Boredom can be a sign of many things. It can indicate disinterest, or it can signal that the material is too easy—a common problem for gifted students. The importance of a challenging curriculum is emphasized in Amanda Ripley’s article in this month’s Atlantic. The Measures of Effective Teaching Project, launched in 2009 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, used a student evaluation survey to study 3,000 teachers in seven different cities. The results, Ripley reports, showed that students displayed concern for "whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be” (her emphasis).
A new study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, however, suggests that boredom may not be an effect of under-engagement, but a symptom of ulterior causes. The study’s authors define boredom as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable to, engage in satisfying activity.” Sarah Sparks at Education Week unpacks the study's findings with insight, explaining: “Under [that] definition, a student who is bored cannot focus attention to engage in class activity—and blames that inability to focus on the outside environment.” This would indicate that boredom may not always be the result of a too-easy curriculum, but is perhaps a consequence of distraction, something that sensitive gifted students can be particularly prone to.
Regardless of the cause, boredom is something that needs to be considered and combatted in the classroom. Some tips for helping keep students interested can be found at Edutopia, which hosts an entire blog dedicated to student engagement, and more research on the phenomenon of boredom, especially as it pertains to gifted students, can be found in this article from the Fall 2003 edition of the Roeper Review.