When Bright Kids Say, "I'm Bored!"
by Sylvia Burke
"I'm bored!" These are two little words that teachers hope never to hear from students in their classes. Yet parents, and sometimes teachers, hear this directly and repeatedly from students.
This comment requires some translation because it may mean several different things. Sometimes it means, "The lesson is just about right, but I'm too lazy to deal with it." Sometimes it means, "I'm in over my head, and I don't understand the material." A third category is, "This is too easy, and I really need something more challenging."
In the first case, the lazy student should be pointed in the direction of setting academic goals and meeting them. In the other two cases, the adjustment of classroom assignments will be necessary. Teachers know which kids need support and help in understanding the material and which need more challenge.
Gifted student often use the Boredom Excuse as a reason for non-engagement and non-accomplishment. Teachers should use some differentiation strategies to disarm them. Here are some techniques to try:
- ACCELERATE THE PACE: Teachers can use standard tools, e.g. chapter tests or end-of-book tests to determine what students already know and what they need to learn. Teachers can then target those things that the bright student needs to learn. Gifted children should be taught along with everyone else. The old idea that gifted children will "get it on their own" may work in some instances, but that approach leaves them isolated and out of the teaching-learning process. Why should they come to school if they can "get it on their own"? Nor should bright children be responsible for setting up their own scope and sequence.
- CURRICULUM COMPACTING: Determining what bright students need to learn can lead to curriculum compacting, a process in which learning needs are determined, teaching takes place, and understanding is checked and established for the purpose of freeing up time for students to do other academic tasks selected by the teacher, by themselves, or jointly. This process can become truly collaborative.
- IN-DEPTH STUDIES: Very often gifted students are turned off by the superficiality of the study. It comes too easily and doesn't provide enough specifics. Gifted students tend to enjoy detail. Given the opportunity, they will latch on to a subtopic or a tangential topic and wear it out intellectually. Things will interest them that the rest of the class doesn't care about.
- COMPLEXITY AND AMBIGUITY: Most teachers have been taught to simplify and clarify the material they teach so children will understand it. That works for most kids, but gifted kids don't want that. Most want to grapple with something interesting, intriguing, and, yes, something weird. That's why open-ended questions and divergent activities are such a necessary part of their instruction. Gifted students are captivated by ambiguity and the kind of philosophical questions that can be debated logically from many points of view. While they are often very good at multiple choice questions (school administrators love them when standardized test scores come back), they can also give you reasons why all four answers COULD be right.
- USE OF ADVANCED MATERIALS: Intellectually gifted students often are capable of reading many years beyond their grade level. Let them. Any content area has good materials on many grade levels. Give your gifted kids permission to work with challenging materials on the same kinds of assigments the whole class does. That will enrich the entire class because they won't hide what they learn unless you make them hide it.
- ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF EXPRESSION: Even in these days of mastery testing, not all assignments have to result in an essay or book resport. Simply by allowing students the freedom to express what they learn in a computer game, a video, a piece of art work or any number of more interesting formats may have the effect of stimulating student interest.
These are some simple and not so simple ways of combatting boredom. They will appeal differently to different individuals, but they all will give a good start on making the curriculum more appropriate for capable students. They will go a long way toward defusing the Boredom Excuse.
I have a bunch of envelopes (someone gave me a whole box of them and told me that after every holiday Wal-Mart is glad to get rid of the unmatched envelopes). I am not sure if this is true as I am still using the box of envelopes that was given to me.
Once a week I greet my students at the door with a handful of envelopes. Each envelope contains the written name of each student and myself. The students do not see the names. They select a name and immediately get a piece of writing paper with a space to draw and begin writing. We have gone over the procedure several times so they know what to do. They must write the heading (date) a greeting (dear) name of the person it is being written for and a message. It is given a closing (from) and must be signed. I give about 15 minutes. Then the children fold the letters and place in the envelopes. (I reuse the envelopes. The children know not to lick them) Then I say speedy delivery. The children hop up and place the envelope on the appropriate desk. We then take a few minutes to read them. If the receiving child cannot read a word or someone else's writing they must go to the writer and ask them personally. My kids love this. I have used stickers on the envelopes for pretend stamps. If you have a late students or absent children, try to remove their envelopes. I usually also write to a student and draw a picture. They love to get my letters and they really get tickled when they pick my envelope. I tell them that they must write so that I can get my writing done also. Sometimes, if a child is sick I must write several letters because I am left with the envelopes not chosen. Hope this makes sense. This is something I made up with the thought of authentic writing and writing for a purpose and also showing children that neatness counts when others are going to read your writing.