Author: Martha Sevetson-Rush
APA Style Citation
Rush-Sevetson, M., & Palmer, E. (2018). Beat boredom: Engaging tuned-out teenagers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
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Beat Boredom is a guide from a veteran teacher that provides detailed and specific ideas for helping students stay engaged and master difficult material. Martha Sevetson-Rush is a master teacher who was a journalist before spending twenty-five plus years in the classroom teaching journalism, language arts, United States history, economics, personal finance, government, and psychology. Currently, she teaches AP Psychology as well as AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics. She has been the recipient of the John Morton Excellence in the Teaching of Economics award in 2014, and she has been recognized in Minnesota as Journalism Educator of the Year (2014), TIES Exceptional Technology Educator (2014), JA Capstone Teacher of the Year (2012) and Economic Educator of Excellence (2012). Martha delivers workshops for teachers for the College Board as a consultant for AP Economics and the Council on Economic Education as well as through her educational consulting firm, NeverBore LLC.
Sevetson-Rush articulates the causes of disengagement and boredom and provides concrete solutions for use by instructors across a variety of disciplines. Research suggests that boredom is a real problem and that high school juniors report being bored in class 58% of the time and boredom has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes including truancy, increased dropout rates, and lower achievement, and drug use and delinquency. Sevetson-Rush also cites research that indicates there are four main causes of student boredom (ranging from mild, to unpleasant, or in some cases actually painful) which are the belief that the work they are doing lacks meaning, activities are repetitive, students feel confined in their environment, or students feel that they have little control over what happens in the classroom. Some high school students spend most of their day sitting in assigned seats, passively listening to teachers while taking notes, or working quietly on practice problems. Although some amount of repetition and direct instruction is necessary for difficult concepts, Beat Boredom offers a variety of methods of what she refers to as highly engaging, motivating instruction designed to reach all types of students, but especially those who are unmotivated and easily discouraged. Rush-Sevenston asks, “Do we want to treat high school as an endurance test, something to be suffered through? Or do we want high school to be an opportunity for genuine learning and growth? Do we like lecturing to a zoned-out audience and blaming them when they don’t remember? Are we satisfied with a system that works for only some of our students, the ones who are already motivated?”
The author acknowledges that utilizing the active learning methods presented in the book is not a guarantee of success and that there are potential concerns to look out for when implementing active learning strategies. The five potential concerns when using actice learning strategies are: (1) While engagement is required, it is not the only piece that is needed for successful learning. She does not suggest that teaching is merely entertainment, “anyone could get students to pay attention by juggling, handing out money, running a karaoke session, or letting students gripe about unfair school policies,” but what is needed is engagement with a purpose. (2) Although she discusses ways to use technology in active learning, she does not suggest that technology alone is the answer to beating boredom. (3) Using active learning does not necessitate the loss of instruction in content. Choosing to use highly engaging methods such as problem-based learning, simulations, and discussions does not mean that traditional content is not taught. (4) Avoid thinking in dichotomies in which you must teach exclusively by active learning or through direct instruction and whole class discussion. (5) The use of active learning methods requires practice and training, and the best lessons are perfected over time often through continual reflection on one’s practice and incorporating input from fellow teachers and students.
The conversational tone of the book speaks directly to teachers through the use of classroom examples of student reactions to lessons that are easy to relate to regardless of the content or area where you teach. The book consists of six main chapters each outlining a specific active learning strategy complete with examples across a range of content areas including psychology, government, and economics. The active learning strategies covered involve storytelling (giving students someone or something to care about), discussion and debate (trust students to drive meaningful conversation), problem-based learning (let students struggle with real and unsolved problems, simulation (immerse students in thoughtful role plays), competition (give students a chance to prove themselves), and authentic tasks (encourage work that matters outside of school). Within each chapter, the author defines each strategy, articulates the benefits of the method, provides instructions on how to implement the strategy along with examples, addresses challenges related to the strategy, and ends with specific tips for teachers. The teacher tips include ideas for getting started, tips for building on your current use of this particular active learning strategie, and ways to assess the effectiveness of the method for your students.
Beat Boredom: Engaging Tuned-Out Teenagers is full of amazing ideas and specific tips for using active learning methods in a variety of types of classes that both increase student engagement and promote deeper learning.
Other Related Resources
Beat Boredom Study Guide
A free study guide to accompany the book is available as a downloadable PDF on the website of the publisher. The publisher also offers a variety of other books related to teaching and learning and organizes professional development sessions, mentoring, and other services with the authors including Martha Sevetson-Rush. Check out her recent post about an app called TeachFX which uses AI to visualize for teachers what portions of class are composed of teacher talk v. student talk.
Author Website and Blog
Visit the website and subscribe to author Martha Sevetson-Rush’s blog for engaging high interest discussions of current educational issues and tips for teaching. Rush’s website includes several free resources.
The Story of Psychology – Reference Book
Morton Hunt’s The Story of Psychology provides interesting and detailed biographical backstories on the most influential thinkers related to the scientific field of psychology, as well as excellent summaries of their key theories and ideas. This book can be used to build engagement through the active learning strategy of storytelling for many areas of the psychology curriculum.
Hunt, M. M. (2007). The story of psychology. New York: Anchor Books.
Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel)
This powerful book about learning is an excellent resource referenced by Sevetson in Beat Boredom and the website for the book has additional useful materials for classroom use.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Henry Molaison (Patient H.M.)
Active learning strategies
Backward design process
Problem-Based Learning (PBL)