This is a repost from Feb. 21, 2011.
One time I attended a seminar on today’s youth culture and one of the attendees asked whether how youth were being described was also true for older (and she meant very old) generations as well. Perhaps what we say is true about ‘today’s teens’ is true for the culture as a whole? Seriously, haven’t you noticed how connected to a cell phone senior citizens are too? We already know they watch more television than youth do. What if other aspects or ‘findings’ of research were equally true for older people? The big problem with adolescent research is that it often fails to answer the question, Is it particular to adolescence?”
In my doctoral work at Purdue (go Boilers!), I had the privilege of learning about adolescent research from Dr. Thomas J. Berndt, one of the leading authorities on child development and peer influence. Dr. Berndt ingrained this question into our minds, citing numerous descriptions of adolescence that were equally true for adults.
Yesterday I shared research-based thoughts on boredom, a common complaint we who teach and lead here, even when we feel like we’ve been engaging and innovative. Today, I want to share some ways that we can work to make sure we’re not the cause for students’ boredom.
- Model it. Do you model for your students how to be a lifelong learner and have a positive outlook on life?” Do you model how to create variety from the “way we’ve always done it? ”
- Be a safe person. Do students possess the freedom to be themselves without fear of judgment around you? Do you draw them in through your patience, humility, and a sense of humor?
- Help students observe life around them. Coach empathy when the line is long and you receive rotten service at the ‘friendliest place in town’. What kind of treatment do you think that poor lady behind the counter has had? Initiate others-oriented observation on a trip or during a ‘boring’ sermon. If sitting and listening becomes too difficult, what could you learn from watching the surroundings, or the other people involved? Coach peripheral vision2 when the Jell-O for Jell-O-Rama melts before the games begin, and the staff save the day in traditionally unnoticed, or creative ways.
- Purposeful programming. Adolescents understand when activities are simply “time fillers” and have little purpose, but when an adult takes time to design a trip or event just for the benefit or enjoyment of their youth, it speaks volumes in love. Teenagers respond to that kind of care and attention. Sometimes it is beneficial to do fewer activities and do them very well.
- Vary your methods. We often excel with one or two main teaching methods (like lecture or discussion). Challenge yourself to integrate new methods of teaching and take note of the results. Experience the difference that simulation games, drama, small groups, or cooperative learning strategies provide in learning. Variety is the spice of life to a teen. One resource we’ve used with good results is Dennis Benson’s Creative Bible Studies from GROUP.
- Teach creatively. Research shows that predictability in instruction is a large culprit of learned boredom. Don’t just state the obvious; demonstrate ways to show it differently. Use stories and metaphors, or paint word pictures while you teach. The use of role-play, surprise, novelty, or duct tape can also enhance a lesson. Discover how taste, touch, smell, sight, or sound can be used to make an illustration. The goal isn’t to entertain, but to teach. Have you explored any of the more formal liturgical structures to engage your students’ thinking in new ways?
- Keep track of the time. Monitor the time structures in youth ministry programs. Television and technology, with the willing help of society, have accustomed our kids (especially young teens) to have very sensitive attitudes and perceptions of time. Be ruthless in evaluating time frames for the various programs that you lead. Always ask, “Will a student feel like it will never end?”4