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Stranger Than Fiction: “Boredom” or Stress?
posted by: Cindy Omlin | October 11, 2012, 09:45 PM   

Complaints from students of "boredom" are not new to teachers. However, according to Education Week's article, "Studies Link Students' Boredom to Stress," recent research proves "boredom" is actually a form of stress.

Leader of a study at York University in Toronto, Canada, associate professor John D. Eastman said, "By definition, to be in a state of boredom is to say the world sucks out there in some way. But often that's not the case; often it's an interior problem, and students are looking in the wrong place to solve the problem."

Research suggests that students who are bored are aware of their own difficulty paying attention. While students often attribute this difficulty to the material, lecture style, or teacher, the problem is often internal. For example, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to report feeling bored than students with normal attention. Similarly, students working on material that is above their skill level are more likely to report "boredom," instead of admitting difficulty or frustration.

"When people are in a negative emotional state, discouraged, or down, we know that causes attention problems," reports Eastman. "When people are stressed it makes it harder to focus and pay attention."

Boredom, like any kind of stress hampers the prefrontal cortex, thus disrupting abilities to reason and hold facts. This disruption of the brain's executive function also allows it emotional center, the amygdala, to take over, explaining why bored students are more likely to feel anxious, tired, and depressed, causing students to "zone out or act out," as Judy Willis, a neurologist and teacher educator from Santa Barbara, California explained.

Unfortunately, boredom and stress result in a vicious cycle. For example, students who are stressed due to family drama, relationship problems, a chaotic environment, or even a noisy classroom, tend to disengage, resulting in further stress. Everyday classroom stressors are especially prominent for kindergarten through third grade classes, where a large class size can have huge effects on learning.

In a 1989 study at Clark University, psychologists Robin Damrad-Frye and James D. Laird asked students to listen to material while a television played in the next room- either silently, at maximum volume, or low enough to be heard but not noticed. The results – even when played at the lowest setting students were distracted, and misinterpreted their inability to focus as boredom.

There are many techniques to reducing boredom as an underlying stress. While many teachers may try to reduce fidgeting or doodling, a 2009 study at the University of Plymouth found that drawing shapes helped participants retain 29 percent more information.

The Socratic method of teaching is another way to engage students, reducing the stress of boredom. By asking students’ questions and inspiring debate, students will be more apt to take initiative to learn the material.

Another technique is to teach students to be aware of their “boredom.” A study by Ulrike E. Nett, a student motivation researcher, at the University of Konstanz, Germany, found that students who are able to appraise their feelings of boredom were able to reduce this inclination and had fewer episodes over time.

It is important for teaches to be aware that even their best efforts to make learning interesting can result in students being “bored.” However, patiently explaining and re-explaining material is often the best remedy for “boredom.”

“It is imperative to underscore at this point that both the teachers and student must take responsibility for boredom and both must be involved in finding an adequate way to reduce this emotion in their classrooms,” said Nett.

How do you fight “boredom” in your classroom?

Comment below.

Originally posted by Alix at AAE.
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