Battle Boredom with Student Engagement

Battling Boredom: Even More Strategies to Spark Student Engagement, Part 2
By Bryan Harris and Lisa Bradshaw
(Routledge, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Rita Platt

Teachers, we have to admit it. Sometimes our students are bored. That’s a problem. A big problem. Why? Because even if we keep teaching our hearts out, students who are bored with what we are saying will not learn. We’ve got to fight classroom boredom to reach and teach our students.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, the percentage of students who claim they are bored in school increases dramatically in each grade after early elementary school. By the time students start high school, as many as 56% of students are bored in their classes. Battling Boredom: Even More Strategies to Spark Student Engagement, Part 2 aims to help teachers decrease that astonishing statistic by offering engagement strategies that prevent and/or alleviate student boredom.

Boredom busters to use right away

After a very short introduction that outlines the dangers of a boring classroom, the book is all practical strategies. There are seven categories of boredom busters.

  1. Academic Talk: Strategies to deepen engagement, thinking, and understanding of content through meaningful talk.
  2. Energizers: Ideas for getting students’ blood pumping to their brains with quick physical activity.
  3. Feedback: Advice for giving students meaningful feedback and teaching them to offer feedback to others (including you!).
  4. Questioning: Tips, hints, and ideas for making the most out of the questions you ask to engage students.
  5. Technology: Strategies for harnessing the power of technology to hook students into learning.
  6. Vocabulary: Engaging, interactive ideas for making vocabulary learning fun and impactful.
  7. Writing: A set of ideas aimed to help you use writing for learning (in contrast to helping students learn to write).

Each chapter offers several practical ideas, all of which include an overview of the strategy, step-by-step instructions for using it, and tips and variations that you can try.

Outdated practices that bring on the snores

The final chapter offers a list of commonly used strategies that the authors claim do not work in the war against boredom. They include the following:

Academic Decathlons: These and other activities that eliminate students “tournament style” allow some students to disengage.

Copying: This strategy may keep students quiet so it looks like they are engaged, but the authors are adamant that copying leads to compliance, not engagement.

Extended Lecture: We have been warned about the low-effect strength of the lecture method for years. The authors remind us that, given students’ actual attention spans, extended lectures are little more than a waste of everyone’s time.

Allowing for Optional Participation: All students can and should be required to participate. In this same vein, the authors caution against asking questions where you call a student’s name first. For example, instead of saying, “John, can you tell how to determine theme?” you should say, “Class, can you tell me how to determine the theme?” You can still call on John, but this way the entire class is more likely to think about the answer.

Shifting to a collaborative classroom

Lately I have been trying hard to stick to the Ten & Two strategy, for every ten minutes I talk, students are offered at least two minutes to process the information. This book offered many helpful suggestions for me as I shift to a more student-centered and collaborative classroom. It has the potential to do the same for you!

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a teacher-librarian, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and writes for We Teach We Learn. She recently launched Heart of the School, a MiddleWeb blog.


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