accept it. Teach differently.

I had the chance to chat with a high school history teacher yesterday and as teacher conversations often do, we veered into a discussion around instructional best practices. That discussion then veered off into a more specific conversation about Generation Z kids.

The takeaway for me?

Most of us don’t think enough about how different our students are from us.

I mean, we all want to do what’s best for kids. But I think we filter that desire to do what’s best through a Baby Boomer / Generation Y / Millennial teacher’s lens. That’s a nice way of saying we’re old and maybe don’t realize that we view the world very differently than our students do.

Viewing the world differently is not a bad thing. But failing to recognize that fact can be – especially when we fail to design our instruction to meet the needs of our Gen Z students. Holly Clark, over at the Infused Classroom, put together a handy post along with a powerful infographic that highlights a few characteristics of your Gen Z learners:

A quick review of few other Gen Z details:

  • Drug use, alcohol consumption, smoking, and pregnancy are at their lowest in decades.
  • Making the world a better place, advocating for social change, and improving the lives of others are things that often define success for a Gen Z student.
  • They’re comfortable with tech. So edtech tools aren’t as big a deal to them as they are for us.
  • They like video. Your kids are happy to read online text but most likely prefer to watch. This applies to communication as well –  preferring to leave video messages rather than send an email or text.
  • They’re more practical and cautious than Millennials.
  • Gen Z students communicate, create, and consume in visual and symbolic formats as much as text.
  • They may seem impatient to us. But their entire lives have been on-demand. Movies. YouTube tutorials. Information. Social connections. All online and all immediately. For a kid born after 1995, it’s normal not to wait. They use an 8 second filter to decide what deserves their attention.
  • This information stream is often personalized and tailored. And it’s not really that they feel entitled as much as they just expect it because it’s always been that way.
  • Gen Z kids aren’t collaborative. Some research is saying your Gen Z students are more independent, more private, and less willing to work in groups than earlier generations.

So . . . back to the original conversation. If this is who our kids are, what does good instructional practice look like?

  • Personalize their learning. Using Kahoot or Quizzez gives you the chance to embed the game like element of instant feedback into your classroom. This gives both you and your kids information that can be used immediately. You can also use Google Classroom, Canvas, and tools like Pear Deck during direct instruction to receive and deliver this sort of feedback.
  • Use video and visual tools like YouTube channels, iMovie, and WeVideo. Take advantage of the Gen Z visual bias and introduce the idea of story arcs and storyboarding to more of your student product development. Social studies is all about stories. Give them problems to solve that require the creation of a story.
  • Give them authentic and messy problems to solve. What’s an “authentic” problem? One definition to start with is “a problem that an adult might have to or has had to solve.” Where to go next? Provide authentic problems that allow kids to make the world a better place.
  • Model historical thinking skills and do more think-alouds during instruction.
  • You may not be able to use actual social media platforms (though many are perfect for telling stories.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t steal some of their templates and ideas. Why not create Instagram profiles of historical characters? Or Amazon and Yelp reviews of government policies? Maybe Snapchat updates of current events or TikTok videos of past ones.
  • Get comfortable with allowing and using personal devices and cell phones. Use them for instant access to online reliable voices, government / NGO social media accounts, or reactions to current events. And just because they’re on a phone doesn’t mean they’re not working. (Even if there’s a Chromebook right in front of them, cause . . . they just do.)
  • From gaming consoles to computer gaming to mobile devices, games are a way of life for your students. So use games, game-based learning strategies, and simulations.
  • Empower your students by giving them a voice and choice in their products, process, content.
  • As much as possible, be device agnostic. Every kid doesn’t need to make an iMovie trailer when there might be other tools available.
  • Use visuals like emojis & memes as both content consumption and content creation tools.
  • Think about using more pairs rather than larger groups. Nothing wrong with requiring groups but begin alternating those sorts of activities with ones that allow individual work.
  • Use tools and apps to help them focus on tasks. Encourage and support tech free zones and periods. This can include specific “slow thinking” exercises, apps like Nosili, and intentional instructional design. Most K-12 students realize the need for this and appreciate the opportunity to detox a bit.

Your students are not the same as you are. (Unless, of course, you’re a Gen Z teacher yourself.) And that’s okay. But we need to be aware of those differences and use them to ensure high levels of learning.

How can you adapt your instruction?

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jeremy Greene #

    The infographic reads like a cre de couer to embrace the shallows:

    I think teachers, and especially teachers of history and literature should embrace reading deeply and for sustained periods of time – 2 hours a day across the curriculum as a goal – and writing at length – 1 hour across the curriculum.

    February 26, 2020
    • glennw #

      Thanks for the comment, Jeremy!

      I’m always trying to find the right balance between the wrong kind of tech (or too much tech) and instructional best practice. I don’t want teachers to throw up their hands and not integrate a variety of tools into their classrooms. I also don’t want them to ignore discipline specific tools and strategies that help develop knowledgable, informed, and engaged citizens and, I agree, reading and writing are absolutely critical to that. But I do want teachers (especially those in my generation) to explore the many different formats that reading and writing can take.

      While I don’t totally disagree with Carr’s premise (people have been concerned for centuries about the impact of technologies such as hand written books, the printing press, the telegraph, typewriter, ebooks), I think as teachers we do have a responsibility to help kids recognize both the dangers and the benefits of using a variety of tech based reading and writing tools.

      (And I do need to pull that book off my shelf and spend a few hours re-reading it. Thanks for the reminder!)


      February 26, 2020
  2. BR #

    Although they are familiar with tech tools, do not assume they know hot to utilize them.

    February 27, 2020
    • glennw #

      Absolutely! We need to be intentional about training kids to use the tools appropriately.

      Thanks for sharing!


      February 28, 2020

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