Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reading & Learning With Generation Z

Who are the members of Generation Z? What do we know about them? How do we reach out to them with written material they’ll find of interest?
One of the things I like most about writing for children 8 – 13, is visiting them in their schools. Imagine my surprise, though, when I stood in front of a class a few years ago. Students wanted to know if I’d met any famous people through my video production business. I began talking about a private video interview I’d had with President Reagan as he visited his boyhood home in Dixon, IL. Their eyes glazed over, their mouths dropped open, and it became clear that these students had no idea who Ronald Reagan was. I also knew it would be pointless to talk about working with George Burns, Liam Neeson, B.J. Thomas, or the Rolling Stones which would also have been met with equally blank stares. I learned an important lesson about being relevant to this age group with the books I write.
You may have seen the list that’s published for incoming students each year. It’s called The Beloit College Mind-Set List http://chronicle.com/article/The-Beloit-College-Mind-Set/123925/  A member of the administration and a faculty member began making their list in1998 to help educators understand the frame of reference that shapes the worldviews of each new class of college freshmen. At times the list is quite jolting because we who are older expect that everyone knows what we know. Understanding Generation Z will help when it comes to teaching and reading. Generation Z is known as the Internet Generation. Some call them Digital Natives. They are the first generation, born between 1994 and 2004, to grow up where the Internet has always existed.  These children are always connected. They fully understand and utilize technology. They’re accused of being lazy, unaware of important issues, and apathetic. Likely because of their early introduction to technology, few want to go outside. Most say they’d rather text, tweet or play video games. All of this inside activity is leading to problems with overweight and one fifth of Generation Z’s are considered obese.

Many predict this generation could forever change how students are taught at every level by making technology an integral part of all classroom study. No matter if you’re studying to be a teacher, you’re a grandparent, or parent, there are some important educational trends to understand.
Today it seems the entire country is connected to the Internet with few exceptions. When Generation Z students come to school, they already understand the interactive features of smart phones, iPads and the like. It is for this reason that these devices are quickly becoming part of normal classroom activities. Since Generation Z students already arrive at school wired for technology, they’re ready to hit the ground running. This is spawning an avalanche of applications (apps) to provide interactive books, textbooks, educational games, and more.

Over the past several months, I’ve teamed up with an online organization that is developing its own app for young readers. As one of their writers, I’ve submitted nearly thirty short stories for use on digital devices. Knowonder.com is set to launch this month, providing free stories and materials for this Internet generation.

Homeschoolers are embracing the same explosion in technology which will help these students when they move on to high school or college, enabling them to be just as comfortable and proficient as other students.

More teachers are discovering the power of web-based programs and collaborative online projects. Students are also able to interact with other students across the country and around the world in real time.

Recent studies indicate the brains of Generation Z kids are structurally different from earlier
generations. It has to do with how they use their minds to respond to their surroundings. Because
of extensive web browsing and information overloading, Generation Z children have become
increasingly visual in their learning styles. So, educators have responded by focusing more on seeing
than listening. Teachers are focusing less on rote memorization and emphasize problem solving and
critical thinking. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that have to be memorized; it just means
this element in education is not implemented as much as in the past.

All of this early use of technology has a downside, and it shows itself most in reading. Generation Z, like Gen Y before them, has developed very short attention spans. This makes them harder to teach because they quickly become bored and are ready to move ahead to the next thing. Longer lesson of the past don’t work today. Educators are forced to develop shorter lessons to accommodate this obstacle. It’s important to note that this issue finds its way into reading as well. Authors of books for middle grade ages and below, are tasked with creating stories that move quickly, use shorter lines and paragraphs, along with lots of dialog and humor. Some publishers are experimenting with interactive fiction for kids, but these haven’t become popular yet and are extremely expensive to produce. Some fiction readers have found that all the available options take them away from the story’s flow. 

And mental health experts report that all the technology is causing an “acquired attention deficit disorder.” They tend to lose their ability to comprehend complex information, becoming impatient if it takes too long to figure something out. Most probably would never finish reading this column because they’d see it as too long.

As one Generation Z puts it, “Length is something that greatly frightens Gen Z. We don’t like taking our time to read, do or say anything. With texting becoming more popular so are abbreviations. Youths text an average of 2,900 times a month. Cyber communication is deteriorating our language and social skills.”

These trends have great implications not only on the current children of Generation Z, but also on what we can expect when they become the dominant demographic in our society. Many publishers are already working on that problem, trying to insure that there will always be a ready reading market for their books in the future.

The only question left to answer then is, what will we call the next generation after Z, now that we’ve reached the end of the alphabet?

VIDEO - Imagine


 

 

 

 

1 comment:

Jim Westcott said...

Max,

You've nailed it in this post! We communicated a bit earlier in an email about my book. I've attempted to write something that is broken into segments, is engaging and funny, but also helps this generation(especially boys) to think a little as well. My goal for Jack's Tales is to establish a gap between my books and books like yours!