“I’m bored. An all too familiar statement in classrooms (and homes) around the world.
What do students mean when they say this? It’s usually blurted out without a lot of thought behind it, because – let’s face it – it’s pretty popular to say. But a closer analysis tells us it could mean, “I already know this”, “I don’t see the purpose in learning this”, “I don’t understand the explanation”, “I don’t have any idea what this subject is all about”, “I don’t know what to do next”, or “I really feel like doing something other than this!”
There are two aspects of this statement to explore. The first is that often we find ourselves rushing to alleviate a student’s (or our child’s) boredom, as though it were our problem! What we forget to tell them is: It isn’t! Lest that sound harsh, let’s unpack that.
This is actually a great teaching moment to work on communication skills. Explore what they really mean by the statement and help them to say what they really mean. Then, together, you can work on a solution. If the problem is that they don’t know what to do with themselves, you can help them think of some options. Don’t forget to include some “work options”. “Oh, good, I was just thinking I hadn’t assigned enough homework.” In fact, using humor can be an effective redirection to start the conversation.
The second aspect of this actually might lead to self-reflection on our part. I recently heard an interesting statement by Tucker Max, an author and instructor for Scribe’s online writing course. “There is no such thing as a short attention span; there is only engaging material and non-engaging material. There are lower thresholds for boredom.” With all the demands on our time that the internet provides, people don’t tend to engage in activities that are not the most interesting to them . And for the younger crowd, that means watching entertaining, fast-paced videos at the touch of a button.
How do we compete with that? I don’t think we try. We always let our students know WHY we’re studying this concept, WHY this is important for us to learn. And then we make sure our material and the way we’re presenting it is absolutely the most engaging it can be.
“I’m bored,” is a non-statement in my classroom. “Please rephrase that in a more academic manner,” is what students hear upon its utterance. Always said with a smile…and complete faith in their ability to do so.