Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why do students "tune out" during class?

I've been a college teacher for over six years now, and a constant source of frustration and tension for me are students who "tune out" during class.  This can take many forms: texting underneath their desks, pretending to take notes on their laptop while actually going on Facebook, even putting their heads down and sleeping.  For a good long while, I tended to always blame students for their lack of interest.  How dare they not pay attention to my fascinating discussions and activities?!  How dare they!  It's their fault!  The ingrates!

But the longer I teach, the more I learn that classroom boredom is a two-way street.  It is entirely possible that a student's lack of interest is due to the fact that I'm not making the material interesting and relevant to their lives.  I've been undergoing serious self-reflection and re-evaluating of my teaching methods.  The fundamental issue is this:  If I'm not demonstrating my passion and excitement about what I'm teaching, I can't get mad if my students lose interest.  The teacher bears the burden not just to convey information, but to actively and visibly demonstrate passion, curiosity, and wonder.  

To combat our mutual enemy of boredom, I'm constantly experimenting, innovating, and trying new things.  I share a lot of my own writing with students.  I demonstrate my own research process.  I try to show, through my actions, that research and writing are not just boring hoops we have to jump through to get a grade or a degree.  I try to show, based on my own experience and writing process, that reading and writing and thinking critically are deeply important and are a part of our day-to-day lives.  I try to show how I use reading and writing to make sense of this complex, weird world, like I'm doing right now.  I'll probably share this blog post with students.

I'm becoming a big fan of field trips, to get outside the classroom and into the world.  Tonight, I took my evening class on a field trip to a Fullerton city council meeting.  Their next essay is about local politics, and what better way to show the importance of local politics than to take them to where it happens?  Afterward, we had a little re-cap session and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of the students did not find this boring.  Mission accomplished!

Field trips are awesome!

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