Bridging the Generation Gap by learning from our students

Bridging the Generation Gap by learning from our students

NICOLAE – CRISTIAN TIMOFTICIUC
2nd year student of Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching at ”Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iași

Abstract. Generation Gap is a phenomenon which appears when there is a failure in communication between people belonging to different generations. There is a certain diversity as to what generates the Generation Gap, ranging from values and attitudes to technology and language. Inside the classroom, the Generation Gap can cause technological, linguistic or emotional barriers between the two categories of people involved in the teaching / learning process. By studying the generational traits of their students, teachers can adapt their teaching style as to fit the classroom needs. This can mean a shift in attitude towards the students’ preferences, a change in teaching materials and updated classroom activities. At the same time, teachers should include elements specific to their generation’s linguistic and technological background, as well as attitudes and values from the same age. These improvements, if well thought, can help bridge the generation gap between teachers and students and reduce possibly hindering tensions in the classroom.

  1. What is the Generation Gap?

The Generation Gap is a more or less widespread phenomenon occurring between people from different generations. In this article, a generation is viewed as a particular age group, with distinct cultural, economic and technological backgrounds (The Center for Generattional Kinetics), the other meaning of the term implying family ties (Biggs). The concept of various generations of people sharing different values and technological resources has been theorized since the 1960s (Generation gap), although, as quoted by Biggs, Freud traces back generation conflict to the very beginning of the parent – child psychodynamic (Thinking about Generations: Conceptual Positions).

In everyday conversations, the generation gap is the most obvious in instances when older people compare present-day situations and actions to what and how they used to witness or do ”back in the days”. Similarly, young people seem to have a tendency to assess their older peers’ attitudes and actions and adopt a dismissive attitude, often non-overt.

In a classroom environment, this translates to teachers sometimes enforcing obsolete teaching methods (such as the dreaded dictation) and pupils actively disobeying direct instructions, on the premise that they know better. To a teacher whose attitude and methods derive from contexts of the past and never update, young students may seem to misbehave, disregard said teacher and not pay attention in class. In addition, as mentioned above, teaching methods and strategies may not always be student-centered, which could hinder the teaching/learning process.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the young students who are in the position of negotiating their place, rights and obligations in the classroom environment. Poor understanding of the teachers’ background, attitudes and beliefs can lead to aforementioned students dismissively considering their educators outdated, strict or awkward.

The present article will attempt to show how this perceived difference between various generations interacting in the classroom should translate into mutual technological, linguistic and attitudinal gain.

  • Teacher and pupil generations

Since the birth of the concept of generation, several distinct groups of people have been identified and grouped into generations. However, not any generation will be taken into consideration. In Romania, the minimum age for entering the workforce is 16 years old and the maximum age is 63 years old for women and 65 years old for men, respectively. Uncommon situations, such as teachers deciding to continue their mission after their retirement age or the case of the 14-year-old pupil who got a teaching position (Cel mai tânăr profesor din România are 14 ani), are to be considered exceptions from the rule.

Having this taken into account, the possible generations of people who can teach in Romania are Baby Boomers (birth years ranging from 1946 to 1964), Generation X-ers (mid 1960s – early 1980s), Millennials (early 1980s – mid 1990s) and, since a few years, a significant number of members of Generation Z (mid 1990s – early 2000s). Romanian citizen recognize other generations as well, such as ”Generația Revoluției” and ”Decrețeii”, but these tend to overlap, in terms of birth years, with internationally recognized generations (Generation).

The most common teacher profile in Romania, according to an international survey, is that of ”a 42 year old woman, who reports having 16 years of teaching experience and who completed a teacher education or training programme” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Further details, such as exact demographic details about the teachers, can be retrieved from reports such as the one Romanian’s Ministry of Education compiled in 2016 (Raport privind starea învățământului preuniversitar din România).

In the same document, there can be found details about the pupils in the Romanian educational system. These pupils are part of Generation Alpha, name coined by a social researcher in Australia named Mark McCrindle to address the generation of people born between 2010 and 2024 – meaning that we have yet to discover everything about this group of people (After Z comes… generation Alpha).

  • Generation traits and interests

The chronological defining set of traits of each generation starts with those of the Baby Boomers. They are people who are generally regarded as the first tolerant generation, an understandable aspect if we take into consideration the fact that their birth years are after the Second World War. They can be described as optimistic, self-righteous and self-centered. As for their technological preferences, they are most likely to use TVs and classic phones, and they only resort to online communication if needed, since they consider devices that are more modern and services as requiring a learning process (Generation Guide).

Generation X represents the category of people who are very individualistic and feel misunderstood by other generations. They grew up in a time marked by a shift from traditional, written sources to digital sources, and they are often described as individualistic, cynical and skeptical people, who place the rights of the individual above the rights of the group and who are not very impressed by authority or authority figures. Their preferred methods of communication / learning are blogs, Facebook and television (West Midland Family Center).

The following generation is known either by the name Generation Y or simply Millennials. This segment of the population was raised by the so-called ”helicopter parents” and the average Millennial feels an enormous academic pressure. They tend to schedule everything and work in teams, manifesting high levels of social skills and civic responsibility, often being considered the most educated generation. These people’s preferred methods of reading / producing content are TV, streaming platforms, computers and mobile devices (Generation Guide).

The newest possible generation of teachers consists of members of Generation Z, the people who have never known a world without computers and mobile devices, which are also their favorite devices, since they spend on average over three hours using them. This is one of the reasons that they have significantly diminished attention spans. From a financial point of view, they are generally speaking more cautious and keener to learn about personal finances and opening savings accounts (Kasasa).

As for the generation which forms the vast majority of the pupils today, it is called, as stated before, Generation Alpha, since it was agreed to name the generations after Gen Z based on the Greek alphabet (After Z comes… generation Alpha). They are exclusively born in the 21st century and thus they are very familiar with mobile devices and artificial intelligence (Fourtané), but, just like in the case of Millennials, this results in a drastically diminished attention span. Their habits also influence family dynamics, making the Generation Alpha child and his/her parents forming the most democratized family type ever seen. The Generation Alpha child is, basically, flooded with advertisements while browsing and becomes, in turn, an influencer (Pasquarelli and Schultz). It is also expected to carry on their parents’ pull towards multiculturalism and non-traditional gender roles (Liffreing).

  • Generation Alpha-oriented classroom activities

After having listed the main traits of each generation, we can clearly identify the potential divergent attitudes and actions of members of Generation Alpha and those of the other generations. Teachers from all generations could easily complain about the low attention span of the Generation Alpha students, while the latter may claim the former demand too much from them. Intensive use of electronic devices, primarily smartphones and tablets, could be another factor of the generation gap equation. Teachers allowing extended electronic device usage, and pupils refraining from getting absorbed by said devices could prove to be a balancing solution in this case. Lastly, today’s pupils are exposed to a ever-changing cultural surrounding, represented by vlogs to which they have subscribed, online picture jokes (known as memes), and a variety of artists, movies and music which adults (be they parents or teachers) may be reluctant to include in their preferences. However, these should not be ignored, but rather be assessed in terms of exploitability then included in classroom activities.

The first category of classroom activities aims to embed as much as possible from the technological range in the use of Generation Alpha. The concept of ”flipped classroom” works great in combination with the technology available to students from this generationthe students study at their own pace, in their own environment, using the devices that they are familiar with, and everything for the higher purpose of learning a foreign language. With the help of online videos (on platforms such as YouTube or Twitch, for example), a teacher can make their lesson more appealing to the stud, ents, given that it includes a familiar element. The content of the videos must be fitting to the lesson objectives, undoubtedly, it has to be intriguing and about five minutes long at most, if possible, since this is the average duration of most YouTube videos uploaded lately (minimatters). The variety of purposes a video clip can serve is more than enough to justify its use. YouTube channels like AlphaBlocks can be an excellent tool for teaching young learners basic pronunciation, whereas for older pupils video clips from channels like 7 Second Riddles or PlanetWorm Riddles & Tests could prove a real challenge for their lateral thinking and attention span. Finally, background music for setting the mood or playing games can be easily found on such websites with just a few clicks.

Another use of Generation Alpha technology is to have students submit their assignments in digital form, as opposed to the traditional written assignment. The teacher could also assign additional tasks, like formatting a document, for example, to increase the students’ digital competence. Of course, this should not in any way completely replace traditional assignments, but merely accompany them. This activity could be associated with online pair work / group work, for a greater variety, which can help improve students’ social skills by having them interact for specific purposes.

The result of such a collaborative result could even be a multimedia product, not a simple typed and formatted text following certain requirements. This would challenge students to put their computer knowledge to good use, like the activity suggested above, and create finished products that make them proud and, at the same time, help them become more proficient in the foreign language studied. Said product can be further used in future classroom activities, as an addition to already-existent online materials.

Generation Alpha’s low attention span already found some possible solutions in the previously mentioned activities, but those were mainly aimed at embedding technology in teaching. As for the activities which aim to increase the attention span, we should first consider bringing various types of puzzles into the classroom, minding the difficulty of said puzzles – frustration could actually hinder progress instead of stimulate it. Cleverly designed puzzles could prove to be a highly stimulating material to use. While solving puzzles, the teacher could also try to eliminate as many distractors as possible. Depending on the type of puzzle used, students could even be asked to cover their eyes or ears, in order to allow their other senses to be the decisive factors in solving the puzzle.

An interesting activity to play in class is to use ”attention triggers” – in a way, similar to keywords – chosen by the teacher before the class (and ideally related to the topics discussed) and ”sneak” them in the teacher’s normal speech. Students who, at the end of the class, prove that they have identified all of the attention triggers are congratulated for their attention throughout the class and may even be rewarded. Similarly, the simple game of ”Simon says” could be altered – the teacher says one thing but at the same time mimes another, and only the students who performed the correct maneuver are allowed to progress in the game.

Finally, even though it is not a standalone activity, breaking down tasks into ”chunks” and dealing with only one chunk at a time could help students focus at their full capacity, instead of focusing on several tasks at once. It is true that Millennials and Generation Alpha are better at multitasking than previous generations, but that is actually one of the reasons behind their low attention spans.

As mentioned before, the use of songs is at every teacher’s disposal in the form of online videos. Stakes are raised if the teacher uses a popular song among children for these activities. ”Musical chairs” could become activity that is requested by the students every class if the song is chosen well. Moreover, Generation Alpha pop culture can prove to be ideal subjects for writing tasks, and for older students a subject like comparing a novel that they like with its movie adaptation could become a pleasant challenge and result in a satisfying reward. It should be noted, though, that this array of materials is very volatile, and students from this generation immediately lose interest in outdated references. A viral clip dating two days before the lesson may very well be more successful than a popular movie released in theatres the previous year. Teachers, if they are willing to include such elements in their lessons, should always browse the labyrinth of culture that their students access, in order to stay up-to-date and relevant. If ”challenge” videos seem to be trending around the time of the lesson, for example, chances are that including such an activity (having a foreign-language-learning core) will be successful.

  • Conclusions

It becomes clear, after considering everything above, that teachers cannot avoid coming into contact with the world of their students. It easy to access and available at all times, yet it was proven time and time again that it is hard to use it, get used to it or even understand it. The suggestions and ideas listed may not be the key to guaranteed success, but those included in lesson plans raised interest among students and their increased involvement was visible. All teachers need to do is teach themselves to live in the fast-paced, ever-changing and volatile world of their pupils at least once a few days, and learn how to exploit the materials discovered. If done right, the activities will definitely result in solid knowledge about the foreign language studied, and in a passion for learning said language. Although it may seem like a colorful vortex of information, the part of the web that Generation Alpha surfs is only hard to comprehend in the beginning. After the first few attempts, teachers will soon discover that many activities which are possible blend a variety of purposes, all of which help improve the future generation of adults, and at the same facilitate the teacher-student communication.

Bibliography

After Z comes… generation Alpha. Ed. Rosanne Verheyen. 10 2016.

Biggs, Simon. “Thinking about Generations: Conceptual Positions.” Journal of Social Issues 63 (2007): 695-711.

Cel mai tânăr profesor din România are 14 ani. 01 12 2017.

Fourtané, Susan. Generation Alpha: The Children of the Millennial. 18 December 2018.

Generation. n.d.

Generation gap. n.d.

Kasasa. Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z Explained. 22 April 2019.

Liffreing, Ilyse. Forget millennials, Gen Alpha is here (mostly). 23 October 2018.

minimatters. YouTube Statistics and Your Best Video Length for Different Videos. n.d.

Ministerul Educației Naționale. “Raport privind starea învățământului preuniversitar din România.” 2016.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “The OECD Teaching And Learning International Survey.” 2013.

Pasquarelli, Adrianne and E. J. Schultz. Move over Gen Z, Generation Alpha is the one to watch. 22 January 2019.

The Center for Generattional Kinetics. Generational Breakdown: Info About All of the Generations. 2016.

The Generation Guide – Millennials, Gen X, Y, Z and Baby Boomers. 26 April 2015.

West Midland Family Center. n.d. West Midland Family Center. Ed. Renee Allen.

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