While everyone loves praise and accolades, few enjoy hearing less than stellar feedback. Ironically, much of the best, most honest feedback is available from some of the youngest consumers. While seven-year-olds may not necessarily understand the specifics of curricular standards, they definitely recognize good teaching. They also understand alternative teaching strategies and genuine concern for students and their learning.
As children grow and mature, they begin to adapt their responses to fit various social standards. Many times these responses stop being shared with educators as they don’t expect them to be well received. Other times they lash out when their frustrations exceed their tolerance. Ideally, educators need honest feedback from all students at all ages. Some of the best feedback I ever received as an administrator was from elementary students. While some of the open ended questions to what they’d like to see at their school, garnished impractical requests like indoor football stadiums for elementary students or menu recommendations like bacon with every meal, most provided very telling trends. They told of recesses that were too short or of bus rides that were too long. They explained in kidspeak how some of their peers seemed to get more attention or how sometimes they’d get lost in all the endless worksheets.
For example, when five or more students in a class of 30 third-graders says the teacher yells too much or that the teacher doesn’t like kids, clearly there is a problem. When middle school kids, who typically change daily not only in who they like but in who they want to be, echo similar positive sentiments for a given teacher, something is clearly going well.
Many times as adults, we judge the quality of a teaching environment strictly based on standardized expectations rather than on individual student growth and understanding. It is paramount that society recognizes students as the target audience. It is the students who need to be reached and taught from wherever they arrive. They are the generation who will eventually lead the world. It is critical that educators constantly reflect upon the students’ individual needs and feedback. This generation was born to the digital age and present as perhaps the most unique generation to educate. According to Christopher McFadden of Interestingengineering.com, Generation Z, ages 7-21, offer the following characteristics:
- Tend to be more transparent
- Tend to be very accepting of others whilst being individualistic
- Tend to be incredibly tech savvy and more realistic
- Tend to prefer an inventive spirit
- Tend to be competitive and creative
- Tend to be skeptical of the need and expense of formal education
Clearly this generation presents an alternative landscape for educators to follow. No longer do they expect to be dictated to and told what to think. The digital age has revolutionized their access and their opportunity to information such that expanding their knowledge based requires thoughtful planning and an active understanding of the constantly evolving world around them. While the adults in the room must always charter the course of the learning, it is now perhaps more critical than ever, that they teach while actively listening to the tenor of the class. They must constantly evaluate themselves to ensure that their lessons are hitting the mark and that they are relevant for Gen Z learners.
Ultimately the key in any effective teaching dynamic to make sure that the beauty and magic of learning are the constants while the delivery and approach are the variables. Generation Z, we hear you now.