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There are many things that are annoying, time consuming, and not-what-I-want-to-study-ish when you go to school.  Maybe not with home-schooling, but even then I don't know how you would make absolutely everything you need to know absolutely the most exciting thing you have ever done.  And even if you did, it wouldn't be realistic, and it certainly wouldn't provide a good training ground for "real life" (i.e. life after school).  I love my job, and almost every day I look at my classes and office and colleagues and say "I am so happy to be doing this."  

But there are those things I don't enjoy.  Because they are repetitive or come very very close to hoop-jumping.  Those are the things my students deal with all the time, although I hope to shelter them from such in my own classes.  While you can't avoid it all the time, it is always a good idea to try to avoid the DULL whenever possible.

I have a couple of ways that school is dull, and suggestions I give myself and others to help work through that.

Like grading the same paper over and over and over and over again.  

Dull in the classroom is when not only the current material is boring, unexciting, and irrelevant to whatever someone cares about.  Plus the person teaching you about it communicates his or her own boredom and lack of involvement with the material or with anything else in the room.  But there is more to it than that.  Dull is when you can't get past the passive observance of what is going on around you.  In other words, dull is something that requires at least two parties (although perhaps in the final analysis, it really requires only one -- you).  

So if the material is boring (and I teach history through visual material, so I can't see how it really is boring -- you can look at pretty pictures, and you can listen to cool stories), understand that someone somewhere found it exciting and try to figure out why.  What is there about it that is challenging, complicated, and how can what you originally think is not relevant to your interests be connected to your other classes or your major.  Skills and knowledge are transferable.  The ability to research something in one class will mean that the next class (even in a completely different discipline) research assignment will be easier.  For example, a paper in a business class about advertising in the cigarette industry can benefit from an understanding of the visual material it draws on.  

The other reason for a student working to find connections with other courses, majors, etc., is that when you put effort into something you often do get interested.  I tell my students to pretend as if this is an interesting class and the assignments are really exciting.  Pretending can be outward, pretending to the professor that this is a fascinating class.  I am not talking about brown-nosing, but do the reading on time or in advance, learn the material for tests, work on the paper(s) in advance, get involved in discussions, etc.  The more effort you put in, the more you convince the professor that this is something you are interested in.  And even better, the more you learn about something, the more invested you become in it, and the more interesting it becomes.  Then it isn't going to be as dull any more.  You are talking about something you know about, and you never know where it will come in handy, in other classes, in cocktail party conversation, or in a job a long way down the line.

Dull is also a problem for a teacher.  A teacher will almost certainly teach the same topic year after year, or even semester after semester.  How do they (we) make it fresh, both for the students and for ourselves.  This is hardest with introductory courses where you have a sort of a cannon of pieces that you teach over and over again.  I offset this through relearning the stories each year, updating the factual information (when was the earliest art in the world made? the answer to this question changes every year and I figure the least I can do is give my students current information!) and the political interaction with art (looting, destruction of sites in war zones, current events that impact what we know and how we relate to art).  I haven't actually lectured from notes in my survey classes for several years.  The working without a net aspect of that also makes me feel the material is fresher, and by not looking down at papers I have better connections with the classroom, or at least it feels that way.  The reason I teach instead of being in a museum is that I like spending time with people, and talking about really cool things and seeing the eyes lighting up when students understand things.  The more time I spend looking at my students the more enjoyable the interaction for me, and I have to believe this makes things more interesting (and less DULL) to them.  

The one thing I don't do from year to year is to change the writing assignments.  I don't use exactly the same things, but there are certain skills and experiences I want students to get out of my classes, and over the years I have developed assignments that teach the things I need them to teach.  And students tend to be interested in the same things from year to year -- Stonehenge is always of interest to students, as are the pyramids of Giza and the way Akhenaten's body is depicted.  I don't limit the number of students working on a particular topic so I have several each year on Stonehenge.  If they are poorly written they do become quite a slog, but very seldom are they dull.  They may be difficult to follow, painful to read, and make me angry as I do so.  I get frustrated with bad writing, convoluted (or absent) argumentation, and inaccurate citation forms.  However, I find myself really wanting a good example of a paper, so I read each paper with a sense of anticipation and hope.  Usually that will hold on through at least the majority of a paper, and that hope is what keeps the grading from being dull.  Of course there are papers that are acceptable (but not sparkling in style) and fulfill the assignment but don't use creative argumentation, and come across as rather plodding.  Those are dull, but there are so few of them that I don't get bored before getting through them.  

What makes a class dull, to take or teach? How do you redo an assignment that fulfills the needs of the course but does not necessarily elicit sparkling thinking or prose?  Is that a problem?  

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have to actually lecture this year. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blue jersey mom, annetteboardman

    I use discussion in my seminar class and a case study/problem-based learning model in the didactic part of my clinical course. I haven't taught a class primarily through lecture for years.

    This fall I'm teaching a course in the major that I've never taught before. It's a larger class size than I've worked with in the past and I still have my other courses, too, so I decided early on that I wasn't going to try anything fancy with this one.

    Within the first couple of class meetings, I realized I was boring myself with the lectures as I'd planned them. I started interjecting some asides and anecdotes primarily to keep myself entertained. It seems to be working so far; I'm getting positive (although indirect) feedback.

    I have had to deal with students falling asleep in class for the first time in my career so far.  Yesterday I announced that I would respond to any apparent loss of consciousness like the nurse I am-- by initiating Basic Life Support.

  •  If the kids engage, then the class practically... (4+ / 0-)

    teaches itself. I did HS Social Studies for 27 years and there were a few tough times. It's not always easy, but the more responsive the kids the easier the task.

    My last few years I did Psych and Civics and had great time. The kids engaged and I thought it was great.

    Only the weak & defeated are called to account for their crimes.

    by rreabold on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 12:23:21 PM PDT

  •  teachers are always the Other, and some more Other (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    than most for example: POC LGBT ones and ethnocentrism trumps all in terms of the Other being dull not unlike the delegitimizing of the President as a "failure"

    Don't roof rack me bro', Now the brown's comin' down; Präsidentenelf-maßschach; "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) "Ensanguining the skies...Falls the remorseful day".政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 12:34:49 PM PDT

  •  I remember in college, my psychology professor (4+ / 0-)

    started the first class by standing on top of his desk.

    Another class, he stood at the back of the classroom and dared us to 'not turn around' as he gave a lecture making silly noises.

    When I was able to speak to him at a function, he told me that he said the same words that he would have said just standing at the podium, but the kids somehow pay more attention when he's standing on the table.

    "If I have to stand on my head to get them to grasp something- I'll do it."

    Needless to say, his classes are always packed.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 01:34:35 PM PDT

  •  nursing school example (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, mamamedusa

    1.  i learned the most from teachers who bullet point their power points, then give personal examples from the hospital setting.

    2. and/ or demostrate the idea

    the floor show visuals or the inflection in tone really makes a difference.  Moving around, pointing to people for answers.  Getting everyone to participate.  

    Silence is GOLDEN, but duct tape is SILVER =)

    by effervescent on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 01:42:56 PM PDT

  •  And MOVE (3+ / 0-)

    If you stand behind a podium, looking down at notes, it's less engaging than if you can move from one side of the classroom to the other. Keep eye contact, to the extent possible, too. Say things that are unexpected, even out of context, just to jar their attention. Remind them loudly but politely from time to time to put the cell phones away. Very very occasionally have a small fit. Jump up and down to make a point. If it is a long class period, besides taking a break in the middle, when they are drifting, force them all to stand up, stretch, turn around, and sit down again. They really do better then. Or if there is a possibility of getting out early if you can get through material with their help, let them know that: IF you help me and are responsive, we'll be done soon and you can go. That almost always works!

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