Thursday / April 25

4 Simple Tactics to Engage Better With Gen Z Students

Names abound for Gen Z: Generation Z, Internet Generation or I-Gen, Technology Generation, Tweens, and the Pluralist Generation. Regardless of what you call them, this cohort was born in the mid-‘90s to 2010. You may bump into them on a daily basis as the youngest Gen Zers are currently attending primary and secondary schools and their oldest members are doing their first years at university or joining work organizations.

Interpreting their behavior in the light of several key characteristics of this generation may provide interesting whys and useful hows to handle the daily-witnessed whats.

Tactic 1: Recognize the impact of Gen Z’s generational markers

Raised in the 2000s, some Gen Zers were very young during 9/11 and the 2001 crisis, but they have grown up in a complicated socio-economic environment marked by complexity, insecurity, uncertainty and global warming. Local and world events that have marked this generation also include wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism (Al Qaeda, Isis, etc.), the influenza A/H1N1 pandemic, and the expansion of social media, which includes the invention of Facebook and Twitter among other networking sites or services. These facts and events have shaped Gen Zs’ mindset, led them to develop coping mechanisms and resourcefulness, and made them more pragmatic and realistic than Millennials, the preceding generation.

Evidence shows Zs are more socially responsible, health conscious, and environmentally aware due to the effect of media and school campaigns. If you are heading for Zs’ engagement and motivation, plan to include tasks addressing these characteristics and showing them how they can make an impact or leave a positive mark. That will motivate them greatly. Simpler, more concrete assignments may work better than a huge, energy-consuming, (and maybe never-ending) project. Let them problem-pose and problem-solve for their class, their community and the world, or reverse the order.

Tactic 2: Remember they are mostly born to Gen X parents

Gen Zs’ parents are generally Gen Xers who have brought them up focusing on safety and individualism and have encouraged them to be realistic, innovative in education, and to find their own way. Some Zs may come from smaller families with traditional values, or they may live in larger, extended, or blended multi-generational households with their elder siblings also dwelling at home and in close contact with retired grandparents or step family members. These modern family models, displaying blurred gender-roles and alternative lifestyles, have contributed to shape Zs’ mindsets towards, acceptance of diversity and inclusivity.

Gen X parents tend to have a helicopter parenting style, which compounds the impact left by social generational markers. As Tulgan (2013) states, “the result is that those children of the 2000s simultaneously grew up way too fast and never grew up at all.” This premature maturity is encouraged by parents who want them to act, have parties, dress and use cosmetics like miniature adults, and who tend to micromanage their lives and show distrust of institutions. Get ready to receive mom and dad’s inquisitive notes or to face their questioning mode of interaction. Or try to provide the answers they will want to hear beforehand, whenever possible. And yes, the sun screen protection may be included as a topic!

Gen Z students do not fall for superheroes or impossible missions. On the contrary, they have bone and flesh close idols, admire older family deeply, and trust their parents, social media, and peer endorsement more than anything else. The recently released Global Young People Report (2017) revealed that 89% of the adolescents surveyed indicated that their parents were the most significant influencing factor on their values. Fostering strong home-school partnerships will therefore enhance Zs’ learning experience and channel parental interest in a profitable way.

Tactic 3: Bear in mind Zs are digital natives

Technology is embedded seamlessly in Gen Zs’ lives and they enjoy the use of fast-paced multimedia for entertainment, play and interaction. The acceleration of the digital world has reduced their attention span, provided instant gratification, and placed information a few clicks away from them.

Yet, connectivity has also lowered Zs age of innocence and confronted them with realities that used to belong to the adult world. It has also made them the target of unprecedented online marketing campaigns and cyber bullying. These negative aspects have to be carefully monitored in class. Watch out for abusive vocabulary or gestures, use sites that provide filters or let you monitor students’ conversations and always encourage positive feedback and praise. Remember. Your example comes first!

Exposure to technology since birth has given this cohort of students the possibility of profiting from the tutorial or self-learning mode and of co-creating content, something they feel they have a prerogative to. Do resort to online video tutorials whenever available and if your students discover there is no material on the topic online… BINGO! You have found an opportunity to put into practice tactic 1. Get them to contribute to the global community responsibly and they will love it.

And do not forget, mediating your teaching with a technological device, even in the simplest way—such as asking students to use their mobiles for recording themselves or their peers for dictation or taking a picture for a description—will work wonders, lead them to connect  more smoothly with learning objectives, and foster and strengthen friendship bonds and citizenship across geographic or temporal boundaries.

Tactic 4: Connect what is not connected

The impact of digital technologies has made Gen Z a global generation with a local mindset. They share preferences with peers from the most diverse parts of the world, but without losing interests in local affairs. It has also democratized power relations and redefined teacher-student relationships through equal access to information. They have a very personal voice that is valued and considered online (think of bloggers, youtubers, reviewers of all kinds, video-game testers, instagramers, and the list goes on).  Your renewed role is to teach them to analyze information critically and in depth.

Yet Zs may know more about ongoing issues on the other side of the globe than what is going on next door. Childhood has been more of an indoor experience for them and has therefore characterized this special way of connecting with others and reality. If you want your class to be a great success, do not forget to check this generation’s trait. For example, in Google earth, move on from global to “glocal” until students get their own ‘street view.’ (FYI: it works to use those expressions with them!)

Additionally, although Zs are profiled as hyperconnected, they find it difficult to associate data. Clicking on hyperlinks has facilitated their access to information but weakened the ability to establish relationships about facts, objects or files. It has also affected the way in which they utilize information since they gather, store and analyze it in a horizontal, equal-value mode.

Go over previous knowledge carefully to avoid mistaken assumptions about what is shared information for this cohort and what is not, what has been learnt and what has to be taught.

Zs’ characteristic way of learning, defined by McCrindle, (2016), as being post-linear (hyperlinked, experiential and participative), post-literate (involving more than traditional literacy), and post-logical (connecting rather than separating fun from work) also requires specific attention. Plan to give remedial or supplementary teaching on how to deal with information towards deep learning, a necessary 21st century skill for their future lives.


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple generationally-oriented step.

Educating our youth has never before been so challenging and fascinating. Schools are called to prepare Gen Z students for adult life by teaching them the ‘dispositions’ (Claxton, 2013) they will need to succeed in life, in the future. And educators and parents are urged to empower them effectively to face uncertainty and change.

Generational theory may provide a clue as it reveals the variables behind collective student behavior; facilitates group consensus and rapport with families and supplies helpful tools so that educators may empathetically teach the way students want to learn. It is important to note, though, that generational profiles describe large numbers of people but they may fail to predict or explain how an individual student will behave (Shaw, 2013). Even so, the uniqueness of each individual may be better understood and interpreted within the context of the common socializing influences of his or her formative years.

All in all, raising generational awareness, understanding what is shaping primary and secondary students and identifying collective traits may aide teachers bridge the generation gap and reach their students more effectively. It is just a question of giving it a try!

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