Think quickly! Which task would motivate you more to get out of bed in the morning – a challenging worksheet of algebra problems or free tickets for a trip to Paris? Pretty obvious choice, isn’t it? It is easy to see that motivation can be manufactured based upon the perceived outcome or reward.
Low motivation can be a problem for many gifted children (and adults.) Why is that so? Some educational research points to the fact that students are mismatched with their school environment. Dare I say it? They are bored. The outcome or reward for being in school does not match expectations.
Now, I’m not ready to say that boredom is a choice as this poster would suggest, because I have been in some pretty boring situations and let’s just say that thinking happy thoughts of the beach didn’t make me feel better.
Nor, as a teacher, am I ready to dump the entire problem on the school system or a particular classroom, however there are times when the right fit just isn’t there. I agree that it is predominantly the school’s responsibility to provide a challenging and rigorous curriculum but sadly it doesn’t always happen.
In case you haven’t been in a classroom lately, I must report that teachers for the most part are swamped. Really swamped as in Everglades or Okeefenokee swamped! On top of the overwhelming classroom responsibilities add administrative overload, demanding parents and some disrespectful kiddos and you can imagine the burden placed on the teacher in your child’s classroom. Suffice it to say the teacher’s motivation to help your child find his or her motivation may be lacking.
Sadly, there aren’t many tickets to Paris in your teacher’s mailbox either. Teacher motivation is another article in and of itself but as you can see, your child probably gets a scant amount of individual attention from the one adult in the classroom. Most gifted children may even get less attention from the teacher because those are the kids who aren’t academically needy.
Squeaky wheels get the grease, as they say, but is that the only way to get a better academic experience for your child? Do you really want to be known as the complainer or annoying parent who won’t stop badgering to get change? I would venture to say no. Try on a new perspective for a moment. Consider that it doesn’t mean that your school is a bad one if YOU have to supplement a bit or figure out ways to make the education setting more enriching for your child. Why should your parenting stop the minute the yellow bus pulls up outside your door? Who knows your child best? It should be you!
I know you’re busy and I agree that school should be responsible for providing challenging and enriching curriculum, but why let your child languish in school while you point fingers at a system that isn’t working for you? Instead, do something about it while you can and while your child is still in your care. Earlier is better. Forming a new attitude and new mindset is easier the earlier you start.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your child (or yourself) combat boredom. First of all, objectively analyze the situation. Has your child learned to use the “b” word (bored) so that you will leap into action criticizing and demanding change from the teacher, principal, vice-principal, curriculum specialist….seeming everyone involved down the line to the crossing guard and cafeteria lady while your child watches the show? The “b”word is a powerful word to a child when he or she knows what will ensue if it rolls off the lips. From one parent to another, I think you are creating a monster when you allow your child to propel you into action by uttering this type of complaint. I believe there are some types of true boredom that should be addressed and then there are some types of behavioral attention-seeking “boredom” that should also be corrected before they become an even bigger issue.
Academic boredom for the gifted can manifest from many causes. I would like to suggest a few.
- Has your child covered this material before?
- Is your child lacking interest in the subject?
- Is the repetitive nature (practice and drill) of the regular ed classroom frustrating?
- Does the teacher present the information in a dull or unenthusiastic manner?
Social or Behavioral “boredom” might look like this:
- Is your child trying to please you, the parent, by acting bored and snobbish?
- Is the work too hard and your child is embarrassed to admit it?
- Does your child use being “bored” as an excuse to misbehave?
- Is your child addicted to video games and everything else lacks the same excitement?
- Does your child get to do non academic fun or filler activities if he or she complains to the teacher of boredom?
To help your child, try these two tactics. You can either avoid or evolve. Try to avoid situations that you know aren’t a good fit for your child. For example, if you know a particular teacher doesn’t match your child’s learning style, make a case for your child to placed in another room before the school year starts. Or try to get another teacher for that class if there are choices in high school. Or better yet, take the class online or as dual enrollment. Do what you must to avoid the situation. Don’t expect the teacher to change just because you pop in there for a teacher conference and tell him or her that your child is bored.
If your child knows the material, try to exempt the class and take something else. Try for advanced placement or minimally, request to take the final exam or benchmark test. There are many online resources available for coursework. One of them might be a better fit.
If your child hates practice and drill, then work with the teacher to present some alternatives to the regular classroom. Your child can probably demonstrate mastery with only a few repetitions. Then, have your child move on to other material, which brings me to the evolve strategy.
If you can’t avoid a boring situation, then teach your child strategies to help him or her change or evolve either the situation or change his or her mindset. For example, if your child is learning about rocks and minerals, become knowledgeable about the curriculum. Gather books about the subject, collect rock samples, go on rock hunts, etc. Get immersed in the subject. Then, formally or informally suggest some additional topics for your child to work on or even just to think about when he gets his work done ahead of everyone else. For example, pose this question. Can you think of a better method for obtaining “invisible gold” from the ground that protects the environment and doesn’t cost so much? http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/24/international/24GOLD.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Have students draw a picture or make an invention. Better yet, have the child contact a mining company to discuss the new ideas. In time, your child will begin to see boring topics as a gateway to a world that few other students can cognitively obtain. Think of boredom as a launching pad to personally created excitement. You don’t have to wait for a teacher to keep your child entertained, instead your child is learning self-advocacy and intrinsic motivation – a boredom busting life skill for any age.
If your student is older, you may want to have him or her try a note taking journal. When taking notes, include a column or section of ideas to enlarge or evolve the subject. Look for practical applications or invent ways to build on the idea that no one else has discovered. Learn ways to follow up on these ideas with experts in the field.
Seek to become entelechial – making something real from potentialities. A great example of entelechy is the late Samantha Smith and her peace trips to Russia in the 1980s as a young child. http://www.samanthasmith.info/ Samantha and her family’s mindset helped her to reach far beyond a “boring” classroom to create an impact that ultimately was global and long lasting. Becoming part of a bigger picture is challenging and not always accessible but the novelty of trying creates a learning experience that is far from boring.
Sometimes, the fix can be as simple as seeing the current situation as a stepping stone to something bigger. We can’t be entertained all the time, but if we have hope that what we are enduring now will lead us to a brighter future, the event becomes much more tolerable as a means to an end.
I believe the best way to become motivated is through examination and awareness. What makes your child tick? I’m not talking about physical or monetary rewards and bribes which can quickly become demotivators. I mean deep down, what is the core of interest for your child? Build it. Develop it. Nurture it. When your child is leaping out of bed to do the algebra on the nightstand, you know you have been successful.