Several years after beginning my teaching career, I went back to school to earn a second master’s degree. I wanted to reach the end of the pay scale and was hoping to learn something new in the process.
After researching colleges near my home, I chose a university that catered to working adults. You know the kind: gigantic national chain, classes held in an industrial park, no sports teams.
The first evening of my first class, I sat in the front row—hand raised, bright-eyed. But slowly, as the semester wore on, I inched my way to the back of the room.
The instructor was painstakingly boring.
A typical class period consisted of theory regurgitation and a slow, scratch-the-surface plod through the coursework. Before long, I found myself in the last row next to a special education teacher from Wisconsin.
Her name was Monica and she, too, was exasperated with the slow pace of the class. We became friends—she was hilarious—and I’m ashamed to admit that during lectures we often played meaningless games to pass the time.
She’d slide a piece of notebook paper over to me with the headline, “Hair Bands Of The 80s” or “Classic Cartoon Characters.” I would write Motley Crew or Fred Flintstone at the top of the list and slide it back over. Then she would add a name, and we’d go back and forth until one of us was stumped.
I had mixed feelings about doing this. On one hand, I felt I owed the instructor a level of respect and should at the least feign interest. On the other hand, I had to sit in a hard chair and listen to him paraphrase from the $65 textbook lying open in front of me.
But despite my mixed feelings—and no small amount of guilt—I continued playing silly pencil and paper games, passing notes like a seventh grader, and chatting under my breath with those around me.
I couldn’t help myself.
After class one evening, I joined my classmates for dessert at a local restaurant. There, I heard story after story about how the rest of the class was biding their time while waiting for the class period to end.
They, too, were passing notes, playing hangman, and watching the clock.
It didn’t matter that we were adults. None of us, 8 years old or 80, is immune to the force of boredom, which can make us do things we know we shouldn’t.
The only difference between my classmates and a group of fifth graders was that we were more covert in our bad behavior.
The fact is, if students are bored, misbehavior will follow.
The “Say Hello” Strategy
One solution is to use the “say hello” strategy. It’s a quick and easy way to reinvigorate your students, improve their attentiveness, and stem the tide of boredom.
Here’s how it works:
When you notice your students’ attention waning and boredom seeping in, simply let them get up, move around the room, and say hello to their friends and classmates.
Interacting with friends has a unique way of energizing tired synapses. It feeds and revitalizes the brain, gets the blood flowing, and releases the pent up urge to engage in minor, though disruptive, unwanted behaviors.
Surprising your students with the strategy works best. Just blurt out, “Stand up and say hello to your friends!” And then leave them alone and let them visit for a couple of minutes.
Like everything else, your students need to know what your expectations are, but I’ve found students to be appreciative of the break and thus exceedingly respectful of the gesture.
You can also use this strategy shortly before a lesson that requires prolonged attention, or right after. But be careful not to over do it or it will lose some of its effectiveness.
Few students can sit and attend for very long without active engagement. Sometimes the solution is as simple as giving them exactly what they want: A moment to talk with their friends.
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