The Art of Boredom: Part 1 of 3

We don’t like talking about boredom. I’m not sure why? Maybe because it’s boring, however I find boredom fascinating.

Teachers in schools often are defensive about boredom and mostly place the responsibility fully on the student who may be yawning in lessons and is generally disinterested. They can often take it personally suggesting that the pupil should “focus more” or that they are doing their best to make the lesson interesting, often pointing out that the other students are totally fine and engaged.

I’m not sure that all of the other students are actually engaged and believe that others are often bored too but just have a better method of disguising it.

I recently came across the studies of Erin Westgate in her research study Why Boredom is Interesting. She confirms that in schools, boredom is seen as a symptom of non–engagement, of wilful disobedience and that when a pupil is saying they are bored it becomes an insult to the teacher.

She goes on to say that teachers need to understand that boredom is more of an alert system than a challenge to authority and that it is an emotion that is simply confirming that they aren’t meaningfully engaged in what is being taught.

There could be any number of reasons why someone in a school environment could be bored. The three most obvious being:

  1. The student cannot access the information due to a developmental or auditory or visual input processing issue.
  2. They could be tired and or depressed due to a number of external factors.
  3. The student is genuinely unable to be interested in what they are being asked to do.

Considering point 1 if an individual is not at the same developmental level as their peers it is likely they will stand out in one way or another and in many cases this will position them as looking bored in terms of processing the curriculum.

There could also be factors of reading, spelling or hearing and visual issues. These should be addressed by undergoing an assessment for any or all and thereafter supporting each specific need including any additional behavioural and mental health issues.

With regards to point 2, this would need to be investigated with the parents and a discussion should take place to consider the options to be able to support the child at this time.

In the case of the 3rd point, we need to first accept that boredom is real to the person who is experiencing the emotion and to consider in practice how to change the state of boredom into an area of interest therefore changing the behaviour of the individual.

Though in reality it would be logistically difficult for teachers to adapt all their lessons for one individual or more (even if they wanted to) I do believe the answer is that we need to think about boredom in a completely different way.

A recent report in the Sunday Times argued that ‘The Covid 19 lockdown could unleash some of the most creative ideas in the UK since the WW2 as people are having to adapt to their work, leisure and relationship practices.’ “Boredom is one of our most creative forces” said Dr Sandi Mann from the University of East Lancashire. He stated that if you ask people to do nothing to the point when they are bored they become creative and start thinking in novel and creative ways.

Mann’s book The Science of Boredom points out that while there are downsides to boredom in many instances it can have a positive impact in terms of creativity and innovation.

The key issue he says is to accept the emotion of boredom and to work with it.

Are you bored yet? More on this next week………….

Fin 28/4/20