Malaysia’s public education system has not changed all that much for the last several decades, but the reality is that everything else has. Teachers are now teaching a generation of students very different from their predecessors; this generation has been coined as Gen Z. Gen Z has grown up with the presence of the internet and gadgets from the time they were toddlers, and their lives heavily revolve around these two things.
This means that Gen Z is the generation that has been most bombarded with new information on the Internet since their early lives, and for that reason, generally have shorter attention spans. This new generation’s likes and dislikes may seem alien to today’s teachers; however, teachers must plan their lessons to include the talking points that Gen Z is most interested in to keep their attention and effectively deliver knowledge.
If you are a teacher who’s struggling to connect with Gen Z students, read on for a short guide on planning and executing effective lessons for your attention-depleted students.
Social Media Is Your Friend
While Gen Y also spends a lot of time online, many Gen Zs spend hours online on social media. Social media is how they stay connected to their friends as well as get the latest news almost immediately after it happens.
So, it pays for teachers to maintain an active online presence on social media and be in the know about pop culture and even major events happening worldwide; knowing this information and incorporating it into your lessons (especially in the nearest future possible) will definitely capture your students’ attention.
However, be sure that you are gaining inspiration from the correct channel; Tiktok, Instagram, and YouTube are your best options if you want to be where your students are. Don’t depend on Facebook, because most Gen Zs no longer maintain an active Facebook presence (it’s for “old” people, apparently)!
While it’s easy to write off your Gen Z students as being Internet addicts that don’t care for much else, don’t do that! Gen Z, being so exposed to the Internet, actually cares a lot about many world issues that we may not have thought of ourselves. Don’t refrain from including topics like climate change, mental health, sexual health, body positivity, economic disparities, and so on in your lessons.
Beyond including it, be sure that the lesson involves your students talking about these issues and sharing opinions with their friends and you. Even better, get them to share potential solutions they can think up that are practical and doable to resolve the discussed problems. You may be surprised by some of their ideas!
The traditional classroom usually involves teachers doing most of the talking, and students just diligently taking notes or completing exercises. With Gen Z’s short attention span, this way of teaching will ensure that they detest learning your subject. So, be mindful of creating a student-centric lesson each time, where teacher talk-time is kept to a minimum. Students should be the one speaking, collaborating, doing, and expressing their opinions in your classroom.
Granted, this will mean more work for you in terms of planning but you can be assured that this effort will be worth it when your students stay engaged during the lesson.
If you are teaching a content-heavy subject like Science or History, you can still create student-centric lessons. Teach students via experimentation and exploration as opposed to feeding them facts all year long. If you can’t do it for every lesson, try to at least ensure half of your lessons are interactive in nature.
Utilise Gen Z’s digital literacy by storing resources as well as lesson assessment online for students to access easily through their devices. Try to encourage usage of online tools like Canva and video editing tools to complete assessments, and even consider recording teaching sessions beforehand for students to go through before class (look up flipped classroom model).
However, for note-taking, it’s best to encourage your students to take notes during lessons using traditional pen and paper. Research has shown that retention is better when students take notes the old fashioned way as opposed to using gadgets.
This being said, be sure to not ask students to take pages and pages of notes in each lesson; you can be sure to lose their interest this way.
Remember those summary exercises you had to do in school? This is the time to put it to good use; Gen Z will love you if you keep information concise and easily digestible. Try to keep fact-spewing to the most necessary parts, and encourage students to fill in the gaps themselves via their own research. This applies to even those off-the-cuff moments when you answer their questions: keep answers to the point and wait for follow-up questions if necessary.
Gen Z may be the generation with the worst attention span, but they are probably also the ones with the most developed digital literacy, the deepest concern for the world around them, and the highest enthusiasm about making a positive change in their lifetimes. Develop these traits well in the classroom by adapting to their needs, and you will be helping to produce future adults who are capable of turning many things around for the better. Not to mention, setting up interactive two-way lessons will be eye-opening and exciting for you as well!
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