Bored Students: Treating Boredom in the Classroom

Bored Students: Treating Boredom in the Classroom

May 15, 2020Joey Cipriano

          Your kids aren’t complaining for the sake of complaining. Students across the country all echo the same sentiment about school and learning: School is boring.

          Like grownups, job satisfaction in adults is an important indicator of how well they perform their daily tasks. As the adage says, “A happy worker works harder,” the thought may very well likely be the same for students in school. If students simply aren’t interested in what is being taught or they feel their school is merely a building with classrooms to house them for seven to eight hours a day, they won’t feel compelled to learn anything.

          Boredom in the classroom is slowly becoming an epidemic in education. The only way to reverse course and make sure students not only feel they’re getting something out of the lessons being taught, but also being given useful skills they’ll need to be productive adults is to review how the problem ever got this bad.

Identifying Potential Reasons for Lack of Interest

          While boredom is not a serious mental condition or a cause for alarm, chronic boredom in the classroom and in school could be severely detrimental to the education of children and teens. If going to school seems more like a daily punishment where the teachers sound like broken records and are more interested in getting the class over with than engaging students, then it’s no wonder why many young people think school is boring. 

          According to an article from Harvard Magazine, A 2013 Gallup Poll of 500,000 students from grades five through 12 showed that while nearly 8 in 10 elementary school students felt “engaged” in school, only 4 out of 10 high school students felt the same. In a previous 2004 poll, students were asked to describe how they felt about school from a list of 14 different adjectives. “Bored” was chosen the most often while “tired” was second.

          When we break down the common perceptions of what public schooling has become in the last few decades, it’s much easier to understand why students aren’t nearly as interested in school once they reach their teenage years. Some of those perceptions include:

  • The emphasis of standardized tests: Many parents and students feel teachers are using standardized tests as the basis for their lesson plans and only feel compelled to teach the areas needed to pass it.
  • Same place, same faces, same furniture: When a child is young, the prospect of going to school like older kids is exciting and new. In early grades, children are engaged with more activities than later grades. Teens are forced to take notes, listen to lectures, and often deal with teachers with poor professionalism and a lack of drive to teach. When the classroom gets progressively boring as the years go on, students get progressively bored.
  • Practically Zero Motivation: Except for a small group of young minds who enjoy learning regardless of who is teaching or where they’re learning, many students feel school is just a place they must attend by law until they’re legal adults. They receive little to no motivation to go to school or do well by their family or peers. Instead, school becomes one of many chores. There is no thought to teach young people not to take school for granted because many children around the world never get the chance of an education.
  • Tactile and creative learning ends and cerebral learning begins: Children in younger grades are consistently engaged in projects that make them move or be creative, often learning by doing. Very rarely to teens have the same kind of learning environment. Instead, they’re expected to listen, take notes, or read. There is little to no physical engagement going on in classrooms. Classes are nearly two hours of sitting in the same spot, listening, and memorizing.

Exploring Student Boredom More Closely

          As any seasoned teacher knows, the same teaching style doesn’t work for students with different learning styles. Though some students might do well with note-taking and listening to lectures, other students may require a more hands on approach to teaching. While not every classroom can have physical engagement, for instance in an English classroom, fun and interesting discussion that forces a student to think more deeply into what they’re learning can be beneficial. 

          Thinking from the perspective of a student, there may be simplistic reasons why boredom is so common every classroom:

  • A Lack of a Challenge: For an above average student who doesn’t require much instruction, a worksheet or essay is not a task worthy of their full potential. Good teachers are easily able to spot out the students in their class that excel above their peers. When these students are not recognized as being more advanced, they not only become bored, but they may often rebell by not even bothering to complete tasks they feel are too easy. And while not all above average students may be considered gifted, it’s important for teachers to spot the students who require more of a challenge than those who may not be as advanced.
  • The Lesson has no Practicality: This is an idea that even adults can relate to long after they’ve left school. It’s the idea that the lesson being taught has absolutely no usefulness whatsoever. For a student who has zero intentions of being an engineer or architect, there is very little point in learning something like advanced mathematics when they have no intention to ever use it.

    Furthermore, students may also feel as though they already know the material being taught. This is common for advanced students who are ready to progress faster than other students.
  • No Social Connections with Peers or Teachers: Establishing social connections in school is important because it’s one of the many things that motivates students to go to school. Even if school simply means being able to hang out with friends, it gives them a reason to go. It’s far better when students make a connection with a teacher they respect as it gives the student a class to look forward to for the right reasons.

    But for introverted students or those with social anxiety, making connections can be more difficult than the lessons being taught. When school is both boring and lonely, there is far less interest in going to school or even bothering to do the work.
  • Learning Difficulties: Boredom doesn’t always necessarily mean a student feels disinterested in what is being taught. It can also be a sign they simply lack the skills to complete the task. Whether a student simply needs to be taught a certain way or has a disability that makes learning difficult, it’s another possibility teachers and parents must consider when trying to understand why a student refuses to work. “I’m bored” may actually mean, “I don’t know how to do this so I won’t do it.”

A New Approach to Teaching

          So, what is the solution to solving the crisis of boredom in the classroom? Simple: engagement, engagement, engagement.

          As mentioned previously in the Gallup Poll data, when students are actively involved in the learning process by doing something either physically or intellectually stimulating, they are more engaged and feel the process is beneficial and worth their attention.

          How can teachers achieve the type of engagement that reverses the course caused by boredom? Here are a few potential suggestions:

  • Reading Out Loud with Feeling: Reading and English classes are likely going to have few opportunities to have hands on lessons. But that doesn’t mean a simple day of reading has to be boring. Instead, read together as a class and make a production of it. Add emotion to the characters, surprise students with questions to see if they’re following along, and choose popular stories that may be trending or they may have heard of in entertainment news.
  • Create Opportunities for Physical Engagement: Whether it’s simple mediation, teaching breathing techniques, or standing up to stretch for a few minutes, give students chances to actually do something more than sit in a desk all day or all period and make them take notes or listen to a lesson.
  • Let Students “Jump Ahead”: Recognize there are some students in your class who learn faster than others and teaching a certain pace might not work for them. If it’s clear the more advanced students are learning the material and are fine teaching themselves, encourage them to jump ahead a bit while focusing on the students who need a bit more of an explanation. This will prevent more advanced students from feeling as though they’re hindered by the rest of their peers.
  • Make Lessons Connect to Real Life: To combat the feeling of a useless lesson, apply what is being taught to a real world situation. How will the lesson being taught actually be useful to students when they’re functioning adults? If learning about fractions has a useful purpose, explain a real life event where knowing factions would be important to them.
  • Projects are Important: Repetitive lessons and lectures can often get exhausting and boring. Engaging students by doing projects designed around what is being taught can be beneficial for those students who learn more by doing instead of listening, reading, or note taking.
  • Attacking Boredom by Letting Students Address the Problem: While teachers can’t let their students play on their phones all class period or talk to their friends, letting students see the boring parts of a task and encouraging them to find their own solution is helpful. For example, when an assignment requires multiple steps, some students might find going in a certain order not as engaging as jumping into the more difficult parts first. Allow them to attack their boredom in a way that makes them more efficient and more engaged in the task.

    This is also true for other tasks. If a student finds reading a certain book boring, encourage them to simply read another book. The idea isn’t to force students to do something they will openly resist doing, but to encourage positive behavior by allowing them to do a task they find both stimulating, worthy of their time, and educational.

The Parent Connection

          Motivational and engaged parents create motivated and engaged students. Parents should take the time to make sure their child is actively learning everyday and finds some sort of stimulating enjoyment in the lessons being taught. This makes open communication between parent and child critical. 

          Ask how classes are going, if they find the teacher is good at conveying the information, and what kinds of things are going on when the lesson is being taught. This will give a gauge to how they’re enjoying the process of learning or if they’re learning anything at all. It also gives parents the opportunity to evaluate if their child may need additional help by recognizing the signs of a learning disability early. 

          Parents should keep lines of communication open with teachers. When it becomes apparent your son or daughter is becoming disheartened or disinterested in a particular subject at school, it’s time for a parent - teacher conference. This way solutions can be found quickly and boredom or rebellion doesn’t begin to have a chance to start.

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