The opposite of boredom is not entertainment


George Couros recently wrote about an article in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Ed. Magazine titled Bored Out of Their Minds. He included a quote but I would have picked a different one:

But the biggest shift we need,” Rose believes, is much more elemental. “We need to get away from thinking that the opposite of ‘bored’ is ‘entertained.’ It’s ‘engaged.’” It’s not about pumping cartoons and virtual reality games into the classroom, it’s about finding ways to make curriculum more resonant, personalized, and meaningful for every student. “Engagement is very meaningful at a neurological level, at a learning level, and a behavioral level. When kids are engaged, life is so much easier.”

Confronted with the apathy of their own students, I have heard countless educators do everything possible to point the finger elsewhere. They blame digital technology and television, they complain about ‘this generation of kids,’ and they say stuff like “What do they want me to do? Get up there and dance?” All of those are the wrong focus.

As teachers, we are primarily responsible – along with our students and with our administrators – for creating learning environments of relevance and meaning. That doesn’t mean ‘entertaining’ kids. That means engaging kids by giving them work worth doing. That means addressing the age old student questions of “Why do I need to know this?” and “Why should I care about this?” and “How is this relevant to my life, now or later?”

Robert Fried stated:

[A]mid all the accounts … of kids complaining to each other about how bored they are with many of their classes, why do we accept this so passively, without arguing for the right to be learning something of value? [The Game of School, p. xii]

We can do better.

Image credit: Konrad-Adenauer-Gemeinschaftshauptschule Wenden

7 Responses to “The opposite of boredom is not entertainment”

  1. Could not agree more. Have used this timeless article in my book of readings for my student teachers for the last 25 years: Jane O’Dea. Teaching as Entertainment: A Comment on a 20th Century Phenomenon.Education Canada V33n3 (Fall, 1993) p24-29. ERIC Number: EJ474851 It does an excellent job distinguishing between entertainment and engagement, and explains how we got trapped in the idea that learning should be entertaining and fun–whereas students are actually motivated to work to achieve mastery if given half a chance.

  2. Of course. Now what if there was a method for connecting most classroom work directly to the student’s life and once learned, a lesson could be composed in minutes?

  3. Scott,

    This is spot-on. In elementary school classrooms, I’ve noticed Go Noodle has become widely used to keep students active and engaged. On second thought, though, it seems a bit more like entertainment. Teachers have to walk a fine line between keeping students active and merely entertained and I think you articulate this well with the term “engaged.” I’ll surely keep this in mind should I decide to teach!

  4. Scott. I totally agree. When educators blame the media, internet or video games I think it’s just making excuses. Students respond well to challenging meaningful work. I have experienced it in my time as a substitute teacher and during my observation hours for school. It’s the job of educators to come up with creative ways to engage their students. There may be more distractions then in other generations, but that means teachers will have to just keep thinking outside the box.

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