The Joys and Challenges of Teaching Generation Z Students


I began teaching before everyday Americans had computers or email in their homes. I remember when students had to get books from the library or use encyclopedias to get information for reports, and when students handed in papers which were either handwritten or typed on a typewriter. Things sure have changed. While there are positives and negatives to just about any situation, it is good for us to recognize, learn, and make the best of where we currently are. Here are some suggestions regarding teaching and education with Generation Z students.

A Joy: Students are sharper and can process information much faster. A Challenge: Class can be incredibly boring for them.

Students are used to having a myriad of information literally at their fingertips, are actively pressing buttons, and are often looking at pictures and watching videos on their computers or phones.

How should we as educators deal with this?

Keep our classes moving along and not boring. Show pictures, tell stories, and keep the students participating in classes. Ask questions, let them work in groups, make them laugh, think hard, and complete hands-on projects or assignments in class. Variety is great.

While we shouldn’t be expected to entertain them, if we just lecture in a monotone voice, we cannot expect them to learn much. I once had a class that was either asleep, or a little too rowdy for my comfort level. I found that I could keep complete control and have most of them tune me out and go to sleep, or I could keep their attention by being myself and having them laugh a little, even though it was a bit harder for me to keep them completely quiet – and I need to have quiet to teach effectively. I chose the latter. We did laugh and learn, even though I did have to get on them about their behavior more than I liked to.

A Joy: Students have access to much helpful information. A Challenge: Students have gotten lazy because tons of information is literally at their fingertips.

I have heard stories of students literally cutting and pasting entire paragraphs from their supposed “research” into “their” reports. This is an atrocity. First of all, students need to be taught how to think and write in English class, and then should be practicing this skill in other classes as they progress through school.

This is a completely different subject, but the remedy for this problem is similar: We teachers need to lead them through the process of researching and taking proper notes in class and help get them started and comfortable with the process, especially in middle school, and they don’t need computers to do it. I don’t let my students have an open computer in class until all their notecards are finished and we begin to write rough drafts.

For most writing assignments, I recommend having students write down ideas in class and then organize these ideas into a short outline. Then I have them hand it in before the end of class. This forces them to think and compile a few ideas to get started.

Students should also be kept accountable by having to hand in outlines, research note cards, and rough drafts along the way. This also helps them from procrastinating and being lazy.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent students from plagiarizing and not doing their own work, we teachers should hold them accountable and do whatever we can to encourage them to do their own work. Use plagiarism checkers, or look up anything that doesn’t look or sound like your students own writing. If you find it, print out the plagiarized document and highlight the sections in both the students “writing” and the plagiarized document so that you can show and explain this to the offending student. This will make it a learning experience and keep them accountable.

The Joy: Students’ grammar and spelling are much better thanks to spell checker and grammar correcting programs. The Challenge: Students aren’t finding the mistakes on their own through editing because the computer is doing it for them.

However, those little squiggly underlines alert them to the fact that something is wrong, and they have to act upon it to fix it. Even if the program tells them how to fix it, they still have to see that what they did is incorrect, look at the correct option to fix it, and click on it to correct it. Although it would be ideal for students to identify these mistakes themselves, computers are here to stay, and they do point out these mistakes to the students. Perhaps all this will save us time grading those research papers?

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