Recent research suggests that boredom might have many benefits, including increased creativity. A researcher from the University of Central Lancashire carried out the following experiment. She split students into two groups and had one group carry out a humdrum task of copying phone numbers from a phone book and then asked both groups to come up with as many creative uses for two plastic cups as possible…Do you have any doubts as to who got their creative juices flowing at the speed of light?
What the researcher calls an ‘experiment’ is everyday classroom experience for many teachers. Whenever our students get bored, their creativity levels go through the roof, and they come up with a million creative uses for their pens, pencils, books, classmates, the floor and the ceiling in the classroom. However, we’d never plan a boring task. Never. It’s the topic, which is boring.
Asserting that we have boring topics (texts, language aspects, etc.) to teach is probably the best excuse for our students’ low level of interest and engagement, and, ultimately, performance. I’ve heard it many times, coming from a horde of experienced teachers (usually added with ‘o tempora, o mores, these modern kids, they just don’t care anymore!) and young teachers who are fired up with enthusiasm but have fewer strategies to draw from.
There’s a well-known mantra in teaching – “explore your students’ interests”. This, however, doesn’t mean that their interests should define the topics we introduce. This defines the first step in my NO-JOKE GUIDE: HOW TO BE A BORING TEACHER
Step 1. Wave good-bye to Shakespeare, poetry, art, spacecrafts, secret lives of butterflies, etc. and focus entirely on the topics your students are interested in at the moment. It’s ‘Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen’ly easy.
Welcome to the world of Pepe the Frog, teachers!
Potential risks and opportunities: becoming a ‘Yo Audrey’ teacher
John Dewey wrote that interest operates by a process of “catch” and “hold”. First, we catch someone’s interest, and then we should try to maintain it.
To make sure your students don’t ‘catch’ it right away, keep a stiff upper lip and repeat to them again and again that
Step 2. It’s a dull topic (I know, right?) but you have to learn it because a) it’s in the course book; b) it’s in the test; c) it’s in the curriculum; d) your school insists on it; e) any other no-choice option.
No choice coupled with teachers’ beliefs (or previous learning traces) might be a winning combination. This managed to create quite an off-putting image of grammar, evoking associations of something that can be either “right” or “wrong”.
The approach required to catch someone’s interest is different from the one that is required to hold it. If your students still show a spark of interest (despite Step 1 and Step 2 actions),
Step 3. Overcomplicate it
The research of Paul Silvia suggests that to be interesting, the subject matter must be novel and comprehensible. That means introducing either entirely new things or novel aspects of familiar things and calibrating their complexity so that these things are neither too hard nor too easy to understand. The minute people feel unable to comprehend them and master the challenges that they pose, they lose interest.
If you find it hard to overcomplicate your topic, resort to the opposite
Step 4. Oversimplify it
Keeping up one’s interest requires some challenging activities. Give them an easy path to the feeling that they understand something when what they understand is not complete, and they will spiral downward into the abyss of boredom.
Step 5. Avoid variety
Stick to your course book. Follow it religiously, page after page. The minute you use something that may build in surprises, be it a worksheet you designed or a new game you’d like to try, you lose it all. They get interested.
Step 6. All work and no fun
Review your topic/course book thoroughly to eliminate any element of fun (jokes, games, etc.) and, for heaven’s sake, wipe the smile off your face – we mean hard work here.
Step 7. Talk too much
It’s your stage. It’s your time. Talking too much is especially effective in getting their eyes glaze over. The more verbose you are, the less attentive your students will be.
Step 8. No personal relevance
People remember and get curious about things that move them. Make sure you use nothing they might relate to or nothing that might move them – no images, no music, no videos, and
Step 9. No motion
Get them to sit up straight and still “in time of books”. Try to avoid using activities that involve moving around the classroom; use “pair up and ask questions” instead of an opinion poll or gallery walk. To strengthen the effect, make sure the questions have no personal relevance to your students.
Step 10. No enthusiasm
Some studies suggest that teacher’s enthusiasm has a significant influence on student engagement in the classroom. The more enthusiastic and dynamic teachers are, the more engaged students become, behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally. Enthusiastic teachers rub off their enthusiasm on students, so if you want your students to be bored, let yourself be crushed by boredom.
There are no boring topics, there are boring ________.
It’s your choice.