Use boredom to your advantage, say experts

9th January 2009 at 00:00

Christine Gilbert is wrong: boredom is an incentive for creativity, and should therefore be embraced in schools, claim academics who have done research in the subject.

Esther Priyadharshini and Teresa Belton, of East Anglia University, have conducted research into the psychological significance and classroom implications of boredom.

They believe that the chief inspector's call for a clampdown on dull teachers is misguided.

"Boredom is a complex emotion," Dr Priyadharshini said. "It's often seen in a very negative way in an educational context. But we need to be a bit more sophisticated about it, rather than simply negating it.

"Eradicating boredom is impossible. It's a legitimate human emotion. School and teaching could allow a bit more space for boredom."

The researchers say that this is not the same as accepting boring teaching. But what is boring for one person can be captivating for another. Besides, pupils tend to use the complaint "It's boring" to describe a range of emotions.

"They use 'boring' as a shorthand whenever they're unsatisfied with something," Dr Priyadharshini said. "When you try to uncover what they mean, there are a whole range of things, not specifically related to boredom at all. It might mean that the teacher isn't presenting the lesson in a style they like, or it might mean that they think they've been unfairly punished. And they don't always know what they mean."

To vow to eradicate boredom is to attempt the impossible. Instead, teachers should use it to their advantage, she said. "Whenever you read interviews with artists, musicians, philosophers, they say boredom links with the creative impulse. When you take time to shut down, it can lead to new ideas, but when you're being bombarded with stimuli, you don't have time to reflect.

"We need to think in more sophisticated ways about boredom. It's not always bad."

'TEACHERS NEED TO WORK ON THEIR SONG-AND-DANCE ACTS'

Kerri Rundle, Science teacher, South Dartmoor Community College, Devon

"I disagree with Ofsted's claim that teachers rely too much on textbooks. With the curriculum changes, teachers are more able to give the lessons they would like to, being more creative and inspiring.

"In KS3 lessons, for example, if pupils aren't interested in the current topic, the teacher now has the flexibility to go off the curriculum and apply the lesson to pupils' interests, such as giving a science lesson on Top Gear."

Kate Lee, Headteacher, Townfield Primary, the Wirral, Cheshire

"I can only assume that Christine Gilbert is basing her argument on schools with bad results because I know a lot of good teachers, so we mustn't generalise. I make sure our classes provide active, interactive and lively learning that encourages pupils to strive hard."

Simon Harper, Year 4 teacher, Rushmore Primary, Hackney, east London

"It's very easy for teachers to fall back on textbook materials. However, teaching is a profession where you have to be brave, roll your sleeves up and get involved.

"Teachers need to give children the key to education. Once they have it, lessons are never boring."

Grammarlady, TES online, on a conversation thread titled: Are you boring?

"It appears teachers will have to be given more non-instructional days ... so they can work on their comedy monologues and song-and-dance acts."

Compiled by Georgia Laird.

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