Giftedness and Classroom Boredom: Maybe It's Not All Bad
There's value in handling boredom effectively--if, in fact, they're truly bored.
Posted Mar 11, 2013
I think I’m pretty successful at walking this tricky “professional educator-child advocate” line but there are times when I am challenged to remain poised and objective, and never is that more the case than when a parent opens up a conference by stating that the sole reason her child is not doing well in school is because he is “bored.” Boredom, in my experience, is the number one reason parents of gifted students offer to explain any kind of trouble in school—from behavior issues in the classroom to sub-standard performance on report cards.
Let me be explicit: I do not believe that saying a gifted child is bored by his schoolwork is irrelevant to the issue of solving those problems. But at the same time, I do not think that simply ‘being bored” is always enough of a reason to demand a complete overhaul of that child’s curriculum. Here’s why boredom might not be such the terrible, catch-all culprit many parents imagine it to be.
Alternatively, it’s possible that the child is simply confused about the assignment’s expectations. According to what he wrote in his assignment pad at school that afternoon, he has to “make a PowerPoint about Ecuador” for his Spanish class. But now he can’t recall how many slides he was supposed to have,… or how much of it was supposed to focus on culture,… or how many words from that week’s new vocabulary sheet he should include. He can’t find the assignment’s description in his folder because, well, he left it in his locker. And now, with so many unanswered questions about the task, he simply doesn’t know how to begin because he can’t picture the final product. He really doesn’t “want to waste time” doing it wrong, but the words that he chooses to express aloud his frustration about “this whole stupid thing” convince his mom and dad that it’s all just “useless busywork anyhow.”
It’s possible that the teacher has assigned a meaningless task, of course. But if we give that child’s educator the benefit of the doubt, it’s also potentially true that…
Having said this, boredom is boredom. And yet…
Sometimes, in an effort to advocate for our child’s happiness, we forget that being bored is a part of life—and that extremely valuable lessons can come out of facing it head on. Everyone is bored at some point--in school, in a job, in life. No matter what dream occupation we may eventually hope to have, parts of it are bound to be dull, tedious, monotonous. As adults we learn that there are ways to cope with these realities, if only to get through them. We sit down, we suck it up, and we power through filing our taxes because, when we are done, we’ll know how much money our refund check will be worth. We’ll clean out that garage, the project we’ve been dreading for months, and when it’s done perhaps we’ll congratulate (and reward) ourselves with a celebratory beer. Persevering against boredom in the very face of that boredom is what builds tenacity and the patience to solve long-term problems. Scientists have not discovered a cure for cancer yet, but surely they are far less likely to do so if they find the task of crunching the numbers after an elaborate experiment too dull or boring to do. Furthermore,…
Lest I leave you with the wrong impression, let me be clear: classroom boredom that is merely the result of lazy instructional decisions is not desirable… and in the next article we’ll discuss how to address this effectively. But, truly, handling boredom properly—reinterpreting it, even bending it to your own will perhaps—is a life-long skill.
And, frankly, no amount of altering a child’s school curriculum is likely to eliminate it altogether.