You’ve experienced it: you’re in the midst of explaining some complicated grammar point, perhaps having to do with the different tenses of the passive voice, writing on the board as you’re explaining various examples, and you glance back at your students—uniformly young—and see the glazing eyes, or the eye rolling, or the drifting off.
At any rate, there isn’t a pretense of attending the lecture. Maybe someone even says aloud, “This is boring.” And then you remember, “Oh, no! I forgot to entertain them!” Other than getting sarcastic with, “If you are looking for can-can’s and circus acts, you have come to the wrong class,” what can a teacher do? A certain amount of curricula probably just isn’t very interesting, by its nature. How inherently fun really is instruction in standard punctuation? There is also the question of how fun teachers should make school. Does making every instructional moment fun set student up for inevitable disappointment? A number of years ago when I was a student myself, I was out jogging one evening, and I witnessed a serious car accident. I had to stand around the scene for about an hour to give my testimony to the police officers. Another young woman, also a witness, was waiting with me and kept complaining about how boring it was. I remember thinking how strange that was, in that the incident was the most interesting thing that had happened to me all week, and of course it wasn’t the cops’ job to make sure we weren’t bored. However, the “Are we having fun yet?” attitude is the one we as instructors are facing and seems to be our job to address in some way. So on this issue of the entitled “entertain me” attitude, there are several things to balance as follows.
How to Address the 'Entertain Me' Attitude in Your Classroom
Address the Curriculum and Instruction
Most subject matter, properly addressed—properly taught, that is—is inherently interesting.
I hated science as an elementary school child because I associated it with reading boring, dense textbooks with impenetrable, Latinate vocabulary and indecipherable charts and graphics. That isn’t really science. Science is about asking questions and seeking answers in the natural world. This is how science is taught to my daughter, and science is her favorite subject. If a number of students are complaining about boredom, look at how the subject matter is being taught. Is English being treated as if it is something that exists only in textbooks? Are students being asked to spend an excessive amount of time diagramming sentences or manipulating verb tenses? If so, consider changing the instructional method and add more opportunity for student interaction and actual use of the language.
Delve Into Curriculum
Too often students are allowed to only skim the surface of knowledge. Almost anything, however, is boring if only superficially understood and interesting only once enough is known of it. One of my favorite books when I was a teenager was about a girls’ soccer team—not something I normally would have been interested in, but the author gave enough detail about the sport and the team relationships to make it interesting. Find those details about the subject that will make it relevant and interesting to students.
Include a Variety of Activities
The “This is boring” complaint can also be a sign that there is not enough variety of activities within a class period. The average learner can only attend fifteen or twenty minutes to one activity before needing a change. In just the hour or so it’s taken to type this article, for example, I’ve had to get up twice just to stretch my legs, and my attention span is greater than most of our students’. Plan for at least two activities during a one-hour class, and give students a chance to get up and move around in between if the class session is longer.
Address the Attitude
If, after changing the curriculum and making instruction more student-centered, students are still complaining of boredom, it’s time to face the attitude head-on. Ask the students if they can tell you specifically what is boring and what would be less boring. What is a class that they find less boring and why? This can be done in an informal and anonymous questionnaire posted on the board, and students can turn in answers on a sheet of paper before they leave. Sometimes you can get valuable information: e.g., “I like Ms. Chang’s class because she gives us a chance to get up and move around,” may be a sign that you have some kinesthetic learners in class, and incorporating more activities with some movement might be helpful.
Prepare Students for Boredom
If, after addressing the curriculum and instruction, as well as student attitudes and learning needs, students still are complaining, “I’m bored,” it’s time to address the whole nature of boredom. This is really an extension of addressing student attitude—specifically, the belief that boredom is something negative and something students should never be exposed to. Discuss other situations that are boring, besides class: waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles or in the dentist’s office comes to mind. Will the DMV or dentist feel responsible for entertaining the students? Probably not to the extent of their teachers. What can students do in these situations to keep themselves entertained? Then go back to the curriculum. Acknowledge some parts of it probably aren’t very interesting, such as standard paragraph structure, but also put the responsibility back on the students. What can you notice about this paragraph that is interesting? How does it relate to your life?
The notion that teachers are entertainers is one deeply ingrained in our culture and difficult to address.
However, by addressing the curriculum and student attitude, a richer curriculum is developed, and students become independent enough to entertain themselves instead of waiting for someone else to.
Do your students demonstrate an “entertain me” attitude? If so, what do you do?
Share your advice for addressing this attitude.