Are you teaching Generation Alpha with Baby Boomer content? Educators are faced with new challenges from the generation that may live into the 22nd century. How can teachers cope?
Here’s what Michael Fisher and Elizabeth Fisher, authors of Hacking Instructional Design, say about planning for the future, so we can better meet the needs of Gen Alpha.
The Problem: Contemporary Students Aren’t Interested in Traditional Constructs
Depending on when you open this book for the first time, at least eighteen years have gone by since the beginning of the 21st century. Eight years ago, we saw the ending of Generation Z, those children who were born between 1995 and 2010. They are now in our classrooms and have been for some time. Since 2010, more than thirty million more children have been born, and they represent a brand-new generation: Generation Alpha.
Gen Alpha is also known as the Global Generation or Generation Glass. They will be the most technologically literate generation in all human history. These are the children of Gen Xers and Millennials and they will live into the 22nd century.
What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities.
The problem is that we haven’t let go of the past. These Alphas are already in our classrooms, albeit at younger grade levels, and we’re still working to get where we should have been a decade ago. We are preparing for Generation Alpha while still considering Generation Z’s needs, while using Generation X’s resources, and Baby Boomer’s content.
It boggles our minds when we walk into schools where they tout their readiness for the 21st century. We’re almost 20 years in … and readiness should have happened already!
The Hack: Create an Alpha-Balanced Curriculum
The people in the Alpha Generation, as a function of the world they were born into, are going to have very specific needs. Teachers will need to examine their curricula for opportunities to engage this generation of learners, and this includes all access to everything all the time. No more computer lab Thursdays. No more coming to school just to receive knowledge and information. No more limitations on what if or what’s next.
Gen Alpha will also insist on being entrepreneurial. Think back to the Hack on Context. This is where the rubber meets the road for Gen Alphas. They will want to learn, apply, and create in many learning situations where the creation or the deliverable is relevant to other audiences—and specifically paying audiences. They will want to create content of substance and worth that they can share with the world, not just turn in to the teacher.
Generation Alpha will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.
This generation is perfectly at home online. In fact, even the youngest members are already fluent in a multitude of devices and can search by voice for just about anything they want, from making slime to finding out how to play a new game or discovering the quickest way to clean something up that they don’t want Mom or Dad to find first.
Let us reiterate here: these Gen Alphas don’t need to know how to read to begin searching digital devices. Traditional print literacy is no longer the main literacy entry point. (It’s still super important, though!)
Gen Alphas, while a well-connected generation, will not necessarily have the same social skills as previous generations. They are comfortable and will seek out online interactors—at the expense of physical/live human interactions. Because of this, teachers will need to be cognizant of soft skills like the Habits of Mind, as well as what Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves describe as social and human capital.
The planned curriculum for these students should be in balance with these needs. Teachers need to care about the world their students are currently living in and the world they will graduate into. Knowing the above, in partnership with existing instructional practices, creates a contemporary curriculum that is inclusive of Generation Alpha’s needs and the responsibilities of the teacher.
What we’ve done up until now in education has worked for the majority of students. However, those methods and practices will wane in effectiveness as time moves forward.
What You Can Do Tomorrow
- Plan for 24/7 access across multiple devices. Teachers will need to be more considerate of skills rather than content. The What is out there already. The How and the Why are still critically important. Devices are a requirement in the classroom, just as paper or pencils or chairs are choice items. Contemporary learners need experiences with all these materials, including different types of devices that allow for different functions: tablets for portability, and laptops and desktops for more powerful research, writing, and product-making. Note that we are not suggesting they should be on the device 24/7, just that those devices must be available when needed. Start planning for a way to make this happen.
- Plan to create products of value. Teachers will need to consider learning outcomes where students can demonstrate learning in innovative and creative ways. Students will want to create these demonstrations of learning for a much wider audience (see the Hack on Ultima Thule) and perhaps for a chance to make money or a difference.
- Start collaborating when thinking critically and creatively. Teachers will need to provide opportunities for digital interactions, virtual connections, making, prototyping, gaming, video production, virtual destinations, coding, and more! All of these “hot” activities in education boil down to decisions that children make and the outcomes or consequences of those decisions. These different opportunities invite students to be metacognitive, high-level thinkers who reflect on their decisions and choose more wisely.
- Plan to teach more soft skills. What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities—dispositions that are focal points in the previously mentioned Habits of Mind. With everything available all the time, students develop habits that keep them from exploring and discovering. Alexa and Siri are only going to help students to a point, and then students need to navigate learning, communication, and collaboration in ways that technology is currently eroding in human interactions. Be prepared to help them with these skills so they can move forward into the world purposefully and successfully.
Generation Alpha, and by extension, Millennials and Generation Z, will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.
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