Post No.: 0750
Like with all animals – behaviour is communication. Thus if a student is constantly absent, complaining about something, has her/his head on the desk or is disruptive, for instance, then it’s sending a message. If swathes of students aren’t engaged in your lessons as a teacher then it might be the quality of your lessons(!) But if a particular student is one of the odd ones out in the class and says they’re ‘bored’ then this can mean one of many things, hence you’ll need to ask questions to investigate deeper.
It could be something that’s only temporary and situational, or indicative of something wider and more long-term in their life, like at home or with their health? So you could ask if there are any times during the school day when they’re not bored? They may say they’re ‘bored’ because they find the lessons too under-challenging for them, or alternatively too difficult but they don’t want to admit in front of their peers that they’re struggling to keep up and need help? They might not have an interest in a particular subject or don’t see the value in it? This’ll be down to the teacher to convince them of a subject’s worth. (Sometimes we wonder why we should bother with what we’re being asked to learn in school – so one exercise is to write about how the current lesson is relevant to one’s life or how it can make the world a better place, and to then share and discuss these ideas in small groups or with the whole class. Post No.: 0002 talked about how, when young anyway, you won’t always know if the ‘useless stuff’ you learn in school will be useful in your future; and to have the opportunity to learn so much stuff is quite a privilege too.)
If it’s just a temporary state then clarify that it’s normal for everyone to feel bored occasionally. But it’ll be more significant if it’s something that’s more systemic in their life and they have something like generalised anxiety or ADHD, or perhaps depression and thus they feel helpless and sad, or disengaged and apathetic, with school or life itself. Just connecting with and listening to the student’s concerns with empathy and compassion can be protective for them, and help them to build their confidence in reaching out for help. Enlist the assistance of a school-based mental health specialist if required.
Tiredness at school may of course be a sign of a lack of sleep; for which the solution at home should be obvious. But tiredness to the point of sleepiness could also indicate that a pupil is really struggling because the material is heavily mentally taxing or exhausting for them. When we’re somewhat sleep deprived combined with being asked to do something that isn’t personally mentally exhausting for us – we can manage to stay awake to do it. But when we’re somewhat sleep deprived combined with being asked to do something that is personally mentally exhausting for us – it can really suddenly cause us to feel incredibly drowsy, which makes it hard for us to concentrate on what we wish to do. Thinking does use energy after all, and the more intense thinking we need to do and our fuzzy brains are working hard (like when we’re learning something we’ve hardly yet mastered), the higher the rate of energy we’ll be using, and in turn the more exhausting it’s going to make us feel. It’s easier to pull an all-nighter watching movies than studying. We might literally need a nap before being able to effectively recommence the work.
So even if we wish to do something, we can feel like we’re too tired to do it. But from the outside it can look like we’re disengaged, don’t want to do it and are deliberately being disrespectful by wanting to nod off while in class yet not during (the less mentally exhausting) break times.
However, this drop in self-esteem to struggle when their peers aren’t struggling can lead to a pupil bullying and/or being disruptive in class in order to try to bring other people down because they cannot bring themselves up. They may take the stance that ‘trying hard in school isn’t cool’, but they really would like to achieve highly too because in those moments when they do understand a subject comfortably, they are quick to let others know about it and they will boast and be proud about that top grade they got for that piece of homework. We generally only enjoy what we’re good at doing, so if we under-perform at something – to save our self-esteem – some of us may exhibit disinterest or employ self-handicapping strategies i.e. rather than be perceived by others as intellectually slow for not grasping the material, we’d rather show that our failure wasn’t because we couldn’t do it but because we simply couldn’t be bothered to do it. This self-sabotage strategy will hurt us in the long term but our short-term strategy will be to preserve what self-esteem we have in front of our peers. Low self-esteem is highly correlated with bullying, which could mean that bullies need understanding and help too. This isn’t about condoning bullying but to better comprehend it in order to ultimately reduce this behaviour. Meow.
Not all work is the same – 1 hour of learning or doing something personally new to us is going to be more cognitively exhausting than 1 hour of doing something that one already knows or has personally done thousands of times before and so can simply go on autopilot to complete. Therefore when working with content or tasks that one is less familiar with i.e. educational or training experiences – one needs to take more breaks and ensure that sleep isn’t missed.
One cannot optimally learn or form durable memories whilst one is sleepy. The vast majority of the dreams we have are forgotten or are never encoded into solid memories in the first place – and of course dreams happen whilst we’re asleep, never mind merely sleepy. Therefore those audio files that claim to be able to teach you things like a new skill whilst you are asleep, or ‘sleep-learning’, are pseudoscience. We can sleep to consolidate the memories of the lessons we had learnt whilst we were awake – and this is the major value of sleep for our learning – but we cannot effectively learn new knowledge like a new skill whilst we are asleep. We can only form very basic associations like linking odours with sounds during sleep i.e. a form of conditioning, which can potentially be useful for helping people to quit smoking by unconsciously associating the smell of cigarettes with something rotten. Research is ongoing in this area but current evidence suggests that it’s not worth losing quality sleep over in order to learn a few crude associations and basic implicit knowledge (the kind of knowledge that one knows without knowing how hence is hard to teach or transfer onto others, like why a particular smell is disgusting to us in this case).
Even trying to learn something literally within a few minutes before one falls asleep (i.e. when one is already drowsy) is inefficient because one will likely forget what happened in detail in this time. And just after one wakes up, one needs several minutes to fully wake up before being in an optimal state for doing something that involves learning explicit knowledge (the kind of knowledge that one can find easy to teach or transfer onto others, like knowing the capital city of a particular country). So one is better off sleeping than trying to cram when one is tired because trying to learn when sleepy is inefficient. (And of course don’t operate any heavy machinery or make important decisions when one is feeling tired, drowsy or not fully awake.)
Students may cram by passively reading textbooks because they erroneously think that human memory is like a tape recorder, thus they think the mere exposure to some information will mean that this information will be somewhere faithfully recorded, stored and safe in their brains and the only difficult part is to retrieve it from their brains by finding the ‘play’ button for a piece of information. And if they do find it then they believe that it’ll be a faithful replay of whatever they read or saw.
Well strong evidence does suggest that nearly everything we experience is stored in long-term memory in some form. Every experience leaves a mark on us. But the problem here is being able to retrieve those memories, and to do so before they’re corrupted through imperfect reconstructions during recalls.
Recall is dynamic. The stored memories aren’t always accurate in the sense we can misread or mishear things, and recalling alters the system anyway. Retrieval makes what you retrieve more easily retrievable again in the future (it reinforces the neuronal connections associated with that memory) and potentially makes things in competition with that information less easily recallable (‘retrieval-induced forgetting’). Memories work via associations or links – so make the effort to link up any new information with what you already know in order to strengthen those links and therefore aid retrieval. How we encode information affects how easily it’ll be stored and retrieved.
So don’t write whole passages as notes – just note the important words and points. Then reorganise your notes into themes, showing how they interlink with each other – write your own textbook as it were, as this involves active and deep thinking about the logical structure of your notes and what content to include and to leave out. Good ergonomics when it comes to product design, as well as good directing in film making, isn’t about giving users or the audience all the information they could ever hope for, but about editing and only giving the relevant information at the relevant time.
Meow. Ultimately, the best way to learn is to actively engage in the material by thinking up your own examples, analogies and metaphors, working out what points are more crucial than others, reorganising information into a way that suits your own logical understanding of the subject, reframing questions, and answering questions on it. And if a subject is mentally draining or exhausting for us, we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves but break it down into smaller lessons and go slower, and get enough rest and sleep to allow our brains to unconsciously work on and memorise the material. Like how a 5-mile run will feel less exhausting the fitter we are, and we get fitter by training, and getting enough rest, rather than quitting – it’ll eventually feel less exhausting if we don’t quit a lesson but continue practising.