Taking “Boring” Out of the Classroom

Image of Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton (ed. note: Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton was in Austin, Texas last Friday for the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive conference and appeared on the panel: “Asleep in the Classroom: A Wake Up Call from Tomorrow.”)

For too many of our students around the country, “boring” has become the adjective of choice to describe their experiences in the classroom.  Students have been locked down by the concept of seat time and locked out of the technological revolution that has transformed nearly every sector of American society, except for education.

To prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and rapidly changing society, we must build a high quality and highly effective education system that takes advantage of everything we know from the learning sciences and every learning tool and opportunity available.  This is especially true given the “New Normal” of needing to do more with less. At the Department of Education we are committed to this pursuit, from articulating a path forward in our National Education Technology Plan to creating the required infrastructure such as the recently proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED). And with the help of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, we’re working towards providing all students with a robust and affordable Internet that will provide the communications network of the future.

In an age of Facebook, Amazon.com, online collaboration and rapid technological change, the world of chalk and blackboards simply won’t meet the demands of today let alone tomorrow.  Technology has the potential to greatly enhance student engagement, increase personalized learning, enable students to earn credit and progress at their own pace, and equip teachers with the tools needed to differentiate instruction (i.e. diagnose student needs, interests, and learning preferences and adjust their teaching and content based on that diagnosis).  Technology can empower students of all ages to take control of their learning, and to find and pursue their passions – waking them up not only in class but to the many opportunities before them and their own potential.

Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement


  1. We’ve been helping teachers for 19 years…they need immediate help in the classroom, not more theory. Today, we finally launched our Right Road Kids website and DVD of our award-winning enrichment program. We hope you’ll share it with the K-6 teachers at your schools! http://www.rightroadkids.org, and here is our press release: http://www.releasewire.org/uncategorized/world-premiere-of-new-dvd-to-build-character-and-esteem-in-kids-announced-by-paula-phillips-and-right-road-kids%E2%84%A2-in-conjunction-with-launch-of-new-website-www-rightroadkids-org/

  2. This adjective “boring” comes up occassionally in the classroom when a student is not engaged or obtaining the ono-on-one attenttion that they desire. I have been very active to develop lessons or activities that are interesting, engaging, and age appropriat or searching a little beyond their age/cognitive ability. I fell a bit stressed when a student provides the “b” word, but I now have students that have openly repeated my words to those students by saying ” if you cant find something interesting from everything he provides, it is your fault”. I get the chance to smile and say “I AM getting through”.

  3. Hello again,
    I thought of something else.
    More and more I see students who are sad, depressed, angry, and do not see themselves as competent learners. I’m sure that making technological advances may alleviate some of this in our students. However, I believe that we are forced to spend too much of our time teaching to assessments that the Federal government, the states and the local education agencies create that do not measure much of anything of value, and I believe contribute to students’ sense of well-being. Recent research is showing that children need to experience anywhere from 5x to 30x more positive experiences than negative experiences in order to gain the resilience needed to learn, retain, and demonstrate new skills. If students do not possess this resilience, they will not be effective learners nor will they see themselves as effective learners. Of course technology for many students will be the vehicle that provides them with the joy, success and positive experiences that will build their resilience, but there is also a period of learning how to use the technology that will require mental strength to work through.

  4. I have been teaching elementary school students for 28 years. Am I the only one who knows that often when students say “it’s boring” they really mean “it’s difficult”. There are even many times when if I reflect back to them, “you mean it’s hard?” when they say it’s boring, they acknowledge that it is difficult. Having nothing to do because the work you are given is not an instructional match would be “boring” to anyone. Suddenly, when you do some on the spot informal assessing and you provide the hurdle help the student needs to complete the work, understand the concept, or you modify the work so the student can experience success, the child engages and is no longer “bored”. Another possibility for why the student may not be able to engage in a particular task may have something to do with social/emotional factors wither in school with teachers and/or peers, or at home. If the student is preoccupied the energy required to complete the task may not be available. It may be too difficult for the student to articulate the thoughts and feelings, or may not have the skills. It may be easier to just say, “I’m bored”. There might be physical or psychological factors which could be interfering with the students ability to focus on the task. Although with the pro-technology point of view, and can see that infusing technology into the classroom may circumvent some of these other factors which may lead to what the experiences as “boredom”, I feel it is our responsibility as educators to explore more deeply. We are the professionals, not the child, we have experience, knowledge and resources at our disposal to investigate what might really be going on. I think it is shortsighted to respond to every “it’s boring” at face value.

  5. Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. We recently started eSpark to make learning fun and more targeted using modern mobile technology. All students in our program receive an iPod Touch that we configure strictly for learning. They meet with our teachers in person at school or from home via video chat. One of our students told me “I spend five hours a day on my ePod (educational iPod). TV is boring compared to this.” I think your perspective is dead on with how we should use technology as a tool to educate our kids as much or more as we use it to entertain them! Great post.

  6. Jim I think it is time YOU get your butt into a classroom and find out what the real world in class is like. You truly have NO clue!

  7. I applaud the New DOE, Arne and Jim especially for changing the pedagogy in education from the same thing over and over, to something so much better. Delivering high quality education to all. That is going to take Technology, Reform, willingness of teachers, assessment tools and innovation. All are possible and we are seeing that now all over America, little seeds are starting to spread, like organic education. Technology will move the Sage off the Stage to Guide by the Side type of learning.

    Education will soon be delivered to everyone’s mobile device. We should embrace this, not fight it. Check out TED talks, see what the world is talking about!

  8. I’m not entirely sure that it is reasonable to expect that school is going to be interesting any more than it is reasonable to expect that one’s job is going to be interesting. For the sake of professional development, students need to learn how to become interested.

    While there are teachers who are boring, not all teachers with students who report being bored are boring. Some students resist any efforts to engage them in academic pursuits and will refuse to be motivated regardless of the innovative, creative, or challenging approaches that teachers may take.

  9. We need to educate teachers about the great things happening on Twitter for what I’ll call “Professional Development(PD).” Thanks to the various chats (#edchat for example) teachers are able to learn about the latest interactive tools available to use in the classroom. I invite you to join The Educator’s PLN Ning Group to see how we are sharing resources and teaching each other about everything related to the art of teaching. Sorry I missed you in Austin. I was involved with the SXSWedu conference and had to be back in the classroom Friday. There were great discussions going on in the panels and I hope you, or someone from your office, makes a point to join us next year.

  10. Hard to move into the technology age when money (that the govt. is legally obligated to supply) is being taken away, especially from small, rural schools!

Comments are closed.