Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"I'M BORED...."

From Education Week, October 23, 2012:

Studies Link Students' Boredom to Stress

Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.
One glance, and any teacher knows the score: That student, halfway down the row, staring blankly at his tapping pen, fidgeting, sneaking glances at the wall clock roughly every 30 seconds, is practically screaming, "I'm bored!"
While boredom is a perennial student complaint, emerging research shows it is more than students' not feeling entertained, but rather a "flavor of stress" that can interfere with their ability to learn and even their health. An international group of researchers argues this month in Perspectives on Psychological Science that the experience of boredom directly connects to a student's inability to focus attention.
"I think teachers should always try to be relevant and interesting, but beyond that, there are other places to look," said John D. Eastwood, an associate professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada, and the lead author of the study. "By definition, to be in the state of boredom is to say the world sucks out there in some way. But often that's not the case; often it's an interior problem, and [students] are looking in the wrong place to solve the problem."
Boredom is one of the most consistent experiences of school and one that can be frustrating and disheartening for teachers. According to findingsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in the High School Survey of Student Engagement, conducted by the Indiana University Bloomington, boredom is nearly universal among American students. Of a representative sample of more than 275,000 high school students surveyed in 27 states from 2006 to 2009, 65 percent reported being bored in class at least once a day.

Lack of Focus

Under Mr. Eastman and his colleagues' definition, a student who is bored cannot focus attention to engage in the class activity—and blames that inability to focus on the outside environment. A dry lecture style or an uninteresting topic might trigger boredom, Mr. Eastman said, but so can other issues that interfere with a student's attention and working memory.
Getting to the Roots
When students feel bored, research shows they are aware of their own difficulty paying attention. A student may attribute the experience to not being interested in the material or the lecture style. But new studies show that any stress or distraction that takes up working memory—from emotional trauma to attention deficit hyperactivity disorders—all could be contributing to the problem.
For example, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to report feeling bored than students with normal attention. Students tackling material that is too difficult for them—and thus taking up more working memory—also are more likely to report it is "boring" rather than simply frustrating, Mr. Eastman and other researchers found.
"When people are in a negative emotional state, discouraged, or down, we know that causes attention problems," Mr. Eastman said. "We know when people are stressed it makes it harder to focus and pay attention at a very basic, fundamental level."
Like any type of stress, boredom hampers the prefrontal cortex, the brain area positioned just behind that student's furrowed brow that allows a student to reason and hold different facts in working memory.
Disrupting the brain's executive function also allows its emotional center, the amygdala, to take over, which might explain why bored students are more likely to feel tired, anxious, or depressed, and why they sometimes respond by either "acting out or zoning out," according to Judy Willis, a neurologist and teacher educator from Santa Barbara, Calif., who was not part of the report.
In fact, boredom and other types of stress appear to feed on each other. Students who are stressed due to emotional trauma, for example, are more likely to disengage and feel bored, which adds to their stress.
Likewise, everyday stresses, like a noisy classroom, can sap students' attention and contribute to their boredom.
In a separate study, Clark University psychologists Robin Damrad-Frye and James D. Laird asked students in 1989 to listen to material while a television played in the next room—either silently, at full volume, or low enough to be heard but not noticed. Students were still distracted by the television even when played at the lowest setting, and they misinterpreted their inability to focus as boredom.
Physically, a bored student will go through cycles of higher and lower energy; he or she might fall asleep during a down period, then squirm or doodle in an attempt to "wake up" and pay attention. Teachers often try to stop the fidgeting, but a 2009 studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Readersuggests doodling can help focus attention. In that study, researchers from the University of Plymouth, England, asked adults to listen to a monotonous voice recording that identified guests coming to an event. Participants who were allowed to shade in shapes while listening were better at identifying the guests; later, they recalled 29 percent more information on a surprise memory test.

'Reappraising' Dull Tasks

Reducing boredom and its underlying stress can reduce misbehavior and increase focus—in both the bored child and in surrounding students, Ms. Willis said.
Effective ways to reduce boredom can be counterintuitive to students looking for a quick fix, though. "I think if someone is bored, the worst thing you can do is respond to it by overstimulating," Mr. Eastman said. "It's like quicksand; if you just thrash around, you're even more stuck."
Ulrike E. Nett, a student motivation researcher at the University of Konstanz, Germany, studied the coping strategies of 976 students in grades 5-10 who were given a mathematics problem selected to be potentially boring and difficult. Some "avoided" the task, either by studying a different subject or by talking with friends. Others criticized it and asked for more interesting material or assignments. Still others "reappraised" the situation for themselves, considering ways it could be relevant to them and how to combat their own boredom.
For the student, "it's important to learn, when I feel bored, that's an opportunity for me to become aware of my disengagement and address it," said Mr. Eastman, who was not part of Ms. Nett's study.
The last group of students had higher academic achievement in the task and reported both more enjoyment and less anxiety. Moreover, Ms. Nett found that students who were able to identify and reappraise their own feelings of boredom had fewer bored episodes over time.
"Although teachers try to create interesting lessons, they must be aware that despite their best intentions, some students may still perceive interesting lessons as boring," Ms. Nett concluded. "What is imperative to underscore at this point is that both teachers and students must take some responsibility for boredom, and both must be involved in finding an adequate way to reduce this emotion in their classrooms."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tools for Teaching: Managing a Large Class Size | Edutopia

Those folks at Edutopia have brought us another thoughtful article that is so relevant for these days of shrinking budgets and chock-full classrooms:


Tools for Teaching: Managing a Large Class Size

Do you have more students than ever this year? With serious education budget cuts in most states, we are seeing class size reduction programs as a thing of the past in many schools. Teachers semi-new to this profession may be experiencing class sizes above 30 for the first time. In a recent conversation with such a teacher, as we discussed her new situation, she resignedly said, “Well, there goes group work.”
This conversation, and several conversations with others, got me thinking about this sudden change for many teachers. If you’ve found yourself with a large class size this year, here are a few things to keep in mind…

Tip #1: Don’t Give up on Collaborative Grouping

Students need opportunities to check in with each other around their learning, ask questions, guide each other and reflect together. And this is even more crucial with a large class. If a tight classroom space won’t allow for quick triads or quad grouping, use “elbow partners” -- two students in close proximity. Do this often. As we know, with large class sizes, quiet students tend to get even less airtime. With less one-on-one time with small groups and individual students, teachers need to keep that large number of kids talking and being listened to!

Tip #2: Accept that Things Take Longer

Know that a learning objective that maybe took 20 minutes with that smaller class in the past, might take twice as long with this larger group. You might also be lamenting over the days when you could whip around the room and spend a few quality moments with each student or group. Or when you could offer immediate and thorough support. Unfortunately, if you did that now with 35 in the room, you’d find yourself out of time before coming close to accomplishing the daily learning objective.
One remedy, especially when it comes to checking for understanding? Strategies like thumbs up/thumbs down, or having students hold 1 to 3 fingers on their chest to let you know how well they understand (3 is, “I’ve got it!) Other quicky formative assessments, such as sentence starters, can help beat that Time Thief in the room. You can also use exit slips to see if they “got it,” asking one strategic question about the day’s learning.

Tip #3: Find New Ways to Know Students

Unfortunately, the larger the class size, the more the relationships with students suffer. Consider creating surveys once or twice a week where students can answer questions on a likert scale and also ask questions of you. Invite students to write you a letter about their learning, their accomplishments, challenges, and interests.
You can also rotate your focus every few days to 5-6 different students. That way, no one will slip through the cracks. Often with large class sizes, the squeaky wheels, so to speak, are the one’s that receive much of the teacher’s time. Make sure you check in regularly with your “proficient” students, and continue to create differentiated assignments for those gifted kids in the room.

Tip #4: Be Okay with Loud and Letting Go

Start saying this mantra immediately, “just because it’s loud doesn’t mean they aren’t learning, just because it’s loud…” Somewhere along road, we began to attribute silence to deep thought and high-level learning. It's more often just a sign of kids being compliant. So go ahead, take those 37 kids and put them in groups! Give them a challenging task and some supplies. Let it be loud! Roam from group to group and if your door suddenly swings open to visitors from the district… Let them get an eye full of engaged, enthusiastic learners!
As for the letting go, if you are still passing out papers, collecting supplies, stamping homework all on your own -- stop. Assign students “jobs” immediately. By giving up these managerial tasks, you will have more time free to check in with a child who has been absent a lot, add a step to an assignment for that advanced student, crack a joke with the quiet, moody teen who avoids others, or pose a strategic inquiry question to the whole class.
How do you manage a larger number of students? What tips would you like to offer fellow teachers?
Tools for Teaching: Managing a Large Class Size | Edutopia

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 27th! NTC FALL EVENT!

Lesley New Teacher Community’s Fall Event!





Be inspired by our speaker!

Be nourished by our delicious brunch!

You will leave with specific proactive strategies and practices identified as effective by researchers and practitioners.

                   RSVP to Kali Small, School Partnerships Assistant: ksmall4@lesley.edu or at 617.349.8399