Giftedness and Boredom, Part Two: Tackling the Issue Head On
Here's what to do about your gifted child's boredom--before you blow your stack.
Posted Mar 25, 2013
I ended that article with this promise to all readers: “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.” Well, today’s column is that very topic. Let’s get started. Straight to it!
If you have boredom concerns—but, really, concerns of any kind—start by scheduling a conference! I see this all the time: parents are frustrated for months before they come in to speak to the teacher. Instead, they stew at home, aggravated and fuming, sharing their irritations with friends on Facebook posts or with other parents when they’re together on play dates with the kids. They detail for each other all of the battles they have with the child at home over the schoolwork or the issues they have with what they perceive as a teacher’s pointless assignments. Many parents spend these energies “getting it all out” with another person and so they leave that venue feeling a little better, a little less piqued by the problem. Or, after perhaps the tenth time of blowing off steam with a friend, they finally do feel fed-up and angry enough to make a call to speak to the teacher.
Neither one of these scenarios is desirable. At the least, you’ve wasted a lot of the school year not addressing the problem. At best, you’ve set yourself up for a potentially hostile parent-teacher conference because you reached your breaking point a long while ago but never let the teacher in on that fact. You enter the classroom on the offensive. So, when that notice about the school-wide parent-teacher conference day comes home, fill it out and send it back. Better yet, don’t wait till then. Call the school secretary and schedule a time! (Note too that it might be tempting to skip over the chain of command, to go straight to the principal or even the superintendent. Don’t. Neither of these individuals works with your child on a regular basis so they’ll have little to say that will help you or your child in the immediate future. Always give your child's teacher the first shot at tackling your concerns.) Whatever protocol your child's school requires, follow it and follow up. After you’ve done that simple initial step, it’s time to prepare.
From a teacher perspective, this kind of information is extremely helpful. Good teachers plan lessons that attempt to get all students processing the content in a wide variety of ways. For some kids, the choices that teacher has made about the lesson’s material are spot-on; for others, it fails. That is not to be helped, since not all learners are the same.
If you as the parent can enter the conference with specific information about what/when seems to bore your child, you better enable that teacher to consider his unique learning style and pace. Perhaps she could, for example, offer ten math problems instead of the usual twenty, freeing your child up then at school (or home) to investigate a topic of study on an independent basis. Maybe she’ll offer word problems that explore the same concepts instead. The teacher knows that your child has a superior vocabulary and she enjoys sharing his work with the class. But she hasn’t realized that the fine motor skills are problematic for Bobby. Perhaps she could reconsider how often he has to show his understanding in that particular manner. The problem the teacher may have is that, at school, Bobby is a teacher-pleaser; he never complains until he gets home. What you can share can go a long way to assisting both you and your child—but you have to be specific.
If the boredom complaints occur mostly at home with, say, homework, take a hard and fair look at that environment too. All kids are tempted to complain about anything they dislike. Similarly, they may complain when they are tired, hungry, or grouchy about some other underlying issue (e.g. the afternoon trip to the skate park got cancelled due to rain). When they complain about boredom, it is entirely possible that boredom really is at play, yes—but it may be something else, too. Completing the task of writing a creative, descriptive paragraph may not bother your child nearly as much if he weren’t just getting home from baseball practice, sweaty and hungry. He might not find showing his work on the ten math problems “boring” if he weren’t sitting down to do that work so close to the start time of his favorite television show. Furthermore, gifted children are typically quite adept at reading adults. Be aware of this. If your child notices that your hackles go up when he says he’s bored, you can expect that he might make this claim more often—especially if the end result is that he gets distracted from tackling the task at hand.
Also inquire about resources that may be available outside of the teacher’s immediate sphere of influence. For example, does your child have the chance to work with a gifted resource specialist? If so, what are the requirements for that interaction? Is testing or gifted screening needed first? What would that specialist do with your child when he is pulled out of the regular classroom? If he has been properly identified, what does the school division's Gifted Plan say should be happening with your child? How can you know if that is happening?
Prepare this list of questions and have them at hand when you enter the conference. Your goal should not be to dominate the meeting with a shotgun style Q & A assault; conversation is key, a give and take between you and your child's professional educator. Having a list of questions helps focus this conversation. It shows you are concerned and ready, from this moment on, to be a proactive and ready partner in dealing with your child’s boredom.
Remember, too, once you’ve investigated the specific sources of your concerns, you should…
Your goal should be to better understand the teacher's approach/rationale for her curricular decisions and, if you are unsatisfied, to offer compelling reasons why this level of instruction is insufficient. You want to be heard. To that end...
Be diplomatic. Again, I’ve written about this previously but it bears repeating. You’re upset, perhaps even a bit angry about how things have been going. You’ve made the conference appointment, you’ve formed some questions, documented your concerns and now you’re ready to get it all out in the open. Breathe deep first. Don't attempt to bully, be passive-aggressive, or both. If you have listened to the teacher's point of view, if you have stated your case and offered evidence in a neutral tone, the logic of your concerns should be sufficient. Generally teachers want their students and parents to be satisfied with what is happening in school. You can help make sure this happens by being sure that, before you leave the conference, both you and the teacher…
Have a plan for the future. You've expressed your concerns and hopefully come to some agreement about what you and the teacher expect. If your child passes the pretest for the spelling list every week, then he'll be offered a different one to work on at home. If she demonstrates a sufficient level of mastery of the two-digit addition algorithm, then she will be given multi-step word problems in its place. Formulate and agree on a plan, making it as precise or as specific as possible. Write it down. Don't leave without a plan of attack. When you get home email the teacher a copy of what you two discussed. And if it feels like your conference is running long, that your issues will take more time, reschedule or figure out another way to get this step accomplished because it is that important. (Consider it: if the plan you two create is successful, your child will feel better about his time in school and you’ll feel less helpless at home trying to solve a problem that you really can’t address solely in the role as a parent.)
Be the squeaky wheel. Yes, sharing your concerns with someone other than the teacher does have its place (although hopefully as a last resort). But you as a parent, the primary advocate for your gifted child, must speak up if there is no progress—and you must not be afraid to do so. As you did before, gather your information, document what has been done—or not done, as the case may be—and get help from another individual, the principal, for example.
In my last article, I cautioned readers that “boredom” is an emotional state that all of us must and will experience throughout life, and I will remind my readers here again that there can be some good that comes out of embracing it, learning how to deal effectively with it. But it is also my hope that, as I pledged I would, I have presented others’ viewpoints about this topic in a fair manner. After all, when boredom becomes a stagnant source of negativity that kills a child’s interest in learning and when that boredom is the result of poor curricular decisions, it needs to be addressed.