Practicing to Boredom in the Classroom

Maybe boredom isn’t such a bad thing in class. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but just hear me out.  This week, in class, we’ve been covering some material that is a little tricky. It is somewhat easy to confuse different aspects of the information and I really like to practice the subject matter as much as possible to really iron out any misconceptions. I almost want them to over-practice mentally working with and using the material. This usually results in a little eye rolling from the students, maybe a sigh or two, and then eventually the question is asked…”Why are we going over this so much? This is so easy. This is boring.” To which, I respond, “Good.”

Why do I respond this way? Why do I want to do this? Why do I want students bored (momentarily) in my classroom? 

My theory is that if they practice the material so much they are bored with it, they probably understand the material quite well. They have engaged mentally with the information so much that it now requires less conscious effort to complete the work…schemas are developed and working memory isn’t taxed as much as it once was with this subject matter. 

It is so easy they are now bored. Good. They’ve got it.

It is a bit of a paradigm shift to consider boredom this way, that’s for sure. I actually talk with my students about this ‘good’ boredom. Instead of seeing it as a negative aspect of the class, see it more as an indicator that they are understanding the material quite well. They’d rather be bored due to mastery than overwhelmed with feelings that typically accompany being lost and confused by the information. I believe this to be a great bridge to discussions about self-assessment of knowledge. What are other indicators that they have learned? What can they do to create assessments to analyze their knowledge level? How can they more effectively ‘test’ themselves as a measure of how much they know and how much they don’t know? Great questions that can lead to the forming of some great study habits…constantly recalibrating after self-evaluation of the information to be learned.

Obviously, I don’t want my students to remain in a state of boredom, though. And that’s where the skilled teacher enters the equation; recognizing the students have got it. They’re bored. It’s time to transition to the next aspect of the lesson. Just as it takes practice on the student’s part to recognize this good boredom and equate it with understanding of material, it also requires a teacher who is tuned in to their classes and has practiced this skill. So, as we practice throughout the semester, we are all afforded the opportunity to become better at assessing and identifying our level of knowledge. Teaching can be pretty darn complicated…and this makes it both extremely stimulating and sometimes infuriatingly frustrating. I mean that in the best possible way. 🙂

So, maybe boredom isn’t all that bad. While I don’t believe there will be a statement on any teacher evaluation checklist stating “the teacher provided an opportunity for students to practice to boredom” anytime soon, when it’s used as an indicator and measure of understanding, it can be quite valuable in the classroom for the teacher and the student.

Two points I want to make sure I address about this boredom before I wrap things up:

  1. There are, assuredly, checks to make sure this boredom is warranted. I don’t want students bored due to laziness, and I definitely don’t want them to have a false sense of understanding. Usually, when we check for accuracy during many of these assessments, if students see they are not successfully answer questions, the boredom doesn’t set in. They are driven to keep at it. 
  2. I do not ‘practice to boredom’ most days. I really reserve it for the more confusing subject matter, or for information that is more important for the understanding of future material. And, this ‘practice to boredom’ happens over the course of many days working with and reviewing the material.

What material in your course may require practice to boredom?

How can you adapt this for your classroom?

What changes would you make?

3 comments

  1. One of the comments that I make to my students about boredom is this: If something is boring, then it must be important, because we don’t do boring things for no good reason. In fact, the more boring it is, the more important it probably is.

    I like your insight that boredom can be associated with mastery. That would explain a lot of the boredom I felt in school!

  2. My main concern, especially when it comes to mathematics, is are they bored because they have mastered the mechanical procedure, or do they actually understand what is going on? This also goes for physical sciences. If they don’t understand what is actually going on then no amount of procedural mastery can help them when they see a problem slightly different from what they’ve been doing.

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