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
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
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
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
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?