BREAKING NEWS: Students are still bored

BREAKING NEWS: Students are still bored

Breaking news! A nationally-representative poll of more than 1,000 teenagers finds that… students are still bored. Here are some key findings:

  • 64% of teenagers think that school is boring
  • 70% of teenagers say that all or most of their classmates are bored in class
  • Only 41% of teenagers like going to school
  • Only 40% of teenagers think that their homework helps them learn
  • 30% of teenagers say that school is a waste of time
  • Only 19% of teenagers say that most of their classmates want to be in school

64% of teens think school is boring


These results just confirm earlier findings. This is a system that is fundamentally BROKEN. Everyone is expressing concern about students’ chronic absenteeism. But we’re just offering them the same old boring stuff. That’s not a successful sales pitch for a student who doesn’t want to come to school, is it?

What will we do about these recent findings? Probably the same thing that we’ve done in the past: nothing. As I said in an earlier post:

The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘life long learners.’

Shame on us.

Students don’t need agency

I’m going to leave these screenshots here so I don’t forget them… [sigh] Text is underneath each one.

No agency for students 01No agency for students 02.

ME: It would be a terrible, terrible thing if students ever got to learn about things THEY wanted, not just what WE wanted?

THEM: Adult discernment and responsibility doesn’t end at the schoolhouse door. We decide what children eat and wear, when they sleep and wake, and dictate how they care for themselves without a second thought. But somehow, adult care and judgment becomes tyranny in the classroom?

ME: Do you think that students should never, ever have any say or choice in what they get to learn about in school? That they should just always do what we educators impose on them?

THEM: With respect, your use of the word “impose” betrays a doctrinaire POV (and a set of assumptions) that can only make this conversation unfruitful and unsatisfying.

ME: What verb would you like me to use instead that describes us always deciding what students do and learn instead of sometimes letting them make some choices?

THEM: Teaching.

No agency for students 03No agency for students 04

THEM: No as this would not work for science, students have to learn things that make them uncomfortable, that they find difficult, that they don’t like. Novices aren’t good at having the expertise of deciding what is important about their subject matter.

ME: Whatever happened to scientific inquiry and the scientific method? Not for students, I guess. Understanding Scientific Inquiry Just teach them ‘science’ without engaging them as actual scientists… Inquiry in Science and in Classrooms

THEM: How did the very best scientists learn their science? Novices aren’t experts and only experts can apply the scientific method. Children are not scientists, they wouldn’t be doctors if I gave them a stethoscope and set them off treating patients in a hospital.

ME: “only experts can apply the scientific method” Huh. Our National Research Council and National Science Teachers Association here in the U.S. both disagree with you. But I’m sure you know better than they do… 

THEM: Do you think that children having stethoscopes and being in a hospital makes them doctors? Americans can be wrong about thinks, just look at your approach to guns and healthcare sure. Or because they’re American ideas it’s fantastic?

ME: No, I’m absolutely sure that you’re right and that the United States National Research Council and our National Science Teachers Association are both wrong. Must be nice to be so much more brilliant than all of our dumb scientists! 

No agency for students 05

THEM: A luxury belief stated by someone with the benefit of an education not chosen by a child

ME: It’s a luxury belief to feel that sometimes children should get to learn about what they want, not just what we want to impose on them? #yikes 

THEM: Occasionally. A small number of elective courses in high school makes sense.

No agency for students 06

THEM: Amazing that the ed field’s ‘experts’ continue to produce ideas like these, isn’t it?

ME: It’s ‘amazing’ that educators know the research on self-determination, autonomy, and agency and the concurrent impacts on human motivation and engagement?

No agency for students 07

No agency for students 08a

No agency for students 08

No agency for students 09ORIGINAL TWEETER: The six stages of belief in inquiry learning 1. Students learn better this way 2. Students learn better but not in a way that shows up on standardised assessments 3. OK explicit teaching is better for some basic things but inquiry learning is more motivating, right? 4. I have been doing this for years and I cannot have been doing the wrong thing all that time because I’m a good person who means well, right? …. …. 5. Maybe I’ll take a look at explicit teaching. 6. Why did I not know about this before!

ME: It would be a terrible, terrible thing if students ever got to learn about things THEY wanted, not just what WE wanted?

THEM: This is a fun way to reframe of what [he] posted, it doesn’t reflect the actual words he wrote though.

ME: His 4th stage literally says inquiry learning is “doing the wrong thing?”

ORIGINAL TWEETER: I know, right?

ORIGINAL TWEETER: You cannot *include* explicit instruction in an inquiry learning approach, at least not if you are using the form of explicit instruction that is backed by research. Why? Because it is a *whole system* that starts with teacher explanation/modelling and then gradually releases control to students. I do -> we do -> you do

No agency for students 10

THEM: I mean, no one is suggesting that kids not be allowed to pursue their own interests. They have a good 6 hours a day for that, plus summers and weekends. And sure, let them pick electives, genius hour projects, essay theses, etc. But are you seriously saying we should let kids make up the curriculum in schools?

Real problems versus test problems

Real problems versus test problems

Robert Sternberg said:

The characteristics of real-world problems are entirely different from the characteristics of problems on standardized tests. Standardized test problems are mostly multiple choice or short answer and have a right or wrong answer. Real problems require extended answers; there is no perfect answer, and sometimes, not even a very good one. Standardized test problems are decontextualized, emotionally bland and have no real-life stakes. Real-world problems are highly contextualized, emotionally arousing and may have high stakes. Standardized test problems are solved quickly and then you are done; real-life ones often take a long time and, after you think you have solved them, often come back.


Most important, real-world problems require you actively to deploy your intelligence — to decide seriously to use it. Standardized tests measure an inert form of intelligence — one that may exist in your head somewhere but is rarely actually put into real-world use. Intelligence is not just about an inert ability to take tests; it is about the active deployment of that ability to solve problems of life.



Is adaptive intelligence really important? Well, you be the judge. Which skill is more important for the great majority of students in college once they have graduated: the ability to solve artificial verbal and math problems or, alternatively, to address and try to solve problems of global climate change, air and water pollution, global pandemics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, gun violence against schoolchildren (other than the usual pathetic “our thoughts and prayers are with them”), and the return of would-be autocrats to declining democracies?

There’s usually a difference between academic work and authentic work, and that difference is important when schools talk about the ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ opportunities that they offer students. Looking at you, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, “advanced classes,” “honors courses,” etc…

Your thoughts?

A feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs

A feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs

What hampers their thinking, what drives them into these narrow and defensive strategies, is a feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs. The really able thinkers in our class turn out to be, without exception, children who don’t feel so strongly the need to please grownups. Some of them are good students, some not so good; but good or not, they don’t work to please us, but to please themselves. (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 29)

How about a Social Impact elective? (part 2)

How about a Social Impact elective? (part 2)

Back in August I proposed the idea of a Social Impact elective course, a student-driven learning experience that leaned heavily into the Contribution item in Section B of the 4 Shifts Protocol. Since then I’ve heard from a couple of schools that are doing this…

Junipero Serra High School

Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California has a Creative Solutions for the Global Good class. Students become acquainted with a variety of creative solutions to global issues and then engage in their own self-designed projects to make an impact in their community. In the first video below, Rushton Hurley explains why the class was created and what happens in the class, including its emphasis on the design thinking process. The second video also describes the partnership between Junipero Serra and Parklands College, a PK-12th grade school in Cape Town, South Africa, and includes project examples from both schools.

Hillbrook School

Hillbrook School has two campuses in Los Gatos and San Jose, California. I had a phenomenal chat with Bill Selak, the Director of Technology there. Hillbrook launched its Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship in 2017. Students engage in a variety of social entrepreneurship activities in grades K through 8, with culminating student-driven projects in 8th grade. You can visit the Social Impact + Leadership website to see example student projects, and below is a video from the Class of 2027’s Social Impact and Leadership Summit. Hillbrook is adding a high school campus and is beginning to engage in this work with the new 9th graders this year.

Students in both of these independent schools are doing amazing and impactful work! It feels like there is an easy but powerful opportunity here for others too, including public schools. Is anyone ready to try this?

For children, the central business of school is not learning

For children, the central business of school is not learning

The valiant and resolute band of travelers I thought I was leading toward a much-hoped-for destination turned out instead to be more like convicts in a chain gang, forced under threat of punishment to move along a rough path leading nobody knew where and down which they could see hardly more than a few steps ahead. School feels like this to children: it is a place where they make you go and where they tell you to do things and where they try to make your life unpleasant if you don’t do them or don’t do them right. For children, the central business of school is not learning, whatever this vague word means; it is getting these daily tasks done, or at least out of the way, with a minimum of effort and unpleasantness. Each task is an end in itself. The children don’t care how they dispose of it. (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 38)

Let’s double down on math and reading!

Let’s double down on math and reading!

If a certain kind of teaching failed to produce learning the first time, why will it suddenly produce it the second time? In many cases the children, now ashamed and angry as well as bored and confused, will do even worse than before… (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 3)

Let’s double down on math and reading block! Let’s extend the school day or calendar! Let’s require kids to attend summer school! Let’s force children to repeat a grade!

But whatever we do, let’s don’t change students’ learning experience. Just more of the same… (and if we are changing the learning experience during those times, perhaps – just perhaps – we should have been doing that in the first place?).