That way pupils can daydream and have creative thoughts, researchers have discovered. Adi Bloom reports on the benefits of tedium
Concerned that your lessons might be boring? That they are not the all-singing, all-dancing wonders of technology they should be? Fear not. By boring pupils, you may be doing them a favour.
Researchers from East Anglia University have examined the psychological significance of boredom, and its classroom implications. Boredom, they found, is often attributed to external factors: schoolwork or the teacher. But it can also be caused by internal factors, such as the onset of adolescence.
Teenagers frustrated by the divide between adult emotions and the childhood constraints they are experiencing may feel bored with their lives. The common refrain "That's so bo-o-o-o-o-o-ring" is often a way of feigning superiority to cover their own feelings of inadequacy.
Perversely, boredom can also be the result of over- as well as under-stimulation. Children with too much to do will not have the time to think about what is really important to them.
"The numbers of people who suffered from chronic boredom, particularly among the young, had risen significantly alongside increased affluence, personal freedom and technological advance," the researchers say.
But, they argue, adults should not attempt to limit boredom by matching this level of over-stimulation. Instead, boredom should be embraced: "Where meaning is absent, boredom arises and leads the individual towards the construction of meaning."
Boredom in the classroom, therefore, can prove extremely useful, both for teachers and for pupils. For pupils, it can be an incentive to think creatively. The researchers point out that boredom and motivation are related.
They said: "Boredom is an indication that something is not perfect or satisfactory, thereby containing the potential to alert people to possibilities for rethinking their activities." Pupils who are given minimal time to undertake a task generally produce only obvious answers. But pupils who are given excessive time become inventive and creative, in order to stave off boredom.
Similarly, pupils who are allowed to be bored enough to daydream and embark on imaginative flights of fancy generally return to work refreshed and with renewed vigour.
"A lack of boredom, through constant access to television or electronic entertainment ... may reduce opportunities for developing imaginative capacity," the researchers say.
If education is to be effective, they add, it must be challenging and stimulating. But there is also space for boredom. "It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him," they say. "Boredom needs to be understood as a complex human emotion that deserves a sophisticated, informed response, especially in the context of schooling."
- Boredom and schooling: a cross-disciplinary exploration, by Teresa Belton and Esther Priyadharshini, East Anglia University
DON'T TREAT PUPILS LIKE ROBOTS
Elizabeth Jarman would hesitate to use the word "boredom" to describe the laid-back atmosphere she encourages schools to foster.
But the education consultant believes that, like adults, children need time and space to be able to reflect and process their thinking.
Teachers should be prepared to examine rigid school structures and routines, says Ms Jarman, from Kent.
"When teachers have reports to write, it's easier when the time and conditions are right, rather than doing it now," she says. "So you need to be more creative and flexible in responding to children's needs. Children aren't robots
Miss Jarman points out adults often reflect on important tasks, mulling them over on the way to work or while at the supermarket.
She would like to see schools adopt the freedom and flexibility of the early years foundation stage, and apply it to older children. "I always ask teachers, 'Why do you do things like that?'" she says.
"People often say, 'Because I always have.' But we should think about how the environment supports the underlying pedagogy: the impact of colour, noise, the physical layout of the place, the role of the adult in the environment.
"We need to tune into the children's perspective.
"It's very important for us to look at schedules, routines and expectations that children will be suddenly creative, right now, because it fits in before PE.