For my students, and even my own children, "this is boring" has typically been their first salvo in any negotiation about taking on a task that is difficult, cumbersome, or requires them to apply themselves without any apparent hope of instant gratification. Oh, I am sure that there are children out there (I hear about them at cocktail parties) who relish a challenge, throw themselves into the dreariest tasks, and will one day be on the covers of magazines that my own kids will be borrowing money from me to buy. I just haven't met too many of them! Most children and adolescents, while wonderful people to chat and play with, take on a new persona when the prospect of grunt work is laid before them. Even those of us adults who love their jobs, and parenting, and who would prefer to spend more time on their favourite leisure activities, have come to understand that hard and sometimes tedious work is often a necessary means to an end. Most young people, on the other hand, still live in that lovely world of believing that they only have to do those things which they find inherently interesting and enjoyable. And then, there is school....
As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the task of teaching has never been so formidable. How do you engage students who are used to being entertained rather than enlightened? How do you challenge children to stretch themselves beyond their perceived limits when the process might involve some tough sledding before the "fun" stuff begins? What implication does this have for the classroom? We all know that teaching and learning have changed. From the teacher-centred classrooms of the fifties and sixties, through the laissez-faire approach of the seventies and eighties, and following the data-driven decade at the end of the last century, the fourth era in modern pedagogy has emerged. The last ten years have seen the growth of outcomes-based, collaborative strategies that require hard work and commitment from both teacher and student.
Consequently, at the risk of being boring myself, the only real barrier to learning is the level of engagement of students and staff in the process. You see, to work effectively, this approach requires a lot of "boring" work! To be effective there must be time consuming planning and preparation by the teacher and tutor and serious application by the student. At Kenneth Gordon, we know that not every minute is going to be taken up by cool exercises with the SmartBoard, surfing the web on a laptop, or watching an engaging video on YouTube. There are actually going to be some minutes, hours, and days that are devoted to plan, old, boring work! Reading, researching, working through math problems, practicing songs, - you name it, it all takes time and effort.
If we want students to be capable, self-directed learners then we have to give them not only the tools to be successful, but to foster the attitudes that lead to success. Time dedicated to Social/Emotional Learning at our school is at least as well spent as hours on Language Arts and Mathematics. Students need to develop the confidence that they can learn, and that they can succeed in both school and in the larger world; and, they need to develop the ethic that, although some things don't come easily, they will come eventually, with hard work and parental and school support. If the outcomes are worthwhile, the attainment of them should be intrinsically exciting.
As for me, I always subscribe to the philosophy that "boring is in the eye of the beholder". The task in front of us is always neutral. How we perceive it, is entirely up to us!