My count-down to summer series this year is all about teaching those unfamiliar beings in our classrooms popularly referred to as Generation Z.
In the introduction to this series, I identified five traits they collectively share (give or take):
1. They have smaller attention spans than previous generations.
2. There’s a lot of “noise” in their lives. They don’t always listen unless we are addressing them directly (one-on-one).
3. They are more interested in what “real people” are doing (on social media platforms like YouTube) than in popular television shows or movies.
4. They never, ever have to be bored and don’t expect to be.
5. They already are, or anticipate being, entrepreneurs.
I’m going to take these sweeping traits and explain how I make the humble lecture work for them.
I haven’t met many students from this generation (or any other, for that matter) who get excited about a good old-fashioned lecture. I enjoy them if the speaker is engaging, but if the speaker is not engaging, they can be downright painful. And let’s face it, no teacher can be an engaging speaker 100% of the time (especially if it’s our fifth time delivering the same content on a Friday afternoon).
But often, we have a large amount of content to deliver and lecture is the quickest way to do it. Sure, you can flip your classroom and focus on projects in class, but that’s not practical for many of us. You can teach content through an inquiry-based approach, but in the world of standardized tests, sometimes we just need to give our students information.
In world history, I have a lot of content that I need to deliver to my students. The majority of them will not learn it on their own. They will not listen to me for long, either.
One way I’ve gotten around this dilemma is to turn a lengthy lecture into stations. There are many ways you can do this, but here are two methods that have worked well for me:
-Break up your lecture into sections.
-Use a free app like Screencastify to record each section of notes. Briefly explain each part and tell a couple of stories for each section. If more than one of you in your school teach the same subject, break it up among yourselves and share the work (a colleague of mine and I recently did this with a lengthy lecture on Classical Greece–half the work for each of us, win/win).
-Give students a handout with as many parts as you have sections. For each part, ask students to interact with the notes from that section in some way (create causes and effects, place a sequence of events in order, create a storyboard, etc.). Also, be sure to have students summarize each section and ask a question about it. Often students tell me they don’t have a question–they understand everything. I tell them that’s a sign that they’re not really thinking about the material. There should always be questions if they are doing their job. These questions are fantastic starting points for future research.
-Have one section per station. I keep station time for this to between 15 and 20 minutes, and I use the timer on Classroomscreen to time them. When it goes off, they rotate to the next station.
-Break up your lecture into alternate activities. Examples are task cards, QR Code Scavenger Hunts, HyperDocs, card sorts, short films, games, primary source analysis, mini gallery walks, short textbook readings, etc.
-These stations generally take longer but they engage the students in actively accumulating information.
-Have a reflection sheet on which they can summarize and ask a question, as well.
Here is how I grade the completed reflection sheet:
-Students can get up to 5 points for each station. I add them up and use an Easy Grader to assign a score out of 100.
So here is how this spin on the lecture speaks to Gen Z:
1. They have smaller attention spans than previous generations. The stations are broken into bits. Students are only asked to grab a bite of information at a time. They are required to take time to savor that bite with the reflection sheet. Then they move on to something else.
2. There’s a lot of “noise” in their lives. They don’t always listen unless we are addressing them directly (one-on-one). Since the teacher is freed up to move around the stations and check progress, there is ample time to speak with individuals, correct misconceptions, and expound on areas of personal interest.
3. They are more interested in what “real people” are doing (on social media platforms like YouTube) than in popular television shows or movies. I equate the teacher lecturing to TV–impersonal, and yet a shared experience. Moving through the stations in small groups enables students to discuss with their peers and speak with their teacher in a more personalized, impromptu setting.
4. They never, ever have to be bored and don’t expect to be. Frequent station changes can at most prevent boredom and at least shorten it.
5. They already are, or anticipate being, entrepreneurs. The reflections should not be done in isolation–they should be a springboard for future research and creation. I’m quick to tell a student as I’m “making the rounds” that I didn’t know the answer–I had to look it up. “Stump me,” I’ll challenge them. This is fun for me, it models what learning is for students, and it provides ample material for future research and creation on their part.
Tips For Implementing The Stations:
-You can assign stations on a digital platform, such as Google Classroom, but I recommend having a printed handout for each station stapled to a folder. Then you can put anything students need for that station inside the folder. I have done it both ways and found that students do better with a tangible handout for instructions. They can hold it and refer back to it as often as necessary. You can do a bit link for anything digital they need to access. I’m not 100% sure why the handout works so much better than digital directions–perhaps digital directions are just more “noise” to them.
-You can also certainly do the reflection sheet digitally, but I also find that it works better with students if it’s printed on a sheet of paper–they are less likely to leave spaces blank if they can hold it and interact with it.
-Even if the stations are digital, have a physical space in the classroom for students to move to. Movement is engaging and so is a change of atmosphere–even if it’s a small one. They spend so much time sitting and staring at screens–they pay more attention to a new task in a different location.
-Take up the reflection sheet each day (because the stations will probably stretch over more than one day). Put a check on things that are good. Put an X on things that aren’t so good. Leave comments and suggestions. Gen Z wants feedback, and they want it now! If students choose to revise, take that into consideration when you give the completed station work a grade.
How do you break up your lessons for Gen Z? Leave a comment and let me know!
Be sure to check out all of the posts in this series on teaching Gen Z for helpful tips and tricks: