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Beliefs and Boredom

By Dave Stuart Jr.

When students get bored, they disengage from the task at hand. They either don't do the work — of listening, of learning, of reading, of writing — or they do it with a very low level of attention and care.

To remedy student boredom, I argue that the simplest solutions are the best ones. It's certainly possible that gamifying all of education is a way to remedy student boredom — but I think this is a much more complicated undertaking than, say, studying the five key beliefs beneath student motivation and applying them to our classrooms.

After all, boredom is highly individualized. While you may find it interesting to read blogs about teaching, most people in the world would find that tediously boring. Likewise, I have students who adore all things anime. When I've tried to watch anime, though, I've found it pretty boring.

I would argue that anime is no more inherently boring than teaching blogs are. It's just that I have one set of beliefs about anime and another about teaching.

For anime,

  • Belonging/Identity: I don't identify with anime; I don't desire to belong to the community of anime watchers.
  • Effort and Value: While I do think that I could get to a place where I built enough anime knowledge to discover its merits and perhaps even enjoy it, I'm not at all tempted to invest my time and effort that way. In other words, I don't think there's anything wrong with Japanese animation, but I don't value it nearly enough to want to spend any time studying or enjoying it.

Yet for teaching,

  • Belonging/Identity: I love being a teacher and investing my working life toward it. Being part of this profession is worth more to me than treasure or prestige.
  • Effort and Value: I've exerted years of effort toward improving my teaching knowledge and abilities because I love it so much. (Loving something is a high form of the value belief.) Teaching also feeds my family — so I value getting better at teaching from a utilitarian perspective, too.

So what I would say to someone who is seeking to combat student boredom by revamping their whole curriculum or school into something gamified or intensely individualized is that it might be more efficient to bone up on the five key beliefs first. The research is rich, and many of the interventions are simple. In my next article, I'll share one intervention that helps students value coursework, particularly in areas where they currently don't.

One Response to Beliefs and Boredom

  1. E. Amann May 1, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    Dave, thank you for this clear example – it makes so much sense. To help students feel they are part of the classroom culture, that they belong, and that what we are doing is relevant to their lives . . . I get it! Thank you.

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