Bored in school

High school is boring, say two thirds of students in the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement,” conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.  Nearly half of students say they’re bored every day; another 17 percent say they’re bored in every class.

  • Just 41 percent of the students in the 2009 survey responded that they went to school because of what they learn in classes.
  • Only 23 percent said they went because of their teachers.
  • Around a third said they went because they enjoy being in school.
  • Students who are thinking about about dropping out say they don’t like the school, don’t like the teachers or don’t see any value in the work they’re asked to do.

    Students said they wanted chances to be creative at school. Most dislike lectures and like “discussions in which there are no clear answers.”

    The report looks at schools that are trying to engage disaffected students.

    Kealakehe High School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, has focused on building relationships between school staff and students. . . . According to the principal of Kealakehe, Wilfred Murakami, there is a perception that people love the school and that most students participate in school activities; HSSSE data revealed that actually just about half of the students say they love the school and, similarly, about half participate in school activities. The principal uses the data to raise important questions with his staff: “What about the rest of the kids? What are those kids doing?”

    Via Teaching Now.

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    Comments

    1. Now there’s a principal who is being a principal. Such important questions to ask – “What about the rest of the kids? What are those kids doing?”

    2. Who says you’re supposed to like school? Learning isn’t always easy.

      The implicit premise is “not liking school” = “doing poorly in school” and “liking school” = “doing well”.

      Ain’t no data supporting that. Liking school might make it more likely to graduate, but it doesn’t seem to help school performance much.

    3. Give them more to do. Take them out of heterogeneous classes that force them to slow down. Stop the assemblies, stop the “timeout to discuss how we feel about this math.” Stop the dreck and just teach. For everyone’s sake, stop taking time out to do surveys.

    4. I translate “disliking lectures”, wanting to be more creative and “liking discussions where there are no clear answers” as a disinclination to concentrate and put in the effort to learn something and be graded on that knowledge.

    5. I should have added that there are plenty of kids who are bored in school for very good reason; those at the top end of the spectrum who are not being challenged. They could and would cover more material, in more depth and at a faster pace. The schools don’t seem very interested in meeting their needs; likely because if they do better, the dreaded achievement gap widens.

    6. Most dislike lectures and like “discussions in which there are no clear answers.”

      I translate “disliking lectures”, wanting to be more creative and “liking discussions where there are no clear answers” as a disinclination to concentrate and put in the effort to learn something and be graded on that knowledge.

      Exactly.  The entire STEM field has very clear answers and no real need for discussions; for the sake of a workable society, the fields of law and public administration need to be similar.  Who’d accept “no clear answers” about the bacterial contamination of ground beef or the efficacy of cancer treatments?

      Mindless talk with no clear answers is the wet dream of the chattering classes, but it doesn’t keep the lights on.  Students who “graduate” with such being their main expertise will be fit for very little.

    7. If the students had specific goals other than time served, and incentive to reach those goals as quickly as possible, then even the most mundane tasks would be less boring.

      It may be that students “dislike lectures” for good reason. It seems to me that the most important learning skill is to learn how to learn. Sitting at a desk and staring forward while someone spoon-feeds information is just about the opposite of actively acquiring knowledge.

    8. SuperSub says:

      Bart-
      It is actively acquiring knowledge if the students listen and answer questions…\
      Specific goals to me would be doing well on an exam, quiz, or practical.
      “Learning how to learn” is a secondary habit that is acquired through doing other activities, such as listening to or reading information followed by using that information. Lets not reinvent the wheel here by having students independently make 2000+ years worth of intellectual advancements in the short time they spend in school.

    9. I agree with momof4. My boredom in school was inversely proportional to the intellectual challenge of the class. Every large school district should have an exam school like Boston Latin, Thomas Jefferson near D.C., etc. Countywide ones should be available in areas where the individual districts are too small to support a specialized GATE school.

    10. Wow, teenagers are bored? Who’d’a thunk? Perhaps they feel entitled to 24/7 stimulation.

    11. Crimson Wife: I like the special schools, but I’d also like to see a return to homogeneous grouping and honors classes, even at ES-MS levels in regular schools. Many schools have kids who might not make the cut for TJ, but are very capable of handling more material, more depth and more speed than they are currently getting. It’s rather perverse that we, as a country, spend far more – by law- on educating the bottom end of the spectrum (including those who are incapable of self care, let alone academic work) than we do educating the top quarter.

    12. Sitting at a desk and staring forward while someone spoon-feeds information is just about the opposite of actively acquiring knowledge.

      Oh, nonsense. That’s exactly how the vast majority of educated people learned math, for instance. It’s how colleges worked for generations, back when we only put smart people in them.

    13. When we only put smart people in colleges, the speed of the classes could be a lot greater than with today’s “diversity”.

    14. If you read the report, you’ll notice that these are the “smart people” – the majority earn A’s and B’s, and they’re in general or honors/AP classes. You’ll also notice that students report the level of difficulty – both too difficult and not difficult enough – as a very real reason that they are bored. Finally, they don’t have enough interaction with the teacher. While subject matter not being interesting is listed as one reason for boredom, it makes me wonder whether that inherent lack of interest in subject is compounded by the other factors students cite.

      And it’s also important to note that students in middle and high schools, while far from being mature adults, are not dullards or wild animals who need to be tamed and broken in. It’s disheartening to see how quickly people tend to forget what it’s like to be in a lecture-only classroom and to actually perpetuate the cycle of (usually – some lecture-only teachers are great) bad teaching.

    15. Thanks for pointing out the issues Topher. I read this post and most of the comments yesterday and was frankly shocked with what I read about how some of the people who commented here view learning and teenagers. My own comment ended up being so long that I turned it into a post.

      http://leadingfromtheheart.org/2010/07/04/let-them-be-bored-for-real/

      Thanks for the inspiration Joanne!

    16. Ex-Physics Teacher says:

      I’ve had kids who asked for more lecturing. Those who did were always the top students.

    17. SuperSub says:

      Tracy –
      The problem with evaluating boredom is that it is too broad and subjective. There are various reasons for boredom besides the oft-targeted lecture style classes… material being too difficult or easy, class social dynamics, time of the day, or the students’ own individual personalities and preferences.

      I know a male social studies teacher who, like Indiana Jones, can make a lecture on the pottery-making techniques of the Sumerian Empire enthralling to female students because he could moonlight as a male model if he needed the money.

      I also know an older biology teacher who appears in the dictionary next to “hands-on learning” because of her fondness for dissections and outdoors learning. She has problems with bored and disengaged students, though, because she expects them to actually complete work to go along with their hands-on learning experiences, so students often just shut-down completely.

      We just had a social studies teacher retire who was a veritable rock star amongst the students. He taught two different senior-year electives that were almost entirely discussion-based. The only formal assessment for each was a 5-page opinion piece that no one in the past 5 years that I know got below a B on. Was he that good of a teacher, being able to almost completely ditch any formal assessment, lead an almost completely student-centered course, and still actually educate his students? Perhaps, but he is a bit of a joke amongst his department for spending more time discussing celebrity scandals with his students than anything to do with our government or history.

      I try to engage my students as much as possible, but when I’m facing the first half of the day with a population of students who largely only got 4-5 hours of sleep the night before (self-reported by students), it’s difficult for me to build up any momentum. One of those classes by the way, was supposedly an honors class.

      Student engagement should be one of many factors that teachers should look at when trying to improve their teaching. It should not, though, ever take primacy as a goal for teachers or administrators because it in no way guarantees learning or lack thereof.

    18. @ Engineer-Poet

      “Exactly. The entire STEM field has very clear answers and no real need for discussions; for the sake of a workable society, the fields of law and public administration need to be similar. Who’d accept “no clear answers” about the bacterial contamination of ground beef or the efficacy of cancer treatments?”

      This is wishful thinking, or naive, or stupid. Or all three.

      First of all, the entire “STEM field” does not have very clear answers and does have a real need for discussion once you get beyond very simple questions. The answers to questions like “what kind of bridge should we build here?” or “How should we write a program to do X?” do not have clear answers and must be discussed.

      It’s even worse in public administration; questions like “what should we do to relieve traffic congestion?” or “how can we deal with the increasing crime rate?” or “should there be a zoning variance for this business” are questions that likewise don’t (and inherently *can’t* have clear answers.

      WRT laws, 99% of the time, laws are clear. What’s not clear is whether someone did something that broke that law. In the vast majority of criminal cases, for example, neither the defendant nor the prosecutor disagree about what the actual crime the defendant is alleged to have committed *is*; the disagreement is usually about whether the defendant actually did it. And there’s often just no clear answer about whether someone is lying or not.

      And while constitutional issues are often (by design) not amenable to clear answers, that’s simply because you can’t have clear answers in all situations – when the framers wrote into the constitution that warrants may only issue upon “probable cause,” they recognized that there is no possible way to list all of the possible situations where p/c may exist. It is simply impossible to do this.

      Now it may well be the case that HS’s spend too much time on questions without clear answers (and – even more likely in my experience – it may also be the case that HS’s don’t evaluate the answers to questions without clear answers rigorously enough), it’s not the case that considering these kind of questions isn’t relevant.

    19. momof4- I was in the honors & AP track, and while those classes were typically less boring than the heterogeneous classes I had to take (only certain subjects were tracked), they still weren’t challenging enough. That’s why I think there ought to be special GATE schools. There weren’t enough students at that level in my high school for a special class but there would have been enough countywide to support an exam school.

      I’d wanted to go to Andover but my parents were neither wealthy enough to afford the tuition nor poor enough to receive financial aid 🙁

    20. SuperSub says:

      PeterW-
      I agree that there is not always a clear and obvious answer to problems in the STEM field… but usually there is a best answer.
      Using your bridge example, a trained engineer would be able to consider the strengths and weaknesses of various bridge types given the characteristics of the geography. These strengths and weakenesses are “clear.”
      With regards to writing a program… again, while the program will have to be constructed to fit the needs of the client, the program will be constructed from concrete pieces of programming that have been used previously.
      Law is an even better example of how “clear” knowledge is used to solve new problems. What is the main tool that judges use to interpret the law? Precedent. While new problems make it necessary to modify the law, existing principles are used a basis to establish new law.

      I’d even go farther than Engineer-Poet in saying that true advancement in any field (STEM, humanities, civics) is only done through the careful use and application of basic principles. For students to be successful in these, they need to be well versed in those basic principles. Too many educational programs, in an attempt to provide engaging, hands-on, problem solving lessons, fail to equip students with the tool that they need to solve problems – basic knowledge.

    21. Huh. I once had a student THANK me for doing a lecture format. He said his other classes – in a different discipline from mine, but still technically STEM – were all “discussion,” which he said: “It’s bull****, we never learn anything because none of the students in the class knows anything about the topic to begin with. So they sit around and talk about how drunk they got the night before or who’s bangin’ whom.”

      I could see doing discussions in upper-division classes where people have some basic background: but in, say, an intro chem class, where there’s not a lot of common background? Asking people to discuss, for example, rate equations, may wind up with some people learning it wrong.

      Personally, I went to a challenging college-prep high school and don’t remember being bored often. (I think EVERYONE is bored sometimes). My brother, on the other hand, went to the local public high and said that while his AP and college-prep courses were fine, the classes that “everyone” had to take bored him, and that it was more often a case of the teacher “babysitting” everyone for an hour than actually teaching.

    22. I respectfully disagree. Student engagement is primary. Of course it guarantees learning.

      But we must be careful in what we mean by student engagement. To have discussion for the sake of just letting kids talk is not ‘engagement’. Engagement does not mean just do whatever the heck the students want. It does mean to connect the curriculum to their experiences, their abilities, and their interests. Note that crucial term – connect. Teaching can not be only about the kid nor can it be only about curriculum. A master teacher connects them to each other so that learning does happen.

      When students in my classes have ‘checked out’, whether it be by sleeping or disrupting, I look to the only place I have control – the learning environment – and alter it to get them to check back in. It won’t work for every single student that will walk through my classroom doors, but I know that I am working towards that and that makes me feel good as a teacher.

    23. ps – I posted this last comment in response to Supersub’s reply to me.

    24. Student engagement is primary. Of course it guarantees learning. </i.

      Cite. Seriously. Find me a cite that demonstrates that kids who are more engaged learn more.

      Jo Boaler did a very famous study that was supposed to prove that kids who were given discovery work and allowed to construct their own meaning did better than kids who were forcefed. In fact, the results show that the median were the same, whereas the range in the "construct" group was much greater–a far lower low, and the same high.

      The "lecture" school didn't teach concepts at all, so they were much weaker on the smaller part of the test that covered concepts. But in terms of teaching style and engagement, the demonstrated math ability was the same for high achievers, while the discovery/engagement mode was much worse for low achievers.

    25. Arrrgh. I don’t usually have trouble with italics. Not sure why it’s happened twice today! Sorry.

    26. Cite. Seriously. Find me a cite that demonstrates that kids who are more engaged learn more.”

      I’m sorry, but if you search any database that has access to any credible journal and enter “engagement” and “achievement,” you will find well-done studies that show that increased engagement positively impacts achievement. I would ask you to find me a study that shows the opposite – that would actually be a neat trick. And that goes for any definition of “engagement,” as there are many.

    27. A point to note – engagement is NOT merely discovery learning.

      @Cal – you asked for some sources, some proof.

      “Engagement is the primary theoretical model for understanding dropout and is, quite frankly, the bottom line in interventions to promote school completion.” Amy Reschly, Ph.D. (University of Georgia) & James Appleton, Ph.D. (Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia)

      “Students need to be sufficiently engaged with higher education and learning to achieve their potential and gain from participation. Therefore student engagement is one of the most important concepts to emerge in the latter half of the twentieth century.” by Christine Hardy, Learning and Teaching Coordinator for the School of Art and Design Nottingham Trent University and Colin Bryson, Director of the Combined Honours Centre, Newcastle University

      I started a list at my blog because this subject is fascinating for me. Indeed, it is the reason I teach. I’m hoping others can add to it. Here it is and thanks for inspiring it:

      http://leadingfromtheheart.org/2010/07/06/cite-i-say-cite-student-engagement-improved-learning/

    28. SuperSub says:

      Topher and Tracy –
      Whether or not students are engaged in a lesson does not speak to the quality of the lesson itself. If the content and skills required do not accurately match the abilities of the students, learning will be hampered. If there is not enough reinforcement built into the lesson, no matter how much is learned it will largely be forgotten.
      No matter how inherently engaging a lesson may be, student-centered lessons as you seem to favor quickly fall victim to determined problem students. These students will derail lessons no matter what.
      Back to your original criticism of lecture-style teaching, lectures can be just as, if not more, engaging than other teaching styles.
      This is not to say that student-centered lessons are ineffective. I have long said that lesson style should be planned with respect to three factors – teacher personality, class characteristics, and the content itself. Too often teachers try to make lessons ‘fit’ in one way or another, resulting in failure. I prefer lecture style (most, not all of the time) because I generally work with low performers and the teacher centered approach allows me to prevent the various handicaps of my students from standing in their ways.

    29. @SuperSub

      You wrote:
      “Whether or not students are engaged in a lesson does not speak to the quality of the lesson itself.”

      I’m not sure what you mean here. If students are engaged in learning, the lesson quality is high. If not, it is low. That being said, the same lesson could would wonderfully with a different group of learners. That is why I prefer to focus on the connection between students and the curriculum, which will change each time the group of students change. Lesson plans in themselves are unreliable.

      “If the content and skills required do not accurately match the abilities of the students, learning will be hampered. If there is not enough reinforcement built into the lesson, no matter how much is learned it will largely be forgotten.”

      I am in complete agreement with you here! This is precisely why we must focus on engagement. Starting from the learner, matching their prior knowledge, readiness level, abilities, and interests to the subject matter’s curriculum is how we get there.

      “No matter how inherently engaging a lesson may be, student-centered lessons as you seem to favor quickly fall victim to determined problem students. These students will derail lessons no matter what.”

      If that is the case, whether it be student-centred or teacher-centred, the lesson will be ‘derailed’ as you put it. A lesson is not inherently engaging on its own if it does not match the students in your room. There will always be students who have learned not to trust the learning process – who have not succeeded in the past. What integrity would I have as a teacher if I allowed this pattern to continue? If students are continually disrupting learning in the room I address it with them privately. There is always a reason why and the only way to start dealing with it is to find that out. I have come to the conclusion that it is not me against them, it has to be me with them in order for learning to happen.

      “Back to your original criticism of lecture-style teaching, lectures can be just as, if not more, engaging than other teaching styles.”

      At what point was this criticized? Indeed, Topher pointed out that there are some lecturers who do it well. Students can certainly be engaged through skilled lecturers! The problem with lecture doesn’t lie with lecture in itself but with the teachers who use it because that is all they know, whether or not it is working with their students. I use lecture from time to time in my classes, generally as a doorway to a new learning situation (or unit). Though, I am sure to give students ample time for reflection during and afterwards, using a think/pair/share strategy for example.

      “… I generally work with low performers and the teacher centered approach allows me to prevent the various handicaps of my students from standing in their ways.”

      Another section I don’t quite understand. Are you saying that you are saving your students from themselves by using a teacher-centred approach? What happens when you are gone? How will they learn to live with themselves? to learn with themselves? Help me to understand how this is effective and engaging for the students.

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    4. […] Jacobs recently posted some data about boredom levels among high school students. She closed the post with a quote from a principal in Hawaii who, when confronted with the stats […]

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