Bryan Harris is the author of the new Eye On Education title Battling Boredom: 99 Strategies to Spark Student Engagement. The book is a great resource to help you drive boredom out of your classroom using student engagement strategies. These strategies will help you gain and sustain the attention of your students! Read below for an interview with Bryan Harris.
Eye On Education: What first “sparked” your interest in “sparking student engagement?”
Bryan Harris: I clearly remember one lesson on the War of 1812 where I thought to myself, “This might be the most boring, irrelevant, pointless thing I’ve ever been involved in.” The content wasn’t delivered in an interesting manner, there was no real connection to students’ lives or experiences, and the activities were worksheet intensive. There was one big problem; I was the teacher!
I remember reflecting on that lesson and thinking to myself, “If I’m that bored, my kids must be brain dead.” Thankfully, I had a wonderful group of students who were forgiving of my faults. At that point, I promised myself that I would find methods, strategies, and techniques to engage my students and to spark their interest in learning. Not only did I want to help students retain important knowledge and skills, I wanted them to have fun and be truly engaged in the learning process.
When I started making student engagement a priority, I saw energy, enthusiasm, and focused learning that I had never seen before. Discipline problems and disruptive behavior were greatly reduced and my students were productive and efficient.
It all started because I was bored and I knew my kids were as well. From that point on, I made it a priority to find creative methods and strategies to engage students. The strategies outlined in Battling Boredom represent some of the best, easy-to-use, and effective student engagement strategies that will spark student engagement.
EOE: A number of strategies in the book involve student movement, which is your favorite? When is the best time to use student movement strategies?
BH: I am firm believer in the power of physical movement in the classroom. The average student spends far too much time passively sitting and listening or observing classroom instruction. Study after study has shown a link between cognitive functioning and physical movement. Bottom line: Our brains are not designed to sit still for long periods of time. The link between movement, memory, cognition, and mood is well documented.
Picking a favorite is difficult but I when I work with both students and adults, I often find myself using Snowball Fight, Give One/Get One, and Gallery Walk. All of them take very little preparation and can be implemented in just a few minutes.
Some teachers express concern about incorporating movement into lessons and daily activities. Some are concerned that it will be difficult to regain students’ attention once they are out of their seats. Others express concern about those few students who might display inappropriate behavior. However, from my experience working with teachers in hundreds of classrooms, when movement strategies are used often, there are fewer disruptions and problem behaviors. Of course, there needs to be clearly communicated expectations, time frames, and directions, but students typically respond very positively to the opportunity to move.
The best time to use a movement strategy is when you see a dip in the energy, focus, or behavior of the students. As a general rule, I typically have students move, or give them the opportunity to move, every 30-45 minutes.
EOE: There’s been a lot of interest in your book and the idea of “battling boredom.” Why do you think the word “boredom” peeks so many teacher’s interest?
BH: Boredom is a universal emotion, we’ve all experienced it. We’ve all been on the business end of a boring lesson, in-service, or meeting. We can all recall times when we’ve stared at the clock in anguish because it just didn’t move fast enough.
The topic is interesting to teachers because we see it on the faces of our kids. In years past, perhaps most of our students just endured the boredom in silence. However, I think today’s students are much more vocal about what they find interesting and what they find boring. As teachers, there is a lot that is out of our control. We can’t control a student’s family life, their sleeping habits, or how they eat. We can’t control many of the factors that influence their success in school. However, we can control what happens within the walls of our classroom. Within our control is how we teach. We can battle boredom by creating engaging, fun, and meaningful experiences for students.
EOE: What was the last book that you read for pleasure?
BH: I love historical fiction that blends current event with historical events so I’m drawn to authors like Steve Berry and Dan Brown. I recently finished The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry.
EOE: Please describe a moment when you realized the significance of your job as a teacher.
BH: As every veteran teacher can attest, one of the best parts of the job is when we see former students and are amazed at how they’ve grown, what they’ve accomplished, and how they have matured.
A number of years ago, two former students came to visit. We had a great time chatting, catching up, and talking about the next phases of their education. During our visit, I asked them what they remembered about the class, the projects we did, and the content. As is the case with many students, they described humorous events or odd memories of things other students did. But as I pressed more and asked them to recall what they learned from my class, they were hesitant.
It was at that point that I realized that I’ve never had one student say, “Thank you Mr. Harris for teaching me the difference between and adjective and an adverb.” Never once did a student say to me, “I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the Kennedy administration in keeping us out of a world war.” I taught those things and I firmly believe that students remembered them, but the significant part of being a teacher is in the relationships we build with students and families. I came to realize that it is through those relationships that I build the bridge so that I can teach them important concepts and skills.